2021 CMTS Lectures



Wednesday, July 28 at The Park Church – 7pm

“Memory-Building and Memorializing in Elmira: Mark Twain and John W. Jones in Relation” 

Jillian Spivey Caddell, University of Kent, Canterbury, United Kingdom

When Mark Twain’s sister-in-law Susan Crane was asked in 1896 to contribute to a study of Elmira’s abolitionists, she turned to John W. Jones, the celebrated Elmiran who escaped slavery and became a leader of Black civic and religious communities, as the last living vessel of these local memories. This lecture will think about Jones’s contributions to Elmira’s collective memory and its memorial landscape, using geographical proximity as well as personal familiarity to place Jones and Mark Twain in conversation. Jones is most famous today for a remarkable act of care: burying 3,000 Confederate soldiers who died at Elmira Prison with respect during the Civil War. Yet Jones’s legacy extends far beyond this one act. By placing his life story in relation to Twain’s fictionalized portraits of memory and storytelling inflected by the vestiges of slavery, this lecture offers a study in how Elmira’s dynamic monumental landscapes illuminate post-Civil War intersections of race and memory that continue to be arbitrated today.  

Jillian Spivey Caddell is a lecturer in nineteenth-century American literature at the University of Kent and a tutor at the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Continuing Education. She teaches and writes about Civil War literature, art and culture. Her work has appeared in The New England Quarterly, J19, Apollo: The International Art Magazine, the C19 Podcast, and a variety of edited collections, including a chapter in the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Literature of the Civil War and Reconstruction, from which this lecture is drawn. She is also working with Kristen Treen of the University of St. Andrews on the Civil War Monuments Database, a digital map of American Civil War monuments with data, interpretive essays, teaching resources, and more.


Wednesday, July 14 at The Park Church

“Material Sanctity: Salvaging the Sacred in The Innocents Abroad”

Merav Schocken, University of California, Santa Barbara

When Mark Twain traveled to the Holy Land in 1867, he was repeatedly disappointed by what he perceived to be a desolate scenery, devoid of divinity. At the time, Americans traveled to the Holy Land in hopes of validating their faith, escaping modernity, and connecting to an imagined point of origin through which they could understand their identity. My talk examines The Innocents Abroad within this context of burgeoning tourism. I suggest that self-deception played an important role in Twain’s depiction of Holy Land pilgrimage. While the travel narrative is known for its cynical portrayal of religion, I focus on Twain’s uncharacteristic attempt to safeguard the sanctity of material relics at traditional pilgrimage sites. Such strategies, I claim, constitute self-deceptive practices that aim to counterbalance disillusionment with the land and escape spiritual darkness. I consider Twain’s attempts at reconciliation as reflective of the broader nineteenth-century struggle between faith and doubt. Specifically, these attempts must be understood, I argue, in the context of American concerns over the materialization of the spiritual in an increasingly secular society.

Merav Schocken is a a PhD candidate in English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research interests include nineteenth-century American literature with a particular emphasis on critical race studies and topics of space and place. Her dissertation explores practices of self-deception in nineteenth-century American literature.

To watch Merav Schocken’s lecture, click HERE.

Wednesday, July 7 at the Park Church

“Twain’s Modernism: The Death of Speech in Huckleberry Finn as the Birth of a New Aesthetic”

Mika Turim-Nygren, Bard High School Early College DC

While critics may wrestle with Huckleberry Finn’s role in the American canon – including what Hemingway meant by singling it out for praise – they usually agree that Huck sounds as lifelike as “a real boy talking out loud.” Yet Twain himself believed that “the moment ‘talk’ is put into print” it turned into a “corpse.” His solution was a specifically written mode of ‘talk’: while Huck’s catchphrases derive from racialized speech, they have been severed from their origins so as to belong on the page rather than in anyone’s mouth. For Hemingway, then, Twain provides a model for overcoming the problem of artificial dialog not because his printed talk sounds just like the real thing, but because it’s no longer primarily trying to. When Hemingway himself starts composing dialog by replacing what was ‘really’ with obviously stilted translations, he reveals Twain as an unexpected source of American literary modernism. Huck’s voice transforms the kind of minority speech associated with the country’s deepest divisions into the kind of literary language that everyone could recognize as “purely American.”

