All 31 entries tagged Conferences
View all 104 entries tagged Conferences on Warwick Blogs | View entries tagged Conferences at Technorati | There are no images tagged Conferences on this blog
January 13, 2012
This joint meeting of the Midlands Interdisciplinary Victorian Studies Seminar (MIVSS) and the Midlands Romantic Seminar (MRS) focused on the idea of borders and periodisation in the long nineteenth century, particularly thinking about the Romantic-Victorian border: where do we draw the line between Romantics and Victorians in teaching and research, what purposes do they serve, and what about the grey areas in between?
I only attended the afternoon sessions, which began with Julian North speaking about "teaching and researching across the Romantic/Victorian border", and it's this paper which I want to focus on here. Julian started by discussing the plurality of Rom/Vic borders, suggesting the possible dates that might be chosen - the beginning of Victoria's reign in 1837, the deaths of the Romantic poets in the 1820s, the Reform Bill of 1832 - the possibilities are endless and always problematic in their attempt to neatly define the end/ beginning of an era. From my perspective, I'd suggest the coming of the railway in the 1830s as the decisive moment separating the Romantics and Victorians: Thackeray's comment that “we who have lived before the railways were made, belong to another world ... It was only yesterday; but what a gulf between now and then!” encapsulates the sense of the railway creating the world anew, but even with this we can't neatly date "the coming of the railway" (the Stockton-Darlington railway in 1825? the first passenger line between Liverpool and Manchester in 1830? or the spread of the railways in the "mania" of the 1840s?). Or from a global perspective,we might take 1815, the re-opening of continental borders at the end of the Napoleonic wars, as signalling the first moves into a new era of global modernity.
Julian North also thought about the motives for imposing and crossing borders - something, it emerged later in the discussion, that is particularly a product of literary studies (and perhaps history of art), rather than history where the borders tend to depend on the specific research project. Periodisation was posed as a product itself of the Victorian period: the impulse in Victorian biography to impose a sharp distinction between the Romantic and Victorian periods- a generational conflict, in which the Victorians assert themselves as the responsible grown-ups to the young, immature Romantics.
The borders for teaching purposes were also raised: how do we define a module, what kind of borders do we construct within and around it, and what does this say to students about the period they're studying? How do we teach the nuances of different parts of the periods in question, and how much does it matter? I wondered here too about generic differences: are the Rom/Vic borders more clearly defined or more easily imposed, perhaps, with regards to poetry (neatly divided here between term 1 on the Romantics, term 2 on the Victorians) than with the novel? The 19th century novel course on which I teach moves back and forthwithin the period 1800-1899 at various points as it's structured thematically rather than chronologically; and as a result, we rather quietly cross - or rather, leap - over the problematic Rom/Vic area: there's a noticeable gap in our chronology of texts from Austen in 1814 to Emily Bronte in 1848. Arguably when teaching the novel it's the mid-century period where things begin to get really interesting (I'm biased, yes) but that's not to say there isn't a lot of interesting work going on around the Rom/Vic borderlines and it is of course indicative to think about the kinds of negotiations in literary form going on around that period, and how that leads the way for what feels more firmly established by the later decades.
The question of the end-point of the century was also discussed - are the 1890s the start of a new period completly defined from what comes before? - and I'll be thinking about these questions more over the next few weeks as we move into the later nineteenth-century and start to think about what kind of meaningful connections are to be made (or not) both with the mid-century and across the period as a whole.
The MIVSS/ MRS event also raised some interesting questions around collecting objects, with Kate Hill's paper on Romantic and Victorian collections, which was pertinent in light of this cfpfor a conference on "Transforming Objects" which was recently announced - I'm considering revisiting a short section of the thesis on foreign objects in the Victorian novel, which will provide a nice change of direction to all the Dickensian mobility of late.
December 30, 2011
2011 saw a bit of a change in direction for this blog, reflecting my change in position: back in April I was awarded my PhD, meaning a shift in my status as a researcher and less consistency to my research activity. I've been working on lots of smaller research projects, and have been adapting to fitting research into a busy teaching schedule accompanied by a part-time job. As well as the time taken by these activities, I now run 3 other blogs - 2 for my students on The English 19th-century noveland Modes of Reading, and 1 through my role as ECR project officer in the Research Exchange - so research blogging is often not a priority in my limited "spare" time.
