Carolina hosts conference on 19th-century American literary studies

Turning a dissertation topic into that first academic book calls for a whole new mindset.

On a basic level, the author has to move from a defensive posture of amassing knowledge to a position of authority, said Mark Simpson-Vos, editorial director of UNC Press. Even elements like structuring the introduction to represent the writer’s perspective instead of focusing on what other people say serve to reinforce the author as an authority.

Throughout the process, it’s important to keep in mind that the first book is a unique opportunity for the newly minted Ph.D. to launch himself or herself into the world academically, he said.

Simpson-Vos was one of six panelists from university presses who offered advice about academic book publishing during one session of the third biennial conference of “C19: The Society for 19th-Century Americanists,” held on campus last week (March 13–16).

Other panelists recommended putting some distance between the dissertation and the book to gain perspective, remembering that the dissertation might be the basis for the book but it isn’t the book itself, and keeping in mind what the book attempts to accomplish.

The Department of English and Comparative Literature in the College of Arts and Sciences hosted the conference. C19 is the first academic organization dedicated to 19th-century American literary studies.

“It’s quite a coup,” said Jane F. Thrailkill, one of the conference hosts and Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Associate Professor at Carolina. The University played host to more than 400 top scholars of American literature, representing more than 200 universities.

Participants presented new work on a range of topics, including the Emily Dickinson digital archives, Civil War journalism, The Book of Mormon, and 19th-century environmental literature. A special session honored the groundbreaking work of Carolina’s own William L. Andrews, E. Maynard Adams Professor of English, who discovered and published previously unknown writings by African-American slaves from the University’s archives.

The theme of the conference was “Commons,” spotlighting the importance of shared spaces in fostering communication, consensus and meaningful social protest in the 19th century and today.

By Patty Courtright of the University Gazette.

March 19, 2014.