Shirley Samuels continues the Spring Trouble Begins Lectures with a talk about Twain and the Civil War

The lecture can be found HERE.

Mark Twain, 1869.

The lecture, “Witnessing the Civil War: In Elmira With Mark Twain,” will be presented by Shirley Samuels, Cornell University. 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 Samuels is 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 Samuels. Since Twain wrote most of Huckleberry Finn while sitting in his lair above Elmira, the title of the talk comes full circle.

Shirley Samuelsa member of the 2020 Class of Quarry Farm Fellows, 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.

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series – In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series.  The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public. 

The lecture can be found HERE.

Lecture on Twain and the Civil War in Elmira

The spring portion of the 2020 Spring The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues on Wednesday, May 20.  All four lectures are free and available to the public on marktwainstudies.org.

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

The lecture, “Witnessing the Civil War: In Elmira With Mark Twain,” will be presented by Shirley Samuels, Cornell University. 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 Samuels is 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 Samuels. Since Twain wrote most of Huckleberry Finn while sitting in his lair above Elmira, the title of the talk comes full circle.

Shirley Samuels, a member of the 2020 Class of Quarry Farm Fellows, 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.

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series – In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series.  The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public. 

CMTS Announces the Spring “Trouble Begins” Lectures Line Up

Please note:  In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, 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 at the “Trouble Begins Archive.” Stay safe, everyone.

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.


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.


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.


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.

CMTS Announces the 2020 Class of Quarry Farm Fellows

At the heart of the Center for Mark Twain Studies mission is service to scholars. Nothing reflects this better than the Quarry Farm Fellowship program.  When the Langdon family bequeathed Quarry Farm to Elmira College on December 31, 1982, the Langdons insisted that the main house be used exclusively as a cultural humanities site dedicated to Mark Twain Studies. As a result, the Center for Mark Twain Studies funds national and international scholars, allowing them to fully engage in scholarly pursuits at Quarry Farm.  CMTS makes a concerted effort to include graduate students, independent scholars, and scholars with new doctoral degrees to ensure the robust future of Mark Twain Studies, ensuring the continuation and rejuvenation of Mark Twain as a central figure in American literature and the field of the Humanities.

The Center for Mark Twain Studies is honored to announce the 2020 Class of Quarry Farm Fellows


Max Cavitch

Sponsor: Christopher Looby, University of California, Los Angeles

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 topics in American and African American Literature, Cinema Studies, Poetry and Poetics, and Psychoanalytic Studies. He is the editor of the forthcoming Oxford World’s Classics edition of Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days and co-editor, with the historian Brian Connolly, of the forthcoming essay collection, Situation Critical! Critique, Theory, and Early American Studies. He also edits and regularly contributes to Psyche on Campus: A Blog on Teaching Psychoanalysis in the Undergraduate Classroom, which he launched in August 2019.

The book I’m presently writing, Passing Resemblances: A Critical Inventory of Autobiography, is meant to appeal to readers interested not only in autobiographical writing but also in genre studies, identity studies, narratology, history and historiography, psychoanalysis, and philosophy. Indeed, it is a book for anyone who takes more than a passing interest in the stories we tell about our lives and about the selves that live them. My basic argument is that autobiographical writing can best be studied as a long history of narrative efforts to reconcile the question of the self (autós) with the problem of living (bíos). Passing Resemblances is no simple descriptive survey but a comparative, interrogative, and propositional work of criticism and theory, focused on the relational foundations of human subjectivity and experience. Mark Twain’s Autobiography is one of the key works to be discussed in my book—not least because of Twain’s canny and often confounding play with the very notion of selfhood. My time at Quarry Farm will be spent researching and writing the chapter-section devoted to this monumental work, which is of great importance to any exploration of the roles played by fame, publicity, mass media, and duplicity in autobiographical writing.


