The mission of the Center for Mark Twain Studies is to support and promote all facets of Twain scholarship. One of the most effective means of pursing this mission is our long-running lecture series The Trouble Begins and our relatively new Park Church Summer lectures series. All CMTS-sponsored lectures are free and open to the public. Furthermore, via MarkTwainStudies.org, we can expand access to them by making them available as recordings for download or streaming.
The CMTS lecture series, which features 9-10 speakers every year, is unlike anything else, both in its consistent focus on a single author, and the depth of knowledge and variety of expertise our lecturers bring to this topic. In many cases CMTS lecturers use our venue to present cutting edge works-in-progress or to explore idiosyncratic ideas which may not otherwise find a venue. We encourage you explore this expanding archive. We are in the process of digitizing an archive of recordings that dates back more than two decades.
If you encounter material that excites you or is relevant to your own research and you would like to ask questions about it, CMTS is happy to contact the Twain scholar for you. We strive to create and reinforce connections between scholars of all ages and backgrounds interested in Mark Twain Studies and its related fields.
A complete list of downloadable lectures can be found by clicking HERE.
The following additions are from the 2017 Trouble Begins and Park Church lectures:
Molly Ball, “Twain and the Hawaiian Nation.” Presented on Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at the Park Church.
Mark Twain lived in an age of high nationalism. Twain’s lifetime (1835 to 1910) spanned decades in which many new nations emerged and competed for cultural prestige and political prominence. The pervasive nationalism of the nineteenth century raises questions about what exactly constitutes nationhood – what did the term mean in this period, and what allows a political entity to claim the status of nation? As a world traveler and keen social observer, Twain was poised to offer insight into such questions. This lecture will address Twain’s approach to nationhood in work that comes out of his 1866 trip to the Hawaiian Kingdom. In letters written for a Sacramento newspaper, Twain reflects on Hawaiian society in a moment in which Native Hawaiians sought to make their Kingdom legible to foreigners as a sovereign nation. By casting themselves as national, self-governing subjects, Native Hawaiians sought to ward off other nations’ attempts to make the Islands into an imperial holding. As Twain depicts Hawaiian scenes and settings, he troubles nationalist thought (dominant in the West in this period) which holds that national identity resides in a culturally homogenous citizenry.
Joseph Csicsila, “‘These Hideous Times:’ Mark Twain’s Bankruptcy and the Panic of 1893.” Presented on Wednesday. April 26, 2017 at Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus.
“‘These Hideous Times:’ Mark Twain’s Bankruptcy and the Panic of 1893” takes a look at an old standby of Twain biography that Mark Twain was a bad businessman, plain and simple. Critics routinely cast him as a reckless speculator, a foolish investor, a failed entrepreneur as they advance the notion that Twain was hopelessly irresponsible with his wealth, making poor financial decisions one after another throughout much of his adult life, and that this led inevitably to his well-publicized and personally humiliating bankruptcy in April 1894. Twain studies, however, has yet to consider in any detailed fashion the context of the Panic of 1893 and the considerable role that it played in Twain’s financial ruin. The country’s first major industrial collapse, what many historians regard as America’s first full-scale economic depression, the Panic of 1893 took down thousands of businesses and ruined millions of Americans in truly historic fashion. As it turns out, Mark Twain’s bankruptcy may have had less to do with his financial decision-making than the times in which those decisions were made.
Sarah Ingle, “Conjuring the Superstitions of a Nation: Magic, Memory and Huckleberry Finn.” Presented on Wednesday, June 21, 2017 at the Park Church.
In Following the Equator (1897), Mark Twain wrote, “Let me make the superstitions of a nation and I care not who makes its laws or its songs either.” Yet, despite this indication that Twain viewed superstition as a supremely powerful social force, scholars have had surprisingly little to say about the role of superstition in Twain’s most famous novel. From Jim’s fortune-telling hair ball to Tom Sawyer’s “witch pie,” magic and folklore are much more than mere manifestations of “local color” and minstrel show humor in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Conjuring is Twain’s metaphor for the twin powers of memory and prediction that are at the heart of the novel’s critique of post-Reconstruction America. In Huckleberry Finn, conjure becomes a metaphor for two competing ways of reading: Jim’s fortune-telling and Huck’s transformative retrospection.
Hoi Na Kung, “The Mechanical Woman in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Presented on Wednesday, May 24, 2017 in The Barn at Quarry Farm.
Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court abounds with comical descriptions that liken its central female character, Sandy, to an industrial machine with infinite labor power. This lecture will suggest that this novel’s peculiar automatization of Sandy gestures towards a 19th century cultural ambivalence about technology. On one hand, technology promised a “rational” order of life with an emphasis on the maximization of productivity and profit. On the other hand, technology threatened a disturbance of social order: mechanization of the workplace allowed women to leave the household for the workplace en masse, generating anxiety about women exchanging biological reproduction for industrial reproduction of commodities. Departing from much of the literary criticism that interprets Twain’s technologized modernity as a tragedy, this lecture will argue that Twain’s novel employs the figure of the mechanical woman in order to foreground both the sense of increased freedom and unfreedom for both men and women opened up by a technologized modernity.
John Pascal, “Artemus Ward: The Man Who Made Lincoln Laugh.” Presented on Wednesday, June 28, 2017 at the Park Church.
It is generally accepted that during his lifetime, Mark Twain was considered the preeminent American master storyteller and lecturer of humor. The tsunami that is Twain’s literary achievement can easily overwhelm the earlier vast movement of the American literary scene that led to its creation. The “underwater earthquake” of this movement is Charles Farrar Browne, but his more famous pseudonym is Artemus Ward. While there were earlier, as well as contemporary, humorous writers, Artemus Ward was regarded by William Dean Howells as “the humorist who first gave the world a taste of the humor that characterizes the whole American people.” Indeed, in 1862, President Lincoln laughed heartily while he read to his Cabinet passages from Ward’s first book. Ward’s uniqueness in telling a story from the lecture platform enthralled thousands throughout the United States and in Canada; he was also “the first deadpan comedian to take England by storm.” Despite these views, today Ward’s literary reputation is largely forgotten along with his distinctive contribution to the tradition of American humor. Thus he certainly is well deserving of study. This lecture will analyze the construction of his literary reputation by showing that what made Ward so popular in his time was the fact that his literary humor was rhetorically gentle. Ward parlayed the success of his nationally published letters into a commercially successful career as the first comedic lecturer to tour the nation. His platform appearances helped Twain become more professionally aware of humor’s literary and commercial value.
Please note that due to technical problems, CMTS was not able to provide recordings from the following lectures from the 2017 “Trouble Begins” lecture series:
Barbara Jones Brown, “Roughing It: Twain’s Take on Brigham Young, Polygamy, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre”
David E.E. Sloane, “Mark Twain, Unchaining the American Eagle”