Victorian Studies and Its PublicsIntroduction[Notice]

  • Linda K. Hughes

…plus d’informations

  • Linda K. Hughes
    Texas Christian University, Fort Worth

This special issue of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net addresses two audiences simultaneously: Victorian scholars and the university, civic, national, and global communities in which Victorian scholarship unfolds. Despite the persistence with which the interdisciplinary field of Victorian studies has engaged multiple publics from the beginning, this practice has not always been legible to Victorianists or registered in narratives of the academy written by those within or outside the discipline. The eight contributions collected here offer an alternative narrative. Collectively, they establish that Victorian studies has always had public impact and in turn has benefited from public audiences and resources. This mutuality has of course not been without its tensions or problems (both in theory and practice); and several essays touch on the challenges posed by putting specialized scholarship and public agendas driven by budgets and non-scholarly interests in conversation with each other. Still, mapping Victorian studies’ appeal and debts to multiple constituencies illuminates Victorian scholarship’s methods, origins, and development while also disclosing its important contributions to public life and institutions. Not coincidentally, this special issue begins with the essay of a Victorianist who holds a senior position in a government agency and concludes with an afterword by another who is a college president. In between are Victorianists who have co-curated museum exhibitions, received national or international funding for scholarly projects, directed interdisciplinary programs, and innovated public initiatives—all while continuing to publish specialized research. Since they themselves best demonstrate my claim about the scholarly and public significances of Victorian studies, I proceed directly to characterizing the significance of this issue’s contributions, pausing only to express my gratitude to the scholars who accepted my invitation to share their work. Russell M. Wyland, Assistant Director of the Division of Research at the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), historicizes the American intersection of Victorian studies and public institutions by means of the overlapping beginnings of the NEH and the interdisciplinary journals Victorian Studies and Victorian Periodicals Review. If interdisciplinarity has become a dominant paradigm of curricular innovation and research programs at universities across the U.S. (“interdisciplinarity’s Growing Appeal”), Victorian studies as a research field innovated this approach over fifty years ago. Wyland’s account of the inaugural issues of Victorian Studies in 1957-1958 in his essay, entitled “Public Funding and the ‘untamed wilderness’ of Victorian Studies,” recaptures how radical and threatening interdisciplinary study could then seem to some traditionalists. Ensuing attacks, ironically, were a gift to the nascent field, for it forced leading scholars and journal editors to articulate the methods, goals, and benefits of undertaking interdisciplinary work. One of these goals, positioning the study of history, literature, the arts, education, and urban studies in relation to the politics, social realities, and sweeping changes of the Victorian era, had public implications from the beginning. These factors, as Wyland points out, positioned Victorianists to take full advantage of new funding opportunities offered by NEH after its founding in 1965. Scholars who could clearly articulate the goals, methods, and advantages of a scholarly project enjoyed a competitive advantage relative to other applicants but also assisted NEH by shoring up the validity of spending tax dollars on scholarship, a matter demanding public accountability. A chief beneficiary of the new granting agency was the Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals spearheaded by Walter Houghton, a profoundly interdisciplinary and collaborative research project that garnered almost half a million dollars in the interval from its first grant in 1967 to its last in 1983. The Index was a success for Victorianists, for interdisciplinary studies, and for NEH, which could point to its realization as signal evidence of ...

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