Elmira, New York – The 2019 Park Church Lecture Series, hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, begins Wednesday, August 7 in the historic and cultural landmark, The Park Church, 208 W. Gray Street, Elmira. The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.
The first lecture, “’Views of Mark Twain’: Antics and Annexation in Twain’s New York Tribune Letters on Hawai’i,” will be presented by Todd Nathan Thompson, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The December 1872 death of Hawaiian monarch Kamehameha V spurred renewed interest among US citizens and politicians alike in the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands. To satisfy the public’s increased curiosity about Hawai’i, in January 1873 the New York Daily Tribune sought testimony in the form of two letters from a well-known expert on the islands: Mark Twain. Twain had gained nationwide fame based on his correspondence from the Hawai’i to the Sacramento Union in 1866 and especially from his popular comic lecture, often titled “Or Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands,” which he delivered across the US and abroad between 1866-1873. In my talk I will examine how Twain’s humorous writings and lectures about Hawai’i led American editors and readers to view him as a serious authority on the islands. I will also perform contextualized readings of reprinted excerpts of his letters to the Tribune in other newspapers and magazines and consider what these editorial choices reveal about the American reading public’s views of Twain and of Hawai’i in the early 1870s.
A professor of English, Thompson is also treasurer-secretary of the American Humor Studies Association. Thompson is author of The National Joker: Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of Satire (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). His work on political satire and pre-1900 American literature has also appeared in Scholarly Editing, Early American Literature, ESQ, Nineteenth-Century Prose, Journal of American Culture, Teaching American Literature, and elsewhere. He currently is at work on a book project entitled Savage Laughter: Nineteenth-Century American Humor and the Pacific, 1840-1880.
Professor Thompson is a 2019 Quarry Farm Fellow. Professor Thompson gave a lecture for CMTS’ 2018 Spring “Trouble Begins” Lecture Series. His lecture can be accessed here:
- Todd Nathan Thompson, “An American Cannibal at Home: Comic Diplomacy in Mark Twain’s Hawai’i” (May 23, 2018 – Cowles Hall – Elmira College Campus) Lecture Images
About The Park Church
Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some members of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain. Known for its striking architectural features, The Park Church contained Elmira’s first public library and has a long history of charitable service to the Elmira community. Currently, it is an “Open and Affirming Congregation,” welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life, regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.
About the Center for Mark Twain Studies
The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, Jr., the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.