CFP: British Association of 19th Century Americanists 2023 Biennial Symposium at Bristol, UK (December 1 & 2, 2023)


(A message from the British Association of Nineteenth Century Americanists)

British Association of Nineteenth Century Americanists’ (BrANCA) invites proposals for the 2023 Biennial Symposium, which will take place 1st-2nd December at the University of Bristol, UK.

BrANCA is turning ten! To mark our 10th anniversary, we wish to welcome scholars working on all periods before the long nineteenth century’s end, including Early Americanists, as well as Early Modernists and 18th century specialists working on topics relating to the Americas.

Our symposium theme is ‘Refuse/Refusal’, leaning into the different meanings of “refuse” in its noun and verb forms:

  • n., waste, debris, trash
  • v., reject, disavow, disdain, disapprove

Our host city of Bristol recently brought these double meanings to life. In 2020, Bristol claimed an international spotlight by disavowingEdward Colston, proclaimed in 1895 as one of its ‘most virtuous and wise sons’, as the city’s standard-bearer. After a protracted public heritage battle, Black Lives Matter protestors pulled down a statue of Colston, a 17th-century resident and key member of the Royal Africa Company, who made much of his fortune trafficking captive African peoples to the Americas. Following this act of refusal, protestors then attempted to make his statue literal refuse, by tossing it into the very harbour where he had docked his ships.

In looking at what was refused, and what was deemed “waste,” throughout the long nineteenth century, and indeed before, we seek to recover alternate understandings of value that emerged in the wake of racial capitalism, settler colonialism/continental expansion, and the long formation of America’s literary cultures. We particularly invite contributions that engage with waste studies, labour studies, anti-work perspectives, and contested public heritage.

Our theme contrasts with a widespread image of the American long nineteenth century as a period of nation-building affirmation: industrialising, expanding, brimming with optimism. In fact, nineteenth-century literature and literary history is awash with moments of rejection, disavowal, and contestation. These include but are by no means limited to:

  • Phillis Wheatley Peters’ later work, rejected by publishers and now considered lost
  • James Fenimore Cooper’s critique of settler colonial wastage/reliance on an idea of wilderness as ‘waste’ across the Leatherstocking Tales
  • Herman Melville’s assessment of Nathaniel Hawthorne as the author who says ‘No! in thunder’ and Bartleby’s preference not to
  • Harriet Jacobs’s refusals of consent, both to Dr. Flint’s harassment and Mrs. Bruce’s offer to purchase her freedom
  • Emily Dickinson’s disavowal of publication and public life more broadly
  • W.E.B. DuBois’s childhood epiphany, where a new school mate’s rejection reveals to him the color-line’s existence for the first time.

Building on these or any number of other moments of refusal (as resistance and/or waste), some possible lines of inquiry include:

  • Questions of the human—who (or what) ‘counts’ as human in early and 19th century America? Which lives were considered disposable or excess? What alternate definitions of the human/humanism emerge from this disavowal?
  • New and speculative materialisms—how ought we to value matter/materiality? What sorts of vitality emerged from discarded matter in early and 19th-century America? What excesses of agency and liveliness do traditional accounts of the human/material divide attempt to dispose of?
  • The history and recovery of print cultural forms deemed throwaway or incidental, and which predated, exceeded, or refused the standards of literary value shaped by the nineteenth-century canon.  
  • How refusal functions as political statement—critique vs utopianism, the relationship of racial valuations to the possibility of refusal and contests over the political status of the humanities.
  • Matters of indigenous dispossession, e.g. settler-colonial framings of North American ‘wilderness’ as uncultivated ‘waste’, and how environmental humanities might seek different valuations of the natural world.
  • What post-work and anti-work imaginaries existed before 1900, both within and outside the system of enslavement, including papers touching on social reproduction, the literature of labour, and writing as work/non-work?
  • ‘Wasting’ time and alternative temporalities: queer, oceanic, religious, biological, geological, theological etc, alongside questions of futurity and foreclosure, delays, belatedness, cancellations.
  • Public heritage debates and their relationship to imaginaries that encompass radical futures and radical memory.
  • Maritime and literary connections between Bristol and the Americas that include but also predate the over 2000 slaving voyages that commenced from the city, e.g. John Cabot’s departure from Bristol Harbour to ‘discover’ North America in 1497.

We are particularly keen to showcase work that takes transnational, comparative, and interdisciplinary approaches. Moreover, we seek contributions from Early Americanists as well as those focusing on the long nineteenth century. A formal proposal to rebadge our society as the British Association of Nineteenth Century and Early Americanists (BrANCEA) will be considered at the Business meeting.

This will be a hybrid event to allow participation for those who may not wish to travel. It will cost £30 for full time faculty and is free for all others. In addition, some travel grants may be available for postgraduate students.

Our preference is for fully formed panels to be submitted where possible. As you consider interlocutors, you might also consult the list here: Panels should last 90 minutes but you are free to play fast and loose with the panel format, if you wish to.
The deadline for submissions is 8 September. Please send no more than 200 words about your panel, and no more than 200 words about each paper, along with names and contact details of panelists to Erin Forbes ([email protected]) who will distribute them to the rest of the steering committee. Any questions please do get in touch.