Highlights from the 2016 Mullarkey Forum

The sixth Thomas F.X. and Theresa Mullarkey Research Forum showcased the work of five Fordham English professors.

The Forum is an annual event, designed to feature the diversity of work across Fordham’s English department, while allowing commonalities of approach and disciplinary concern to emerge.

Dr. Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, who holds the Thomas F.X. and Theresa Mullarkey Chair in Literature, offered an introductory speech honoring the lives of the Mullarkeys. Mrs. Theresa Mullarkey, Wogan-Browne explained, holds an honorary doctoral degree from Fordham in recognition of her advocacy for and generosity toward higher education. Mrs. Mullarkey has committed herself to many universities, including her alma mater Wellesley, where she especially supports women in the sciences, and Long Island University, where she was named chancellor of the C.W. Post Campus. She has led many fundraising and building campaigns in addition to her family’s making generous donations. Her husband Mr. Thomas Mullarkey graduated from FCRH in 1954 and from Fordham Law in 1959. He became a successful investment banker, and returned to Fordham as a member and then president of its Board of Trustees. Mrs. Mullarkey founded the Mullarkey Chair in his memory.

Mrs. Mullarkey frequently visits the events of the Fordham English department, and she attended this year’s Forum. Wogan-Browne stressed that this enduring support for English and the humanities continues to inspire and encourage the English department.

The first panel, chaired by Dr. Mary Bly, featured professors Suzanne Yeager, Karen Weiser, and James Kim.

Suzanne Yeager’s “Fictions of Espionage: Performing Crusade in Pilgrim Narrative” discussed the pilgrimage writing of Father Symon Semeonis, a fourteenth-century Irish friar. Yeager described how, throughout his writing, Father Symon appeals to the Quran, an uncommon practice for a Christian of his day. While not an Islamophile, Father Symon suggests that his fellow Christians should take the Quran seriously.

Karen Weiser’s “Poetry in Reason: The Scientific Poems of Edgar Allen Poe and Erasmus Darwin” discussed how Poe’s and Erasmus’s scientific poems interact with Herschel’s thoughts about what we now call the “Big Crunch,” the theory that describes the expansion and ultimate collapse of the universe. Weiser pointed out, however, that neither Poe nor Darwin believe in the universe’s ultimate extinction; Poe likens the movement of the cosmos to God’s ongoing heartbeat, and Darwin uses the image of the phoenix to designate cosmological rebirth.

James Kim discussed Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield, a novel that scholars identify as either sentimental or satirical. Kim argued that the novel contains, through sentimental irony, the contradiction of phallocentric principles and a feminizing culture of sensibility. Kim said that the novel demonstrates heterosexual avoidance and that readers should consider the novel’s subtle homoerotic moments and unnarrated moments of sexual contact.

The second panel, chaired by Dr. Chris GoGwilt, featured professors Fawzia Mustafa and John Bugg.

Fawzia Mustafa’s “Development Discourse” analyzed the rhetoric of “development” and spoke to its benefits and disadvantages for countries and peoples using foreign aid. Mustafa discussed the tourism of wildlife preservations, along with cinematic presentations of humans versus animals. Mustafa also showed a clip from the first documentary to advocate conservation.

John Bugg’s “Joseph Johnson’s Only Books” discussed the scholarly study of publishers, in this case Johnson, a major publisher of the Romantic period. Bugg described the various modes by which scholars study publishers, including case studies and bibliometric analyses. While one ultimately cannot know the books with which a publisher like Johnson was most involved, Bugg suggested that the technique of high density engagement, while imperfect, is a good place to begin one’s research.

Wogan-Browne commented on how the Forum always provides an exciting snap-shot of where we are as a disciplinary community. She suggested that, in the future, the department might want to consider innovations in format, such as having a pedagogy spotlight, joining with the Reid writers to have a themed Forum, or putting into practice any other ideas faculty and graduate students might suggest. The Forum remains a valuable space that can be collectively used.