Past Quadrennial Conferences and Symposia

Since 1989, the Center for Mark Twain Studies has hosted The International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies. This quadrennial gathering is devoted to advancing and exploring the State of Mark Twain Studies. The Conference takes place on the Elmira College campus and at Quarry Farm. Hundreds of scholars and enthusiasts from around the globe gather to study and celebrate the life of Sam Clemens and the literature of Mark Twain, constituting the world’s largest scholarly conference focusing on Mark Twain and his literature.

Starting in 2008, the Center for Mark Twain Studies has hosted a number of symposia on specific topics in Mark Twain Studies. These symposia offer scholars the opportunity to spend a few days deeply delving into a specific aspect of Mark Twain Studies. Several speakers, usually experts in their specific academic field, give papers throughout the gathering, often followed by roundtable discussions.


Sixth Quarry Farm Symposium “Mark Twain and Nature”

October 4 to October 6, 2019

The natural world figures prominently in the writings of Mark Twain, whether as the main object of description and commentary as in Life on the Mississippi and Roughing It or as an inextricable element of fictional narratives such as The Adventures of Tom SawyerAdventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson and more. However, these writings (other than short excerpts from Life and Roughing It) rarely find their way into anthologies of nature writing. And yet, Twain’s writing about the natural world across his literary oeuvre provides prescient and germane commentary on the relationship between human beings and the natural world—revealing it to be a conflicted a relationship of antagonism and praise. On the one hand, he seemed at war with nature: “The purpose of all human laws is one—to defeat the laws of Nature.” On the other hand, he expressed both awe and respect for the power of the natural world: “Architects cannot teach nature anything,” and “Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.”

CMTS’s Sixth Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium was organized by Ben Click (St. Mary’s College of Maryland) and offered various critical examinations of the natural world in Twain’s writing: as nature writing similar to the ecocritical discourse of Thoreau, Dillard, and Abbey; as exploration of the aesthetic nexus between art and nature; as commentary on animal welfare; and as analysis of the intersection between nature and culture. Moreover, the papers cut across all periods of Twain’s writing life and furthered the claim of Twain as a forerunner to mid-20th to early 21st century writers such as Krutch, Cuppy, Abbey, Kingsolver, Quammen, and Gessner who now offer comic responses to nature as well as recognize the intrinsically humorous place of humanity in nature.

CMTS partnered with Mark Twain Annual, and a number of the presenters will be featured in a special issue of the Annual in 2019.

Michael P. Branch delivered the keynote address. Branch is a writer of creative nonfiction and humor, who focuses on the environment and the life in the American West. Branch is also professor of literature and environment at the University of Nevada, Reno. He has published five books and more than two hundred essays, articles, and reviews.

The following are all the papers presented during the symposium. CMTS is confident that this group of lectures will encourage scholars to reconsider Mark Twain as a person who is deeply sensitive and has complex ideas about the environment, nature aesthetics, wilderness, animal welfare, and other topics pertaining to the natural world. (Click on the scholar’s name to listen to an audio recording of the talk)

  • J.Mark Baggett, “‘Practicing the Wild’: Twain and Thoreau at the Lakes (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Katherine E. Bishop, “‘A Wilderness of Oil Pictures’: Reframing Nature in A Tramp Abroad” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn) Lecture Images
  • Michael. P. Branch, “Made in Nevada” (Keynote Address – October 4, 2019 – Cowles Hall – Elmira College Campus) Video Clip
  • Charles C. Bradshaw, “Animal Welfare and the Democratic Frontier: Mark Twain’s Condemnation of Bullfighting in A Horse’s Tale” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn) Lecture Images
  • Ryan Heryford, “‘the breath of flower that perished’: The Imperial Ecologies of Mark Twain’s Early Letters” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn) Lecture Images
  • Barbara Ladd, “‘Night after Night, Day after Day’: Mark Twain and the Natural World” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Delphine Louise-Dimitrov, “Nature in Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc: Pastoralism Revisited” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn) Lecture Images
  • Don James McLaughlin, “Microphobias: Medicine after Miasma in Twain’s 3,000 Years among the Microbes” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn) Lecture Images
  • Lisa Vandenbossche, “Nature as Historian in Mark Twain’s Letters from Hawaii” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Emily E. VanDette, “‘A Dog’s Tale’ in Context: Twain & the Transatlantic Anti-Vivisection Campaign” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn)