Having said that, all of this has been productive for my blog - in fact, only in 2008 did I write more posts than this year! Multiple smaller projects simply means that there are more bits and pieces to blog about, and it's been a busy year for Victorianists thanks to a certain birthday approaching next year. Joining the academic community on Twitter has also proved stimulating and further increased the interactivity and enjoyment of blogging - for example, leading to some cross-referencing in blogging as well as the discovery of several new Victorianist blogs to read (see the recently updated sidebar).
So to wrap up the year, here are my favourite and most-read posts of 2011:
1. "Moving on and moving on": Mobility in Bleak House; written 10 days before my viva, this post is a good example of the uses of academic blogging: this blog provided the starting-point for ideas that grew into one of my most enjoyable and productive pieces of research. I've since presented a paper, written an article, and am now formulating my monograph proposal around this research.
2. Old and new; reflections on the past, present and future of new media drawing together the iPad and Victorian periodical publication. I also wrote two other posts on Victorian studies and new technology: reviews of The Waste Land appand the Dickens's Dark London app.
3. "What connection can there be": the Great Exhibition of 1851; some research on the Bleak House paper led me to read more about the Great Exhibition, and here I blogged about the images that accompany Henry Mayhew's comic novel 1851 - I still find these images fascinating.
4. "Can you shew me the places?" Dickens 2012 and Literary Tourism; one of my bicentenary reflections, using the urban tour of Bleak House to offer perspectives for interpreting the popularity of Dickens walking tours.
5. Wuthering Heights: it's not all about Dickens! This is my initial response to the recent film of Wuthering Heights.
That's my top 5, but also noteworthy are the posts about 3 excellent conferences I attended: Modes of Transport at KCL in May, Travel in the 19th Century at Lincoln in July, and (if I may say so myself!) the symposium Rural Geographies of Gender and Space, Britain 1840-1920 that I organised in September.
Looking ahead to 2012 I expect there will be the odd Dickens post or two (!), but my latest emerging projects are diverging into some different directions: I'll be revisiting my work on George Eliot's Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss in preparation for a paper to be presented at Moving Dangerously in April; the work on Rural Geographies is continuing with plans for a publication of papers from the conference; and I'm looking into developing a research network on 19th century mobility with another Warwick post-doctoral researcher. I'll also be contributing soon to Warwick's Celebrating Dickens 2012 website.
I'll be back in the new year with posts on all of these activities; until then, have a happy new year!
October 12, 2011
I've been using Google maps in preparing a paper for this weekend's Dickens Day conference, I've been playing around with the "my places" function - I only discovered the other day that you can save places to create different maps. It's been fun creating maps of the locations in a couple of novels I'm writing about (I've just been drawing on print-out maps until now); here are my maps of the places of Bleak House and David Copperfield.
(Click to enlarge. Yes, my graphics skills need a little work!)
Of course this is just a more hi-tech form of what Morretti does in Atlas of the European Novel, and a starting-point for ideas rather than an end in itself; but it's nonetheless a useful way for stimulating ideas about location and place in individual novels, and indeed for re-thinking, revising, or even complicating initial readings of place.
In Bleak House, for example, it's notable that the significant locations fall upon this linear North-South axis: from London, to Bleak House in Hertfordshire, and up again to Chesney Wold in Lincolnshire; and then directly(ish) down to Paris. A brief excursion to Deal breaks this, but predominantly it's this movement up and down the country that forms the basis of the novel. In David Copperfield, this visualises what I've written about before about the tight, restricted geography of the text.
And in Little Dorrit, this is even more noticeable:
London (and the "suburb" Twickenham) is the only English location in the text; this is accompanied by a European narrative, but limiting the text to London locations opens up more questions about the relationship between those two parts of the narrative and how "Englishness" is represented in the text.
I'm not sure yet if I'll be using these maps in the talk itself as my focus is on the movements between these locations; but as I'm looking at how mobility reshapes the space of the nation, these maps provide a useful and concise visualisations of some of the key ideas I'm presenting. This might also feed in nicely to my teaching on the English C19th novel, where we're thinking a lot about place and nation, and (as Moretti's work shows), mapping the places of texts such as Austen's works provides a useful way into thinking about these ideas for the first time.