Mika Turim-Nygren is an American Literature Faculty member at Bard High School Early College DC, part of the Bard College network. Her current book project concerns 19th-century American dialect literature, and more broadly, the relationship between racialized dialect and the formation of national literatures worldwide. Published work related to this project includes “Twain’s Modernism: The Death of Speech in Huckleberry Finn as the Birth of a New Aesthetic,” in the Spring 2020 issue of J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, and “Bret Harte’s Birtherism: Dialect Literature and the Fiction of Native-Born Citizenship,” forthcoming in the Spring 2021 legal issue of nonsite.org.

To watch Mika Turim-Nygren’s lecture, click HERE.

Wednesday, May 26 Online

“Twain’s Hartford”

Jodi DeBruyne, The Mark Twain House & Museum

Mallory Howard, The Mark Twain House & Museum

Samuel Clemens, his wife Olivia, and their three daughters, Susy, Clara, and Jean, called Hartford, Connecticut home for twenty years. Clemens called it the happiest and most productive period of his life. At the time Hartford was one of the wealthiest cities in the nation, booming with industry, publishing, and the arts. Today their Hartford house, which Clemens referred to as “the loveliest home that ever was,” is now the Mark Twain House & Museum (MTH&M). Join Assistant Curator Mallory Howard and Director of Collections Jodi DeBruyne as they take you through the House and the MTH&M collections using art, artifacts, and archives to share stories about the family’s daily lives and their engagement with the Hartford community. 

The Mark Twain House & Museum’s Director of Collections Jodi DeBruyne and Assistant Curator Mallory Howard share the responsibility for the care, exhibition, and interpretation of the Mark Twain House and the museum’s collection of more than 20,000 artifacts and documents. Howard has aided countless researchers, done important work herself on Twainian subjects, and has spoken on aspects of Twain’s life and work in venues ranging from scholarly conferences to Mississippi riverboats. She earned her B.A.in American History at Central Connecticut State University and was inducted into the national history honor society Phi Alpha Theta. She holds a certification from the Modern Archives Institute in Washington, D.C. DeBruyne has worked at museums across the country including the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, VA, the City Museum in Juneau, AK, and the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, ME. She earned her B.A. in Art History at Old Dominion University and her M.A. in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University. 

To watch Jodi DeBruyne’s and Mallory Howard’s lecture, click HERE.

Wednesday, May 19 Online

“‘A Work of Art?’: Mark Twain’s Influence on the American Use of Humor in Criticism”

Silas Kaine Ezell, Oklahoma Baptist University

My talk will explore the influence of Mark Twain’s famous roasting of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales and its unspoken influence on contemporary film criticism found in comedic video essays on social media. Using parody and satire, Twain vents his rage at Cooper’s fiction and does much to convince his reader of Cooper’s crimes against literature. The essay has had remarkable staying power in American anthologies even though multiple critics have dutifully and successfully revealed Twain’s manipulations and exaggerations of Cooper’s text to arrive at his conclusions. Nevertheless, reception to Cooper’s novels has been forever altered by Twain’s criticisms. Many YouTube channels that provide satirical commentary on popular culture fulfill a similar function for the early 21st century, but the best example of Twain’s combination of humor and satire are the “Plinkett Reviews” on RedLetterMedia. Both Twain and RedLetterMedia serve as clear examples of the use of humor in the critical review of fiction that seeks to make broader arguments about how criticism can inform our sensibilities as consumers in American culture.

Silas Kaine Ezell is an Associate Professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University, where he teaches courses in American Literature and English Education. He is the author of Humor and Satire on Contemporary Television: Animation and the American Joke (2016), which explores the influence of American literary humorists on American animated television programs. In case it isn’t obvious, Ezell is fascinated with linking the past with the present, and his current research involves tracing the use of humor in critical review and its influence on the rise of the YouTube critical video essay.

To watch Silas Kaine Ezell’s lecture, click HERE.