Ryan Heryford

Sponsor: Eileen Barrett, California State University, East Bay

Ryan Heryford is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Literature in the Department of English at California State University, East Bay, where he teaches courses in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature, with a focus in ecocriticism and cultural narratives of environmental justice. He has published, or has forthcoming articles, on environmental thought in the works of William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Édouard Glissant, and M. NourbeSe Philip. His scholarship has been supported by the William Faulkner Society, the Emily Dickinson International Society, and the University of California Center for Global California Studies. His current book-length project, “The Snugness of Being:” Vitalism and Decay in Nineteenth Century American Literature, explores the influence of nineteenth-century environmental and biomedical philosophy on constructions of self and subjectivity within the works of Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, and Herman Melville.

My project considers some of the more neglected writings from two radically distinct periods of Mark Twain’s life, considering his earliest travel correspondence in Nicaragua and Hawai’i alongside his late, unpublished manuscript “3000 Years Among the Microbes.” Reading the young journalist’s narrative meditations on a diversity of flora and fauna as entangled within his commentaries on settler-occupation in the Pacific and Central America, I trace out Twain’s alignment toward and departure from a tradition of writing about non-European ecologies as bearers of disease and decomposition, dangers to the legibility and coherence of a traveler’s bodily integrity. I go on to consider one of Twain’s final manuscripts, “3000 Years Among the Microbes,” which tells the unusual story of a human-turned-germ named Huck who infects the body of a Hungarian immigrant named Blitzowski. This unfinished book, I argue, represents a return to Twain’s earliest writings and their ambivalent meditations on US imperialism, revisiting scenes of corporeal boundary-crossing as well as radical imaginings of entwined human and nonhuman communities. Engaging Twain’s interest in the ever-transforming discourse of nineteenth century science with his shifting relations to anti-imperial activism, I hope to both better unearth the author’s radical visions of the human body and its surrounding ecologies, as well as acknowledge these under-considered early travel writings and late-unpublished manuscripts as essential bookends in Twain scholarship.


Hsuan Hsu

Sponsor: Henry B. Wonham, University of Oregon

Hsuan L. Hsu is a Professor of English at Concordia University in Montreal and the author of Geography and the Production of Space in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (2010) and Sitting in Darkness: Mark Twain’s Asia and Comparative Racialization (2015). He is currently completing a book entitled The Smell of Risk: Olfactory Aesthetics and Atmospheric Disparities (forthcoming with NYU Press). His research interests include American literature, critical race studies, the environmental humanities, cultural geography, and the sense of smell. He serves on the executive committee of the MLA’s 19th-century American forum and the editorial boards of American Literature, the Journal of Transnational American Studies, Literary Geographies, American Literary Realism, and The Broadview Anthology of American Literature.

I propose to spend my time in residency conducting research for an essay entitled “Twain’s Olfactory Gags: Realism, Atmospherics, and Human Fermentation.” The project aims to better understand not only Twain’s olfactory humor throughout his career, but the ways in which olfaction stages a little-explored aspect of Twain’s realism: the materiality of socially and geographically stratified atmospheres.  The essay will begin by surveying Twain’s scattered comments on the smells of rotting fish (Huck Finn), the stench of Chinatowns (Roughing It), the ethical significance of working-class odors in a church congregation (“About Smells”), the smell of plague-ridden bodies (Connecticut Yankee) and the detective’s sensitive nose as a racially loaded “gift of the bloodhound” (“A Double-Barreled Detective Story”). In examples such as these, olfactory disjunctions establish a realist sense of atmosphere as a medium that intangibly structures social and economic life. The second half of the essay will offer an extensive reading of “The Invalid’s Story,” a humorous story in which Twain offers an extended gag associating the smell of Limburger cheese with a rotting corpse. The story complicates Twain’s realist treatments of smell by emphasizing its psychological determinants: Twain’s “invalid” narrator is sickened not by the miasmatic stench of a rotting corpse, but by his culturally constructed tendency to gag in horror at this putative smell. “The Invalid’s Story” demonstrates Twain’s attention to both the materiality of air and its inflection by culturally variable meanings. If the specter of “human fermentation”—in which the materiality of the human body becomes a site of bacterial “culture”—debilitates the narrator, this may be because human fermentation undercuts the central fiction of ableist embodiment, in which the individual is a self-reliant body sealed off from material exchanges with their environment. The essay concludes with a brief discussion of the contemporary Sissel Tolaas’s Human Cheese projects, in which she produces cheese using bacteria sourced from humans. A bit more explicitly than Twain, Tolaas resists the Enlightenment drive towards deodorization by reminding us that humans—and human “culture”—are constitutively entangled with microbes.


