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 

Fall 2020 Forum Dates

Caddie Alford, Ph.D.
Algorithmic Ways of (Not) Knowing: Google Search Algorithms and the Spectrum of Opinions
Tuesday, September 15, 2020, 2:00 p.m.
Held on Zoom, registration required.

Drawing from ancient rhetorical theory and contemporary media studies, this talk argues that there are gradations of opinion, from better to worse. These gradations are both blurred and generated by Google search algorithms, which co-construct the emergence of absurd, isolated opinions alongside widely-accepted, social opinions, raising implications for ways of knowing that resonate as post-truth ways of (not) knowing.


Catherine Ingrassia, Ph.D.
Laetitia Pilkington and the Poetical Stockjobbing
Tuesday, October 27, 2020, 2:00 p.m.
Held on Zoom, registration required.
This talk explores the ways poet and memoirist Laetitia Pilkington (c. 1708-1749) operated as what she termed a "poetical stockjobber." Before her public, acrimonious divorce in 1738, Pilkington was an intimate of Jonathan Swift's, intermittently published her poems, and engaged in a vibrant literary circle. After her divorce, however, Pilkington was forced to find a way to support herself (and her children). As she details in her three-volume Memoirs (1748), during this period she operated a pamphlet shop, sought patrons, and, most successfully, operated as a writer-for-hire in London, ghost-writing everything from poems to petitions. Her (relative) success in this venture reveals much about eighteenth-century print culture, the literary marketplace, and the often-precarious conditions of women's literary production. 

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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