“Harriet Martineau in the 21st Century: What Next?”
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
June 21-24, 2017
Moderator: Deborah Logan, Western Kentucky University
The career of Harriet Martineau (1802-76) spanned a half century, her writing providing vivid reflections of the spirit of an age marked by social reform movements and British imperial expansion. A prolific writer by any standard, Martineau offers an early example of interdisciplinary perspectives on an era credited with solidifying strict disciplinary boundaries that excluded the contributions of informally educated women. From creative writing (poetry, short stories, novels, children’s literature, and even song lyrics) to travel writing, from sociology to contemporary history, from philosophy to theology, from disabilities studies to environmentalism, and from political economy to periodicals writing on a vast array of national and international topics – Martineau was one of the most representative and widely-published voices of the era. What is her status today? And what should it be?
Martineau scholarship started to take shape after her posthumous Autobiography (1877): initial biographies featured eye-witness accounts of her life and work, while early 20th-century biographers claimed her as a pre-first-wave feminist. R.K. Webb’s polarizing 1960 scholarly biography sparked a renaissance in Martineau studies, including new editions of her work and a wealth of critical assessments of her contributions to literary and intellectual history, all attesting to the impact of a writer who represented her time and anticipated ours.
As we go deeper into the uncharted waters of digitization, and as traditional, scholarly hardcopy editions of Martineau’s long out-of-print work seem less likely to happen, where should we – as scholars of women’s history, of women’s literature, of Victorian studies, of modern feminism and feminist fore-mothers, of disciplinary and interdisciplinary studies – where should we be directing our energies on her behalf? How can we and should we promote traditional scholarship while also harnessing the potential of virtual resources to make available to new generations the work of one of the foremost intellectual women of the nineteenth century? Martineau thought deeply and had much to say and to write: how can we as scholars and teachers most effectively make her insights available to 21st-century students and thinkers? Please send proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 1, 2017.