Wednesday, May 12 Online

“Traveling with Twain in Search of America’s Identity”

Loren Ghiglione, Northwestern University

Over three months, I traveled 14,000 miles by van with two young journalists, Alyssa Karas and Dan Tham. We followed the path of Mark Twain around America, beginning in his boyhood hometown of Hannibal, Missouri.  Stops followed in St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, Elmira, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. (with a side trip to New England). We then headed south along the Mississippi to New Orleans, north to Keokuk and Muscatine, Iowa, and west to San Francisco where our van fell victim to smash-and-grabbers.  Along the way we interviewed 150 Americans about race, sexual orientation, gender, and other hot-button identity issues, reflecting on the differences and similarities in attitudes between Twain’s time and ours.

Loren Ghiglione is an emeritus professor at Northwestern University and a former dean of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, is the main author of Genus Americanus: Hitting the Road in Search of America’s Identity (2020). Loren is the author or editor of nine books. Prior to his 21-year career in academe, he put out New England newspapers for 26 years and served as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.  He received a B.A. from Haverford College, a Ph.D. in American studies from George Washington University, and a Master of Urban Studies and a law degree from Yale.  He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004.

To watch Loren Ghiglione’s lecture, click HERE.

Wednesday, May 5 Online

“Mark Twain’s Roadshow: Travels, Travails, and the Inspirations of a Literary Giant”

Laura DeMarco, Independent Scholar

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,” Mark Twain wrote in 1869. Few writers saw more of America, or the world, than Twain — a Southerner, Westerner, miner, river boat pilot and international traveler who died a Yankee. In her book Mark Twain’s America Then and Now, Laura DeMarco traces Samuel Clemens’ life journey through 69 major locales that shaped the great writer. His biography is told chronologically against the backdrop of the places where he lived and worked and visited. It begins in a one-room cabin in rural Missouri and ends in a sprawling mansion in Connecticut. In her talk, Laura will bring these sites and other lesser known stops on Clemens travels alive by pairing historic images with modern day viewpoints of the same location from the same angle and perspective —  revealing how many of the sights important to Twain are with us today, and how his legacy continues to influence so much of American culture.

Laura DeMarco is a writer, historian and lecturer in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of the books Lost Cleveland, Cleveland Then and Now and Mark Twain’s America Then and Now (Pavilion Books). Her newest book, Lost Civil War: The Disappearing Legacy of America’s Greatest Conflict (Pavilion/Rizzoli) will be released in June 2021. Laura spent 20 years at the Cleveland Plain Dealer daily newspaper, and has written for a wide range of national publications. She is a frequent commenter on Cleveland television stations. She specializes in history, lost landmarks and literature. She also writes about historical preservation, architecture, art, film, and travel. She lectures at museums, schools, colleges and historical societies on these topics and more. She has a degree in English literature and art history from John Carroll University.  Laura was honored by Cleveland City Council for “outstanding commitment, dedication and significant contributions as an Arts and Culture reporter for The Plain Dealer specializing in local history and lost landmarks.”

To watch Laura DeMarco’s lecture, click HERE.

The Barn at Quarry Farm

The Barn at Quarry Farm has been repurposed as a lecture venue. This was made possible from a generous preservation grant from the Jon Ben Snow Memorial Trust.

Attendees can park on Crane Road or on the grassy area behind the Barn. Quarry Farm is a fragile, natural environment. Please exercise care. If using a GPS, enter 131 Crane Road, Elmira, New York

Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall
Elmira College Campus

Lectures may also be held in Peterson Chapel in Elmira College’s Cowles Hall. The chapel features a series of stained glass windows depicted the history and traditions of the college, including one of Twain in front of his study and one of his wife, Elmira College alumnus Olivia Clemens, on front of the porch at Quarry Farm. There is also a Mark Twain Exhibit in Cowles Hall.

The address of Elmira College is 1 Park Place, Elmira, NY 14901. Cowles Hall is on the east side of Park Place, behind the Fasset Commons Art building on Washington Avenue. In front of Cowles Hall is a small man-made pond known as “The Puddle” and the Mark Twain Study. Public parking may be found off of North Main Street, at the north east corner of campus.

The Park Church

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.

The Park Church is located at 208 West Grey Street, Elmira, New York.