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.

Tenth Quarry Farm Symposium, “Mark Twain: Invention, Technology, and Science Fiction”

October 6 & October 7, 2023

FULL RECAP OF THE 2023 SYMPOSIUM (Includes all talks and bios of presenters)

2023 Quarry Farm Symposium Program

In his landmark 2010 essay, “On Defining SF, or Not: Genre Theory, SF, and History,” John Rieder wrestles with the slippery definition of “science fiction.” He notes that clear genre definitions are frequently demanded by “two institutional locations, commercial publishing and the academy, and this pair of institutions bears no accidental resemblance to the oppositions between high and low culture….” (204). Building from Bourdieu and Habermas, Rieder argues that because of these “contradictory drives for economic profit and cultural prestige in commercial publishing, the history of sf is well positioned to contribute importantly to broader cultural history…” (206). 

Scholars have acknowledged that much of Twain’s work could be labeled “science fiction” if it were published today, an understanding that goes back at least as far as David Ketterer’s 1984 collection, The Science Fiction of Mark Twain. Twain’s writing appeared in the nineteenth-century literary marketplace side-by-side with dime novels about boy explorers in submarines or airships, hero-worshipping biographies of famous inventors, and the translated works of contemporaries like Jules Verne. Moreover, Twain embodies the straddling of popular success and cultural prestige that Rieder mentions; then and now, Twain’s career navigated these contradictions. Locating when and how Twain’s work fits the “science fiction” label can help us see the limits and utility of genre. 

Of course, Twain is more than just a literary figure; he was part of a culture immersed in science and technology. Alan Gribben, in Mark Twain’s Literary Resources, Vol. 1 (2019), specifically notes science was one area Twain read voraciously, including “an entire set of Charles Darwin’s works” and “at least a dozen titles” on astronomy (44). Once he had money, Twain constantly sought new inventions to fund; his investments in new printing technology partly caused his bankruptcy. Gary Scharnhorst’s recent biography The Life of Mark Twain: The Final Years (2022) reminds us that Twain spent his later years scrutinizing osteopathy, Christian science, and other nascent medical movements, partly to help his ailing wife and daughters. Twain constantly interacted with all these developing fields and more, frequently in very public, mercurial ways. 

With all this in mind, this symposium worked to understand the “broader cultural history” Rieder mentions by placing Twain and his contemporaries within the cultural transformations of science and technology, and within the broad literary boundaries of science fiction. What do we learn if we look at science fiction through the lens of Mark Twain, or Mark Twain through the lens of science fiction? 

The chair of the symposium was Nathaniel Williams (University of California, Davis). The keynote address was delivered by Shelia Williams, editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction.

The following are all the papers presented at the symposium (Click on the scholar’s name for a video recording of the talk)

  • Nicole Amare and Alan Manning, “Twain to Twilight: Latter-day Saint Motifs in Fantasy and Science Fiction Writing (October 7, 2023 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Max Chapnick, “Mark Twain vs. Christian Science and Empire” (October 7, 2023 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Edward Guimont, “Shadow of the Comet: Celestial Speculation in Twain’s Lifetime” (October 7, 2023 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Anjalee Gunaratnam, “Aliens of Our World: Nineteenth-Century Naturalists in H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and John Clare’s Bird Poems” (October 7, 2023 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • James D. Keeline, “Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone and H. Gernsbeck and E. Ruhmer and the Telephot” (October 7, 2023 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Ronny Litvack-Katzman, “Science Fiction and Boundary of Genre” (October 7, 2023 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Judith Yaross Lee, “Responses to Todd Nathan Thompson and Chander Shekhar: Technology and Imperialism in Mark Twain’s Novels” (October 7, 2023 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Bruce Michelson, “AI and Technological Seductions of Mark Twain’s World” (October 7, 2023 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Patrick Prominski, “‘The Diamond Lens’ and Fitz-James O’Brien’s Imagined Order” (October 7, 2023 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Matt Seybold, “The World-Empire” (October 7, 2023 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Chander Shekhar, “Navigating Whites’ Utopia: An Active Reader’s Response to Puddn’head Wilson” (October 7, 2023 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Todd Nathan Thompson, “Weapons of Mass Distraction: A Comic Genealogy of A Connecticut Yankee‘s Speculative Exceptionalism” (October 7, 2023 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Sheila Williams, 2023 Quarry Farm Symposium Keynote Address (October 6, 2023 – Elmira College Campus)

