Fordham English's 9th Annual Inaugural Lecture: "Strivers and Risers in the American Plantations"

On Wednesday, September 14th, faculty and students gathered in Rose Hill’s Walsh Library to mark the start of the academic year with the 9th annual English Inaugural Lecture. This tradition was first suggested by Professor Edward Cahill nearly a decade ago, so it was especially appropriate that this year, he was giving the lecture, entitled “Striving and Rising in the American Plantations.”

Department chair, Professor Glenn Hendler, introduced the lecture, noting its origins in Professor Cahill’s research about Benjamin Franklin. Despite Franklin’s reputation as a quintessentially American figure, Professor Cahill’s studies revealed the tradition of upward mobility he has become famous for championing to be “more English, more conservative, and more invested in white privilege” than we generally give him credit for. This revelation ultimately inspired Cahill’s research into English migration to America during the 17th century. The result was an illuminating look into the origin of what we consider the American dream, and its relationship to our current political climate.

The early 17th century saw a flux of migration from England to America and the West Indies. English propaganda painted the New World as “a kind of Eden, alternatively alluring and ominous,” where a man’s social status could change overnight. In fact, only a very small minority of these migrants ever prospered. These migrants, referred to in Professor Cahill’s lecture as “strivers and risers,” often improved their fortunes, not only through hard work and entrepreneurship but also through advantageous marriages and powerful political offices. Nevertheless, contemporary literary texts such as Aphra Behn’s 1688 play, “The Widdow Ranter, or, The History of Bacon in Virginia,” viciously satirized the unlikely success of these radically risen men and women, by emphasizing their ignorance and vulgarity.  

Professor Cahill’s lecture went on to discuss the growing practice of slavery as a condition of the far more common upward mobility of migrants of elite origins. Poor whites looked to slavery as proof that at least they weren’t at the bottom of the social food chain. Planters deliberately used racial tensions to manipulate their fellow migrants, while successful black freedmen, such as Anthony Johnson and his family, were treated as interlopers. The satiric rhetoric of this time at once mocked these strivers and risers, while reinforcing a climate of growing white privilege and systemic racism.

Professor Cahill concluded his lecture by drawing comparisons between early satires of upward mobility and the current US presidential race. He suggested that many white Americans, angry over President Obama’s success and fueled by what they perceive as exclusion, have found solace in Donald Trump, who, like the wealthy planters of the 17th century, deliberately stokes racial tension for his own benefit. But Cahill also observed that Trump personifies the same vulgarity Behn and her contemporaries satirized. The difference is, Professor Cahill noted, that Trump transforms “the satire of New Money into a celebration of it.”  

Ed Cahill Speaking.JPG

9/28: A Career Services Workshop for English Majors

The English Department and the Office of Career Services will be holding a career workshop designed specifically for English majors (declared and prospective) on Wednesday, Sept. 28, from 3:00 to 4:30, at two locations: in Hughes Hall C04A (Rose Hill) and in Lowenstein 1114 (Lincoln Center).

This workshop aims to help students think ahead, concretely, practically, and creatively, about the kinds of internships and, ultimately, careers they can pursue with an English major. We firmly believe that English majors are excellent thinkers, readers, and writers. These are core strengths and skills that prepare them for a wide range of careers and give them both flexibility and possibility. The challenge may, in fact, be thinking imaginatively enough about all of the options an English major has. 

Interested students can attend only one or both of the following thirty-minute sessions:

  • Level 1 – job- and internship-search access to CareerLink; tips for successful resumes and cover letters
  • Level 2 (for those who have already completed Level 1) – applying for on-campus-recruiting positions; interview preparation

Afterwards, representatives from the Office of Career Services will help attendees improve their resumes. Members of the English Department will give advice on courses and share resources on internships, extra-curricular activities, and publications.

Irish Women Writers Symposium 9/22

Kick off the academic year with an amazing event organized by Professor Keri Walsh on Thursday, September 22nd. Ireland has always been a culture noted for its rich storytelling tradition, and now Fordham will host a special symposium dedicated to its women. Events will include: a talk with Heather Clark about Eavan Boland, a conversation with Sinéad Gleeson, and a round-table discussion about The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers. 

11:30am Heather Clark on Evan Boland

2:30pm A Conversation with Sinéad Gleeson

4:00pm Roundtable: The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers

 Featuring: Julia Brodsky, Caroline Heafey, Sarah Kimball, Lindsey Pelucacci, Cathal Pratt, Michael Pratt, Michael Roche, Kristina Varade, and Jihyun Yun.

To be held in Butler Commons, Duane Library

Sponsored by:                                                                                                                         Institute of Irish Studies                                                                                                         Dept. of Communications                                                                                                       Program in Comparative Literature



Thinking about Theory

If you're an undergraduate English major at Fordham, you have to take a theory class. In fact, it's the only specific class that we require as part of our major. All your other requirements--from "Texts and Contexts" (which precedes the major) to the "Historical Distribution" requirements for classes on literature before 1800--can be fulfilled by a range of different electives. Students often call the Theory class the most challenging and intense course in the major--and for many it's the most intellectual rewarding. At the very least it's the experience all English majors share. 

Professor Kyla Wazana Tompkins of Pomona College recently published an article about reading, learning, and teaching theory at the undergraduate level. Titled "We Aren't Here to Learn What We Already Know," it's thoughtful, provocative, and interesting--worth reading by any undergraduate who is taking a theory class, will do so in the future, or has done so in the past. And by any faculty member who might ever teach a theory class, too. Not every student (or professor) will agree with everything she says in the article, but there can be no doubt that she raises important questions worth thinking about. Plus she includes a link to a handout she's compiled, "some notes on how to ask a good question about theory that will provoke conversation and further discussion from your colleagues," that includes useful and practical advice. 

Is Tompkins's advice useful to you? Do you have stories about your experience in courses on theory that you'd like to share? Pieces of advice you'd like to add to hers? Feel free to share them in the comments section. 

Radio Interview about Lawrence Kramer's The Thought of Music


The Music Show, a production of Australian National Public Radio, recently devoted a full episode to an interview with Professor Lawrence Kramer about his most recent book, The Thought of Music. The book takes music, specifically classical music, as a springboard to raise questions not only about the relationship of music to thinking, but also about the character of humanistic knowledge--the kind of knowledge that the study of music, literature, history, and philosophy all share. The interview takes some of these questions up in relation to a famous piece of music more often associated with feeling than with thinking: Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto no. 1. 

The interview can be heard here:



9th Annual English Inaugural Lecture to Feature Edward Cahill

Nine years ago, Edward Cahill suggested to the department chair that we should organize an inaugural lecture each year, at which a Fordham English faculty member would present his or her work to interested faculty, graduate students, and others. It was a great idea, and the annual inaugural lecture has become a beloved tradition. It opens the academic year with a discussion of intellectual substance, but it is also a festive occasion, at which new faculty and graduate students are welcomed to the department, transitions are marked, and delicious food and beverages are consumed. 

This year, on Wednesday September 14th at 4pm, Professor Cahill himself will deliver the Inaugural lecture. His talk is titled “Striving and Rising in the American Plantations," and it will take place in the  O'Hare Room on the 4th Floor of the Walsh Family Library on Fordham's Rose Hill campus. All are welcome to the lecture, and to the reception that will follo.