“Germ: A Growing Point. A Bud” (A Quarry Farm Testimonial)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We occasionally feature testimonials from recent Quarry Farm Fellows, which combine conversational illustrations of their research and writing process with personal reflections on their experiences as Twain scholars, teachers, and fellows. Applications for Quarry Farm Fellowships are due each Winter. Find more information here.

Don James McLaughlin is an assistant professor of English at The University of Tulsa specializing in 19th-century and early American literature. He earned his Ph.D. in English at the University of Pennsylvania in July 2017. He completed his dissertation “Infectious Affect: The Phobic Imagination in American Literature” under the direction of Heather Love, Max Cavitch, Nancy Bentley, and Chi-ming Yang. The dissertation (now first book project) provides an intellectual history of phobia in American print culture as a medical diagnosis, political metaphor, and aesthetic sensation in the 18th and 19th centuries. In January 2016, an essay from the project was published in The New Republic, titled “The Anti-Slavery Roots of Today’s -Phobia Obsession.” Two additional essays from the project are currently forthcoming in Literature and Medicine and J19: The Journal of 19th-Century Americanists. In 2018, Penn English awarded Don James the Diane Hunter Prize for Best Dissertation submitted during the 2017/18 academic year. In the summer of 2018, Don James was awarded the Hench Post-Dissertation Fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society to support completion of his first book. His research has also been supported by a Marguerite Bartlett Hamer Dissertation Fellowship from the McNeil Center for Early American Studies and the Penn Humanities Forum.  

Professor McLaughlin at Quarry Farm

The Quarry Farm Fellowships, offered annually by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, represent one of the best-kept secrets when it comes to research funding for scholars of nineteenth-century American literature. The luxury, the library, the furniture, the secluded enclaves: all make an indelible impression. It is a rare opportunity to get to live and write, without distraction, in a house of serious significance to one’s specialty. It’s hard not to be charmed by the preserved atmosphere linking Twain’s experience to your own: have coffee on the porch where Twain read work aloud to his family to gauge their reception; watch foxes, fawns, and the beloved Manx “Notaila” scurry across a back lawn overlooking the Appalachian Mountains at sunset; and hike in the woods to the former location of the study (since relocated to the Elmira College campus) where Twain drafted some of his best-known works. If you consider yourself a connoisseur of the paranormal, the ghost of his sister-in-law’s favorite cat Sour Mash will make itself known. If what you need is to unplug, find privacy, and get some writing done with a stellar library at your disposal, you can’t do better than Quarry Farm. The folks who contribute to running and organizing the fellowships, Joseph Lemak, Matt Seybold, and Steve Webb, are also gracious, friendly, and responsive hosts.

My stay at Quarry Farm was memorable for a few reasons. I combined my residence with that of my colleague, Dr. Sunny Yang, Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of Houston. For scholars who would entertain the idea of combining a fellowship with a reunion, I can confirm that, as long as one maintains a solid work ethic during the day, the Quarry Farm fellowship can accommodate a rewarding shared experience.

Selection of the John S. Tuckey Collection in the Mark Twain Archive on the Elmira College Campus

For my fellowship, I wrote on Twain’s unfinished manuscript “3,000 Years among the Microbes” and presented the work as part of the Park Church lecture series, which was well-attended and met with an enthusiastic Q&A. I took advantage of the collection in the Mark Twain Reading Room at Elmira College, where I explored marginalia in copies he owned of Leaves of Grass and The House of Mirth. I also went through extensive notes on “3,000 Years” donated by John S. Tuckey. Two things deserve to be noted about the collection. Archivist Nathaniel Ball does an excellent job of managing the papers and creates a warm, inviting environment. Furthermore, for folks on the East Coast or the Midwest, if a trip to the Bancroft Library at Berkeley isn’t feasible, it is worth exploring the catalog at Elmira College to see if reproductions of any of those materials may be accessed in collections contributed by Twain scholars. As a resident of Worcester, Massachusetts, this year, I found Elmira College to be an ideal, alternative resource.