Ninth Quarry Farm Symposium “Abolition Studies”

September 30 – October 2, 2022

FULL RECAP OF THE 2022 SYMPOSIUM (Includes most talks and all bios of presenters)

2022 Quarry Farm Symposium Program

The Ninth Quarry Farm Symposium “Abolition Studies” sought to take an intentionally transhistorical approach to the field of abolition studies through panels and discussions that attend to the long duree of abolitionist thought, activism, and organizing from the 19th to the 21st centuries. While there is robust scholarship on movements to abolish chattel slavery in the US before 1865, and there is growing interest – both scholarly and popular – in late 20th- and 21st-century prison and police abolition, this symposium looked to explicitly bring these two historical epochs into conversation across what Saidya Hartman has called “the nonevent of emancipation” towards richer analysis of, for example, carcerality, rights, social and civil death, enclosure, and criminalization. The symposium was especially interested in presentations that rigorously trouble the very notion of continuity, recognizing both the persistence of what Douglas A. Blackmon has called “slavery by another name” as well as the continuing “acts of resistance and sabotage” against racial terror and carceral capture identified by Sarah Haley and others occurring in the decades of transition from the late 19th to the early 20th century. That is, it invited analysis not only of forces of capture but also of resistance.

With this long history of mechanisms of captivity and modes of radical resistance in mind, thesymposium emphasized the interconnecting relationship between abolitionist movements working against the enduring legacies of U.S. racism in carceral forms from the 19th to the 21st centuries. And in recognition of recent insightful work in the field of critical prison and carcerality studies by thinkers including Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Erica Meiners, Liat Ben-Moshe, Kelly Lytle Hernández, Harsha Walia, Savannah Shange, Luana Ross, Eric Stanley, and others, we seek to enrich understandings of how carceral logics and institutions develop and expand across time to iterate in ever greater spaces of both public and private life.

The co-chairs of the symposium were Jesse A. Goldberg (new Mexico Highlands University) and Nancy Quintanilla (California State Polytechnic, Pamona). The keynote address was delivered by Sarah Haley (Columbia University).

The following are most of the papers presented during the symposium. (Click on the scholar’s name for a video recording of the talk)

  • Alex Alston, “Animal Afterlives: 19th Century Abolitionism & The Discourse of Species” (October 1, 2022 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • M. Cecilia Azar, “Liberating the Punchline: Abolitionist Practices in Running One Thousand Miles for Freedom” (October 1, 2022- Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Srimayee Basu, “The Entanglements of Emancipation and Juvenile Discipline in the Early Black Prison Memoir” (October 1, 2022 – Online)
  • Sarah Haley, “Gender and the Abolitionist Present” (September 30, 2022 – Elmira College Campus – Keynote Address)
  • Christopher Paul Harris, “The Last President: Notes on Abolition and the (un)Making of the World System” (October 1, 2022 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • remus jackson, “‘This is the kind of society I’m looking for, anyway’: Krysta Morningstarr & The Radical Potential of Prisoner’s Comics” (October 1, 2022 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • LaVelle Ridley, “Imaginative Abolition, Political Life Writing, and Black Trans Feminist Blueprints” (October 1, 2022 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Margarita Lila Rosa, “Riotous Women, Criminalization, and the Voyeuristic Press in 1890’s California (October 1, 2022 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Matt Seybold, “Mark Twain, The Abolitionist” (October 1, 2022 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Kia Turner & Darion Wallace, “Exploring Anti-Carceral Education: Towards Mapping and Historicizing Contemporary Educators’ Theory and Praxis in Abolitionist Terms” (October 1, 2022 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Michelle Velasquez-Potts, “Slow Death and the Domestication of Indefinite Detention” (October 1, 2022 – Online)

Elmira 2022: The Ninth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies

August 4-6, 2022

FULL RECAP OF ELMIRA 2022 (Includes videos of some papers and program)

Elmira 2022 Conference Program

The theme of the conference was “Growth: The Most Rigorous Law of Our Being.” Highlights of Elmira 2022 included over 50 delivered papers; 6 special panels; the humorous and informative presentation “All The Twains Meet: The Film and TV Portrayal of Mark Twain” by nationally-known TV critics David Bianculli and Mark Dawidziak; and a keynote address by award-winning poet Jimmy Santiago Baca.

