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.

Upcoming Lecture on Twain and the “Trade Language” of the Law

The spring portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues on Wednesday, May 15 at 7:00 p.m. in Cowles Hall at Elmira College.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

From the 1899 Harper & Brothers Edition 
of Puddn’head Wilson

The lecture, “‘Infinitely-Divided Stardust’: Mark Twain and Lawyer Talk,” will be presented by J. Mark Baggett from Samford University. Told by the New Orleans fortune teller Madame Caprell that he should have been a lawyer, Samuel Clemens dismissed the law as “too prosy and tiresome.” But his immersion in legal language and legal fictions betrayed him. From the early days of his career, covering the Nevada Territorial legislature and reporting on the police and court beat in the Territorial Enterprise, he plied what he called the “trade language” of the law. His legal burlesques of that formative period, including the first use of the pseudonym “Mark Twain” in “Ye Sentimental Law Student,” show the emerging burlesque patterns that appear in his novels. These burlesques also parallel important 19th century movements in American law that democratized and simplified legalese. This lecture will explore these burlesques from a legal perspective and trace their influence, particularly in the dramatic stagings of court trials that appear so often in his longer works. Twain himself once pronounced that a great writer must have an “infinitely divided stardust,” a genius who understood humanity from the two essential disciplines: literature and the law.

Baggett  is Associate Professor of English and Law at Samford University and Cumberland School of Law. His recent research on Twain’s use of legal rhetoric is an outgrowth of his teaching law at Cumberland since 1987. He contributed articles on legal issues in the Mark Twain Encyclopedia  and is working on a book-length project on Mark Twain and the law, building on interdisciplinary research on Twain’s broad appropriation of legal rhetoric

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. 

Twain Scholar Ben Click Concludes the Spring 2018 Trouble Begins Series

The spring portion of the 2018 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues Wednesday, May 30 in Cowles Hall, Elmira College.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

From Chapter 31 of the first edition (1885) of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The fourth and final lecture, “My Penchant for Silence: Mark Twain’s Rhetorical Art of the Unspoken” will be given by Ben Click, St. Mary’s College of Maryland. There is no shortage of commentary on Twain’s penchant for talk, how he transliterated and employed it. He perfected the mock oral narrative, precisely rendered of frontier and river vernacular, created the stunning narrative method of Huck Finn’s voice, and crafted countless, repeatable maxims (ironically, one being: “I talk until I have my audience cowed”). Yet, silence permeates the writings of Mark Twain–for example, there are over 150 references to silence in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn alone! Examining its functions is an overlooked, yet integral, aspect of his writing for silence mediates and influences the discourses of his fictive and personal worlds. Rhetorical theorist Cheryl Glenn argues, “silence—the unspoken—is a rhetorical art that can be as powerful as the spoken or written word”. Twain too understood that power: “The unspoken word is capital. We can invest it or we can squander it.” Indeed, Twain crafted the full measure of that art on the page throughout his writing life. This talk examines representative (and powerful) rhetorical uses of silence in the arc of Twain’s fictive writing.

Ben Click is a professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, director of the Writing & Speaking Center, director of the Twain Lecture Series on American Humor Culture, and the associate editor of the Mark Twain Annual. With Larry Howe and Jim Caron, he published Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon in Critical Contexts. He has given numerous lectures and scholarly papers on Mark Twain, published articles and book chapters on the teaching of writing and writing assessment. He is also working on a book that examines humor as a rhetorical strategy in environmental writing, a genre that is sometimes seen as taking itself too seriously.

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.

19th Century Decorative Arts Scholar Discusses the Jervis Langdon Mansion at Upcoming Trouble Begins Lecture

Period photograph of a painted portrait of Jervis Langdon Senior of Elmira New York, father of Olivia Langdon Clemens and father-in-law to Samuel Clemens.

