The generous BAAS Founders’ Travel Award funded my final archival trip for my first monograph that discusses how the now largely-forgotten Paris Commune became, for writers and readers across virtually all classes and political persuasions, a critical locus for re-occupying both radical and mainstream memory of revolution and empire, writes J. Michelle Coghlan. During my trip I was also able to conduct early research into two new projects on African-American anarchist and labor activist Lucy Parsons’ Life of Albert Parsons, and the rise of food writing and the making of American taste in the long nineteenth century.
Generous funding from the BAAS Founders’ Travel Award allowed me to spend three weeks in the United States in March 2016 conducting archival sleuthing towards the completion of my first monograph and the launch of two new projects, as well as enabling participation in two major conferences in my field. In a nutshell: it was quite a trip!
My first stop on this whistle-stop tour was Penn State University, where I attended the biennial meeting of C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists conference and delivered a paper entitled “‘Splendid Failure’: the Print Culture of Radical Postbellum Pasts” as part of a larger panel on the topic of radical literary histories of the long nineteenth century which was chaired by Prof. Bridget Bennett and included papers by John Funchion, Michael Drexler, and Eric Lott. The
discussion sparked by the panel, as well as conversations at the newly-formed Archives Caucus cluster lunch, gave me a fantastic opportunity to brainstorm how to get a new project that’s been percolating on the back burner for some time now—a digital critical edition of African-American anarchist and labor activist Lucy Parsons’ Life of Albert Parsons—more firmly off the ground. Attendance at the conference also gave me a chance to meet with a group of C19 Americanists who share my interest in Transatlanticism, Franco-American style, and talk through ways we might concretely collaborate in future.
I then headed to New York City, where I was able to spend a week digging into a variety of materials related to late nineteenth and early twentieth-century anarchism, as well as a variety of pamphlets and broadsides related to the memory-culture surrounding the Paris Commune in the United States, at the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University. The former will provide an invaluable springboard towards my new Lucy Parsons project, while the latter allowed me to tie up some final loose ends related to my forthcoming monograph, Sensational Internationalism (Edinburgh UP, 2016), which recovers the now largely-forgotten story of the Paris Commune’s spectacular afterlife as specter and spectacle in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century American culture. In putting 1871—and, more particularly, the Paris Commune’s “audacious internationalism”—back on the map of American literary and cultural studies, my book contributes to the conversation begun by the seminal work of Michael Rogin and Larry J. Reynolds to recover the influence of the European uprisings of 1848 on the literary imagination of writers like Emerson and Melville and the literary history of the American Renaissance as well as more recent work to trace what Anna Brickhouse has termed the lingering “Franco-Africanist shadow” on American literary and cultural history in the wake of the Haitian Revolution. But Sensational Internationalism offers another angle on that story of distant uprisings resounding at home: namely, how a foreign revolution came back to life as a domestic commodity, and why for decades another nation’s memory came to feel so much our own. Chronicling the Commune’s returns across a surprisingly vast and visually striking archive of periodical poems and illustrations, panoramic spectacles, children’s adventure fiction, popular and canonical novels, political pamphlets, avant-garde theater productions, and radical pulp, my book argues that the Commune became, for writers and readers across virtually all classes and political persuasions, a critical locus for re-occupying both radical and mainstream memory of revolution and empire, a key site for negotiating post-bellum gender trouble and regional reconciliation, and a vital terrain for rethinking Paris—and what it meant to be an American there—in U.S. fiction and culture.
My next stop was Washington, D.C., where I spent a fruitful three days exploring the Paul Avrich anarchist collection in the Rare Books and Special Collections room at the Library of Congress, where I was able to consult a number of different editions of pamphlets that Lucy Parsons edited and published, including the 25th anniversary edition of The Famous Speeches of the Eight Chicago Anarchists in Court (1911), a limited-run biographical sketch of Voltairine de Cleyre which Emma Goldman published in 1933, and ephemera and other materials related to de Cleyre, Goldman, and Parsons in Chicago, all of which will provide invaluable context for my digital critical edition and material towards further work I’d like to do on anarchist women’s activism, a project I’m tentatively entitling “Radical Circles.”
Finally, my trip concluded in Princeton, NJ where I participated in the Critical Consumption: The Future of Food Studies conference organized by Prof. Anne A. Cheng and delivered a talk entitled, “Archiving the Senses,” which considers the matter of the senses in nineteenth-century American literary studies and, more generally, taste as an under-valued aesthetic register and under-historicized sensory one. Both the Q and A after my panel and the energizing two days of talks and keynote addresses enriched my thinking and helped me think more deeply about my new book project, Culinary Designs, which explores the rise of food writing and the making of American taste in the long nineteenth century.
In short, I am very grateful to BAAS for giving me the opportunity to embark on archival research and scholarly conversation that would have been unthinkable without this whirlwind trip.
Michelle Coghlan is Lecturer in American Literature at the University of Manchester.