Fifth Quarry Farm Symposium “American Literary History and Economics in the New Gilded Age”

October 5 to October 7, 2018

The economic expansion of the U.S. during Mark Twain’s lifetime was unprecedented, in this country or any other. Twain was fascinated by the technological innovations that transformed commerce and industry, the volatile financial markets that strained to keep up with the demands of entrepreneurs and investors, the infamous magnates that accumulated private fortunes unimaginable to previous generations, the corrosive symbiosis of private wealth and public servants, the precarious plight of consumers and laborers who both drove the economy and were periodically driven over by it, and the fledgling field of philosophical inquiry, political economy, aimed at understanding the organizing principles of capitalist society.

Before anybody suspected he would become the literary figure who defined this era, Twain gave it its lasting nickname, the Gilded Age, recognizing that the luxurious lifestyles of America’s nouveau riche celebrities and the bedazzling technologies advertised by American entrepreneurs disguised deep disparities of wealth, exploitative employment practices, systemic corruption, and widespread financial fraud. As we find ourselves in what is now frequently called “The New Gilded Age,” characterized by many of the same phenomena, CMTS’s Fifth Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium featured scholars who explore the intersections of economic history, economic theory, mass media, and literature.

The symposium was organized by Henry B. Wonham (University of Oregon), Lawrence Howe (Roosevelt University), and Matt Seybold (Elmira College). Wonham and Howe’s collection, Mark Twain & Money, was published in 2017, while Seybold’s Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (coedited with Michelle Chihara) was just published this year.

Professor Matt Seybold (Elmira College) kicked off the talks with an introductory address.  Dr. Seybold’s talk can be found here.  The opening reception was highlighted by David Sloan Wilson (Distinguished Professor of Biology & Anthropology at Binghamton University) delivering the keynote address “Mark Twain, Cultural Multilevel Selection, and the New Gilded Age.”  This provocative talk challenged literary scholars to theorize the multilevel selection of systems of meaning and maladaptive economic systems.  (Click on the scholar’s name to listen to an audio recording of the talk)

  • Michael Anesko, “The Man of Business as a Man of Letters: William Dean Howells and the Paradox of Monopoly” (October 6, 2018 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Mary McAleer Balkun, “Getting What We Deserve in The (New) Gilded Age” (October 6, 2018 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Sean X. Goudie, “An Archipelagic Gilded Age: Turn-of-the-Century Caribbean Literature, US Empire, and the ‘New’ Protectionism” (October 6, 2018 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Sheri Marie Harrison, “Russell Banks’ Global Gilded Age” (October 6, 2018 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Andrew Kopec, “Twain’s Habits: Pudd’head Wilson and Institutional Economics” (October 6, 2018 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Ann Ryan, “Mark Twain and the Price of a Haunted House” (October 6, 2018 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Henry Wonham, “The Marginal Revolution in American Literature” (October 6, 2018 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • David Sloan Wilson, “Mark Twain, Cultural Multilevel Selection, and the New Gilded Age” (Keynote Address – October 5, 2018 – Meier Hall – Elmira College Campus)

Other papers included:

  • Nathaniel Cadle, “Imaging Equality: Edward Bellamy in the Nineteenth and Twenty-First Centuries”
  • Ranjit Dighe, “Gilded Ages Then and Now: Continuity and Change”
  • Lawrence Howe, “Mark Twain and Estate Planning”
  • Christian Kloeckner, “The (New) Golden Ages: Forms and Functions of Economic Nostalgia”

Elmira 2017: The Eighth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies

August 3 to August 5, 2017

The title of the conference was “The Assault of Laughter.” Highlights of Elmira 2017 included over 65 delivered papers; 7 special panels (including representatives from The Mark Twain Project and The Mark Twain House and Museum); a screening of the movie “Band of Robbers” with a Q&A by the writers/directors Aaron and Adam Nee; and keynote address by Ben Tarnoff, author of The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature (Penguin, 2014), frequent contributor to The Guardian, and founder of Logic, a magazine about technology.


Fourth Quarry Farm Symposium “Mark Twain and Youth”

October 7 to October 9, 2016

More than 45 scholars and enthusiasts from around the globe gathered to hear presentations, expereince Quarry Farm, and share a general fondness of all-things Mark Twain. The co-chairs of the symposium were Kevin MacDonnell and Kent Rasmussen, the co-editors of Mark Twain and Youth: Studies in His Life and Writings (Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2016).