Ben Murphy

Sponsor: Matthew A. Taylor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Benjamin J. Murphy is a teacher and Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he specializes in American literature of the long nineteenth century (approximately 1830-1914) and the history of science. At UNC, he is also Maynard Adams Fellow for the Public Humanities and an editorial assistant for the journal American Literature. Ben’s dissertation focuses on crowd psychology, discourses of race and racism, and mob violence in the period between the end of Reconstruction and the turn of the century. Research on related topics has been published in Mississippi Quarterly and Configurations, and you can find other examples of Ben’s writing—including reviews, essays, and interviews—through outlets such as ASAP/J, boundary2, The Carolina Quarterly, The Chicago Review of Books Full Stop, The Millions Pedagogy and American Literary StudiesPopMatters, and symploke. For links to this work, visit benjamin-murphy.com.

My fellowship project contributes to an in-progress dissertation chapter. Provisionally titled “Lynching by the Numbers,” the chapter in question analyzes the role of quantitative representation and rhetoric in the transhistorical archive of anti-lynching discourse. Beginning with present-day lynching scholarship before turning back to assess Mark Twain alongside Ida B. Wells and W. E. B. Du Bois, I argue that numbers (and social scientific protocols of knowledge more broadly) have long played a vexed role in efforts to decry racial violence. My time at Quarry Farm will be dedicated to the Twain sections of this argument, which consider “The United States of Lyncherdom,” a complex essay drafted in 1901 but only published posthumously. Drawing from existing criticism and a restored version of the essay that corrects changes imposed by Twain’s editor, I argue that “Lyncherdom” is obsessed with linking the problem of lynching to numbers—to counts, rates, statistical laws, and even to meticulously calculated dimensions of planetary geometry. But even as lynching is yoked to numbers, Twain’s quantitative treatment has the adverse effect of making the mas violence seem insurmountable and overwhelming. I aim to show how Twain’s apparently doomed gravitation to scientific numeracy complements his elsewhere-expressed views on mob behavior and human cowardice. This broader understanding of Twain’s sense for the transits between numbers and lynching violence provides something of a foil to the other writers and discourses I plan to address in my chapter, many of whom articulate a more positive understanding of the activist potential of numbers.


Sarah Nance

Sponsor: Brian Kim Stefans, University of California, Los Angeles

Sarah Nance is an Assistant Professor of English at the United States Air Force Academy. Her work examines late 19th, 20th, and 21st-century literature and art through the lens of the medical humanities, and her current scholarly book project explores the intersections of illness, violence, and scale in contemporary literature. She is also at work on a collection of poems about the strange temporality of grief and the physical locations associated with loss. Her critical and creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in venues such as Literature and MedicineArizona QuarterlyThe Los Angeles Review of BooksASAP/JBelletristParenthesesMuse/A, and elsewhere.

During my fellowship at Quarry Farm, I will be finishing the manuscript for my first collection of poetry, Ghost Traveler, which explores the physical locations and situational manifestations of grief, particularly through the lens of late 19th and early 20th century traditions, customs, and writings on grief and loss. Ghost Traveler is orientated around the changing geographical spaces and altered temporalities of grief. Although much of my original framing of my manuscript included figures central to my current location in Colorado Springs—such as the “unsinkable” Margaret “Molly” Brown, infamous survivor of the Titanic’s sinking and major Denver philanthropist, and Nikola Tesla, called the “Wizard of Electricity” by the Colorado Springs Evening Telegraph when he arrived in town to set up a laboratory—I was surprised by the ways that the national renown of these figures meant that they had also crossed paths with Twain.

