2020 CMTS Lectures

Please note: In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the CMTS has taken precautionary measures to move all lectures from the Barn at Quarry Farm to online at MarkTwainStudies.org. Presenters have agreed to record their lectures and make their talks available on this page and the “Trouble Begins Archive.” Stay safe, everyone.


Wednesday, August 19

“Twains Meet”

Max Cavitch, University of Pennsylvania

Mark Twain as a Youth

What kinds of self-encounter get memorialized in Mark Twain’s vast and long-secreted Autobiography? Mark Twain has a lot of fun with the play of self-representation, while also wrestling seriously with the challenges of writing both from and against the point of view of his mediatized images. This lecture explores how Twain made and re-made himself into an object of regard—both in living his life and in writing about it—against the backdrop of a nascent culture of mass publicity increasingly defined by photography. Even as a youngster, Samuel Clemens seems to have understood that, against widely shared confidence in photography’s indexical relation to the “real,” it also had the potential to manipulate appearances in a culture that was increasingly riven by antithetical commitments to publicity (the transparency and knowability of the workings of an open society of equals) and to privacy (individual control over public access to one’s own identity and experience). As he grew to become one of the first modern celebrities, Twain continued to watch as America’s democratic culture became more and more dependent on the mechanical reproduction of photographic images, both to expand and to distort popular perception of things “as they really are.”

Max Cavitch is Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is also an affiliated faculty member of the programs in Comparative Literature, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, and Psychoanalytic Studies. He is the author of American Elegy: The Poetry of Mourning from the Puritans to Whitman (2007) and of numerous essays on American and African American Literature, Animal Studies, Cinema Studies, Poetry and Poetics, and Psychoanalytic Studies. His new edition of Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days is forthcoming in the Oxford World’s Classics series. Presently, he is completing a comprehensive study of autobiographical writing, called Passing Resemblances.


Wednesday, July 29

“Between Spectacle and Structure: Mark Twain’s Anti-Imperialism”  

Stephen Pasqualina, University of Nevada, Reno

“The White Man’s World”  published in Following the Equator (1897)

In a moment when systemic racism has recently gained heightened visibility in the US, this talk explores how Mark Twain grappled with the difficulties of thinking systemically, of comprehending political structures that exceed individual experience. In his anti-imperialist writings, Twain registers that the difficulty of grasping structures lies in the limitations of sight, the sense most often associated with knowledge in modern Europe and the US. From around 1880 until his death in 1910, Twain explored various technological strategies for enfolding deep temporal and spatial structures into visual experience. These uses of “spectacle,” rooted in visual technologies that produce a false but powerful sense of immediacy, included a history board game, a history roadway game, and photography. Twain’s experiments with seemingly anti-historical visual technologies provide important parallels and lessons for our own uses of digital technologies in coming to terms with the relations between police brutality against Black Americans today and the long transnational history of anti-Blackness.

Stephen Pasqualina is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Nevada, Reno. His current book project, Mechanical Failure: Modernism, Technology, and the Mediation of History, examines the role of speed and visual media technologies in the US modernist historical imaginary. Work related to this project has recently appeared in Modernism/modernityJ19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century AmericanistsPublic Books, and MarkTwainStudies.org.

Professor Pasqualina’s lecture can be found HERE. Lecture images can be found HERE.

Wednesday, July 22

“Why We Who Have Dedicated Our Lives to Mark Twain Studies Must Now Interleave His Life, His Works, and His Time with a 21st Century Lens for Teachers and Students”

Jocelyn A. Chadwick, Harvard University Graduate School of Education

Jocelyn A. Chadwick (right of center, holding a child with a red coat) with students

As scholars we were and are still being trained and taught to focus our work and research inside of ourselves for dissemination among like-minded colleagues. Essentially, we are experts talking to experts, sharing ideas and discoveries. . . . We are also teachers. Why should we even consider rethinking “how we do business?” This lecture explores four key relevant areas that we who study Mark Twain Studies must rethink, reimagine, and, yes, learn anew how to teach and share the texts—primary/secondary and the personal narratives—if Mark Twain’s Studies are to survive within this century: Generation ZDisruptTextsVirtual Learning and Using Primary/Secondary Resources, and Relevance to Us. The very survival of Mark Twain Studies within the elementary-high school classrooms throughout this country—the United States of America—stands on a precarious and fracturing precipice. We no longer can afford to stand aloof, observing and commenting solely in articles. Our audience who must, must, read the articles are classrooms teachers. And we, too, must transitionally extend the conversation well-beyond the article-page to conversations where we listen to teachers and students, exploring, discovering, and learning with them.

