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Annual Spring Symposium

Each year, the CALS Spring Symposium brings together prominent scholars in American literature and culture with Penn State faculty, students, and the larger public to discuss a pressing issue in today's academic world.

The 2019 Spring Symposium:


Monday, March 29, 2019
10:00 AM - 4:30 PM
Foster Auditorium, Paterno Library
Penn State University

Taking our cue from the current moment—where opponents regularly accuse each other of being corrupt, corrupted, and corruptible—and the notion that we may be living in a new Gilded Age, this year’s symposium showcases nationally prominent scholars alongside Penn State faculty and will examine ways in which American literature, culture, and society engage and are engaged in corruption.

Previous Events

In this symposium, six invited external presenters and an equal number of Penn State faculty participants will demonstrate innovative ways of conducting a socially committed criticism that responds to specific institutional crises by drawing inspiration from an American literary or artistic object of their choosing.  If recent years have seen a crisis in criticism as an institution, the symposium’s participants will model methods and modes for performing critique that make a case for the ability of criticism to respond fruitfully to the manifold institutional crises of our time within and without the university. Read a re-cap of the event here.

Five leading scholars of speculative fiction join the Penn State community to explore ways in which speculative fictions make possible and reveal the limitations of how to imagine socially-just realities. Cognizant of the multi-generic origins of the speculative—including fantasy, horror, folklore, myth, science fiction, and the weird—the symposium’s two roundtables will highlight the relationships between speculation, futurity, and the ethico-political imagination.

CALS seeks to encourage, and to provide a vital forum for, new ways of reading and thinking about American literature. Consistent with that emphasis, this symposium brought together five invited participants with Penn State students, faculty, and the public at large to celebrate the many innovative ways individuals, museums, centers, foundations, libraries, blog sites, and other spaces engage readers, draw them together, and make American literature an important public space.

The “Alt-Ac” symposium focused on the alternative academic (#alt-ac) careers in which a growing number of scholars trained in the liberal arts are employed.  Six invited speakers—scholars working in alternative academic careers on and off university campuses and faculty who have been leading voices on issues affecting contingent, non-academic, and alternative academic labor—joined Penn State presenters to explore what this new reality means in a rapidly transforming information age, university environment, and labor market.

As so-called public intellectuals and university scholars alike continue to struggle for mainstream visibility, what other forms of attention, excitement, and expertise have emerged alongside them, or as their de facto replacements? By bringing together scholars of US literature and culture with historians of science and technology, political scientists, and other scholars and critics, this symposium looked beyond the scholarly tendency to idealize intellectual activity in order to explore other models and practices of learnedness, reflection, knowledge production, and opinion circulation in the contemporary world.

Six invited participants working in various time periods and areas of American literary history joined Penn State faculty, students, and the public at large in a discussion of what “editing” and “archiving” American literature and culture means, has meant, and might mean going forward for scholars and readers alike.

In the inaugural Spring Symposium, scholars and students from both within and outside of Penn State came together to discuss the place of the liberal arts in the university and in society during a time of crisis.