On Wednesday, May 9 in The Barn at Quarry Farm at 7:00 p.m, Walter G. Ritchie, Jr. will present a lecture entitled, “High Style in Mid-Nineteenth Century Elmira: The Architecture & Interiors of the Jervis Langdon Mansion”

By the 1860s, Jervis Langdon, Mark Twain’s father-in-law, was ready to create a home that announced his status as one of Elmira’s most successful and influential businessmen. After purchasing a house built in the 1850s, he immediately arranged to have it enlarged and remodeled in the fashionable Italianate style. The result was an imposing three-story brownstone mansion that was counted among the largest and most elegant residences in the city. Langdon then commissioned Pottier & Stymus, one of the leading cabinetmaking and decorating firms in New York City, to decorate and furnish a number of the principal rooms on the first floor of the house. After her husband’s death in 1870, Olivia Lewis Langdon continued to patronize the firm, purchasing bedroom suites and other furniture. This lecture will explore the architecture, interiors, and furnishings of the Langdon mansion, sadly destroyed in the 1930s, but well documented by period photographs showing both the exterior and interior. Surviving pieces of furniture made by Pottier & Stymus, now preserved in various museum and university collections, will be discussed to illustrate how the Langdons, through the guidance of the firm, demonstrated their good taste and familiarity with the latest modes in household decoration and furnishing.

Walter G. Ritchie, Jr. is an independent decorative arts scholar and architectural historian specializing in nineteenth-century American architecture, interiors, and furniture. He has written, lectured, and taught courses on a variety of decorative arts subjects, in addition to having served as director and curator of a number of historic house museums. He is currently researching and writing a book on the history, furniture, and interior decoration of Pottier & Stymus.

For a PDF copy of the Spring 2018 Trouble Begins Lecture Schedule, click here. Visit the “Trouble Begins” Archives for a downloadable recording of all the 2018 Spring Trouble Begins Lectures and other past talks.  You can also see past Trouble Begins programs and our quadrennial conference and symposia programs.

“Trouble Begins” Fall 2017 Lecture Line-Up

The fall portion of the 2017-2018 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies features four lectures, with the first event set for Wednesday, October 4 in Cowles Hall at Elmira College.  All four lectures begin at 7:00 p.m., and are free and open to the public.

In 1985, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies inaugurated The Trouble Begins lecture series. The title comes from a handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco.

 

Wednesday, October 4 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7 p.m.

“‘That heart-breaking bitch’: Aileen Mavourneen & the Transatlantic Anti-Vivisection Movement”
Emily E. VanDette, State University of New York at Fredonia

The title of this talk comes from a letter in which William Dean Howells congratulates Clemens on his 1903 anti-vivisection novella, A Dog’s Tale. Mother dog Aileen Mavourneen’s first-person account of a brutal experiment that killed her puppy is indeed heartbreaking, and it gave much-needed support to the movement against animal experimentation. In depicting animal subjectivity and challenging widely accepted social hierarchies, A Dog’s Tale, like so many of Twain’s literary interventions against the norms of his day, was ahead of its time. But also, Twain’s stance about vivisection and the status of animals in society was a part of a larger conversation that was taking place at the time on both sides of the Atlantic. This paper will situate Twain’s stance in the context of the vivisection controversy, including some leading voices who directly networked with the famous author to solicit his support for the cause, and it will connect Twain’s prescient portrayal of animal voice and identity to modern-day animal rights activism and post-humanist philosophy.

Emily E. VanDette is Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where she teaches courses in 19th-century American literature and women’s writing. As a Quarry Farm Fellow in July 2017, she conducted research for a scholarly monograph about the literature of the early animal welfare movement in the U.S., which includes a chapter devoted to Twain’s anti-vivisection writing and network. She is also currently working on a critical edition of the 1904 anti-vivisection novel Trixy by Twain’s contemporary and celebrated American author Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.

 

Wednesday, October 11 in the Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Mark Twain and the Inventor Fiction Boom: Technology Meets American Conceit, 1876-1910”
Nathaniel Williams, University of California, Davis

In Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894), Mark Twain sends his most famous characters—Tom, Huck, and Jim—on an airship voyage across the Atlantic into Africa. By the time Twain wrote that novel, nearly 100 similar stories about young Americans in imaginary aircraft and other vehicles had appeared in magazines and serials. They featured boy inventors using their ingenuity and technology to take over remote locales, not unlike Twain’s Hank Morgan in A Connecticut Yankee (1889). By looking at Twain’s work in the context of the boy-inventor publishing explosion, we find new insights into the early stirrings of his anti-imperialist fervor, his complex views on race, and his wilting faith in technology. Surprisingly, some now-obscure dime novelists wrestled with those same concepts before Twain (and helped birth modern “steampunk” along the way). This presentation covers some of their works along with Twain’s unique contributions to the genre.