Jocelyn A. Chadwick is a life-long English teacher and international scholar. Formerly, a full-time professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, she now lectures occasionally and conducts seminars there.  She has published numerous articles and books with one in progress, Writing for Life: Using Literature to Teach Writing, She was invited to the White House as panel member for the series, Celebrating America’s Authors. Current projects include PBS American Masters, PBS The Great American Read, a new book series for the Folger Shakespeare Library, recurring blogs for Larry Ferlazzo in Education Week, consultant for Center for Mark Twain Studies, and Pearson/Savvas, Expert Advice Contributor for NBC TODAY Parenting Team.

Professor Chadwick’s lecture can be found HERE.

Wednesday, June 3

“Scandal at Stormfield: Mark Twain’s ‘Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript'”

Lawrence Howe, Roosevelt University

Samuel Clemens with Isabel Lyon and Ralph Ashcroft (circa 1908)

In 1908, when Sam Clemens moved into his Italianate mansion, Stormfield, in Redding, Connecticut, he seemed to have turned the page on his sadness of recent years and begun a happy chapter. About a year later, this happiness was disrupted by a scandal: his personal secretary Isabel Lyon and his business manager Ralph Ashcroft betrayed his trust. Mark Twain addressed their deceptions in his final text, the “Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript,” a tortured piece of writing in which he struggles to come to terms with their treachery. In this presentation, Howe will offer an account of the events and Twain’s text that disputes criticism of the manuscript as evidence of his irascibility and exhausted talent.  Instead, Howe will show how the text’s compositional problems provide insight into Clemens’s vulnerability in the last stage of his life. In light of evidence proving that the trusted couple exploited him, the text documents a crime that we now recognize as elder abuse. Twain’s emotional tone in this text signals how unsettling this nearly disastrous episode was for him. Indeed, the Ashcroft-Lyon manuscript is his attempt to regain control of his life by the means he knew best—through narrative.  

Lawrence Howe is Professor of English and Film Studies at Roosevelt University, past-president of the Mark Twain Circle of America, and editor of Studies in American Humor.  His publications include Mark Twain and Money: Language, Capital, and Culture, edited with Henry Wonham, and Mark Twain and the Novel: The Double-Cross of Novelistic Discourse. And he is currently at work on a book on Mark Twain and property. He has lectured throughout the United States and Europe on Mark Twain and other topics in American culture.

Professor Howe’s lecture can be found HERE. Lecture images can be HERE.

Wednesday, May 27

“Riding with Mark Twain”

Laura Skandera Trombley, Southwestern University

“I Wept”
Illustration from The Innocents Abroad, Chpt.50

I was about to trek into the desert to try to find what Samuel Langhorne Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, had experienced over one hundred and fifty years ago on his foray through the Holy Land. Clemens had signed up because he was desperate for a future he couldn’t imagine. He had arrived at this juncture exhausted from fighting for a sense of self-worth and fearing that whatever he had managed to accomplish would vanish unnoticed. As contrarian as it might appear, he was convinced that travelling to Europe and then galloping through Palestine was his best opportunity to secure a lucrative future. As for me, I was longing for a feeling of intensity, a strengthened connection, a heightening of awareness, a clearer pathway. I figured I wasn’t the first person to seek enlightenment in the Judean Desert and neither was Clemens. We would be, together, Innocents Abroad.

