CFP: C19 Panel – Reconstructing Radicalism

Proposed Panel, Reconstructing Radicalism (abstracts due September 5th

C19: “Reconstructions,” March 31-April 2, 2022, Coral Gables, Florida 

Organizer: Dr. J. Michelle Coghlan (University of Manchester, UK) 

Chair: Prof. Holly Jackson (University of Massachusetts, Boston) 

In the wake of 1960s Civil Rights and anti-war activism, as well as liberation movements spanning the globe—which is to say, at another watershed moment in the story of US radicalism—historian Perry Lewis offered a foundational reevaluation of William Lloyd Garrison and what Lewis termed “the anarchistic wing of the anti-slavery movement” in Radical Abolitionism: Anarchy and the Government of God in Anti-Slavery Thought (1973). But though Lewis sought to recover both the importance and the undervalued successes of radical abolitionist thought and tactics, he nevertheless insisted that they had nothing to say to his contemporary radical moment, nor had they bequeathed much, if anything, for the decades of labor agitation and radical activism that followed the Civil War and the failure of Reconstruction. As he puts it, “Radical antislavery is more valuable for the clues it holds for an understanding of the time in which it occurred than for delineating a tradition of American radicalism. If any tradition was involved, it was one that scarcely survived its own era.” And yet, as Holly Jackson’s important recent work has done so much to remind us, radical abolitionists often found the fight against slavery very directly led them to agitate for universal suffrage and labor rights—and, quite often, against capitalism as they then knew and lived it. And though the literary history of nineteenth-century US radicalism continues to often be bifurcated, with much work over the past two decades focused primarily on post-Reconstruction radical writers and movements, the legacy of antebellum radical activism lived on in both tangible ongoing activism—satirized but nonetheless registered in figures such as Miss Birdseye in The Bostonians—and the ways that the recent abolitionist radical past became a key touchstone for later nineteenth-century movements, surfacing repeatedly in, for example, essays and speeches by anarchists such as Voltairine de Cleyre and socialists like Eugene V. Debs. This proposed panel thus seeks to reconstruct the literary history of nineteenth-century American radicalism by bringing together papers which will explore the afterlives of radical abolition in US literature and culture or, more broadly, illuminate overlaps between antebellum and post-Reconstruction US radicalism by way of canonically (or unexpectedly) radical texts. Papers which approach this radical recovery work with critical attention to issues of race, gender, sexuality, and the international/transnational contours of US radicalism in this period are especially welcomed.  

Please send a 250-word abstract, as well as a brief CV, to [email protected] by September 5.