By Vic Tulli
When The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation invited Professor Michael McKeon to propose a dissertation seminar for advanced graduate students, he knew just what he wanted to teach. As a scholar of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature, Professor McKeon is well aware of the difficulty of reading books within their historical contexts. He also knows that various historical approaches have dominated literary studies for decades. In response, he developed a new Mellon Dissertation Seminar called “Problems in Historical Interpretation,” which will be offered for the next two years.
According to Professor McKeon, the topic reflects the ongoing concerns of his own research. His groundbreaking book, The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740, examines how social and cultural changes contributed to the development of an entirely new literary form. In his forthcoming book, The Secret History of Domesticity: Public, Private, and the Division of Knowledge, Professor McKeon looks at literature within a variety of historical contexts, including the history of print culture, of religion, of law, and of ideas about sexuality. History and literature are intertwined, he argues, but it is a mistake to assume too simple a relationship. Literary scholars sometimes fall into that trap without thinking about it.
“Part of the pleasure of scholarship is in being self-conscious about method,” he says, “and in thinking about how your own approach differs from that of other scholars or other movements.” His Mellon Seminar is designed to help participants think about their work this way. Students accepted will read each others’ work, and discuss, in detail, the various ways literary arguments invoke historical evidence. Professor McKeon sees the seminar as a workshop on practical methods, rather than on theory. In addition, participants will receive a stipend from the Mellon Foundation, giving them time and financial support to apply these lessons to writing their Ph.D. dissertations, the basis of their future academic careers.
“Mellon Dissertation Seminars are a wonderful opportunity for graduate students,” says Meredith McGill, Director of the Graduate Program of Literatures in English. “They afford graduate students the chance to think deeply about their particular projects, but also about the discipline of English in general. We’re excited to be able to offer this seminar.”
A look at The Secret History of Domesticity
The Andrew M. Mellon Foundation