The following are a portion of the papers presented during the conference. (Click on the scholar’s name for a video recording of the talk)

  • Jimmy Santiago Baca, “A Sense of Twain” (August 5, 2022 – Elmira College Campus – Keynote Address)
  • Philip Bauer, “For the Sake of Growth: My Inconsistent Look at the Life of Jean Clemens” (August 4, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Donald T. Bliss, “Mark Twain’s Ten Lessons for a Workable Democracy: Or, Keeping the Republic” (August 6, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • David Bordelon, “Huckleberry Finn and 21st Century Hucksters” (August 6, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • George Cabanas, “Avatar of God: Mark Twain versus the Moral Sense and the Implications for the Contemporary World” (August 4, 2022 – Elmira College Campus”
  • Elizabeth Cantalamessa, “The Devil and Mark Twain” (August 6, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • James Caron, “Mark Twain Lying In Bed” (August 4, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Rosie Click, “‘The [Real] American Game’: Twain’s Thoughts on Soft Imperialism in Cuba” (August 6, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • John Davis, “The Pursuit of Disappointment: Growth of Status and Growth of Delusion in ‘The $30,000 Bequest’” (August 5, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Maggie E. Morris Davis, “‘[H]e realized the shabbiness of his own self’: Reading Children in Poverty in Twain’s Adaptation Network” (August 5, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Mark Dawidziak, “Big River, Lighting Out for the Tonys” (August 4, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • M.M. Dawley, “‘Only dead men can tell the truth in this world’: The Growth of Mark Twain’s Anger” (August 6, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Kerry Driscoll, “‘Talking is the thing’: Mark Twain’s Bold Experiment in Empowering Women’s Voices” (August 4, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Shelley Fisher Fishkin, “How Hal Holbrook’s Understanding of Mark Twain Grew and Changed Over Time: The First Decade” (August 4, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Harold Hellwig, “The Political Theater in Mark Twain’s Illustrated Works” (August 6, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Aleksandra Hernandez, “Disgust, Contempt, and Animal Cruelty in Twain’s Later Writings” (August 6, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Thomas W. Howard, “‘Two stories tangled together’: The Double Brain, Pudd’nhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins” (August 6, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Tsuyoshi Ishihara, “Time for Change: Mark Twain in US School Textbooks, 1950s-1960’s” (August 4, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Takuya Kubo, “Mark Twain’s Failures as ‘Neglected Texts’” (August 5, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Virginia Maresca, “‘Treachery on both sides’: Mark Twain’s Lessons to Modern America on White Victimhood” (August 6, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Linda A. Morris, “Susy Clemens: The Final Years (1890-1896)” (August 4, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • L.Terry Oggel, “Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson: The Tragedy of Nineteenth-Century American Race Law” (August 6, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Alan Rankin, “Nina Gabrilowitsch: Actress, Writer, Photographer” (August 4, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Matt Seybold, “Darnella Frazier’s Smartphone & Mark Twain’s Notebook: The Vigilante Origin of American Police (August 6, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Jeff Steinbrink, “Of Time and Quantum Mechanics in Roughing It” (August 4, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)
  • Mika Turim-Nygren, “Huckleberry Finn‘s ‘Effect of Indigeneity’: Native Erasure in Law and Literature” (August 4, 2022 – Elmira College Campus)

Eighth Quarry Farm Symposium “Mark Twain and The West: Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Roughing It

October 1-3, 2021

FULL RECAP OF THE 2021 SYMPOSIUM (includes all talks and bios of all presenters)

2021 Quarry Farm Symposium Program

The Mark Twain Annual and the Center for Mark Twain Studies commemorated the sesquicentennial of Roughing It. The Annual will publish a special issue devoted to Mark Twain and the West in 2022. The Center for Mark Twain Studies held a Quarry Farm Symposium in honor of Twain’s famous book in 2021. Both the publication and the symposium examine Twain’s relationship to all aspects of the American West. The co-chairs of the symposium were Joseph Csicsila (Eastern Michigan University) and Ben Click (St. Mary’s College of Maryland).

This broad scope allows for critical examinations of Twain’s work as:

  • Western regionalist writing
  • Twain and indigenous peoples
  • Twain and immigrant populations
  • Commentary on the American frontier
  • Twain and domestic travel
  • Twain’s Western journalism
  • The West as a shaping force on his development as an artist
  • The circle of writers Twain encountered out West and their continued relationship
  • Twain and contemporary Western writers

While Twain and the West has been the subject of numerous studies since the early twentieth century, the special issue and associated symposium seek to explore what in recent years has become somewhat forgotten territory in Twain’s fictive and nonfictive writings.