September 26, 2011
Rural Geographies of Gender and Space, Britain 1840-1920 brought together researchers from literature, history and geography to discuss gender-space intersections in rural contexts in the long Victorian period. The symposium theme had emerged from points of cross-over between my work -particularly my studies of women walking- and that of Gemma Goodman, who researches gender and rural space in the context of Cornwall. We found that whilst "women and the city" is a much covered theme in gender-place/space discussions, rural environments are less frequently taken as a specific context in their own right. We thought that the rural offered an equally productive site for discussions and hoped that the symposium would bring to the fore the different types of rural experiences in this period, and diverse approaches to theorising rural spaces.
The symposium proved to be productive and stimulating in both of these respects, not least because this was a truly interdisciplinary day: presenters from history, geography and literary studies took us through the spaces of Britain's farms, country houses, gardens, and out to the rural spaces of the empire, from the perspectives of writers, geographers, designers, artists. The day began with a keynote presentation from Jo Little, who is Professor of Gender and Geography at the University of Exeter. Her paper "Feminist Rural Geography: The Development of Approaches to the Study of Gender, Identity and the Countryside" began by outlining the development of gendered rural geographies before focusing on the key areas involved in this study, raising themes that remained prominent throughout the rest of the day. What came through in particular was the importance of the rural in constructing gender identity, particularly due to the stringently traditional, heteronormative values that continue to preside here. This was encapsulated in discussion of the campaign "The farmer wants a wife" which ran in the early 2000s, in which (male) farmers particularly sought women who would understand and were suited to the rural "way of life" - urban, fashionable, made-up women need not apply, as this suggested "flighty" notions incompatible with rural life. The sense of the rural as a "special" space away from the city emerged here too, also explored in Jo's research on "the rural body" which looks at the idea of the rural "transformative" holiday in which mind and body are restored to a "natural" healthiness through health and fitness activities in rural locations. What interested me here was that this "rural body" was a construct for the (urban) outsider entering into this space, a touristic notion to be appropriated rather than a term to describe the bodies of the rural inhabitants themselves.
Professor Little's work is on contemporary rural spaces, but these ideas resonate strongly with our study of nineteenth-century ruralities: the beginnings of rural tourism as a return to nature, the strong sense of traditional gendered roles and heteronormative sexual identities, and the importance of rural labour and class in defining identity, all came through in other papers throughout the day, and, to me, recalled my work on George Eliot's earlier novels. But we also saw ways in which women challenged some of these assumptions and worked to shape their own rural spaces; in the first panel on "Cultivated Ruralities", Emma Gray (University of Bristol) spoke about women's roles in the rebuilding of the country houses Tyntesfield and Dartington Hall, and Christen Ericsson (University of Southampton) discussed Gertrude Jekyll's designing of flower gardens - both occupations were considered outside of the female sphere, and in their undertakings these women could take command over their rural environments and forge an autonomous identity. Di Drummond's (Leeds Trinity) paper on Flora Annie Steel's writing on India moved us beyond British borders, but brought out a similar theme in identifying how Steel's writing shows a different vision of rural India to the male imperial writing of rural space; although often coinciding with masculine perspectives, her writing, such as In the Permanent Way, incorporates the perspectives of Indian inhabitants, producing a variegated vision of rural space. In the same panel, Karina Jakubowicz (UCL) also discussed how rural spaces beyond Britain enable the development of female autonomy, taking an ecofeminist perspective on Virginia Woolf's The Voyage Out which uses rural South America as a space in which the boundaries of gendered roles and sexualities become broken down. Kitty O'Connor also took challenging binaries as her theme in discussion of gender and geography in Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native and The Woodlanders, terming this a "geography of gender mulitiplicity".
The third panel, "Gender in the Field", returned us to British farms and fields. Maija Kuharenoka (de Montfort University) discussed masculinity in Mathilde Blind's "The Teamster", whilst Roger Ebbatson's analysis of Hardy's "Tess's Lament" looked at the portrayal of women in the field - I was taken with a quote describing rural women workers, which stated that "the language of the hay field is not that of pastoral poetry", again conveying this sense of discrepancy between internal and external perspectives on the countryside. Finally, Frances Richardson (Oxford) spoke about women farmers in Nantconwy, looking at the changes in farming practice in this region of Wales throughout the second half of the nineteenth century.
