The 2023 Park Church Summer Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies (CMTS) kicked off its first lecture on Wednesday, July 12, 2023 at The Park Church (208 W. Gray Street, Elmira). The lectures are free and open to the public and recordings of the lectures are posted to the CMTS website.
The first lecture, “The Ruins, Relics, and Reshaping of Mark Twain’s Mississippi Memory”, was presented by Alexander J. Ashland.
In Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, readers encounter a figure whose recollections of the South are shaped by multiple texts, histories, geographic locations, and identities. In this lecture, I explore the relationship between memory and language, suggesting that Twain’s South becomes a vernacularized approximation of the past. As a result, the Life that Twain describes is not so much a memoir of an historical person as it is an autobiographical narrative of a persona. Indeed, the “life” Twain presents to readers is, like language and the Mississippi, ever changing and continuously resistant to control. I consider the ways in which “Twain” is caught between the pilot of his past and the passenger of the present, a crisis of identity that is further complicated by detours of race and indigeneity. Ultimately, his place in the world and in the text is subject to competing forces, and in recognizing the movement between passenger and pilot, I explore Twain’s Life and its preoccupation with the muddy mixtures of time and space, as well as the fluid identifications of race, indigeneity, and social status.
Alexander J. Ashland is an Assistant Professor of English at Viterbo University where he teaches courses in nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. literature and culture. His current book manuscript, The Documentary Turn: U.S. Literature in the Age of Compromise, 1820 – 1877, establishes a prehistory and theory of documentary aesthetics as it emerged via the hybrid literatures of the nineteenth century. His work has appeared in the South Atlantic Review, Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, as well as in edited collections, including The New Walt Whitman Studies and Ekphrasis in American Poetry.
The 2023 Park Church Summer Lecture Series:
- Wednesday, August 2 – Bernard Joseph Dobski, “Twain’s Machiavellian Princess: Personal Recollections and Political Philosophy”
- Wednesday, August 16 – Stephen Rachman, “The Monetary Imagination of Mark Twain: From the Nevada Mines to the £1,000,000 Bank-Note”
In 1985, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies inaugurated The Trouble Begins Lecture Series. The title comes from a handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The lectures are now held in the Fall and Spring in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. In the Summer the lectures are held at the Park Church. All lectures are free and open to the public.
Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, including Jervis Langdon, Mark Twain’s father-in-law, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history. Some of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain, including Susan Crane, who donated flowers from Quarry Farm every Sunday. 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. Thomas K. Beecher, brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe and friend of Mark Twain, was the first minister at the Park Church and presided over its construction. Before its demolition in 1939, the Langdon Mansion was located directly across from the Park Church.