CMTS Announces the 2023 Park Church Summer Lecture Series Line-Up

The 2023 Park Church Summer Lecture Series is presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies and The Park Church. The series will feature three lectures. All the lectures will begin at 7:00 p.m. and will be located at The Park Church (208 W. Grey Street, Elmira, NY). All of these lectures are open to the public at no cost.

The Trouble Begins and Park Church Lecture Series are made possible by the support of the Mark Twain Foundation, Katherine Roehlke, and generous gifts from individual donors.

Wednesday, July 12 at The Park Church (7:00pm)

Alexander Ashland

Viterbo University

“The Ruins, Relics, and Reshapings of Mark Twain’s Mississippi Memory”

Image of the steamboat “Mark Twain” from Life on the Mississippi (1883)

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 ReviewIowa Journal of Cultural Studies, as well as in edited collections, including The New Walt Whitman Studies and Ekphrasis in American Poetry.

Wednesday, August 2 at The Park Church (7:00pm)

Bernard Joseph Dobski

Assumption University

“Twain’s Machiavellian Princess: Personal Recollections and Political Philosophy”

Engraving of Joan of Arc by Albert Lynch from Figaro Illustre magazine (1903)

While Twain has been the subject of some scholarly focus among political theorists, too few among this cohort appreciate his contributions to political wisdom. To recover an appreciation of Twain’s engagement with and contribution to political philosophy, I offer a political study of Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, a work that Twain considered his “best” and which, according to him, meant “more…than anything I have undertaken.” I examine the novel’s treatment of divine right kingship and particular providence that Twain initiated in Connecticut Yankee and that he explored in several other works published around the turn of the century, most notably “What is Man?”. Twain’s approach to providence in Personal Recollections represents a dramatic portrayal of the origins of modern politics through the figure of Joan of Arc as Machiavellian founder. This portrait allows the reader to reflect anew on the tensions between moral freedom and determinism at the heart of Twain’s corpus, opening a new window into the mind of America’s foremost man of letters at the turn of the century.

Bernard Joseph (B.J.) Dobski is a Professor of Political Science at Assumption University in Worcester, MA, where he teaches courses on political philosophy, international relations, and American foreign policy. In addition to his scholarly work Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, and Shakespeare, his published work on Mark Twain appears in The Review of Politics (2007), The Journal of American Political Thought (2020), and The Artistic Foundations of Nations and Citizens: Art, Literature, and the Political Community (2021). He has recently completed a book-length commentary on Twain’s Personal Recollections currently titled Twain’s “Prince”: Joan of Arc and the Origins of Modernity.

Wednesday, August 16 at The Park Church (7:00pm)

Stephen Rachman

Michigan State University

“The Monetary Imagination of Mark Twain: From the Nevada Mines to the £1,000,000 Bank-Note”

“Give me the change, please.”
Illustration from “The £1,000,000 Bank-note” in The American Claimant and Other Stories and Sketches (1896)

This lecture will discuss Samuel Clemens and Mark Twain’s preoccupations with money and the role this plays in his creative life, his inventive use of language, his critiques of culture and politics and race, and the deeper imaginative patterns that shaped his work. This talk will cover the arc of Twain’s writings, ranging from the early work like Roughing It where silver, gold, and greenbacks are front and center through the classic works Twain is most famous for, to the later works about million-pound bank-notes, $30,000 bequests, and the vanity of small towns like Hadleyburg corrupted by life-changing bags of gold. The main point will be to demonstrate Twain’s obsessions with money and speculation but also to show how he came to use his imaginative powers in monetary terms, the coinage of his brain, circulating like currency throughout his work.

Stephen Rachman, Associate Professor in the department of English at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. He is former Director of the American Studies Program and Co-Founder of the Digital Humanities Literary Cognition Laboratory at Michigan State University. He is the editor of The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz-Hugh Ludlow (Rutgers University Press). He is a co-author of the award-winning Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine: A Life of John Snow (Oxford University Press) and the co-editor of The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe (Johns Hopkins University Press). He has written numerous articles on Nineteenth-Century American literature, and is the creator of an award-winning website on Sunday school books for the Library of Congress American Memory Project.

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, 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.

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.