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

Thursday, February 28, 2013


I have many updates, dear reader, to present here in quick succession.  So instead of putting up several small posts, I will put up one longish one.

First up, I've just learned that the book Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times (Computers and Composition Digital P/Utah State UP, 2012) -- which was co-authored by Professor Emerita of English Gail Hawisher along with Cynthia Selfe and former UIUC PhD student Patrick Berry (now an Assistant Professor at Syracuse University) -- has won two impressive awards from The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) and so will be honored at the next CCCC conference.  The volume will be awarded both the 2013 CCCC Advancement in Knowledge Award and the 2013 CCCC Research Impact Award.

That's quite a haul!  Congrats!

Second, there was a nice story this past weekend in the local newspaper--The News Gazette--about the publication of Steve Davenport's latest book of poetry.   The volume is called Overpass, and you can order it hereDavenport is Associate Director of our Creative Writing Program.

The newspaper story says "This gritty collection is perfect for readers who are familiar with the Illinois floodplain (across the Mississippi River from St. Louis) and will recognize names mentioned in the poems, from East St. Louis to Alton, from Miles Davis to Robert Wadlow. Even Cahokia Mounds and Sauget get a mention."  The volume's page quotes a reviewer saying: "Steve Davenport's Overpass takes us on an exuberant journey across the Illinois floodplain known as the Bottom, whose features include "factory cutbacks and closings, / refineries and strip clubs needing paint." Davenport's muse and central figure is Overpass Girl, whose cancer becomes a kind of metaphor for this "dirt cursed with industry and blood." A sequence of curtal sonnets, with a few sassy sestinas and other forms mixed in, Overpass creates a startling and delightful tension between its richly gritty content, and a craft that crashes through its own formal restraints with deft use of wordplay, syntax, allusion, and joyful sound."

So: for the gritty among you and fans of exuberant journeys: check it out!

Last but not least, Philip Graham writes to tell me that he has begun publishing a series of interviews with former UIUC Creative Writing students who have published books recently at Fiction Writers Review.  You can read the first installments of this soon to be expanded series now.  His interview with William Gillespie (a Creative Writing undergrad major in the '90s) here, and his interview with Rosalie Morales Kearns (an MFA grad from 2006) is here.  A very nice idea, and interesting interviews!

Whew!  So much to report on!  Carry on.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Mad Men, Mad World.

On a less squirrely note...

I'm told that the much-anticipated volume Madman, Madworld: Sex Politics, Style & the 1960s is now officially in print. This appropriately stylish volume is published by Duke University Press, and co-edited by Lauren Goodlad (English, and also Director of UIUC's Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory), Lilya Kaganovsky (Slavic, Comparative Literature, and Media & Cinema Studies) and Robert Rushing (Italian and Comparative Literature).

Here is the book description, pasted in from the Duke UP website:

"Since the show's debut in 2007, Mad Men has invited viewers to immerse themselves in the lush period settings, ruthless Madison Avenue advertising culture, and arresting characters at the center of its 1960s fictional world. Mad Men, Mad World is a comprehensive analysis of this groundbreaking TV series. Scholars from across the humanities consider the AMC drama from a fascinating array of perspectives, including fashion, history, architecture, civil rights, feminism, consumerism, art, cinema, and the serial format, as well as through theoretical frames such as critical race theory, gender, queer theory, global studies, and psychoanalysis.

In the introduction, the editors explore the show's popularity; its controversial representations of race, class, and gender; its powerful influence on aesthetics and style; and its unique use of period historicism and advertising as a way of speaking to our neoliberal moment. Mad Men, Mad World also includes an interview with Phil Abraham, an award-winning Mad Men director and cinematographer. Taken together, the essays demonstrate that understanding Mad Men means engaging the show not only as a reflection of the 1960s but also as a commentary on the present day."

The list of contributors is pretty impressive, too (in addition to local luminaries Goodlad, Kaganovsky, and Rushing, who co-authored the introduction and who each contributed a chapter):  Michael Bérubé, Alexander Doty, Jim Hansen, Dianne Harris, Lynne Joyrich, Clarence Lang, Caroline Levine, Kent Ono, Dana Polan, Leslie Reagan, Mabel Rosenheck, Irene Small, Michael Szalay, and Jeremy Varon.

Goodlad, in anticipation of the publication of this volume, has also been running a series of commentaries on Mad Men on Kritik, the online "public forum on theory, culture, and politics hosted by the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory."  You can find them by searching Kritik for yourself or by just clicking here.

