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Open Calls for Papers

We warmly invite you to create your own CFP for us to host on this page.


Follow the guidelines on our submissions page and submit a

call for papers for a panel or roundtable you wish to organize

to by Friday, February 7, 2020.

Anne Brontë and the Unsettled Victorians

Since this year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Anne Brontë, it the perfect opportunity to explore the life and work of the least-known Brontë sister. This session will seek to explore different ways Anne's work unsettled Victorian norms, or perhaps ways in which Anne herself was unsettled by Victorian culture. Please send 200-300 word abstracts and a 1-2 page CV to Taten Shirley at by February 14th, 2020

Degenerate Poetics

In Degeneration (1892), Nordau characterizes degeneration as cultural decline, citing as one of its major symptoms ambiguity and hybridity of form. This panel invites paper proposals that explore degeneration and poetics. Panel is co-organized by the Aestheticism and Decadence Caucus and the Poetry Caucus. Send 250 word abstract and short bio to Tara Thomas ( by February 17.  

Visual Cultures of the Victorian Atlantic


While the geographic and cultural framework of the Atlantic world has been generative for art-historical accounts of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, less attention has been paid to the aesthetic, political, and cultural networks that traversed the Atlantic during the Victorian period (1837–1901). What would it mean to expand histories of Victorian art and material culture to understand the interconnected cultural dynamics of the Atlantic region, including West Africa, the American continents, and the Caribbean? This panel invites contributions that examine the relationship between objects and the mobility of political, aesthetic, and scientific cultures in the Victorian Atlantic. In particular, we are interested in topics that address colonial and post-colonial histories in the anglophone Atlantic, especially artists and makers located in the so-called “periphery” of empire. Given this year’s theme, the panel might also address the particular visualities stemming from settler colonial, rather than imperial, culture, especially in zones of British and Indigenous contact, as well as forms of circulation between Atlantic and Pacific political and aesthetic worlds. Likewise, papers might address intersections between ecology, science, and art history, as well as the re-making of landscapes under settler colonialism.


Topics might include:

- Visual representations of migration and settler colonialism

- Commodity culture and the mobility of objects

- Reproductive printmaking and the circulation of images

- Dissemination of Victorian decorative arts and material culture in the Americas

- Art markets, galleries, dealers, and collectors in transnational networks

- Art and the circulation of ecological knowledge

- Communication networks in the Victorian Atlantic

- Visual cultures of enslavement and emancipation

- Revolution, revolt, and war

- Evangelical material and visual cultures

- Decolonial approaches to museum collections and art-historical methodologies


Please send your proposals to Shalini Le Gall (Portland Art Museum) at and Nick Robbins (Yale University) at by February 14.

Forming Victorian Character

The possession of an authentic, verifiable morality and a core, ineffaceable individuality were prized ideals of Victorian character. As J. S. Mill famously writes in On Liberty (1859), “One whose ideals and impulses are not his own, has no character, no more than a steam-engine has character.” Indeed, the period is rife with texts that valorize an individual’s Bildung or development, including first-person autobiographical narratives such as Jane Eyre (1847), David Copperfield (1850), and Aurora Leigh (1857). At the same time, Victorian literature teems with fictional beings who seem to lack control over their selves, from Charles Dickens’s eccentric minor characters to Thomas Hardy’s doomed protagonists--the literature registers the self-asserting subject alongside the inexorable condition of being subjected to one’s environment. A fundamental tension thus runs through Victorian constructions of character as an autonomous entity: to argue for the sovereignty of the individual is to simultaneously recognize the potential limits of one’s free will, the ways in which circumstances outside one’s power can thwart one’s autonomy.

The contradictoriness of the liberal project of Victorian character has been the subject of much criticism. Deidre Lynch, Alex Woloch, Catherine Gallagher, Emily Steinlight, and Megan Ward, among others, have proposed revisionist histories that challenge the privileged status of the psychologized, interiorized, unique character by focusing instead on the mechanistic, impersonal, non-psychological aspects of character. In the last two decades, scholarship on literary character has related this construct to gender, class, capitalism, race, science, genre, realism, narratology—categories that construct character and which are in turn constructed by character. In short, character is discursive. Such ubiquity, however, also makes it appear like character is nowhere: that it could be displaced by any one of these other categories; that character is no more than a rhetorical trick. Despite ideological differences, modern critics grapple as much as Victorian writers with constructions of character that refuse to cohere.