The day concluded with a roundtable discussion in which we drew together - or rather, opened up!- some of the recurrent themes; classed perspectives were of particular interest, with the question of where/whether there is space for the middle class in the countryside, and I was also interested in where/whether there is space for alternative gendered identities and sexualities. These are issues which I'm sure I'll keep on thinking about over the coming weeks; as far as my research was concerned, this provided a welcome change from my current focus on mobility and Dickens, and opened up new ideas for how I can develop some of my thesis work on rural environments. I hope the day was as interesting and productive for those who attended; our next step is to work the papers into a proposal for an edited collection on Rural Geographies, and I'm looking forward to hearing more from our participants in the future.
August 23, 2011
Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/ias/earlycareer/events/ruralgeographies/
Registration is now open for Rural Geographies of Gender and Space, Britain 1840-1920 (University of Warwick, 23rd September 2011).
The new conference website includes the provisional programme- we had a very good response to the call for papers and have an exciting line-up of papers around the themes of "Cultivated Ruralities", "Beyond Britain", and "Gender in the Field", as well as a keynote presentation by Professor Jo Little of the University of Exeter. We have therefore been able to extend the symposium beyond the original half-day; registration will open at 10.15am with the first paper at 11am, and we will finish with a wine reception at 6pm.
Thanks to generous support from the Roberts Fund, attendance will be free - but we ask all attendees to register by 16th September using our online form.
The symposium will take place in the Wolfson Research Exchange seminar rooms; for information on travelling to the University and finding the venue, see our travel information page.
Any enquiries can be directed to myself or Gemma Goodman.
July 25, 2011
The deadline for paper proposals for the symposium Rural Geographies of Gender and Space, Britain 1840-1920 has been extended to the 15th August.
See the previous blog or webpage for more information.
July 18, 2011
This is the second of two posts on the conference Travel in the 19th Centurywhich I attended at the University of Lincoln, 13-15th July 2011; in part 1 I focused on European travel, here I discuss papers on intra-national mobilities.
The effects of mobility in reshaping the relationship between space and time were a key theme of the European discussions throughout the conference but this also came up in the context of intra-national mobilities, most particularly in reference to railway journeys. Thursday morning saw a fascinating panel on Railway Travel, including Matt Thompson's (University of York) paper on a brilliant set of cartoon illustrations of the railways from the early 1840s, as well as Kara Tennant's (University of Cardiff) "A Restricted Ideal: Female Beauty in Transit" which focused on fashion and femininity in the railway carriage. I was most interested, though, in Di Drummond's (Leeds Trinity) paper on "Complimentary and Competing constructs of modernity in British and Indian narratives of the railway" which opened up an area of research I've long been interested in but haven't yet explored, the building of railways in 19th century India. Drummond's work on British railways has previously been of interest to me, exploring as it does concepts of space-time compression and the creation of new concepts of national space in Victorian Britain. Here a focus on India drew out similar issues to the spatial impact of British railways, which Drummond began by discussing through the intersection of modernity with colonial rhetoric, discourses which work to reinforce one another: the uneven development of India through the railway's spatial impact - an Old/New India - and a temporalised discourse around this solidified the modernity-imperial intersection. Drummond also looked at how national identity and the construction of national space were impacted by the railway: the extensive railway network suggesting the idea of an integrated and unified nation-space, whilst in Indian narratives discussions about national identity were generated through responses to the railway.
On the subject of intra-national mobilities, for me one of the key themes running throughout the conference was the need to expand the idea of what we think of as "travel" towards a concept that incorporates more diverse practices of mobility. This is a subject that remains central to the theoretical frameworks of my research; my thesis entered into debates around mobility theory, supporting the need for a conceptual shift from "travel" to "mobility" - a term that encompasses any form of movement through, and interaction with, socio-spatial contexts, thus situating the "production of meaning" of a subject-space interaction as the defining factor for what "counts" as a journey, rather than more arbitrary factors such as distance travelled or type of journey (leisure/pleasure) undertaken. Papers on the governess-traveller (Jenny Pearce, University of Hull), tramps (Ashley Fisher, University of Hull), and rambling clerks (Nicola Bishop, University of Lancaster) all pointed to the diverse forms of travel practice in the nineteenth century - particularly the value of what we might term "necessary" mobility - and the importance of expanding discussions to incorporate these practices; the representations such narratives produce are both significant in their own right, and in contributing to/working within the wider discourses about travel and transport in the nineteenth century. As my doctoral thesis sought to demonstrate, shifts in travel practice and the changing meanings this produced are manifest throughout all levels and scales of travel context, not just in those we might typically designate as "a journey", and it was encouraging to see others working from such a perspective and to learn more about the value of such narratives.
