This blog is devoted mostly to American literature, textual scholarship, and digital humanities. I use the blog as a drafting tool for articles, conference presentations, and project descriptions. Much of the work will be focussed on the process of editing Uncle Tom’s Cabin and textual scholarship, the subjects of my dissertation and current projects.
While I will circle often around the same themes, this is not a themed blog. I will make some excursions to remark on topics that I find interesting. Because this forum is public–even if the scholarship is in draft form–I protect privacy. I limit my comments about individuals to scholarship that is published, posted online, presented at conferences, or made available in semi-public forums. Readers will not find here any posts about my family, current or former students or colleagues, or exasperating clerks at grocery stores.
As my subject is often nineteenth-century American literature–an historical period in which much written discourse reflects attitudes that present-day readers should find disturbing–my posts may include wording some might consider offensive. Whereas a present-day newspaper or magazine might as part of their editorial policy prohibit the use of certain words, I believe that a scholarly approach to language demands both sensitivity to contemporary rhetorical norms and historical accuracy. For some subjects it is necessary to cite the words in order to understand the attitudes common to past times. By contemporary standards such words will reflect prejudices based on class, gender, ethnicity, or sexual preference. The interest in historical veracity does not excuse words deemed offensive in contemporary discourse without adequate attention to differing contexts. As legacies of historical attitudes survive into the present day (even if forms have been reconfigured), I try to write carefully with exactness of meaning. Written language is a flexible tool that responds to writer, medium, and audience–so I may not succeed at this task, especially when my words are read by an audience not familiar with norms of discourse that I take for granted.
I fight against the tendency to take the language of literary and cultural studies scholarship for granted–because this language is often larded with jargon–but because I live in this milieu my language may reflect its biases. I welcome comments if a post is unclear or has caused discomfort. If a reader identifies an error or a lack of clarity I will probably revise the post, when time allows.
My blog is named (has been renamed) with a passage from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Tom trusted the text of the Bible (New Testament) because “there it lay, just what he needed.” Stowe contrasts Tom to Cicero, and she imagines that the Roman orator, after losing his daughter, would not find reassurance in the “text” and would instead concern himself with “a thousand questions of authenticity of manuscript, and correctness of translation.”