This panel seeks papers that investigate the unsettling form and formlessness of character. We seek papers with exciting approaches to character, which may consider: race, indigeneity, colonialism, empire, and imperialism; gender and sexuality; class and labour; materiality and textuality; alternate histories; and genre. Please send 250-300 word abstracts and a 1-2-page CV to both Lucy SooMin Kim ( and Angela Du ( by February 16.

Unsettling Victorian Studies

This panel invites papers that explain how conventional notions about any Victorian writer, artist, composer, novel, poem or work of art has been recently upended by fresh discoveries made through archives, applications of theory, new readings, etc. Many of the earlier interpretations of works of art and literature and of their creators have undergone re-thinking through such new discoveries of letters or memoirs, or new works of art or replicas. Recent studies of the history of collecting, the art market, the adaptation of novels into drama, or multiple versions of a poem or painting have suggested new ways of understanding these works and their creators. Please send 250-300 word proposals and a 2-page CV to Julie Codell at by February 1.

Visualizing Decadence


Proposals for papers on visual images and representations of the discourse on decadence in late-Victorian high culture, popular culture, and hybrid culture. We will consider proposals on any aspect of this topic. Panel co-organized by the Aestheticism and Decadence Caucus and the Art History Caucus. Send 250-word abstract and 1-2-page CV to Matthew Potolsky ( by February 1st.

Unsettling George Eliot

The recent bicentennial of George Eliot’s birth offers a compelling opportunity to revitalize the study of one of the most compelling, controversial, and successful authors of the Victorian period. This panel invites papers that explore the “unsettling” aspects of George Eliot’s life and work. Send 250-word abstract and 1-2-page CV to Charlotte Fiehn ( by February 1st.

Unsettled: Disconcerting Fatalities and Fixations

Suicides leaping off the Monument, an instance of spontaneous combustion, disemboweled prostitutes, and murder-suicide committed by a child—these and other unsettling deaths filled Victorian broadsides, newspapers, and literary fiction, thus revealing a certain allure in unnatural, unnerving, and unusual demise that itself borders on unsettling. This panel seeks papers that explore strange or disturbing deaths in Victorian literature or history—children’s death, suicides, violent murders, animal slaughter, or similarly distressing fatalities—and widely conceived responses to such cases from other characters, readers, reviewers, government, the church, or the public. Please send a 200-300-word abstract (as MWord document) and a brief CV (1-2 pages) to Cayla Eagon at by February 2, 2020

Disgusted Victorians

Recent years have seen a surge of scholarly attention to the “one kind of ugliness” Immanuel Kant exiled from the aesthetic realm: “that which excites disgust.” Martha Nussbaum’s From Disgust to Humanity faulted a “politics of disgust” for its tendency to motivate discrimination, whereas Sianne Ngai’s afterword to Ugly Feelings defended disgust’s efficacy to demarcate moral boundaries while implicating the subject in the threatening object. Winfried Menninghaus’s Disgust, meanwhile, offered a “history of problems” around the concept, arguing that its eighteenth-century status as “a quality that wholly exceeds the conditions for the possibility of an aesthetic judgment,” cedes to a nineteenth-century, fascination with its forbidden nature. Contributions to William Cohen’s Filth: Dirt, Disgust, and Modern Life mapped diverse nineteenth and twentieth-century cultural representations of filth—exceptions, perhaps, or silver bullets, to the Kantian axiom.

            Our panel’s papers build on this work to explore new forms of Victorian disgust, focusing, in particular, on the relationship between the term’s physiological and moral valences. When, we ask, was disgust seen as an accurate heuristic for ethical and epistemic content? Under what circumstances was it treated skeptically, as a response that short-circuited perceptions or obfuscated judgment? How do different cultural forms—from the philosophical treatise to the Punch cartoon, from the sensation novel to the scientific study—figure and develop disgust?

            We attend, in particular, to the term’s unstable semantic and theoretical valences. In Chapter 11 of The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, Charles Darwin observed: “Disgust is a sensation rather more distinct in its nature and refers to something revolting, primarily in relation to the sense of taste, as actually perceived or vividly imagined; and secondarily to anything which causes a similar feeling, through the sense of smell, touch, and even of eyesight. Nevertheless, extreme contempt, or as it is often called loathing contempt, hardly differs from disgust.” A century later, Silvan Tomkins equivocated on the very same boundary. The first volumes of his Affect Imagery Consciousness classed “contempt-disgust” as a single affect pair—whereas in the third he differentiated them—adding a new neologism “dissmell.” We remain, today, unsettled by this concept; we seek to clarify how it unsettled the Victorians. Please send 250-300 word proposals and a 1-2 page CV to Harry Daniels ( and Colton Valentine ( by February 1.

