NAVSA 2013 offers three plenary sessions:

Book Prize Roundtable Plenary I (Thursday, October 24): NAVSA’s Best Book of 2012

Catherine Robson (New York U), James Eli Adams (Columbia U), Timothy Alborn (Lehman C and CUNY Graduate Center), and Melissa Valiska Gregory (U Toledo), moderator

We are thrilled to announce the first winner of NAVSA’s Best Book of the Year award: Catherine Robson’s Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem, published by Princeton University Press in 2012.

The prize committee selected Heart Beats from over thirty nominated books related to the study of Victorian Britain or its empire. To make their determination, they focused particularly on three criteria: (1) The potential significance for Victorian studies; (2) The quality and depth of scholarly research and interpretation; and (3) Clarity and effectiveness of presentation.

Heart Beats examines how poetry recitation came to assume a central place in past curricular programs, and to investigate when and why the once-mandatory exercise declined. Focusing on vital connections between poems, individuals, and their communities, Heart Beats is an important study of the history and power of memorized poetry (

We invite you to a special session at the NAVSA conference featuring the author and the members of the prize committee, James Eli Adams and Timothy Alborn. The judges will share their thoughts about the significance of Heart Beats, and the author will be happy to answer questions about her methodology, research, and writing process. This session will be an important contribution to the conference’s ongoing conversation about both new directions in the field of Victorian studies as well as the disciplinary uses of evidence.

Catherine Robson is Professor of English at New York University, where she specializes in nineteenth-century British cultural and literary studies; she is also a long-time faculty member of the Santa Cruz-based Dickens Project. Born in London, she spent her formative years in Huddersfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire; she studied for her BA at Oxford University and then proceeded to California, where she lived, on and off, for twenty years, receiving her MA and Ph. D from UC Berkeley and teaching at UC Davis from 1995 to 2010. Her first book, Men in Wonderland: The Lost Girlhood of the Victorian Gentleman was published in 2001 by Princeton; in 2003 she became co-editor, with Carol Christ, of The Victorian Age for the Norton Anthology of English Literature. For the last decade she has been working, with the support of fellowships from the NEH, the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, on the memorization and recitation of poetry. Her first published piece on this topic, “Standing on the Burning Deck: Poetry, Performance, History” appeared in PMLA in 2005 and received NAVSA’s Donald Gray prize. She is now at work on a new project, provisionally entitled “Talking to the Enemy: How Germany Captured British Voices in the Great War.”

James Eli Adams is a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He received his SB in Literature and Mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his BA from Oxford as Rhodes Scholar, and his PhD from Cornell. He previously taught at Cornell, Indiana University, and the University of Rochester. He is the author of Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Masculinity (Cornell, 1995) and A History of Victorian Literature (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), each of which was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Book. He co-edited, with Andrew Miller, Sexualities in Victorian Britain (Indiana, 1996), and served as general editor of the four-volume Encyclopedia of the Victorian Era (Grolier, 2004). He is currently at work on a project entitled The Uses of Inheritance: Identity and Agency in Britain, 1789-1895.

Timothy Alborn is Professor of History at Lehman College and also teaches at the CUNY Graduate Center in History. He received his BA and PhD from Harvard in the History of Science Department and taught previously in the History and Social Studies Departments at Harvard. He has published widely on British history, including essays on the Indian census, national health insurance, bank failures, gold coins, and tuberculosis, as well as books: Conceiving Companies: Joint-Stock Politics in Victorian England (Routledge, 1998) and Regulated Lives: Life Insurance and British Society, 1800-1914 (Toronto, 2009). His current research focuses on the cultural and financial history of gold in Great Britain between 1780 and 1850, in the decades leading up the gold rushes in California and Australia.

For further information on NAVSA’s Best Book of the Year award, please click here. Note that authors need not be members of NAVSA to nominate their work.

Plenary Session II (Friday, October 25): John Plotz, “Virtually Evident: Fictional Proof”

This talk considers what kind of credence is granted to fiction, historical and otherwise, when it comes to forming a “realistic” view of the world.  Rather than arguing for realist fiction’s plausibility as documentary, Plotz explores the implications of the felt “virtuality” of a fictional world.  Plotz asks how the “evidence” provided by fiction is distinct from, or akin to, evidence in the sciences of the day.  He wishes to extend work that looks at disciplinary divides about what counts as “capturing” the ordinary nature of everyday life.

John Plotz is a Professor and Chair of English at Brandeis University. He is the author of The Crowd (California, 2000) and Portable Property (Princeton, 2008), and his current project is entitled “Semi-Detached: The Aesthetics of Partial Absorption.” 

Plenary Session III (Saturday, October 26): Carla Yanni, “Architectural Evidence: Buildings and the Construction of Knowledge”

Examining the relationship between architecture, science, medicine, and education, this talk focuses on how architecture participates in the social construction of knowledge.  Yanni’s lecture will include examples of different types of evidence—plans, architectural working drawings, sketches, vintage photographs, and the buildings themselves—all of which are abundant and rich with potential for interdisciplinary scholarship.

Carla Yanni is Professor of Art History at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.  She is author of Nature’s Museums: Victorian Science and the Architecture of Display (Johns Hopkins University, 2000) and The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States (University of Minnesota Press, 2007) and is currently writing a book on the architecture of dormitories and residence halls.