James Buzard's keynote paper offered an interesting perspective to these debates, bringing in another facet of expanding travel theory that has also been essential to my work: recognising that fictional narratives - particularly 19th century realism - contribute to, and work in the context of, discourses of travel. Centring his discussion around Madame Bovary, and building on the approaches of his Disorienting Fiction, Buzard offered an incisive and compelling reading of the relationship between travel, the novel, and ethnography which culminated in a renewed understanding of narrative technique in the realist text and the suggestion of free indirect discourse as the "stylistic variant of travel ethnography". In the wider context of his arguments, Buzard was, like the preceding papers, also thinking about the question of "what counts as travel" through looking at the discursive interactions of the novel with travel (Emma Bovary's imaginary wanderings - "with him she might have travelled all over the kingdom of Europe, from capital to capital" - provided the starting-point for discussion) and taking the 19th century text as an auto-ethnographic project. The role of the novel in wider travel cultures and discursive contexts is central to my research which takes a similar perspective in analysing fictional travel narratives as actively participating in 19th century travel culture.
But in light of the previous discussion about more inclusive mobilities, Buzard's approach distinctly differs, for he was dismissive of reading these travel practices as they appear in the novel: in setting out the context for discussion, he outlined the many and varied forms of movement in the novel and argued that these aren't really travel, not part of the same idea of travel culture with which the novel is interested. It's a point which stands in terms of his discussion of the relationship between narrative technique and travel culture, and the sophistication of this argument is not to be understated. But to me it seems to neglect the hugely important role that mobility does play in the novel and the perspectives on issues surrounding/emanating from travel culture that such movements offer - from the small-scale travels of characters through and between different places, to the wider-scale view of a novel's movement between geographical locations. These "actual" mobilities and the spaces they occupy play a different but nonetheless significant role in shaping narrative form, and reading through these movements and spaces offers a new perspective on how narratives might be seen to operate in the context of travel cultures. These journeys offer a rich and varied resource for developing further the relationship between travel and the novel. That aside, though, Buzard's paper offered some insightful new perspectives and I'll be thinking about this more as I revisit work on Dickens in the coming weeks.
As a final note on intra-national mobilities, we conference delegates were able to escape the confines of the campus to take a tour of Lincoln Cathedral, led by Jim Chesire, with focus on the Victorian stained glass of the cathedral. It was lovely to see more of the city, learn about the glorious cathedral and to have a shift in perspective - one which, quite aptly, positioned us as tourists!
Travel in the Nineteenth Century: Narratives, Histories and Collections proved to be a highly enjoyable conference, really demonstrating the true value of interdisciplinary interactions: papers covered a diverse range of travellers, travel narratives and research approaches, whilst threads of continuity came through in intersecting themes, contexts, paradigms and questions that opened up often unexpected areas of discussion.
My write-up of the conference became rather long, so I've split this into 2 parts: this post focuses on the issues surrounding Europe, whilst in part 2 I look at discussions of intra-national mobilities and the novel.
The value of the interdisciplinary context were for me drawn out right from the very beginning of the conference in the panel "The Idea of Europe" in which I presented along with Paul Stock from LSE, and we were very fortunate to be chaired by James Buzard (MIT, and keynote presenter). Speaking on European journeys in Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, I contextualised the fictional travel narrative within the complex and often contradictory relationship between Britain and Europe which is particularly acute in the mid-nineteenth century. I suggested that, along with factors such as imperial rivalry and economic competition, changing travel practices played a huge role in Britain's tensions with Europe at this time, not just by increasing contact with the foreign "other" but also through the reshaping of global space that travel technologies facilitated: the (perceived) proximity and openness of European space afforded through developments in transport technologies interplayed with existing anxieties about cultural difference and national identity, suggesting the potential collapse of the spatial distances that kept the foreign (European) "other" at a safe remove. My discussion centred around the text's representation of the British body in European space, working out to the wider movements between different locations of the novel: I argued that the novel plays out familiar discourses about Europe through representational modes which also register the encroaching proximity of Europe and the potential for collapse of the certainties of space-time-distance relationships; the British body, surrounded by "a formation of a surface", provides a representational locus for these concerns in the novel.
