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Organizer: Benjamin Schreier

Co-Organizer: David Greven

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Much has been written about our discipline’s post-theory age. Some lament the passing of theory, many more celebrate it, and quite a few others have devoted their professional energies to articulating alternatives to high theory, many of which can be traced back to the field-building efforts of the new historicists. If few literary scholars any longer claim to practice “new historicism,” its influence on the field was so overwhelming that these days it can be hard to think about literary study other than as an essentially historicist practice.

The premise of this panel is that historicism’s dominance in literary study has been uncritically maintained at the expense of other approaches. We seek to amplify a general critical self-consciousness about historicism’s privileged status and heighten awareness that it is a chosen mode of inquiry, not an automatic or inevitable one. The assumptions undergirding historicism can be productively reexamined in order to imagine and establish diverse, even unprecedented forms of critical thought and engagement with the ever-redefined fields of literary study. 

Accordingly, this seminar is dedicated to imagining literary study outside the gravitational pull of historicism. What are the most promising paths for articulating a non-historicist literary practice? What would such a practice look like? What are the institutional histories of historicism’s reign? Does the answer necessarily involve a return to high theory? What is the historical burden of historicism? How does a post-historicist practice operate?

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