The fellowship at Quarry Farm was a gift that has kept on giving. I participated in the symposium at Quarry Farm this fall, “Mark Twain and Nature,” where I delivered a paper titled “Microphobias: Microscopy and Medicine after Miasma in ‘3,000 Years among the Microbes.’” At the symposium, I made new friends and had the pleasure of learning from excellent, cutting-edge scholarship. As the symposium segued into after-hours storytelling in the kitchen at Quarry Farm, it dawned on me that the best part of my experience with the Center for Mark Twain Studies was being reminded throughout that vibrant spaces of intellectual camaraderie are thriving in the year 2019. It has been a privilege to become a participant in this community, and it has changed my scholarship for the better.

“The Dread of Filth in Twain” is the Next Park Church Summer Lecture

The 2019 Park Church Lecture Series, hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, continues on Wednesday, August 14 in the historic and cultural landmark, The Park Church, 208 W. Gray Street, Elmira.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

This lecture on August 14 at 7:00p.m. at the Park Church is free and open t the public
Manuscript page from 3,000 Years among the Microbes, 
Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut

The lecture, “The Dread of Filth in Twain: Cultures of Mysophobia in Post-Pasteurian Medicine and 3,000 Years among the Microbes,” will be presented by Don James McLaughlin, University of Tulsa.  This talk examines Mark Twain’s unfinished manuscript 3,000 Years among the Microbes, written in Dublin, New Hampshire in 1905. More precisely, McLaughlin will provide a historical backdrop for the manuscript by putting it in dialogue with two major shifts in medical thought at the end of the nineteenth century: (1) the rise of microbiology, introducing a new discourse for articulating the relationship of bacteria and viruses to infectious disease, established largely by Louis Pasteur’s successes in vaccination; and (2) the emergence of an international psychiatric discourse revolving around mysophobia, meaning a dread of filth and contamination. Written from the perspective of a cholera germ named Huck who has infected a tramp named Blitzowski, 3,000 Years meditates on both discourses, exploring microbiology’s ramifications for human understandings of life, agency, and subjectivity, while also pursuing a mysophobic aesthetic: a state of readerly repugnance generated by the landscape of infection and bodily functions Huck and his microbe friends inhabit. McLaughlin uses 3,000 Years to argue that we cannot understand the rise of mysophobia (as either a diagnosis or an aesthetic) without also understanding its historical relationship to the landscape of invisible infectious agents introduced to human consciousness through the birth of microbiology as a science.

McLaughlin is an assistant professor of nineteenth-century American literature at the University of Tulsa and the 2018-2019 Hench post-dissertation fellow at the American Antiquarian Society. His work has been published in American Literature and the New Republic and is forthcoming in Literature and Medicine and J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists

About The Park Church

Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some members of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain.  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.  Currently, it is an “Open and Affirming Congregation,” welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life, regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.

About the Center for Mark Twain Studies

The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.

CMTS Announces the 2019 “Park Church Summer Lectures” Series Line-Up

The 2019 “Park Church Summer Lectures” are presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies and The Park Church. The series will feature three lectures. All the lectures will begin at 7:00 p.m. and will be located at The Park Church (208 W. Grey Street, Elmira, NY). All of these lectures are open to the public at no cost.

Wednesday, August 7 at The Park Church (7:00 p.m.)

“Views of Mark Twain”: Antics and Annexation in Twain’s New York Tribune Letters on Hawai’i”

Todd Nathan Thompson, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Poster from a February 8, 1873 lecture on Hawai’i

The December 1872 death of Hawaiian monarch Kamehameha V spurred renewed interest among US citizens and politicians alike in the annexation of the Hawaiian islands. To satisfy the public’s increased curiosity about Hawai’i, in January 1873 the New York Daily Tribune sought testimony in the form of two letters from a well-known expert on the islands: Mark Twain. Twain had gained nationwide fame based on his correspondence from the Hawai’i to the Sacramento Union in 1866 and especially from his popular comic lecture, often titled “Or Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands,” which he delivered across the US and abroad between 1866-1873. In my talk I will examine how Twain’s humorous writings and lectures about Hawai’i led American editors and readers to view him as a serious authority on the islands. I will also perform contextualized readings of reprinted excerpts of his letters to the Tribune in other newspapers and magazines and consider what these editorial choices reveal about the American reading public’s views of Twain and of Hawai’i in the early 1870s.