Nathaniel Williams is a lecturer for the University Writing Program at the University of California, Davis. His book on Twain and 19th-century technocratic adventure fiction is forthcoming from University of Alabama Press. He has recently written chapters for The Centrality of Crime Fiction in American Literary Culture and the upcoming Cambridge History of Science Fiction. His essays have appeared in American Literature, Utopian Studies, and elsewhere. He serves on the advisory board of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction housed at his alma mater, The University of Kansas.

 

Wednesday, October 18 in the Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Mark Twain and the Narrative Magic of Medieval Literary Spunk-Water Stumps” Liam Purdon, Doane University

While much instructive scholarship has been published treating Mark Twain’s interest in and use of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur as predecessor text for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, his interest in and use of works from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as potential predecessor texts for The Prince and the Pauper and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc constitute a dimension of his medievalism that invites further inquiry. We know he read Chaucer carefully since one of his Christmas presents to Livy in 1874, Thomas Tyrwhitt’s most recent edition of Chaucer’s poetical works, bears the impress of his imagination in thoughtful as well as humorous penciled marginalia in the Squire’s Tale, the Wife of Bath’s Prologue, and the Friar’s Tale. We also know the narrative structuring device of the Canterbury Tales’s pilgrimage itself caught his attention given its incorporation in A Connecticut Yankee in chapter 21 when Hank Morgan and Sandy join a “company of pilgrims” who tell tales “that would have embarrassed ‘the best English society twelve centuries later.’” However, understanding how the Squire’s Tale’s emphasis upon the relationship between effective translation and character may offer a narrative structuring device for the Prince and the Pauper, as well as understanding how the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale’s emphasis upon manipulation of differing world-conceptions may offer a narrative structuring device for Joan of Arc, provides an instructive perspective on narrative construction worthy of consideration since it sheds light on the imaginatively effective ways in which Chaucerian predecessor texts appear to help Twain align his later literary works and vision with great works identified as foundational to the establishment of English literary and cultural tradition.

Liam Purdon is Professor of English at Doane University. His field of specialization, medieval British literature, has enabled him over the years to publish and make presentations on a number of well-known works by Chaucer, the Pearl-Poet, and other medieval authors. Interest in the Wakefield Master’s “play doctoring,” a course of study encouraged by late-twentieth-century examinations of material culture in plays of the York and Chester Cycles, led in 2003 to publication of new “readings” of the Master’s play revisions in light of the late-medieval emphasis upon the morality of technology. Continuing interest in 19th and 20th century American authors in general and Mark Twain in particular has led to interest in examining Twain’s creative medievalism, as well as the relationship between contemporary American author Tom Robbins and Twain.

 

Wednesday, November 1 in Peterson Chapel on the Elmira College Campus 7 p.m.

“Collecting Mark Twain: Obsessions over the Great Authors and The Hemingway Files”
Hal K. Bush, St. Louis University

Obsession is frequently an overlooked focus of major literary works. In novels like Moby-Dick, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Possession, The Aspern Papers, The Great Gatsby, and many others, characters are often driven to extremes by their various obsessions over various objects or concerns. But sometimes obsession infiltrates the author’s audience as well. One manifestation of this is when a reader’s relation to and obsession with a famous author leads to a powerful yearning to collect: a desire to gather and accumulate almost anything ever owned or scribbled by the celebrity author. One theme of my own novel The Hemingway Files is just this desire: in particular, a wealthy collector intent on purchasing Hemingway manuscripts and Twain letters. Such obsessive collecting is not unusual among bibliophiles. But why do we collect? How does one begin the long journey of any sort of collecting? And what are the pros and cons of obsessive connection to iconic writers like Hemingway and Mark Twain? This lecture will consider how we get drawn into such compulsive relations with these long dead writers and other celebrities: including my own lengthy journey into the heart of Mark Twain studies, and into the composition of my novel, The Hemingway Files.

Harold K. Bush is professor of English at Saint Louis University and author of six books, including Mark Twain and the Spiritual Crisis of His Age (2007) and Lincoln in His Own Time (2012). He has most recently completed Continuing Bonds with the Dead: Parental Grief and Nineteenth-Century American Authors (2016). He is lead editor of The Mark Twain-Joseph Twichell Correspondence (2017) and of Above the American Renaissance: David Reynolds and the Spiritual Imagination in American Literary Studies, which will appear in 2018. His first novel, titled The Hemingway Files, was published in the summer of 2017. He is presently at work on a study of spirituality and American literature and culture, titled Spiritual Blink!

A book sale and signing by the author will occur immediately after the lecture.