From the Acting Chair of Rutgers English



by Kate Flint


A network of paths converges at the front door of Murray Hall—or, seen another way, they lead away from it, to other departments, the Alexander Library, the Zimmerli Art Museum, the train station: out into the world.

These intersecting walkways provide an extraordinarily apt metaphor for the internal life of the English department itself. Our discipline is a place where many avenues cross, and from which many questions spin out, in their ramifications, to all manner of ethical, aesthetic, material, psychological, and political issues. Writing of the webs of connections that she saw threading the world, George Eliot refers in Middlemarch to “that tempting range of relevancies called the universe.” English, it often seems, is a disciplinary space that leads one, profitably, down these paths of temptation.

The intersections that we draw are sometimes international ones. Our faculty members are currently exploring how books traveled across the nineteenth-century Atlantic, and the visits that Native Americans made to Victorian Britain. Some are studying the place of bilingual writing in 1930s Shanghai, Hong Kong, New York, and London; others are examining working-class writing in South Asian countries that were once part of the British empire. From these projects emerge the theoretical implications of transnationalism and cosmopolitanism.

These crossovers also operate on an interdisciplinary, as well as a cartographic, plane. Other research projects involve examining the language in which medical narratives are told; the natural history of the late eighteenth-century Caribbean and its relationship to the discourse of slavery; the transformation of fiction into film—and these are just some of the projects that bring together science, history, and differing media. If there is a center in all of this, it is located in the exploration of language. Even here, however, we variously consider its imaginative deployment, its rhetorical power to persuade or inform or antagonize, its capacity to captivate and to entertain.

And the “steps we take/steps we trace”—to borrow the lyrics of Patti Smith’s “Paths That Cross”—also lead backwards and forwards. If many of us are firmly committed to historic contextualization, whether of Anglo-Saxon queens or Victorian organicism, Milton’s political thought or eighteenth-century domesticity, the questions that we ask of our material, and that we discuss with our students, are highly relevant to today’s changing and complex social, philosophical, and moral debates. One of the most exciting things about teaching English is the open-endedness of many of the issues that are raised in the classroom, and their obvious bearing on lives that will continue outside the academic setting.

Rutgers English is proud of its work in re-interpreting and re-evaluating literatures in English, whether these appeared centuries ago or last year. Both the well-established Writers at Rutgers Reading Series, and the newly launched Writers from Rutgers Reading Series, offer eloquent testimony to our investment in contemporary writing. And we continue to build for an exciting future. Through the generous support of a Friend of Rutgers English and Rutgers President Richard L. McCormick, the department is launching Writers House this fall. As one of the first new undergraduate learning communities, Writers House will provide new accommodations for faculty and students. The ground floor of Murray Hall will be dedicated to three seminar rooms, a digital composition laboratory, a student lounge, and two offices for young writers in residence who will teach creative writing courses. Renovation will be complete in mid-August, in time for the new academic year. Writers House will construe “writing” broadly, offering courses not only in fiction, poetry, drama, and creative nonfiction, but also in web authoring, multimedia composition, documentary filmmaking, and various forms of professional writing.

Our intentionally oxymoronic departmental slogan, “Future Traditions”—one which we adopt as the new title of our departmental magazine—reflects our vast commitment to all forms of literacy. Our activities lead, like the pathways in front of Murray Hall, in many directions. We hope that you enjoy reading about these new projects, and about much else that is going on in the department, in the pages of this magazine. We would like to invite you to make a contribution in support of the department, thus helping us develop new opportunities and cultivate scholarly and teaching excellence among members of the Rutgers English community. And, as Richard E. Miller suggested on this page last year, if you value the work of the department, of Rutgers University, and of higher education more generally, please consider writing to your New Jersey state representatives or to Governor Jon S. Corzine and sharing your views on the importance of state funding to support our mission.

Kate FlintKeep in touch,

Kate Flint

© 2007 Future Traditions Magazine
A Publication for Alumni and Friends of Rutgers English
All rights reserved.

Department of English | Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.