Todd Nathan Thompson is Professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He is also Treasurer-Secretary of the American Humor Studies Association. Todd is author of The National Joker: Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of Satire (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). His work on political satire and pre-1900 American literature has also appeared in Scholarly Editing, Early American Literature, ESQ, Nineteenth-Century Prose, Journal of American Culture, Teaching American Literature, and elsewhere. He currently is at work on a book project entitled Savage Laughter: Nineteenth-Century American Humor and the Pacific, 1840-1880.


Wednesday, August 14 at The Park Church (7:00 p.m.)

“The Dread of Filth in Twain: Cultures of Mysophobia in Post-Pasteurian Medicine and 3,000 Years among the Microbes

Don James McLaughlin, University of Tulsa

Manuscript page from 3,000 Years among the Microbes,
Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut

This talk examines Mark Twain’s unfinished manuscript 3,000 Years among the Microbes, written in Dublin, New Hampshire in 1905. More precisely, I provide a historical backdrop for the manuscript by putting it in dialogue with two major shifts in medical thought at the end of the nineteenth century: (1) the rise of microbiology, introducing a new discourse for articulating the relationship of bacteria and viruses to infectious disease, established largely by Louis Pasteur’s successes in vaccination; and (2) the emergence of an international psychiatric discourse revolving around mysophobia, meaning a dread of filth and contamination. Written from the perspective of a cholera germ named Huck who has infected a tramp named Blitzowski, 3,000 Years meditates on both discourses, exploring microbiology’s ramifications for human understandings of life, agency, and subjectivity, while also pursuing a mysophobic aesthetic: a state of readerly repugnance generated by the landscape of infection and bodily functions Huck and his microbe friends inhabit. I use 3,000 Years to argue that we cannot understand the rise of mysophobia (as either a diagnosis or an aesthetic) without also understanding its historical relationship to the landscape of invisible infectious agents introduced to human consciousness through the birth of microbiology as a science.

Don James McLaughlin is assistant professor of nineteenth-century American literature at the University of Tulsa and the 2018-2019 Hench post-dissertation fellow at the American Antiquarian Society. His work has been published in American Literature and the New Republic and is forthcoming in Literature and Medicine and J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists


Wednesday, August 14 at The Park Church (7:00 p.m.)

“Where the ‘Wild West’ Ends and China Begins: Rethinking the Geography of Mark Twain and Bret Harte’s Ah Sin

Sunny Yang, University of Houston

Playbill for the Washington, D.C. run of Ah Sin at the National Theatre, May 1877

In the fall of 1876, Mark Twain and Bret Harte embarked on a disastrous collaboration that would culminate in the frontier melodrama known as Ah Sin. Named after its Chinese laundryman character, who was taken from Harte’s 1870 poem “Plain Language from Truthful James,” the play is widely acknowledged as a literary and financial failure that contributed to the demise of Twain and Harte’s friendship. Yet despite its dubious artistic merit, Ah Sin has captured some critical attention because of the central role played by its titular Chinese character. Scholars have debated the play’s intervention into nineteenth-century American stereotypes about the Chinese and have exclusively interpreted the work in the context of domestic debates over Chinese immigration and legal testimony. This talk takes a different approach by analyzing Ah Sin through the lens of nineteenth-century commentary on Sino-American relations, focusing in particular on the U.S. foreign policy of extraterritoriality in China. Resituating the play in this transnational legal context offers fresh insights into Twain’s anti-imperialism at this moment in his career, while also suggesting new avenues for interpreting representations of Chinese immigrants and Chinese American politics in nineteenth-century American writing.

Sunny Yang is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Houston, where she specializes in American and multiethnic American literature of the long nineteenth century. Her research explores the imperial contexts of U.S. racial formation and cultural production with an emphasis on the intersections of law and literature. She received her PhD in English with a certificate in Africana Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently completing her first book project, Fictions of Territoriality, with the support of fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the American Association of University Women.


About the Center for Mark Twain Studies
The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.

About The Park Church
Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some members of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain.  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.  Currently, it is an “Open and Affirming Congregation,” welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life, regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.