Last weekend (October 5-7. 2018) CMTS hosted the 2018 Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium “American Literary History and Economics in the New Gilded Age.”
The economic expansion of the U.S. during Mark Twain’s lifetime was unprecedented, in this country or any other. Twain was fascinated by the technological innovations that transformed commerce and industry, the volatile financial markets that strained to keep up with the demands of entrepreneurs and investors, the infamous magnates that accumulated private fortunes unimaginable to previous generations, the corrosive symbiosis of private wealth and public servants, the precarious plight of consumers and laborers who both drove the economy and were periodically driven over by it, and the fledgling field of philosophical inquiry, political economy, aimed at understanding the organizing principles of capitalist society.
Before anybody suspected he would become the literary figure who defined this era, Twain gave it its lasting nickname, the Gilded Age, recognizing that the luxurious lifestyles of America’s nouveau riche celebrities and the bedazzling technologies advertised by American entrepreneurs disguised deep disparities of wealth, exploitative employment practices, systemic corruption, and widespread financial fraud. As we find ourselves in what is now frequently called “The New Gilded Age,” characterized by many of the same phenomena, CMTS’s Fifth Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium featured scholars who explore the intersections of economic history, economic theory, mass media, and literature.
The symposium was organized by Henry B. Wonham (University of Oregon), Lawrence Howe (Roosevelt University), and Matt Seybold (Elmira College). Wonham and Howe’s collection, Mark Twain & Money, was published in 2017, while Seybold’s Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (coedited with Michelle Chihara) was just published this year.
The festivities began with an opening reception on the Elmira College campus. After a welcome address from Dr. Charles Lindsay, President of Elmira College, Professor Matt Seybold (Elmira College) kicked off the talks with an introductory address. Dr. Seybold’s talk can be found here. The opening reception was highlighted by David Sloan Wilson (Distinguished Professor of Biology & Anthropology at Binghamton University) delivering the keynote address “Mark Twain, Cultural Multilevel Selection, and the New Gilded Age.” This provocative talk challenged literary scholars to theorize the multilevel selection of systems of meaning and maladaptive economic systems. An audio-recording of Professor Wilson’s talk can be found here.
The majority of the symposium took place at beautiful Quarry Farm, where 11 papers were delivered in an intimate section. A number of the talks were recorded. All of the recorded talks can be found in the Trouble Begins Archives. After all the papers were delivered, all attendees enjoyed a cocktail hour on the Porch at Quarry Farm, followed by a dinner in the Barn.
They symposium concluded with a farewell breakfast at Quarry Farm where attendees conversed and said their good-byes to old and new colleagues.
CMTS is pleased to announce that we are already working on the 2019 Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium, tentatively titled “Mark Twain and the Natural World.” This gathering will explore the relation between human beings and the natural world. This broad scope allows for critical examinations of Twain’s writing about the natural world in any number of ways: as nature writing; as a form of environmentalism; as commentary on animal welfare, technology and science, and travel; and as a forerunner to mid-20th to early 21st century writers (Krutch, Abbey, Kingsolver, Quammen, and Gessner) who offer comic responses to nature as well as recognize the comic in the natural world and in our relationship to that world. The conference organizer is Ben Click (St. Mary’s College of Maryland). Professor Click is the current editor of Mark Twain Annual and plans to publish a special issue of MTA in conjunction with the symposium.
Images from Friday’s Opening Reception and Saturday’s Paper Sessions