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

Monday, October 14, 2013

Faculty Honors...

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences here at Illinois is celebrating its centennial this year. As part of the celebration, we’ve already heard about the naming of Centennial Scholars. Now the College has announced a new set of honors. A “Gallery of Excellence” has gone up on the LAS website that will highlight the teachers, researchers, academic programs, and alumni who have been responsible “for some of the most important ideas and discoveries of the 20th and 21st centuries.”

I’m pleased to report that English is represented in the first round of honorees that is now available. I can’t think of a more deserving person to be singled out than Nina Baym, emerita professor of English, who is indeed responsible for many important ideas and discoveries! Nina held a number of the most prestigious titles available on this campus during the course of her career, including Swanlund Endowed Chair, Jubilee Professor in the College of LAS, and Center for Advanced Study Professor of English. What is important is of course not the names of those positions but the work that stands behind them: Nina is universally recognized as a major figure in changing the way we think about American literary history. She is especially and rightly renowned for expanding the canon of American literature so that it would take into account and value many women writers previously left out of the picture. Among her numerous important books during the course of a very rich career are Women’s Fiction (1978), Feminism and American Literary History (1992), and Women Writers and the American West, 1833-1927 (2011). Among the signs of her prominence in the field are her ongoing editorship of The Norton Anthology of American Literature (since 1985), and the many awards she has won, including the Modern Language Association’s Jay B. Hubbell Award for lifetime achievement in American literary studies (2000). Congratulations, Nina! You honor us by being part of our community.

While we’re on the topic of honors, I’m also very happy to report that Feisal Mohamed has received a new award. His co-edited collection Milton and Questions of History (2012) has just been awarded the Milton Society of America’s Irene Samuel Memorial Award, the highest honor from the society for a collection of essays. This is the second consecutive year that Feisal has received an award from the MSA. The award will be bestowed at the upcoming Milton Society Association conference in Chicago. Congratulations, Feisal, for receiving this further recognition of your work!

Thursday, October 3, 2013


The other day I had the great pleasure of attending a planning meeting for a new Undergraduate Literary Criticism Journal that our English majors are creating. This new journal will join Montage, a student-run creative writing and visual arts periodical with a long presence on campus. (You can read about both journals here.)

I was extremely impressed by the energy and commitment of the many students who attended, some of whom I enjoyed teaching last spring in my course on Critical Approaches to Literature! The meeting was led by Michael Chan and Clara Mount (see the picture below), but other students have also been involved in getting this initiative going, as you can read in this Daily Illini article from last spring. The students are getting great support from our Director of Undergraduate Studies Lori Newcomb as well as from our advisors, the University Library, and the Office of UndergraduateResearch.

When it appears next semester, this new journal will join what is already a very impressive array of publications coming out of our department. In addition to Montage and our award-winning literary magazine Ninth Letter (edited by Jodee Stanley and our wonderful Creative Writing faculty), we now serve as the home base for no less than six other faculty-edited journals. One very established journal, College English, has just arrived with our new colleague Kelly Ritter, and another about-to-appear journal, Resilience, is the brainchild of Stephanie Foote, who is becoming a leading figure in the new environmental humanities. Configurations, the official journal of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts, was recently taken over by Melissa Littlefield, and Bob Markley, Charlie Wright and Martin Camargo, and Gordon Hutner continue to edit The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, Journal of English and Germanic Philology, and American Literary History, respectively.

As you can see, this is a remarkable and diverse lineup that covers a huge terrain of “traditional” literary areas along with emerging interdisciplinary fields. Together with the great teaching and research that goes on in our department, this kind of editorial work is one of the signs of our intellectual vitality. Editing a journal is enormously hard work—as our majors are about to find out!—but it is also incredibly rewarding. And it’s a crucial service to our profession and to society at large, because it ultimately involves the preservation and transformation of our literary and cultural heritage.

As I told the students when I attended their meeting the other day, editing a journal in graduate school was one of the most enjoyable, challenging, and educational experiences I ever had as a student. Journals are the lifeblood of our profession: they are the way we most frequently get new ideas out into the world. It pleases me greatly that my colleagues and students are contributing in such a fundamental way to the creation and circulation of new works of literature, criticism, and theory.