Perhaps more importantly, however, I am interested in Twain’s own relationship to grief and loss. As a writer known colloquially for his sense of humor, I have been struck by Twain’s own intimate kinship with pain and sorrow, a contrast that he acknowledges in a conversation with a friend who was examining an early draft of Roughing It: “I knew it! … I am writing nothing but rot. … I have been trying to write a funny book, with dead people and sickness everywhere. Mr. Langdon died first, then a young lady in our house [in Buffalo], and now Mrs. Clemens and the baby have been at the point of death all winter!” That ill child was Twain’s son Langdon, who later died at 19 months of age. As Twain scholarship has already suggested, Twain’s later life was also rife with tragedy, including the death of his daughter Susy, his wife Olivia, and various close friends. In examining Twain’s marginalia in his daughter Jean’s edition of The Poetical Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson, I found that Twain’s only textual marks in the entire book appear on Tennyson’s long poem of grief and loss, “In Memoriam A.H.H.,” including marking one passage that reads, “That loss is common would not make / My own less bitter, rather more.”  Twain’s own biography suggests that this shared commonality of loss has an intensifying—rather than ameliorating—effect.


Stephen Pasqualina

Sponsor: John Carlos Rowe, University of Southern California, Dornsife

Stephen Pasqualina is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Core Humanities program at the University of Nevada, Reno. His research focuses primarily on American modernism and critical theory. 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.

My current book project examines how US modernist writers re-imagined historical consciousness through four anti-historicist modes of visual experience: spectacle, speed, space, and fetishism. At Quarry Farm, I will complete revisions on this project’s first chapter, which focuses on Twain’s use of spectacle as a means of negating and then mediating the long history of industrial capitalism, particularly in terms of automation and European and US imperialism. Beginning with Twain’s investment in the Paige Compositor, I trace the turns in Twain’s historical imaginary alongside parallel shifts in his relationship to modern technology and in his political and economic identities, from a manual typesetter to a venture capitalist to a bankrupted anti-imperialist. The chapter focuses especially on Twain’s efforts to mediate between the apparently incommensurate durations of mechanistic historiography and the instantaneity of technological spectacle, a mediation that produces what I call Twain’s “spectacular history.” I locate examples in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, “Mark Twain’s Memory Builder” board game, a roadway game Twain invented at Quarry Farm for his daughters (documented in “How to Make History Dates Stick”), and his late critiques of imperialism. The chapter argues that Twain’s recovery of spectacle as a medium for historical consciousness registers the necessity—and the difficulties—of using the tools of industrial capitalism to visualize the postbellum US within its disavowed networks of historical time and global space.


Alan Rankin

Sponsor: John Bird, Winthrop University

Alan Rankin is a writer and independent researcher with an abiding interest in the unexplored corners of history. Since 1992, he has been studying the life of Nina Gabrilowitsch, Mark Twain’s granddaughter. His presentation “Nina: The Lost Diary of Nina Gabrilowitsch” was received with acclaim at the 2019 Clemens Conference in Hannibal, Missouri. The companion piece, “Finding the Lost Diary of Mark Twain’s Granddaughter,” appears on the website for the Center for Mark Twain Studies. His work-in-progress chronicles the lives of Nina and her parents, Ossip Gabrilowitsch and Clara Clemens, in Europe and America during the Roaring ’20s. He also writes a biographical column for Renaissance Magazine.

While Nina never met her grandfather Samuel Clemens, her life was profoundly affected by her connection to him all the same. Nina’s later life has been well documented, but there is little material available about her early life, particularly the 1920s. My book focuses on this overlooked and generally happy period in the lives of the surviving Clemens family. It also presents Nina Gabrilowitsch as a figure worthy of study in her own right. Her charming, literate teen diaries reveal the lasting impact of Samuel Clemens on the daily lives of those who survived him. In addition to my book, I am developing presentations and articles to share other aspects of my research with the Twain scholarship community. I look forward to further interacting with the members of that community during my time at Quarry Farm.


