Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Friday, September 28, 2012

New book, and other Feisal Mohamed related news!

Feisal Mohamed wrote to me earlier today to let me know that he had recently received his copies of the exceptionally lovely volume pictured to the left.  The book is called Milton and Questions of History: Essays by Canadians Past and Present (University of Toronto Press), and Mohamed co-edited it with the distinguished Miltonist Mary Nyquist. 

Here is the book description, pasted in from the UTP webpage:  "Milton and Questions of History considers the contribution of several classic studies of Milton written by Canadians in the twentieth century. It contemplates whether these might be termed a coherent ‘school’ of Milton studies in Canada and it explores how these concerns might intervene in current critical and scholarly debates on Milton and, more broadly, on historicist criticism in its relationship to renewed interest in literary form.

The volume opens with a selection of seminal articles by noted scholars including Northrop Frye, Hugh McCallum, Douglas Bush, Ernest Sirluck, and A.S.P. Woodhouse. Subsequent essays engage and contextualize these works while incorporating fresh intellectual concerns. The Introduction and Afterword frame the contents so that they constitute a dialogue between past and present critical studies of Milton by Canadian scholars."

This is an editorial project that Mohamed--who himself received his PhD from the University of Toronto--has been overseeing for some time.  I'm delighted to see that his work on this has come to fruition.  And Feisal points out to me that one of the reprinted essays included in the volume is by Arthur Barker, who is a former member of our department.  Perhaps there's also a tradition of Canadian Miltonists at UIUC?


For those of you who are reading this from in or around campus, let me also point out that Mohamed will be presenting this year's IPRH Distinguished Lecturer in the Humanities next Wednesday, October 3, at 4:00 on the 3rd floor of the Levis Faculty Center. This should be a pretty bid deal--our new Provost Ilesanmi Adesida will participate, for instance--and so I'd encourage you to come on down.

The title of Mohamed's lecture is "Republican Political Theology in the Age of Hobbes," and I think it should be of interest to scholars in a very wide range of humanities subjects. Here is the abstract:

"In Carl Schmitt’s influential account of political theology, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651) is a watershed text in the early modern secularization of theological principles.  This paper argues that the Roman provenance of Hobbes’ ideas qualifies their modernity, and that their foundation in determinist materialism strongly limits their theological underpinnings.  We shall look instead to key figures of England’s short-lived republic to find views of sovereignty with more substantive theological engagements.  From this distinctly English contribution to the republican tradition arises that quality of the modern political imaginary for which neither Hobbes nor Enlightenment thought can account: the sovereign’s embodiment of a locus of power sustained by the self-sacrifice of subjects."

If the volume on Canadian Milton scholarship represents Mohamed's scholarly heritage, so to speak, it looks to me as though this talk represents his present and future. His recent work has often made use of foundational 17th-century writers to illuminate aporias associated with religiosity and toleration within the tradition of liberal political thought.  Here, by recovering the political theology of Hobbes's contemporaries, and putting their theological investments in the context of early British republicanism (which is often associated with the origins of an Anglo-American liberal tradition), Mohamed promises to cast light on tensions and blind-spots within the essentially liberal political mentality that we have inherited.

I hope to see many of you there!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Incomplete List, Spring 2012

Every semester, our campus's Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) publishes a list of faculty, graduate students, and other instructional staff members whose student evaluations numbers put them in the top tier of instructors on campus, at least as far as student satisfaction is concerned.  The criteria are described in the CTE document which this post is based on--here.  For some time now the CTE has referred to this list as the List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by their Students, but that's cumbersome and so we tend to refer to it by its punchier, old name: the Incomplete List. 

Anyway, as regular readers of this blog will know, I like to post here each semester a list of the teachers in English department classes who have been enshrined in the Incomplete List on the basis of last semester's student evaluation scores.  The point is to honor individuals, of course, but also to highlight in a more general way the depth and breadth of our good teaching.  The people listed below include every single rank and title we have in the department's insrtuctional staff, and they are honored here for their teaching in English, Business and Technical Writing, Creative Writing, and Rhetoric.  And so, without further ado, here is our own version of the Incomplete List based on Spring 2012 data:

Iryce Baron, Manisha Basu, Jensen Beach, Michael Behrens, Amber Buck, Michael Burns, Jodi Byrd, Cody Caudill, Alexandra Cavallaro, John Claborn, Jill Clements, Leslie Crowell, Steve Davenport, Carrie Dickison, Michael Don, Dennis Dullea, Patrick Fadely, Jill Fitzgerald, Andrew Gaedtke, Nadia Garcia-Crespo, Sara Gelston, Shawn Gilmore, Philip Graham, Catharine Gray,  Joe Grohens, Gail Hapke, Aaron Harper, Janice Harrington, Ashley Hetrick, Elizabeth Hoiem,  Amy Huang, Brandon Jones, David Kay, Melissa Larabee, Mary Lindsay, Melissa Littlefield, Mike Madonick, Bob Markley, Julie McCormick, Heather McLeer, Thomas McNamera, Erica Melko, Jessica Mercado, John Moore, Justine Murison, John Musser, Hina Nazar, Lori Newcomb, Katherine Norcross, John O'Connor, Michael Odom, Andrea Olinger, Alaina Pincus, Catherine Prendergast, Julie Price, Thierry Ramais, Scott Ricketts, Ricky Rodriguez, Carla Rosell, John Rubins, Stephen Runkle, Ted Sanders, Julia Saville, Spencer Schaffner, E. Jordan Sellers, Frank Sheets, Kaia Simon Power, Siobhan Somerville, Andrea Stevens, Elizabeth Tavares, Jessica Thom, Debora Tienou, Wendy Truran, Ted Underwood, Denys Van Renan, Michael Verderame, Elyse Vigiletti, Martha Webber, Rebecca Weber, Dan Wong, Charlie Wright, David C. Wright.