Laura Skandera Trombley is the forthcoming president of Southwestern University. She is president emerita of Pitzer College, where she served for 13 years, and The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Previously, she served as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Dr. Trombley is the author of five books and a number of articles. She is the recipient of many awards for her scholarship, including being recognized by the Mark Twain Journal as a Legacy Scholar in spring 2019 for her efforts in rehabilitating the intellectual reputations of the women who surrounded Mark Twain. In 2017, she won the Louis J. Budd Award for her contributions to Mark Twain Studies. Dr. Trombley graduated summa cum laude with a Master of Arts in English from Pepperdine University. She received her doctorate in English from the University of Southern California.

Professor Trombley’s lecture can be found HERE. Lecture Images can be found HERE.

Wednesday, May 20

“Witnessing the Civil War: In Elmira with Mark Twain”

Shirley Samuels, Cornell University

“The ‘Baton Rouge'”
Frontispiece for Life on the Mississippi

Mark Twain did not go to Elmira during the Civil War, so the title has some deliberate ambiguity. What Elmira held during the last year of the war was a prisoner of war camp, and I am intrigued with the idea that Twain might have visited the site with the small dread that he could have been confined there or in a place like it if he had been captured during his brief foray into serving with a renegade group of would-be confederate soldiers. Most of the presentation focuses on his uncomfortable writing about the war in Life on the Mississippi. The revisions that appear between the early drafts of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that appear in Life and its later, more familiar, appearance also fascinate me. Since Twain wrote most of Huckleberry Finn while sitting in his lair above Elmira, the title of the talk comes full circle.

Shirley Samuels is working on a monograph, currently titled “Haunted by the Civil War,” on witnessing, testimony, and culture in the United States. She teaches at Cornell University in several departments, including American Studies, English, History of Art and Visual Studies, and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  Her books include Race and Vision in the Nineteenth-Century U.S. (2019); The Cambridge Companion to Abraham Lincoln (2012); Reading the American Novel: 1780-1865 (2012); Facing America: Iconography and the Civil War (2004); Companion to American Fiction, 1780-1865 (2004); Romances of the Republic: Women, the Family, and Violence in the Literature of the Early American Nation (1996); and The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 19th Century America (1992.) In addition to Cornell University, she has taught at Princeton University, Brandeis University, and the University of Delaware. She has held fellowships from The American Council of Learned Societies, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Antiquarian Society, and the Huntington Library. She is a member of the 2020 class of Quarry Farm Fellows.

This lecture was previously presented for the Chemung County Historical Society 2020 Civil War Lecture Series.

Professor Samuels’s lecture can be found HERE.

Wednesday, May 13

“Guilty Pleasure Editing: Mark Twain’s Marginalia of ‘Bad’ Poetry”

Lisa McGunigal, Hope College

“The exquisitely bad is as satisfying to the soul as the exquisitely good—only the mediocre is unendurable”

Mark Twain, Notebook 39, 1896
“The Last Meeting and Final Parting”
Sketch drawn by Mark Twain in 1890 that accompanied one of his poems

Considered a satirist, travel writer, and lecturer, Twain was rarely presented as a poet or appreciator of poetry to the public during his life—and still today many people assume an antagonistic relationship between Twain and verse. In fact, Twain penned 120 poems (the bulk being of a humorous nature) and was an avid reader and performer of Robert Browning’s works. Additionally, Twain was clearly familiar with the popular poets of his era as he frequently parodied them within his novels. This lecture will discuss how Twain enjoyed not only reading bad poetry but also writing marginalia within his personal poetry collection—often consisting of snarky remarks criticizing the sentimental tone or rhyming structure— illustrating his active investment in altering and questioning the text as an enjoyable activity. In fact, Twain solicited editions of bad poetry from his friends and admirers with the expressed purpose to criticize them, and several of these copies are held today by the Elmira College Mark Twain Archive.

Lisa McGunigal is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Hope College. Her research examines the intersection of performance studies and nineteenth-century American literary realism, focusing on how authors adopted and adapted strategies from performance sites in their novels to interrogate societal attitudes about race, class, and gender. She was a 2019 Quarry Farm Fellow, and her work has appeared in several journals including the Mark Twain Annual and American Literary Realism. Lisa received her B.A. from the University of Rhode Island, M.A. from the University of Virginia, and Ph.D. from the Pennsylvania State University.

Professor McGunigal’s lecture can be found HERE. Lecture images can be found 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.