Laura Rice

Sponsor: Tracy Daugherty, Oregon State University

Laura Rice is Professor Emerita in the School of Writing, Literature and Film at Oregon State University. Specializing in comparative literature, literary translation, and sustainable development, she has written widely on Colonial and Postcolonial literatures, Cultural Studies, and Gender in international context. Her books include Revolutions in Tunisian Poetry, co-edited and co-translated with Karim Hamdy, and Of Irony and Empire: Islam, the West, and the Transcultural Invention of Africa. As Principal Investigator, she designed and conducted federally-funded research and development and academic exchange projects on the MENA region, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright, US Department of Education, and the US Department of State. Her current book project, focusing on Elmira in the last two decades of Twain’s life, brings her research back to the U.S. and to archives concerning her own family.

Twain’s Elmira: the Next Generation traces the social and cultural changes Elmira experienced during the last two decades of Mark Twain’s life when sports pages rivaled politics in popularity, a new century focused on “manly behavior,” and Roosevelt progressives advocated anti- corruption policies and imperial expansion. In Elmira, sports became the touchstone of character. Twain dubbed baseball “the outward and visible expression of the drive, and push, and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century,” but football, he explained, was “the grandest game ever invented for boys,” building up “the mind as well as the body.” “This beats croquet,” Twain crowed, “There’s more go about it.”

This book project began with clippings in a family scrapbook about a nationally-reported 1905- 06 conflict between coach “Pop” Warner of Cornell and Elmira’s Lawrence “Cooney” Rice. “Cooney,” even Warner admitted, was “something of a hero in the minds of many.” This enmity over “fair play,” while deeply personal, dated back a decade to conflicts between Warner and older Elmirans at Cornell. The tutelary spirits of Twain, Beecher, the Langdons, and exiled Fenian T. McCarthy Fennell inspired the values of Elmira’s Cornell graduates of the 1890s: Railroad executive Jervis Langdon, Jr., Attorney Thomas Fennell, NY Senator John Murtaugh, and Businessman Clint Wyckoff. Through sports, they mentored the stars of the new century: “Cooney” Rice, Joe “Dode” Birmingham, Matty “Ironsides” Fennell and Harry “Deacon” Costello, Irish kids from Elmira’s “Frog Hollow.” Young sports reporters Frank Tripp, Frank Gannett, and Grantland Rice captured these events. Tripp would celebrate Elmira’s Father Mathew semi-pro team half a century later: “it was the greatest baseball I have ever seen.” For Cornell, Tripp wrote, “the triumvirate from Frog Hollow [Costello, “Cooney,” Birmingham] well nigh carried the [football] works on their shoulders for the red and white.” By 1910, Feeney’s Corner tobacco shop, the Mecca of Elmira sports and news for a decade, was gone, Elmira’s semi-pro baseball team had moved into legend, and Twain had been laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery. It was the end of an era. But, as Cornell’s Rym Berry reminisced in 1956: “Rejoice that we were present in the flesh.”


Shirley Samuels

Sponsor: Susan K. Harris, University of Kansas

Shirley Samuels teaches at Cornell University in several departments and programs, including American Studies, English, History of Art and Visual Studies, and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Most of her books focus on the nineteenth century United States. These books are Reading the American Novel 1780-1865,Facing America: Iconography and the Civil War and Romances of the Republic: Women, the Family, and Violence in the Literature of the Early American Nation. Her edited works include the Cambridge Companion to Abraham Lincoln, Companion to American Fiction, 1780-1865, and The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender, and Sentimentality in 19th Century America. She has a new edited book on race and visuality in the nineteenth century United States, Race and Vision in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Lexington, 2019).

Her project for the residency at Quarry Farm includes work on a chapter on Twain in her monograph, currently titled “Democratic Witness,” on witnessing, testimony, and culture in the United States. In that chapter, the residue of the Civil War that shows up in Life on the Mississippi is placed in the context of Twain’s ambivalence about the war. A paragraph from that chapter follows:

The confusion of references that Twain includes suggests the unreliable narrator aboard the Mississippi in Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man. Both works provide a way to think about the relation between a fantasy of poor boys emerging toward middle class life and this sequence of events of men on the unstable location of water as a foundational element of success as a founding father, however much the crossing of water involves deception. And that time of crossing water, a water crossing that changes affiliation and introduces violence, returns us to Black Hawk as it includes that troubling matter of bodies on the water being carried as property. The autobiography that has become known as the story of Black Hawk contains many crossings of the Mississippi for violent raids or in retreat from violence. To read the face of the river is to read the faces of men on the river, in his account as in others, to anticipate whether they bring violence. To note what effect travel on the river has on the observation of human nature is to note what the stories Herman Melville tells of life on the river might have in common with the nostalgia and the peril on the river visited by Mark Twain.”


