Signs of Race : Volume 6

Signs of Race : Volume 6

Race, Nationality, and National Literatures: The Institutionalization of English

Edited by Peter Melville Logan and Stephanie A. Smith

In the year 2001, the study of literature in the academy remains predominantly structured around national categories. The most obvious example is the taxonomic division within English into the genera of British and American literatures. This symposium examines the role of race in the definition of national literatures.

Although normative today, the idea that literature could be studied in terms of nations was only established in the nineteenth century, when Hippolyte Taine justified the study of the literature of England as a unique whole, distinct from other European literatures. A national literature, he held, is the expression of a unique cultural essence. Taine defined that cultural essence in terms of race, and so he justified his History as an examination of racial consciousness.

This symposium examines the history of this legacy, and its persistence in the present-day study of literature. Panels will consider the role of race in divisions within both English and foreign language departments, and will address the historical processes that normalized today's disciplinary boundaries. While this symposium examines the historical role race has played in the construction of disciplinary boundaries, it also seeks to imagine alternate ways of structuring literary study, and so panelists will look at literature departments that have done away with national categories.

Peter Melville Logan was previously Associate Professor of English at the University of Alabama. Stephanie A. Smith is Associate Professor of English at the University of Florida.