(Un)disciplining Within the Nineteenth Century: Historical Hybridity in Self-Reflective Writing by Women
Summer 2024 Special issue of Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies
Edited by Shuhita Bhattacharjee and Michelle M. Taylor
Deadline: June 30, 2023
Many subfields within literary studies have been re-evaluating their assumptions and methodologies in light of the augmented—if overdue—attention being allotted to ethnic studies, specifically post-BLM (Black Lives Matter) 2020, and in the shadow of other such movements spanning a decade (the 2012 Idle No More indigenous movement, among others). Of course, for many subfields, such as African American studies or postcolonial studies, such a shift was not necessary. But many scholars across gender studies, animal studies, or religious studies have renewed or enhanced their commitments to ethnic studies and DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) over the past several years—and in ways that both avoid merely perfunctory engagement and maintain the original objectives of their subfields.
Victorian Studies has also been engaging with this critical impulse, attempting to “undiscipline” itself through a concerted flow of panel discussions and edited volumes. Among the most visible and recent is the team of Ronjaunee Chatterjee, Alicia Mireles Christoff, and Amy R. Wong, who note that as three (non-Black) women of color trained in Victorian studies, they could not but send out a timely call to “undiscipline” the field, developing this initiative in its final stages when BLM political coalitions and advocacy took center stage. Reading Jane Eyre, Olivia Loksing Moy speaks of the troubling experience of encountering the canon as a person of color and suggests “reading in the aftermath” as a preferable methodology in which the reader shows “a willingness to confront a racist past and its distorting aftereffects on life today.” Ryan D. Fong attempts the same for The Story of an African Farm, and Nasser Mufti suggests the adoption of a Saidian “contrapuntal reading” strategy and the vantage point of Pan-African anticolonialism to edge Victorian Studies towards more responsibly acknowledging its inherent exclusions and engaging more fully with the “peripheries.”
Looking at these contemporary attempts to “undiscipline” the field through current interpretive intervention, and drawing on work such as Regenia Gagnier’s, which calls for an examination of Victorian conscious “self-projection and critique,” the organizers welcome essays for this special issue of NCGS: one which examines how works of nineteenth-century literature and culture either produced by women (or persons of non-dominant gender identities) or structured around significant female characters engage in self-conscious reflection on and critique of their own impulses, with a particularly clear understanding of the criminality of their era’s exclusions and injustices. How did authorship itself express and encourage such self-reflexivity, especially if the positions from which such critique was voiced were marginal and relatively powerless? In other words, the organizers are interested in essays that engage with the question of how nineteenth-century women, whether historical or fictional, had already begun the kind of methodological “undisciplining” that we are prioritizing in our scholarly approaches today.
As we helplessly witness the historical baggage and human costs of the Ukraine war in our current moment, the organizers also specifically welcome essays that consider Victorian women’s critiques of the wars through which they lived (the Crimean War, the 1857 Indian Uprising, the Boer Wars, etc.). Though this is only one example of a crucial exercise in Neo-Victorian inquiry that reads current debates back into their polemical nineteenth-century contexts, it offers another way of framing the question the organizers are posing for their issue: how do female authors and characters emerge to us as what we might call “historical hybrids,” caught between contemporary crimes and a futuristic or prophetic self-judgment that is yet still distinctly different from the belatedness with which we seem to be arriving on the scene of human rights crimes in our own time?
Possible topics may include, but are not limited to:
- Slavery, the abolition movement, and the Emancipation Act of 1833
- Writing in/about the colonies
- War and/or other sources of mass violence
- Sensation fiction/domestic fiction about international politics
- Industrialism/industrial novels and reflections on class
- The Imperial Gothic and crime
- Religion/religious novels and the idea of sin/crime
- Evangelical missionary efforts, whether at home or abroad
- Stigma surrounding disability and mental illness
- Stigma surrounding gender identity or sexual preference
- Exploitation of nature and/or the nonhuman
- Women as hybrids (monstrous/animalistic) or their historical hybridity as critics
The organizers are also looking at submissions for ‘in-progress-work’ that is shorter, more ruminatory, less decisive.
Send abstracts of 500 words and a CV (2-3 pages) in Word or PDF format to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org by 30 June 2023. Please mention ‘NCGS Abstract Submission’ in the subject line of the email.