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American Literary Studies Beyond the Brink

American Literary Studies Beyond the Brink


April 16, 2021 | 12:00 pm
- April 16, 2021 | 1:00 pm

The Chronicle Review introduced their recent collection “Endgame: Can literary studies survive?” with the bold statement, “The academic study of literature is no longer on the verge of field collapse. It’s in the midst of it.” The sentiments here expressed seem far less bold and more obvious in the midst of the unfolding effects COVID-19 is having on employment and funding in academia generally and American literary studies in particular. Various interrelated forces could be and have been identified as having contributed to this moment, such as changes in university funding sources, privatization of research, externalization of revenue, the increasing debt burden for students, threats to academic freedom, the shifting demands of professionalization, and the decreasing public valuation of humanistic study. This webinar approaches the demise of the profession by considering again what it means to continue in this work now, as well as the whys and hows of studying American literature and culture at this moment. What shape might American literary and cultural studies take in order to contest developments that have left the discipline on the brink of collapse?

Panelists include:

  • Christopher Newfield, Professor of English, The University of California, Santa Barbara. Newfield is the author of many volumes including Unmaking the Public University: The Forty Year Assault on the Middle Class (Harvard UP, 2008) and The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them (Johns Hopkins UP, 2016). Currently he serves as Principal Investigator for “Limits of the Numerical: Higher Education in the Age of Metrics,” a 2-year project sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • Priscilla Wald, R. Florence Brinkley Distinguished Professor of English, Duke University. Focused on the intersections between the law, literature, science, and narrative, Wald’s published works include Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative (Duke UP, 2008) and she is currently completing a study entitled Human Being After Genocide. Former Director of the Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke, Wald serves as Co-Editor of the journal American Literature and is Co-Director of CALS’ First Book Institute.
  • Jeffrey T. Nealon, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English and Philosophy, Penn State. Nealon has published widely on contemporary American literature and culture, literary theory, and the state of the profession. Recent titles include Plant Theory: Biopower and Vegetable Life (Stanford UP, 2016); I’m Not Like Everybody Else: Biopolitics, Neoliberalism, and American Popular Music (U of Nebraska P, 2018), and Fates of the Performative: From the Linguistic Turn to the New Materialism (U of Minnesota P, 2021).


  • Dillon Rockrohr, Graduate Student, Department of English, Penn State
American Literary Studies Beyond the Brink