If you are interested in Mad Men, or even if you are just interested in seeing how smart, theoretically informed scholars take up a contemporary popular cultural artifact, I recommend this volume.

The view from the head's office...

Friday, February 15, 2013

Michael Rothberg

This post is a bit more personal in nature than some I've written, and so I will try to keep it correspondingly brief. 

This week, it was announced by the Dean's office that Professor Michael Rothberg had agreed to take over as head of our department next August, at the completion of my five-year term.  Since I will still be in this office for several more months and since I will undoubtedly post here many more times between now and August 15, this is not the place for any drawn-out valediction or farewell.  But I will say that being head of the department has been at once exciting, exhausting, challenging, and inspiring, often all on the same day.  I chose not to pursue a second term because I thought it would be unhealthy--for me and for the department--to hold the position for ten years, but it has been a distinct honor to hold it for almost five.  I have learned an enormous amount about the university and my brilliant colleagues, and I'm very proud of what we as a department have accomplished.

Michael--who I guess regular readers of this blog may come to know much better in the relatively near future!--will be wonderful for the department.  He is an exceptionally accomplished scholar with an enviable international reputation, and the comparativist nature of his work positions him very well to lead English during a time when multi-disciplinarity is simply the way we all do business.  In addition to his primary departmental affiliation with English, Rothberg holds affiliate status in several other on-campus humanities programs, including The Program in Jewish Culture and Society, Comparative and World Literature, and Germanic Languages and Literatures.  He is also a former director of our Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory and Director, under the aegis of the Program in Jewish Culture and Society, of an ongoing Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies.

I am very grateful to Michael for agreeing to take on this important role, and I'm very much looking forward to benefiting--as a faculty member--from his wise stewardship!  

Friday, February 8, 2013

Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities

I had the pleasure, this week, of seeing for the first time the website for Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities.  This is a new scholarly journal edited by Stephanie Foote (currently Associate Professor of English and Gender and Women's Studies here at Illinois) and Stephanie LeMenager, who is an Associate Professor of English at UCSBFuture volumes will be published in digital form by the University of Nebraska Press, and the website indicates that the journal will start taking subscriptions this summer.  

Environmental humanities is a relatively new field-name under which one can find several scholarly approaches with their own critical histories.  Ecocriticism as been a thing for some time now, for example, as has science studies, the history of science, and environmental ethics.  Now, because of the urgency of the environmental crisis we all face, there is a growing scholarly momentum to bring these and other fields together, and to create spaces for interdisciplinary collaborations informed by humanistic questions between humanities, social sciences, and the sciences.  Many universities, including ours, now have specific centers or initiative designed to foster such collaborations.  There is a greater and greater need to bring the considerable analytical resources of the humanities--cultural studies, history, philosophy, analysis of representation and language, etc--to bear on the urgent and omnipresent problems associated with sustainability or environmental concerns.  There is of course a history associated with every aspect of the environment and of our real and imagined relations to it, and those relations are mediated in countless ways by the way we frame and narrate them in all kinds of discourse (scientific, literary, journalistic, etc., etc.).  Environmentalism necessarily involves epistemologies and ethics, rhetorics and literacies.  I am being glib and gestural here, perhaps, but the point is that humanistic scholarship--which is fundamentally about the ways that people construct meaning and and the ways we in turn are shaped by constructed meanings--has an essential role to play in the directions our thinking about sustainability and the environment take going forward.   

UIUC, which boasts outstanding faculty in the humanities as well as in sciences, is a natural center for this kind of inquiry, and that is why I am so enthusiastic about the launching of Resilience, which I fully expect to become an important venue for the highest-level work in environmental humanities.

But enough about what I think.  Here, pasted in from the journal's webpage, is a brief overview of the journal's mission: "The emerging sustainability initiatives developing on university and college campuses worldwide, and the increasing focus on environmentalism in various scientific disciplines often exclude the humanities, despite the fact that the past five years have seen the birth of a vibrant interdisciplinary field, the environmental humanities. But the expertise of the sciences in diagnosing environmental problems has not, as of yet, translated into a coherent vision for how sustainability can be used to challenge contemporary conversations about environmental issues. Resilience aims to place the environmental humanities at the center of such conversations, to set a broad agenda for academic humanists interested in the sustainability project, and to create a venue where the humanities can reach a broad academic audience and contribute to large-scale shifts in conceptualizing environmentalism and sustainability."

I would encourage you, if you are curious about the journal and inclined towards the use of social media, to "like" Resilience on Facebook or to follow them on Twitter.

Exciting and important stuff.  Congratulations, Stephanie, on the launch!

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