The keynote speaker was Jon Clinch. His first novel, Finn – the secret history of Huckleberry Finn’s father – was named an American Library Association Notable Book and was chosen as one of the year’s best books by the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and The Christian Science Monitor. It won the Philadelphia Athenaeum Literary Award and was short-listed for the Sargent First Novel Prize. Some of this other works include Kings of the EarthThe Thief of Auschwitz, and Belzoni Dreams of Egypt.

The presentations from the scholars covered topics such as Twain’s novel Prince and the Pauper, his imapct on American cultural identity, as well as insights into Samuel Clemens as a child, a parent, and the lives of his children.

The following papers were delivered in the Barn at Quarry Farm:

  • John Bird, “‘We Are a Very Happy Family’: Sam and Livy as Parents”
  • Joseph Csicsila, “Langdon Clemens and Mark Twain’s Discovery of a River and a Town”
  • Hugh Davis, “A Tale for Young People of All Ages: The Prince and the Pauper and Youth”
  • Mark Dawidziak, “Mark Twain and the Movies”
  • Alan Gribben, “Samuel Clemens’s Earliest Reading Experiences”
  • Ronald Jenn, “Joan of Arc, Written in France”
  • Andrew Levy, “Mark Twain and the Idea of American Identity”
  • Peter Messent, “Projecting a Future: Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and America”
  • Patrick Ober, “Health, Disease, and Children in Mark Twain’s Life and Writings”
  • John Pascal, “A New Generation’s Tickers to Mark Twain’s Steamboat, Stagecoach, and Steamship”
  • Lucy Rollin, “The Man of the Century – Twice”

Third CMTS Symposium “Complicating Twain: Biography, Autobiography and the Personal Scholar”

October 19 and October 20, 2012

The third CMTS Symposium was dedicated to the memory of Michael J. Kiskis.

The gathering was organized by Kerry Driscoll and Ann Ryan. The keynote address, “Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Michael Honey,” was given by Laura Skandera Trombley.

The following papers were in the Peterson Chapel in Historic Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus:

  • Jed Dobson, “What does the ‘Temporal Turn’ mean for Autobiography? Mark Twain, Memory, and the Failures of Historicism”
  • Kerry Driscoll, “Mark Twain and the Maori”
  • A.B. Effgen, “Suffering Shelley’s Missionaries: Mark Twain and the Cult of Personality”
  • Lawrence Howe, “Real Property and Fictional Land: The Fact and the Fiction of the Tennessee Land”
  • Sharon D. McCoy, “‘Like real chums’: Twain’s Relations with African Americans in Elmira’s Domestic Circle”
  • Bruce Michelson, “Young Realists in a New Virtual Age”
  • Linda A. Morris, “‘The Hour of Lead’: Mark Twain and Grief”
  • Ann Ryan, “Fear and Loathing: The Gothic of Jim”
  • Gary Sharnhorst, “Mark Twain and Julian Hawthorne”
  • Barbara Snedecor, “Real and Imagined Guilt in ‘The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut’”
  • Jeffrey Steinbrink, “Running with Coyotes”
  • Thomas L. Wilmeth, “The ‘Slandered Dogs’ & ‘Forgettable Birds’ of Mark Twain’s Travel Books”

Elmira 2013: The Seventh International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies

August 1 to August 3, 2013

The title of the conference was “One Man, Many Legacies: ‘Yours Dreamily, Mark Twain'” and observed the sesquicentennial of the Pen-name. Highlights of Elmira 2013 included over 80 delivered papers; an exhibition opening “Mark Twain and the West,” curated by Victor Fischer (Mark Twain Papers and Project); a screening of the documentary film “Holbrook/Twain” with Hal Holbrook in attendance; and a keynote address by Peter Kaminsky, co-creator of The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, former managing editor of National Lampoon, award-winning journalist, and author/editor of a wide variety of books, including a collection of Mark Twain’s travel writing The Chicago of Europe and Other Tales of Foreign Travel (Union Square Press, 2009).