This 1820 map by William Woodbridge, "Moral and Political Chart of the Inhabited World",displays the tensions between Europe as a space unified against "the rest of the world" as well as riddled with internal hierarchies that problematise the coherence of European identity.
In the discussion that followed I also talked about the function of the English Channel as border-zone and its representation in the novel (something I'm currently writing about in research on Bleak House); the problem of definition - "what is Europe?" in the nineteenth century/ Victorian novel?; and how the British-European tensions still resonate in contemporary socio-political debates. I have yet to decide how my Europe chapter fits into the future development of my research but I've come away with a renewed interest in pursuing this work into the representation of Europe in the Victorian novel.
This was nicely accompanied by Paul Stock's paper "Travel on the Edges of Europe: Greece and the Philhellenes in the 1820s". Stock's work focuses on the idea of Europe in the early nineteenth century, and in this paper he suggested that debates over Greece's position on the borders of Europe provide the locus for wider questions about the meanings of Europe in this period. Greece and Europe function as self-reflexive concepts, and Greece forms the site of an idealised Europe and brings into play the problematic impulses surrounding this idealised concept. The overlapping frameworks and ideas of Europe between our papers provided me with some useful context for my research into the later part of the century, and I was particularly interested to learn about Greece's position in these debates (I've previously come across similar mid-Century debates focused around Turkey but not Greece).
Ulrike Spring's paper "Northern Tours: collecting culture and nature in 19th century Scandinavia" also brought up similar questions in her focus on travel to northern Norway in the period. Norway similarly occupied a border-position on the geographical edges of European space; a North-South divide enabled the southern portion to be more easily ideologically incorporated into Europe (in reverse to the North-South axis of Italy which played a similar role). Spring's paper focused on the town of Tromso, located in the far northof the country, and discussed how the practice of travel helped to imaginatively incorporate Norway into the idea of Europe. Referring to maps of tours to the area, ideas about linearity were raised: the tours followed a set route visiting coastal ports in quick succession, visually constructing a strictly linear route that stands in stark contrast to the coastal geography of the region, and creates a sequential understanding of places, as well as demarcating only these areas as tourist sites - tours never ventured far inland. This really emphasised the extent to which touristic sites are produced as such through the practices of travel and, in particular, through the spatial selectivity of those practices. By way of this process the North gradually became ideologically encompassed in the idea of Europe because it was produced as a certain kind of "European" site - tellingly, Tromso is known as "the Paris of the North". There's also an interesting issue to do with linearity in designating a direct route which plays out a compressing space-time relationship and thus brings Norway into a perceived closer proximity with the "centre" of Europe.
June 28, 2011
I'm pleased to publish the Call for Papers for a symposium that I'm organising with my colleague Gemma Goodman on Rural Geographies of Gender and Space, Britain 1840-1920.
Whilst discussions of gender and space in the nineteenth- to early-twentieth century have typically focused on “women and the city”, rural spaces offer equally productive contexts for exploring the intersections between gender and space in this period. As the socio-spatial relations of the country are impacted by the move into modernity, rural environments are revealed in literary and historical texts as sites of complex, contradictory and changing gendered codes.
This half-day symposium offers a long-overdue forum in which to resituate the rural as a vital context for understanding the meanings of gender and space in this period. By bringing together scholars from different disciplinary perspectives we aim to understand the diverse experiences of gendered rural spaces and contribute to discussions about theoretical approaches to the (rural)space-gender intersection.
Proposals are invited for short papers from scholars in literary studies, history, geography, and any other discipline; postgraduate and early career researchers are especially encouraged to apply. Themes for discussion could include:
Ø theories of gender and rural place: what do we mean by rural space, how do we theorise “the rural” as a spatial context, and how does gender intersect?