Congratulations, one and all, and (on behalf of all of our students) thanks.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Studies

 The advance copies of the very lovely volume pictured to the left have just arrived!  The book is A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Studies, a collection of original essays exploring the resources of critical theory for reading Anglo-Saxon texts and vice versa.  Published by Wiley-Blackwell, this collection is been co-edited Jacqueline Stodnick and our own Renée Trilling.

As the book description from the back cover puts it:

"This collection of new and original essays explores the relationship between contemporary critical theory and the study of Anglo-Saxon literature. Core terminology familiar from critical theory, such as ‘ethnicity’, ‘gender’, and ‘agency’, provides a thematic structure in which fresh and revealing perspectives on Anglo-Saxon England come to light. Each essay takes one of these terms as its starting point, offering a brief overview of the term and its use in Anglo-Saxon studies before deploying it as a critical matrix for its own investigation of the Anglo-Saxon period. The collection also explores the question of what contribution Anglo-Saxonists can make to critical theory, and provides new directions for the future of the field."

Anglo-Saxon studies as a field requires of scholars a great deal of hard-won technical expertise.  One needs for starters to be able to read Old English.  And there are myriad other technical challenges associated with learning how to work with the texts and artifacts of such a very old and unfamiliar culture.  Because the technical threshold for participation in the field is so high, emphasis has not always been placed upon the same theoretical and methodological questions that preoccupy other sub-disciplines within English literary studies.  This volume will be important because it will help encourage and facilitate theoretically-informed work in Anglo-Saxon studies henceforward.  At the same time, Anglo-Saxonists are in a good position to recast and challenge some of the theoretical positions forged by specialists in later literatures, so that an Anglo-Saxonists working with the critical vocabulary of postcolonial theory or disability studies is very likely to have new perspectives to offer that can enrich or complicate subsequent theoretical work.  All in all, this looks to be a very generative scholarly book.

I am delighted to see that all of the hard work that went into producing this collection has payed off so handsomely.  Congratulations, Renée!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Braided Worlds (and related events!)

Later this week, the University of Chicago Press will publish Braided Worlds--a book which combines English Professor Philip Graham's skills as a literary writer with UIUC Anthropology Professor Alma Gottlieb's talents as an ethnographer.  The two have collaborated before, on the 1994 book Parallel Worlds: An Anthropologist and a Writer Encounter Africa (University of Chicago Press).

Here is the book description, pasted in from the University of Chicago press website

"In a compelling mix of literary narrative and ethnography, anthropologist Alma Gottlieb and writer Philip Graham continue the long journey of cultural engagement with the Beng people of Côte d’Ivoire that they first recounted in their award-winning memoir Parallel Worlds. Their commitment over the span of several decades has lent them a rare insight. Braiding their own stories with those of the villagers of Asagbé and Kosangbé, Gottlieb and Graham take turns recounting a host of unexpected dramas with these West African villages, prompting serious questions about the fraught nature of cultural contact.

Through events such as a religious leader’s declaration that the authors’ six-year-old son, Nathaniel, is the reincarnation of a revered ancestor, or Graham’s late father being accepted into the Beng afterlife, or the increasing, sometimes dangerous madness of a villager, the authors are forced to reconcile their anthropological and literary gaze with the deepest parts of their personal lives. Along with these intimate dramas, they follow the Beng from times of peace through the times of tragedy that led to Côte d’Ivoire’s recent civil conflicts. From these and many other interweaving narratives—and with the combined strengths of an anthropologist and a literary writer—Braided Worlds examines the impact of postcolonialism, race, and global inequity at the same time that it chronicles a living, breathing village community where two very different worlds meet."

In concert with the publication of this book, Graham and Gottlieb have scheduled a couple of reading/signing events on campus, which those of you who read this blog from Champaign Urbana (Chambana?  Shampoo-Banana?) may be interested in attending. 

The first of these will be this coming Tuesday, Sept. 11th, from 4:30 till 5:30 in the Illinois Union Bookstore. 

The second, which will be held on September 18 at 7:30 at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH), is a discussion of memoir writing that will feature, in addition to Graham and Gottlieb, our own Janice Harrington and UIUC history professor Harry Liebersohn. You can click through to the IPRH page describing the event--which has bios for all participants and so on--here. 

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