Special Seminars

Special Seminars

In Special Seminars, participants pre-circulate five-page position papers for discussion led by an expert in the topic.  All seminar participants’ names will be listed in the conference program.  Registration is limited to 15 participants per seminar.


Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis. Priority will be given to those who are not presenting a paper on a panel. To register, please email NAVSA2013@gmail.com with your request.

Early registration for NAVSA applicants: May 11-May 18

Open Registration: May 19-September 1

Deadline to register for seminars: September 1

Deadline to submit 5-page position paper for seminars: September 15



Seminar Descriptions

 Uncovering Victorian Bodies

 Paul Deslandes, Department of History, University of Vermont

 Scholars in a variety of different disciplines have turned their attention, in recent decades, to excavating the meaning of Victorian bodies by examining a diverse range of artifacts and evidence. In so doing, they have reminded us that bodies operate on many different levels. On the one hand, bodies can be clothed, adorned, and altered to signpost a broad range of social and cultural identities. In this way, bodies function as essential instruments in the performance of class, ethnic, gender, racial, religious, and sexual subjectivities. On the other hand, the body functions as an object of scrutiny; a “thing” that is probed and explained in medical texts, desired and fantasized about in visual and textual pornography, and commodified in advertisements and cartes de visite photographs. This seminar invites participants to submit five-page position papers on the place of the body in the field of Victorian studies. While the areas of focus remain open, topics of particular relevance to this session might include: the adornment and beautification of bodies; ugliness and deformity in Victorian culture; imaging the body and desire in Victorian society; techniques of representing the body; consumerism and beauty culture; or medical interventions and body modification. The goal of this seminar is not only to provide collective feedback on various works in progress but also to discuss possible new directions for this exciting field of inquiry.

Paul R. Deslandes is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of History at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Oxbridge Men: British Masculinity and the Undergraduate Experience, 1850-1920 (Indiana University Press, 2005) and a contributor to Sarah Toulalan and Kate Fisher, eds., The Routledge History of Sex and the Body, 1500 to the Present (Routledge, 2013) and Brian Lewis, ed., British Queer History: New Approaches and Perspectives (Manchester University Press, 2013). He is also the author of a number of articles and essays on the history of British education, masculinity, and male sexuality that have appeared in the Journal of British Studies, History of Education Quarterly, Gender and HistoryHistory Compass, and the Journal of Women’s History. He is currently writing a new book on the cultural history of male beauty in Britain from the 1840s to the present.



Science and Religion

 George Levine, Emeritus Professor, Department of English, Rutgers University

 The question of “evidence” is key to our understanding of those tensions between religion and science that marked Victorian culture, particularly in the last half of the century.   This seminar invites five-page position papers that consider the range of problems related to this battle of the evidences, as Hugh Miller called it, or this battle about evidence -- how the question of “evidence” was understood, what sort of evidence might serve in spiritual matters, what were the limits of naturalist views that all of the material world could be explained by laws now in operation, what is the relation of evidence, as in natural theology or scientific experiment, to belief and faith, how is it that a radical Humean empiricist skepticism could serve such diverse thinkers as Newman and Huxley, was or is it possible to reconcile scientific and religious thinking (as when in 1830 John Herschel claimed, in his Prolegomena, that “truth cannot be opposed to truth”).  There are recurring questions of definition and of intellectual borders that the scientific reliance on evidence regularly provoked: where, if anywhere, does scientific authority end and where (if anywhere) does Religious authority begin?  Is “evidence” a relevant category for each?

 George Levine is emeritus professor of English at Rutgers University.  He has written extensively on Victorian fiction, realism, and the relations between science and literature.  He has edited many volumes related to these subjects, including the recent The Joy of Secularism.  His many books include several on Darwin: Darwin and the Novelists, Darwin Loves You, and Darwin the Writer, and among other relevant works there are Realism, Ethics, and Secularism and Dying to Know: Scientific Epistemology and Narrative in Victorian England. 



Victorian Media

 Elizabeth Miller, Department of English, University of California, Davis

 Questions of evidence are inseparable from questions of media. As Lisa Gitelman has argued, media are historical not only in that all media emerge as “new” at some point in time, but also because media are “functionally integral to a sense of pastness.” A photograph, for example, “stands uniquely as evidence, an index, because that photograph was caused in the moment of the past that it represents.” All of our encounters with Victorian culture are mediated by technologies of the nineteenth century and today, and this reflexivity animates recent approaches to Victorian media. This seminar invites five-page position papers focused on the material, visual, and print forms we rely on as evidence for our understanding of Victorian culture and on the ways that Victorians used and understood media. My hope is to bring together a broad range of approaches to Victorian media ecology, including papers focused on periodicals and magazines; literary seriality; newspapers and journalism; print culture; mass culture; book history; illustration; photography; or film. Participants might consider the book market or art market of the nineteenth century, or examine forums for book reviews or art criticism. Papers focused on information technologies such as telegraphy or shorthand are also welcome.

 Elizabeth Carolyn Miller is Associate Professor and Department Chair of English at the University of California, Davis. She is the author of Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture (Stanford UP, 2013) and Framed: The New Woman Criminal in British Culture at the Fin de Siècle (U of Michigan P, 2008), and her articles have appeared in Feminist Studies, Modernism/modernity, Victorian Literature and CultureLiterature Compass, and elsewhere. Her research focuses on print culture, periodicals, and early film, as well as socialism and radical politics.



Fictionalism in Victorian and Edwardian Culture

 Michael Saler, Department of History, University of California, Davis

 In 1911, the philosopher Hans Vaihinger published The Philosophy of ‘As If’, which argued for the centrality of self-conscious fictions in all domains of life, an orientation he called “Fictionalism.”  Vaihinger’s work expressed a general interest in the idea of the “fictional” in late Victorian and Edwardian culture, which had been spurred by mutually reinforcing intellectual currents. These included a general revolt against positivism and concurrent explorations of the unconscious and irrational in everyday life, an interest in the centrality of art and illusion in the thought of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, new approaches to Idealist philosophy alongside the emergence of pragmatism, a crisis in the representation of nature owing to the New Physics, and the prominence of Aestheticism and Symbolism within the arts. The late nineteenth century witnessed an efflorescence of imaginary worlds in fiction, a turn to imaginary models in the social sciences and “thought experiments” in the natural sciences, and an ironic embrace of fictional characters, such as Sherlock Holmes, by adults as well as children. But the self-reflexive embrace of fictions for practical purposes extends back to at least the seventeenth century, and became increasingly prominent through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This seminar invites papers on “Fictionalism” in all aspects of Victorian and Edwardian culture.

Michael Saler is a professor in the department of history at the University of California at Davis.  A European cultural and intellectual historian, he is the author of The Avant-Garde in Interwar England: Medieval Modernism and the London Underground (Oxford University Press, 1999); and As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Pre-History of Virtual Reality (Oxford University Press, 2012); and with Joshua Landy, edited The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age (Stanford University Press, 2009).  He is currently editing The Fin-de-siècle World, a collection of interdisciplinary essays by on the political, economic, social, intellectual, and cultural trends across the globe between 1880 and 1914 and writing Fictionalism and the Secular Imagination, a history of the idea of “Fictionalism” in Western Culture, addressing issues of faith and belief in a secular age.