English Faculty Forum 

The English Faculty Forum is a lecture series that showcases the work of the faculty of the VCU Department of English. This new series coordinated by Associate Professor Rivka Swenson carries on the collegial tradition – across ranks, subfields, and communities – of First Friday, the department’s previous lecture series, which was organized by Professor Bryant Mangum for many years. Acknowledging its place in recent history, English Faculty Forum, which first commenced in spring of 2017, gets its euphony of ffs from Mangum’s former First Friday series, and takes its ultimate word, forum, from his subtitle: like First Friday, the English Faculty Forum is “A Forum for Ideas on Research, Teaching, and Writing.” Meanwhile, by way of its penultimate word, faculty, the English Faculty Forum also recognizes the department’s longer continuum of scholarly public discourse that extends first to Professor Terry Oggel’s Faculty Symposium talk series, which immediately preceded First Friday. Like its forerunners, English Faculty Forum hopes to spur fresh work while building community through the exchange of ideas.

Everyone in the community – the department, the university, the community at large – is invited to attend these brown bag events.

Rivka Swenson
Faculty Coordinator of the English Faculty Forum 

Spring 2021 Forum Dates

Oscar Wilde: Life as a Work of Art

Nicholas Frankel, Ph.D.
Thursday, March 4, 2021, 2:00 p.m.
Held on Zoom: register for Nicholas Frankel's Faculty Forum

Oscar Wilde famously said that “one should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” That he wore works of art is well known: virtually every surviving photoportrait of Wilde from the years before his criminal conviction and imprisonment shows him immaculately dressed, coiffured, groomed, and bedecked in resplendent jewelry, often with a carnation or iris carefully placed in his lapel. But in what sense was Wilde himself a work of art? And what does it mean to transform oneself into a work of art – to treat oneself and one’s life as one might treat a painting, poem, or work of sculpture?

In this talk, I shall discuss how Wilde, a self-proclaimed “Professor of Aesthetics,” not only incorporated his aestheticism into himself — and in turn, represented himself as a creature wholly of art — but also how he embraced daily life, experience, and even nature more broadly as if they were fundamentally artistic and imaginative phenomena, the mainsprings of what Walter Pater called a “quickened, multiplied consciousness.” “Nature is no great mother who has borne us,” he once wrote: “She is our creation. It is in our brain that she quickens... Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the Arts that have influenced us.” For Wilde, life itself was a constantly-evolving work of art.  

“The Stranger That Hath His Liberty”: Foreign Performers in Early Modern England

Matteo Pangallo, Ph.D.
Tuesday, March 23, 2021, 2:00 p.m.
Throughout the late medieval and early modern periods, hundreds of foreign musicians, actors, dancers, and other performers made England a destination for commercial touring, cultural diplomacy, and settled immigration. The contexts within which these performers appeared to speak to the diverse places where intercultural contact and exchange occurred in the period: both in centers of power, such as at court, in London, or in the great halls of aristocrats, mayors, and aldermen, but also in public places, such as marketplaces, village streets, and churchyards. The activities of these performers reveal that Europe, inclusive of England, was a linked space where—despite what Brexiteers might have you believe—cultural development occurred not just through textual borrowing or artistic influences but also through the frequent physical movements of performers bringing their ephemeral, embodied cultural content across borders. The objective of my current book project is to draw upon the stories of these individual artists to dismantle the colonialist view of Shakespeare’s England as a site merely of cultural production and dissemination and, instead, re-situate the English cultural Renaissance as one part of a more widespread and complexly transnational cultural Renaissance. In this talk, I will share some of the results from my research, looking first at several examples from the historical record that reveal the degree to which a foreign performer could become integrated with domestic modes of cultural production. After considering what the documentary evidence suggests about these performers, I will look at how some English playwrights, including Shakespeare and Jonson, represented such cultural interaction between English and foreign performance traditions. 

History of the Forums

English Faculty Forum carries forward the department’s longstanding practice of scholarly intradepartmental exchange that extends all the way back to VCU’s earliest years. In 1969, a year after VCU was created with the merger of RPI and MCV, Ann Woodlief started a germinal departmental newsletter – called, appropriately, The English Exchange. Thus began the department’s convention of public exchanges about research, writing, and teaching.

In 1973, Richard Priebe brought the charge forward when he began an informal series under the banner of Brown Bag Lunches. The series was as long-lasting as it was active, eventually growing in scope to encompass a larger body (as the College of Humanities and Sciences Symposium) while retaining English participation until the end. Indeed, when the CHS Symposium had run its course, a themed annual version continued informally for some time.

In the late 1980s, a group of colleagues in the department added to the departmental tradition with Composition Theory symposium. Later, from 1990 to 1994, Professors Marcel Cornis-Pope and Claudius “Bill” Griffin organized a faculty discussion group entitled Theory across the Curriculum. In 1994, Professor Terry Oggel initiated (and convened for more than a decade), the Faculty Symposium, with lunchtime presentations, open-to-the-public, of faculty research and writing; and, last but not least, Professor Bryant Mangum’s similarly successful First Friday forum continued to encourage the work of dozens of English faculty while ably fostering the exchange of ideas across subfields, ranks, and communities.  

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