Ø the impact of modernity;
Ø mobility: walking, vagabonds, pedestrians, wayward women;
Ø labour, class and gender in the country;
Ø different ruralities;
Ø visibility/ invisibility
Please send a 300-word proposal for 15 minute papers by 29th July to the conference organisers Gemma Goodman and Charlotte Mathieson
May 30, 2011
Writing about web page http://travelconference.blogspot.com
This was the first of several conferences focusing on the theme of travel in the coming months, and what a wondefully stimulating start it was. Focusing on travel writing of the long nineteenth century, the conference specifically centred upon the impact of new technologies of movement on writing about travel; taking Franco Moretti's suggestion that "new space gives rise to a new form", the interest was in how new perspectives, markets, and networks enabled by technological developments gave rise to new literary forms and modes of travel writing.
Clare Pettitt's opening keynote presentation, "Travel in Print: Wonders, Miscellanies and News Culture" thoroughly encapsulated these ideas in an exploration of the relationship between print culture and travel writing. Pettitt began by outlining the notion of print culture as an alternative to the usual focus on print production in the period; print culture incorporates the uses and appropriations of print, thus opening up questions about the sociability of print form, the circulation of text and images, and the use of text as a participatory practice that goes beyond individual reading - summed up in the image of the Victorian scrapbook in which odds and ends of pictures and text are patched together to become appropriated into new compositions. In this, reading becomes a more active and participatory process and thus breaks down the distance between text and reader; this, Pettitt suggested, was vital to the changing forms of travel narrative as travel writing becomes a more porous practice, open to new forms of cross-cultural connection. Questions of fact and fiction, authorial trust, distance, and the gendered reception of travel writing were all opened up here. I was especially interested in the idea that scrap-booking was a particularly female practice, and thus a way of (actively) participating in the otherwise masculine domain of travel- but was this as positively undertaken as Pettitt suggested, and not accompanied by a longing awareness of the impossibilities of one's own movement? It was interesting also to think about the implications of this break-down of distance for the understanding of global spatial consciousness in the period. I've written before about travel writing playing a key role in the erosion of spatial boundaries and the resultant insecurities of national place that arise from the sense of compressing global space; this notion of travel-print circulation within Britain brings a new dimension to these ideas, resonating with ideas of intra-national mobility that I'm currently exploring as both a resistance to and complication of the meanings of global mobility.
The writing of Basil Hall and H. M. Stanley was used by Pettitt to exemplify these ideas, and throughout the day a vast array of travellers writing about a range of different locations were discussed: British women travelling in Norway, journeys to Rome, Romantic walkers, a female traveller to Chile, de Quincey's mail-coach journeys, female travellers in India, and contemporary travel writers were covered in the papers I attended and delegates I met with. The focus was almost exclusively on "true" travel narratives of journeys undertaken by the writers, but Anne Green's paper on fictional renderings of rail travel in France from 1852-70 proved especially complementary to my work. Although French writing doesn't register the shock of rail travel in the way that can be discerned in British writing of a similar period, Green's paper identified that many corresponding representational techniques are found in French renderings of the railway journey - speed and perception of the landscape, the dislocation of passivitiy vs movement, metaphoric descriptions, as well as the expected themes of sexuality, death, illness and so on. Her focus on Flaubert, however, identified how the railway's impact on shaping literary form was much greater in French writing, the railway really reshaping French literature and narrative form in a way that can't quite be said for British literature - at least not in the same, directly discernible way.
Although I could only attend the first of the two days of this conference, the day opened up a number of useful lines of enquiry for events of the coming weeks and months, including:
Travelling Identities at Birkbeck (18th June), a symposium for discussing ideas of travel and identity construction;
Global Cities: A Literary Atlas of Nineteenth-Century Urban Culturesat King's (25th June), a forum for discussing non-European urban cultures;
Travel in the Nineteenth Century: Narratives, Histories and Collections is a three-day conference at the University of Lincoln this summer, at which I'll be presenting a paper on Dickens's representation of Europe in Little Dorrit;
and a little way off yet, but this year's Dickens Day also picks up on the popularity of this theme by focusing on Dickens and Travel.