Victorian Visual and Material Culture: Unsettling the Text


Over the course of the 19th century, a proliferation of illustrated books and periodicals, public exhibitions, and lantern slide lectures brought words, images, and objects into close proximity with one another. Such images and objects are often understood as “illustrations” of a text, lecture, or exhibition theme, and are therefore expected to reinforce the narratives they purport to illustrate. But sometimes these same visual materials unsettle their textual neighbours in unexpected ways, especially when we pay attention to their multisensorial presence and to latent meanings that may emerge when no longer closely anchored to the text. This panel invites papers that pay attention to how visual and material aspects of images and objects contribute to, and sometimes challenge or undermine, the meanings of Victorian texts, and of Victorian imperialist narratives in particular. The purpose is to consider the unique contributions that visual and material analysis can contribute to the study of Victorian literature, history, and culture. Please send a 250-word abstract and brief CV (1-2 pp.) to Andrea Korda at by February 1, 2020.

Unsettling from Below: Ecologies of the Victorian Underground


From Darwin’s work on earthworms, to infrastructure projects including Brunel’s tunnel under the Thames, to coal-mining narratives and hollow earth fiction such as Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race, Victorians increasingly explored the extent and limitations of their knowledge about the world beneath their feet. This roundtable takes Victorian ecocritical studies underground by examining how Victorians’ experiences with the world below them unsettled their understanding of their above ground world. We invite short position papers that explore Victorian interactions with soil, coal, ash, dust, fossils, sewers, or any other aspect of Britain’s underground strata. Please send 150-200 word proposals and a 2-page CV to Mary Bowden ( and Darin Graber ( by February 7.

“Poetess” Debates: Patterns, Paradoxes, Transformations

Call for Proposals for a NAVSA 2020 Roundtable (or Two Paired Sessions)


The poetess was an unsettling figure in the 19th century, like the term itself – sometimes a (semi-)neutral signifier for a woman poet, more often designator of a fraught category facilitating canonical exclusion. The late-twentieth-century recovery of 19th-century women poets generated a more positive valence for the poetess, as critics (Isobel Armstrong, Angela Leighton, Margaret Reynolds, Yopie Prins, Virginia Blain, Margaret Linley, Laura Mandell, and Susan Brown, among others) investigated the complexities of a figure integral to expanding print culture who destabilized multiple boundaries: private/public, print/performance, expressive body/ refining spirituality, middle-brow/ high culture. Yet the poetess remained a site of contestation even within feminist criticism. Anne Mellor identified key geneaologies in Romantic women’s poetry other than the poetess tradition exemplified by L.E.L. and Felicia Hemans. Paula Bennett critiqued “the resuscitation of the Poetess soubriquet” as a monolithic category obscuring the “plenitude” of 19th-American women’s poetry. Victorianists have continued to invoke the poetess, but often to emphasize how a writer is resisting poetess conventions, like Kathryn Ledbetter in a 2014 article on Violent Fane, or Beverly Taylor in a 2019 article arguing for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s determination “not to be a poetess” in the vein of Hemans. In other recent studies, there has been a resurgence of the poetess figure in increasingly capacious and diverse forms, as in Charles Laporte’s approach to George Eliot as poetess-prophet, Alison Chapman’s Networking the Nation (2015) treating the poetess as transnational citizeness of the world in Aurora Leigh, and Tricia Lootens’ The Political Poetess (2017), examining poetess performances in relation to the nation. Confronting the “critical squirming” the poetess still provokes, Lootens excavates and extends the category in provocative ways – deprivatizing poetess politics and interrogating racist dimensions of 19th-century constructions of the poetess mirrored in second wave feminism.

This CFP responds in part to Lootens’ desire to “open up conversations”  about the poetess, in part to changing historical debates about this unsettling figure, and in part to the current re-emergence of poetess” as an (evidently) empowering term for women on social media. Depending upon the submissions, the organizer session will propose either a roundtable or two paired sessions. A more detailed version of this call can be found <here>,  including more reference to poetess scholarship, sample questions, and examples of possible poetess figures or perspectives panellists might address – including the boundary-blurring Mohawk poetess Pauline Johnson so relevant to the NAVSA 2020 focus on indigenous topics. For further details, click here. Please send proposals (250 words maximum) and brief cvs (1-2 pages) to Marjorie Stone,  by January 28.

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