Second CMTS Symposium “en route: Mark Twain’s Travel Books: A Tramp Abroad and Following the Equator

October 15 and Ocotber 16, 2010

The symposium organizer was Terry Oggel. The keynote speaker was Louis J. Budd, who delivered the paper “Tramping Beyond Innocence, Steamboats, and Sagebrush.”

The following papers were delivered in the Tripp Lecture Hall on the Elmira College Campus:

  • Mary Boewe, “Mark Twain’s India: Land of ‘splendor and rags’”
  • Steve Courtney, “Twain, Twichell, and the Butcher Beilstein: After the A Tramp Abroad Trip”
  • Kerry Driscoll, “‘So Much for the Aboriginals’: The Politics of Selective Racial Sympathy in Following the Equator
  • Alex Effgen, “‘Young’ Walter F. Brown: Before, During, and After A Tramp Abroad
  • Dwayne Eutsey, “Following the Equator to the Horizon-Rim of Consciousness: Mark Twain en route to India and Beyond”
  • Holger Kersten, “‘I am no longer ye’: Mark Twain’s Ambivalence about Europe and America in A Tramp Abroad
  • Jeffrey Melton, “Mark Twain, An Artist of the Beautiful”
  • Steve Railton, “All I wanted was to go somewhere”
  • Barbara Snedecor, “I am glad I have traveled so much”
  • Catherine Watson, “From Afar: Private Reasons and Public Voice in Mark Twain’s Travel Writing”

Elmira 2009: The Sixth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies

August 6 to August 8, 2009

The tile of the conference was “The Worlds of Mark Twain” and observed the centennial of the death of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Highlights of Elmira 2009 included over 70 delivered papers; 5 special panels; a music performance based on Kerry Driscoll’s scholarship “Mark Twain’s Music Box”; the exhibit “Mark Twain in the Comics,” curated by M. Thomas Inge; and a keynote address by Russell Banks, prolific writer of fiction, including Continental Drift (1985), Affliction (1989), The Sweet Hereafter (1991), Rule of the Bone (1995), and Cloudsplitter (1998). He is also the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the John Dos Passos Award and the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


First CMTS Symposium “A Centennial Symposium on Mark Twain’s ‘Mysterious Stranger’”

October 10 and October 11, 2008

The symposium was organized by Joseph Csicsila and Chad RohmanAlan Gribben gave the keynote address. During the opening reception in Hamilton Hall on the Elmira College campus, Irene Langdon and David Pennock, in the name of Jervis Langdon, Jr., gifted Charles Langdon’s copy of William C. Prime’s Tent Life of the Holy Land, in recognition of the fine work of the Center for Mark wain Studies in fulfilling the specific mission for the use of Quarry Farm.

Mark Twain, in of the letters to The Daily Alta California that eventually formed the basis for The Innocents Abroad, lists Tent Life in the Holy Land by William Cowper Prime among the titles that passengers were instructed to bring with them on the Quaker City excursion. The Prime’s book influenced the composition of The Innocents Abroad has always been clear. In addition to direct references to the title, Clemens minimally disguised the author as “Wm. C. Grimes” in those places in which he is being particularly critical of Prime within Innocents Abroad. Now the emergence of Clemens’s traveling companion Charles Langdon’s copy of Tent Life in the Holy Land with its many pages of marginal notes and markings by Clemens makes it possible for the first time to examine Clemens’s immediate reactions as a reader to a text that is intertwined with his own first full length and highly successful work.

The following papers were delivered in the Tripp Lecture Hall on the Elmira College campus:

  • John Bird, “Dreams and Metaphors in No.44, The Mysterious Stranger
  • Harold K. Bush, Jr., “The Prophetic Imagination, the Liberal Self, and the Ending of No.44, The Mysterious Stranger
  • Gregg Camfield, “‘Transcendental Hedonism?’: Sex, Song, Food and Drink in No.44, The Mysterious Stranger and ‘My Platonic Sweetheart’”
  • Michael J. Kiskis, “Mark Twain and the Accusing Angel: ‘The Chronicle of Young Satan’ and Sam Clemens’ Argument with the Inscrutable”
  • Randall Knoper, “‘Silly creations of an imagination that is not conscious of its freaks’: Multiple Selves, Worldless Communication, and the Psychology of Mark Twain’s No.44, The Mysterious Stranger
  • Horst Kruse, “Chamisso’s Peter Schlemihl and Mark Twain’s Mysterious Stranger: German Literature and the Composition of the Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts”
  • James S. Leonard, “No.44, The Mysterious Stranger: The Final Soliloquy of a “Littery Man’”
  • Sharon D. McCoy, “‘I ain’ no dread being’: The Minstrel Mask as Alter Ego”
  • Bruce Michelson, “Mark Twain’s Mysterious Strangers and the Motions of the Mind”
  • David E.E. Sloane, “No.44, The Mysterious Stranger as Literary Comedy”
  • David L. Smith, “Samuel Clemens, Duality, and Time Travel”
  • Henry B. Wonham, “Mark Twain’s Last Cakewalk: Racialized Performance in No.44, The Mysterious Stranger