Bruce Michelson delivered the keynote address, “Mercurial Texts and Turbulent Times.” Bruce Michelson is the author of Mark Twain on the Loose and Printer’s Devil: Mark Twain and the American Publishing Revolution, as well as many articles and book chapters about Mark Twain and other writers.  He is Professor Emeritus of American Literature at the University of Illinois, and a past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America and The American Humor Studies Association.  A Contributing Editor at Studies in American Humor, he is also a Fulbright Ambassador, having received two fellowships from the Fulbright Program.  His most recent work includes a translation of George Clemenceau’s writings on Claude Monet and the fine arts, and A Mark Twain Quartet, four one-act comedies about the family life of Sam Clemens.

The following are all the papers presented during the symposium. (Click on the scholar’s name for a video recording of the talk)

  • Blake Bronson-Bartlett, “The Wild Traces of Calaveras in Notebook IV” (October 2, 2021 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • James E. Caron, “Mark Twain’s Rival Washoe Correspondents: William Wright and J.Ross Browne” (October 2, 2021 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Christopher Conway, “Postwestern Crossings in Phong Nguyen’s The Adventures of Joe Harper (2016) and Robert Coover’s Huck Out West (2017)” (October 2, 2021 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Kerry Driscoll, “Mark Twain’s Masculinist Fantasy of The West” (October 2, 2021 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Dwayne Eutsey, “‘Thick as Thieves’: Mark Twain and The West’s Spiritual Frontiers” (October 2, 2021 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Sarah Fredericks, “Thumbing the Nose and Maligning the Turnip: Mark Twain’s Western Rhetoric of Insults” (October 2, 2021 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Andrew Hebard, “Corruption and Reform in Mark Twain’s West” (October 2, 2021 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Myrial Holbrook, “The Terra Comica between Mark Twain and Sherman Alexie” (October 2, 2021 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • B.Scott Holmes, “Roughing It from Missouri to Nevada Territory, The Journeys of Samuel L. Clemens and Richard F. Burton” (October 2, 2021 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • James Wharton Leonard, “Mark Twain’s Ambivalent Encounter with The Western Landscape” (October 2, 2021 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Jeffrey Melton, “Nature and Mobility in Mark Twain’s Roughing It“ (October 2, 2021 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Jeanne Campbell Reesman, “The Mountain Meadows Massacre, as Told by Mark Twain and Jack London” (October 2, 2021 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Matt Seybold, “The Mail-Bag Bed of Empire: Roughing It & The Gossamer Network” (October 2, 2021 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Todd Nathan Thompson, “‘WHY WE SHOULD ANNEX’: Reprints and Repercussions of Twain’s New York Tribune Letters on Hawai’i” (October 2, 2021 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Alex Trimble Young, “‘The Vigorous New Vernacular’: The ‘Goshoot’ Episode and the Politics of Irony in Roughing It“ (October 2, 2021 – Quarry Farm Barn)

Seventh Quarry Farm Symposium “American Humor and Matters of Empire”

October 2 & October 3, 2020

FULL RECAP OF THE 2020 SYMPOSIUM (includes all talks and bios of all presenters)

2020 Quarry Farm Symposium Program

What do the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon (2011), Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s film The Interview (2014), and Mark Twain’s novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) have in common? All are comic fantasies of American empire that mock U.S. pretensions to improve the world: their plots reverse the European invasion of North America as Americans go abroad to demonstrate U.S. superiority over primitive, corrupt, and menacing comic Others in their homelands. These plots also rely on stock characters, language jokes, and other conventional elements that constitute one of three transnational comic traditions in the analytical rubric that Judith Yaross Lee calls “American Humor and Matters of Empire,” the title of her keynote address for the 2018 American Humor Studies Association-Mark Twain Circle Quadrennial Conference, now revised for the April 2020 issue of Studies in American Humor (4th ser., 6, no.1).