Edward Shannon

Sponsor: John Gruesser, Sam Houston State University

Ed Shannon is Professor of Literature and former Literature Convener at Ramapo College of NJ; he teaches courses in Humanities, American Studies, and American literature, including Author Studies: Mark Twain. His “’Our clothes are a lie’: Disguise and Christian Typology in Pudd’nhead Wilson” appeared in the 2009 Mark Twain Annual.  He also writes and teaches about comics and graphic novels. He’s written about cartoonists Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Charles Schulz, George Herriman, and Winsor McCay. He most frequently writes about Woody Guthrie. His most recent work on Guthrie includes “Illegal, Not Wanted, Unnamed: Woody Guthrie’s Exploration of Media, Immigration, and Identity in ‘Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (Deportee)’” (forthcoming, Theory in Action) and “‘Good Grief, Comrade Brown! Woody Guthrie, Charles Schulz and the Little Cartoon Book that was a Big Lie’” (Studies in Comics, 2019). He was named a 2005 Woody Guthrie Fellow by the Woody Guthrie Foundation.

In simplest terms, his project asks, “Why does Tom Sawyer have a girlfriend while Huck does not?” Both boys are about fourteen, and Tom avidly pursues romance. In fact, Tom seems headed for one clear destination and, as Twain writes, “that is . . .  marriage” (Twain, Sawyer 241). Huck has no such inclinations.

In the popular imagination, Tom, Huck, and Becky are all prominent and very much linked cultural figures. Becky, in particular, has captured the imagination not only of readers, but also creative writers and filmmakers. Bob Dylan, Vachel Lindsay, Will Vinton, Robert Coover, Lenore Hart, and Jessica Lawson all see in Becky an essential character for consideration of sex, gender, and power. Scholars seem less interested, as was Twain. Becky mostly vanishes from Twain’s fiction after Adventures of Tom Sawyer. She is mentioned briefly (albeit misnamed) in Huck Finn. Becky’s absence underscores a void in Huckleberry Finn: any indication that Huck has a burgeoning sexual consciousness of any kind.

Wherever Huck’s narrative brushes against an episode where a reader might expect a Realist writer to follow a young man’s interest in sexuality (gay, straight or otherwise), the text pulls back. For example, in the final draft of Huckleberry Finn, Huck praises Mary Jane Wilks, saying “there weren’t no back-down to her” (Twain, Huck 316). Originally, Twain had added, “if I know a girl by the rake of her stern; and I reckon I do” (Hearn 316 n 12).  This, he cut. Ultimately, Mary Jane becomes another sexless mother figure, who “echo[es] the widow’s morality” (quoted in Fishkin 60). This instance is not unique.

Huck’s sex life has been a subject of interest since Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel, inspiring many responses, including rejections of Fiedler’s (and the critical world’s) homophobia. At the same time, many see Huck as so young, so innocent, that it seems misguided to look for any sexual signals from such a boy. For many, Huck’s lack of sexuality seems “natural.”

But why should Huck seem naturally sexless when Tom Sawyer is so thoroughly interested in sex and romance? Perhaps because Tom is a middle-class boy poised for greatness, and Huck is “poor white trash,” and depicted as such in Huckleberry Finn and its sequels. The thrust of my argument is that Twain’s novel reveals a potent and pervasive anxiety not so much about sexuality per se but about procreation among “the common sort” (Twain, Huck 378) Huck represents

Works Consulted:

  • Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. “Mark Twain and Women.” The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain. Ed. Forrest G. Robinson. Cambridge, 1995.
  • Hearn, Michael Patrick ed. The Annotated Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Edward  Winsor Kemble, Illustrator. Norton. 2001.
  • Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Broadview Editions. 2006.