Of Victorian Interest

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Of Victorian Interest

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CFP: "Performing Philanthropy" – Panel Proposal for NAVSA 2011 (2/15, 11/3-6/2011)

Call for Papers
NAVSA 2011

Panel Proposal: Performing Philanthropy

When Charles Dickens first satisfied his longing to be on the stage, he made sure to appear in benefit performances. As long as he was raising funds for charity, even the stage was respectable. When the Anti-corn Law League wanted to fill its waning coffers and boost its public image, it opted to stage a fund-raising bazaar. The event filled London's Covent Garden Theater to capacity for over two weeks during the 1845 London season, the fair-goers flocking to see the entire theater transformed to look like a Gothic hall, filled with every variety of manufactured goods and ladies' work for sale. Philanthropic work invited play and performance, a fact about which the Victorians were quite frank. Benefit performances were often listed in the entertainment sections of newspapers. Organizers solicited patrons who would attract a large crowd and lecturers who could elicit tears and coins for the most unfortunate.

Given the variety of fund-raising methods employed, the vast number of causes espoused, and the plethora of ideologies and motivations claimed, Victorian philanthropy defies simple classifications. With the rise of institutional giving, philanthropy became a primary means of mediating class relations and thus a widespread social practice and a pervasive literary theme. How did novels and related forms of social investigation-slum surveys, works of political economy, and moral commentaries-figure the performative, ritualistic aspects of philanthropy? What aspects of play were involved in these seemingly staunch and serious rituals?

We propose a panel on Performing Philanthropy for the 2011 NAVSA conference. We invite paper proposals of 500 words dealing with issues pertaining to the play and performance involved in Victorian philanthropy and charity work. Please submit proposals, along with one-page c.v.'s, by February 15th to Frank Christianson (frank_christianson@byu.edu) or Leslee Thorne-Murphy (lesleetm@byu.edu).

Possible topics:

  • Performing poverty and/or benevolence
  • Philanthropy as social classification: modes of discrimination, the "deserving poor," detecting pauperism.
  • Social surveys as ethnographic tourism-slumming, the philanthropic gaze, the aesthetics of street life
  • The rhetoric of altruism: public morality vs. private charity
  • Performing gender through philanthropy
  • Philanthropic imperialism: charity work and colonial allegiance
  • Negotiating class identity through philanthropic work
  • Philanthropy as social ritual
  • Fictional philanthropy as entertainment/Authorship as philanthropy
  • Mass mediated philanthropy and popular culture/visual culture/photography

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