Periodisation: Pleasures and Pitfalls

Event Date: 
03 Jun 2014

All Souls College, Oxford

Keynote Speaker: Professor James Simpson, Harvard

What do we mean by ‘medieval’?  When does ‘late eighteenth-century’  become ‘Romantic’?  What on earth is ‘Early Modern’?  How did these categories come about in the first place?  Papers are invited for a one-day conference on the advantages and problems of periodisation, which aims to interrogate the literary-historical categories that govern the way we organise, teach and think about literature.

We ask whether periodisation is a useful tool for segmenting the lengthy sweep of English literature into sensible sections for study, or whether it is a naïve, narrowly historicist critical approach that risks making unhelpful connections between radically different types of texts.  We question whether some types of periodisation are more useful than others (is ‘the Tudor Period’, for instance, a more fruitful designation than, say, ‘1100-1350’?); we ask if periodisation is prone to entrenching scholarly prejudice against certain forms of literature; and we address the fact that some periods (for example, mid-eighteenth-century literature, Caroline  literature) are much less studied than others (Romantic, Elizabethan, Modernist), and seek to interrogate why this might be.  We are also interested in the role of the university in the debate over periodisation: why do certain institutions or critical schools organise literary history in different ways, and what do these differences say about the nature and progress of English as an intellectual discipline?

We invite 250-word abstracts for 20-minute papers on any aspect of periodisation.  Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

 period boundaries: should ‘boundary’ mean ‘division’ or ‘meeting point’?

 periods of literature which have suffered comparative critical neglect, and potential reasons for this neglect;

 the study of English Literature in universities and the validity of periodising approaches;

 the history of periodisation: what kinds of literary histories have critics and writers produced in the past, and how do they differ to the habits of periodisation now current?

 political and economic factors: do these provide imperatives for the shaping of the canon?

 are certain genres and forms conceived of as ‘characteristic’ of particular periods?  What does this say about the way in which periods are  


 radical alternatives: if we choose not to organise literary history by ‘period’, what might we do instead?

Please send your abstracts to the conference convenors, Clare Bucknell and Mary Wellesley, by February 1st 2014.

Submission date for papers: 
01 Feb 2014