There, in line with recent studies of transnational American culture and scholarship on imperialism and postcolonial theory in many contexts, Lee suggests that imperialism can serve as a key concept to replace not only the outmoded nationalist theories of American humor dating to the 1920s and ’30s, but also the generic international theories too broad to capture its cultural work across many media, genres, and historical eras. In particular, she invites scholars to probe how the unequal transnational political relationships of imperialism have shaped the basic components (plot, character, incident), rhetorical conventions, and comic techniques underlying comic traditions in the United States. Three seem immediately important: colonial continuity with comic traditions drawn from those of previous European imperial powers (Britain, Spain, France, and the Netherlands), postcolonial discontinuity in comic traditions (such as vernacular humor) marked by anti-imperialist and anti-aristocratic ideologies grounded in the American Revolution, and neo-colonial hybridization of native, immigrant, and other national comic traditions through U.S. hegemony across the land and people of North America (and beyond) in the years since the 1787 Northwest Territory Ordinance initiated the thirteen former colonies’ expansion into Thomas Jefferson’s projected “empire of liberty.” After years in which scholarship on American humor splintered into so many distinct traditions of medium and identity that the cultural whole disappeared from view, a paradigm for American humor studies focused on matters of empire in the colonial, postcolonial, and neo-colonial strands of humor in the U.S. promises to braid their diverse themes, stock characters and plots, media, rhetorical conventions, and techniques into what Edward Said called a contrapuntal harmony.

CMTS’s Seventh Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium, organized by Judith Yaross Lee (Ohio University), offered analyses of comic works and practices in film, literature, graphic art, many media genres across the history of American humor with an eye to understanding the rhetorical and cultural significance of comic practices marked by colonial, postcolonial, and neo-colonial relations.

CMTS partnered with American Humor Studies Association, and a number of the presenters will be featured in a special issue of Studies in American Humor in 2021.

John Wharton Lowe delivered the keynote address, “Coyote’s Jokebook: Native American Humor and the Dismantlement of Empire.” John Wharton Lowe is the Barbara Lester Methvin Distinguished Professor of Southern Literature at the University of Georgia. He is author or editor of nine books, including Conversations with Ernest Gaines (1995), Jump at the Sun: Zora Neale Hurston’s Cosmic Comedy (1997), and Calypso Magnolia: The Crosscurrents of Caribbean and Southern Literature (2016). He has published widely on the humor of African American, Native American, Italian American, Southern, Asian American, and circumCaribbean literatures. 

The following are all the papers presented during the symposium. (Click on the scholar’s name to listen to an audio recording of the talk)

  • Burrell, Jalylah, “‘Strange and Beautiful Country’: Era Bell Thompson’s Boundary-Crossing Humor” (October 3, 2020 – Online Video)
  • Caron, James E., “Gender Matters: Addison and Steele’s Amiable Satirist as a Regime of Truth in Antebellum America” (October 3, 2020 – Online Video)
  • Dickson-Carr, Darryl, “Apocalypse Always: The End of Empire in African-American Writing Since World War II” (October 3, 2020 – Online Video)
  • Gilbert, Christopher, “The Issue with Empire and a Comic Stretch of the Imagination” (October 2, 2020 – Online Video)
  • Haggins, Bambi, “Stand-Up Comedy & Survival” (October 2, 2020 – Online Video)
  • Hennefeld, Maggie, “‘Tyranny at Home’: Feminist Slapstick Comedy on the Brink of Global Catastrophe” (October 3, 2020 – Online Video)
  • Morris, Kate and Linda Morris, “Continental Drift: On Monuments, Memory, and Kent Monkman” (October 2, 2020 – Online Video)
  • Orr, Stanley, “I wonder which of you is real: John Kneubuhl’s Indigenous Confidence Man” (October 3, 2020 – Online Video)
  • Seybold, Matt, “The Funny Man vs. the Butcher: Anti-Imperialist Trolling & the International Reception of King Leopold’s Soliloquy” (October 3, 2020 – Online Video)
  • Todd Nathan Thompson, “[W]e could enter into the spirit of his wit and humour’: Lessons from Native Pacific Studies for American Humor Studies” (October 3, 2020 – Online Video)

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 Circle of America, and a number of the presenters will be featured in a special issue of the Mark Twain 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

Jervis Langdon Jr.

At every quadrennial conference, the Center for Mark Twain Studies has the honor of bestowing awards to scholars and community members who work in Mark Twain Studies and support the Center for Mark Twain Studies.

The Jervis Langdon, Jr. Award is given to members of the local or regional Elmira community who further Langdon Jr.’s vision, first articulated in 1982, to preserve Quarry Farm as a retreat for scholars studying Twain’s life, work, legacy, circle, and world. Former award recipients include:

  • Elmira 2022: Elise Johnson-Schmidt

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:

Henry Nash Smith

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.”

  • Elmira 2022: Lawrence Howe
  • 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

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:

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.