Elmira 2005: The Fifth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies

August 4 to August 6, 2005

Highlights of the conference included over 50 delivered papers; 5 special panels; a showing of the CBS Playhouse 90 production of “The Shape of the River” (originally aired in 1960) with an introduction by Mark Dawidziak; and a keynote address by Ron Powers, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of numerous works including Mark Twain: A Life (Free Press, 2005).


Elmira 2001: The Fourth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies

August 16 to August 18, 2001

Highlights included over 50 delivered papers; scholar-led teaching discussion groups; an exhibit of items from the Nick Karanovich Mark Twain collection; a preview of excerpts from the the Ken Burns film Mark Twain, followed by a Q &A with Ken Burns; and a concluding dinner celebrating Lou Budd’s 80th birthday.


Elmira 1997: The Third Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies

August 14 to August 16, 1997

The conference celebrated the centennial of Following the Equator. Highlights included over 40 delivered papers; scholar led teaching discussion groups; the theatrical premier of “Mark Twain: A Sketch Book”; and a keynote address by Hamlin Hill, author of Mark Twain: God’s Fool (Harper & Row, 1973).


Elmira 1993: A Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies

August 12 to August 14, 1993

The conference saluted the lifetime achievements of Louis J. Budd, long-time editor of American Literature and author of Mark Twain: Social Philosopher (1962) and Mark Twain: The Making of His Public Personality (1983) and the tenth anniversary of the Center for Mark Twain Studies. Highlights included over 24 delivered papers, scholar led teaching discussion groups, and a keynote address by Louis J. Budd.


Elmira 1989: Mark Twain and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: American Issues, 1889-1989

August 10 to August 12, 1989

The inaugural conference hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies. Highlights included over 10 delivered papers, teaching workshops for secondary, undergraduate, and graduate teachers; a showing of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” starring Will Rogers, followed by commentary from Reba Collins, Director of the Will Rogers Memorial; a juried photo competition, a trip to see the Mark Twain Musical Drama”; and a keynote address from Justin Kaplan, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain (1966).


Center for Mark Twain Studies Awards

At every quadrennial conference, the Center for Mark Twain Studies has the honor of bestowing two awards on two scholars who work in Mark Twain Studies.

The Henry Nash Smith Award is given to a Mark Twain Studies scholar who has demonstrated exemplary service to the Center for Mark Twain Studies. Former award recipients include:

  • Elmira 2017: Barbara Snedecor
  • Elmira 2013: Ann M. Ryan
  • Elmira 2009: Horst Kruse
  • Elmira 2005: Susan K. Harris
  • Elmira 2001: Howard Baetzhold
  • Elmira 1997: Alan Gribben
  • Elmira 1993: James D. Wilson
  • Elmira 1989: David E.E. Sloane

Henry Nash Smith (1906 – 1986) was a noted Mark Twain Studies scholar, curator of the Mark Twain Papers, and one of the founders of the academic discipline “American Studies.”

The John S. Tuckey Award is given to a scholar in recognition of lifetime achievements and contributions to Mark Twain Studies. The award was formerly given to individual Quarry Farm Fellows in the early 1990’s; then CMTS Director Barbara Snedecor reinstated and elevated the award for the Elmira 2005 Quadrennial Conference. Former quadrennial award recipients include:

  • Elmira 2017: Shelley Fisher Fishkin
  • Elmira 2013: Robert Hirst
  • Elmira 2009: Tom Quirk
  • Elmira 2005: Thomas Asa Tenney

John S. Tuckey’s (1921-1987) scholarship on Mark Twain’s later writing forced scholars to fundamentally reevaluate their perceptions of Twain and his literature.