Mother of the West

Minor in Missouri Studies

Some developments in the new minor in Missouri Studies: new catalog copy describing the requirements for the minor is in the works; a new course in Health Sciences is being added to the list of electives and others are being developed; the email address I made up for the above slide for the A&S screens now exists; there is now a Twitter account,  @missouristudies (now that I’ve managed to convince Twitter that I am in fact human); I have learned that one of the old nicknames of the state was Mother of the West. I’m on research leave next year (working on this), but I’ll keep working on the minor and will find someone to teach the Missouri Writers course in the spring.

Other Missouriana: I had a fantastic time in February giving a paper at the Kinder Institute conference on the Missouri Crisis. I talked about race in Missouri–since before it was Missouri, during the Missouri Crisis, and today–and as it appears in two novels by William Wells Brown and Mark Twain, and I learned a ton from the actual historians (including that mentions of DeWitt Clinton are sure to get a laugh among diplomatic historians, for some reason). I am available, as one of the speakers at the Missouri Humanities Council/State Historical Society of Missouri Show Me Missouri: Conversations about Missouri’s Past, Present, and Future Speakers Bureau, to give a public version of this talk (enriched by things I learned in February) and a talk on Missouri writers. I can also now speak at some length about the history of the term doughface, should anyone be interested. There’s one taker so far, in a town (and county) I’ve never been to, so here’s hoping we can figure out the scheduling.

Writing News

An update to my first post on this mostly neglected blog on this here website: I’ve signed a contract with Princeton University Press to write a book on the history of the American university press. A non-comprehensive but wide-ranging look at the history, value, and difficulties of university press publishing in the U.S. with the extremely working title Higher Learning By the Book: A History of the American University Press (I’ll optimistically italicize, since it’s not even a manuscript yet so why bother with quotation marks), it’s still just getting underway. I’ll be visiting archives and interviewing people and reading everything I can find on the subject, which is both a lot and not much–that is, there’s a lot on individual presses and issues and trends but not a lot on the subject as a whole.

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Chester Karr’s 1949 AAUP-commissioned study (above) isn’t the last book to tackle the whole subject, but there haven’t been many since. It’s my hope that my book will be the first to tell the story in a way that shows how the history of the institution reflects and influences the history of the modern U.S. and so that argues for its value.

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That value is one of the central values of the research university. One of the responses to my essay in the Chronicle last year argued that the big presses were enough–why does every research university need one? The report of the 1957 committee to explore starting one at the University of Missouri (above) contains one good answer. Another good answer is the value of these presses to the knowledge and culture of their state and region, something I didn’t know enough about at the time I wrote that essay–I learned about it from responses on Twitter to my own tweets and responses to the essay. I hope in the next year or so to learn a lot more from the people who work at these presses and from the people who value that work, and to use that knowledge to more fully answer this question. Like the universities and the country in which they thrive and struggle, we do need them, and also like those institutions, we need them to do their best for all of us.

P.S. I’ve just submitted a roundtable proposal for the next MLA called “The Uses of the University Press” on this very subject. I’m hoping it gets accepted and people come and help me write my book  share their thoughts about this question.


This semester, I’ve been procrastinating working to improve the department’s profile by posting department news and other things on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. One thing that’s gotten some attention has been the posts of pictures I’ve asked instructors to send me from their classes, of whiteboards, blackboards, slides, &c. Today the journalism school’s daily paper, the Missourian, ran a story on my procrastination very productive new sideline. It’s better than wallowing in the slough of low enrollment despond, I suppose, and as I’m quoted as saying, it’s fun to see what people are doing in their classrooms. Story here.

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More Missouri

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More Missouri! Turns out I’ll be directing the new minor in Missouri Studies. I didn’t do any of the work to establish it, but a new course I created on Missouri writers is being added to the core courses, and I’ll be working with others to market the minor, add to list of elective courses, and build ties to the new Center for Missouri Studies. I’m excited to see what we can do with this minor, which could be useful for students in political science, history, public affairs, journalism, education, and a bunch of other majors. And maybe one of my classes can meet in that fancy new building.


I’ve also just been put on the program for a conference hosted by the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy in February, A Fire Bell in the Past: The Missouri Crisis at 200. I’ll be giving a paper on the impact of the crisis as seen in novels by two writers from Missouri, William Wells Brown and Mark Twain, tentatively titled “Manuscripts, Mysteries, & Mulattoes: Clotel, Puddn’head Wilson, and the Exclusion Clause of 1820.” It’s a mouthful, and I’ve got a lot of reading to do, but I’m grateful for the opportunity and looking forward to seeing how the history and political science people do things.


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Just got news today that the new Missouri Writers course I proposed has finished its journey through the approval process and is on the books. It’s going to join courses on Missouri history, politics, and geography as one of the core courses for the new minor in Missouri studies that’s getting built at the same time as the new Center for Missouri Studies (here’s the live construction feed, if you’re that kind of nerd).

As an article in the Arts & Science magazine on the new minor mentions, I don’t come by any of the meagre Missouri knowledge I might have from being born or raised here, but I’m reading up and am excited to build this thing and get some real live Missourians in it. (I had to put together a syllabus to get the course approved, so I’ve got texts picked out, but I’m always taking suggestions for the literature or the history–for them to read in the course or me to read in order to teach it–for next semester or the next time I teach it. So feel free. As they used to say in early web design, this site is under construction.)

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New York

Going in to the MLA offices today for a meeting of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Professional Rights and Responsibilities, and here’s the forecast:

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Not sure what to make of this omen–or is it just a metaphor?–but I haven’t been able to shake the sense that we’re in for some heavy weather on campus. It may just be that I’m watching video of overturned rail cars on the Weather Channel’s breathless coverage of Hurricane Michael, which a correspondent just called a “tornadocane” (but not a landphoon), or it may be the story I saw yesterday about the possibility that Montana’s statewide ballot question on whether to fund higher ed might just get a “no,” but the hope that you want to have going in to two days of meetings like these is hard for me to summon right now. How we’ve gotten to the point at which a vocal portion of the people who vote don’t feel higher ed is a thing important enough to devote tax dollars to, I don’t quite know, but if there’s anything those of us who work in higher ed can do to show its value, we should really do it.


Excited to get news about MLA 2019: in addition to the standing panel I organized for the MLA Committee on Academic Freedom and Professional Rights and Responsibilities (CAFPScreen Shot 2018-06-03 at 8.46.23 PMRR), a roundtable I organized with Fordham’s Leonard Cassuto, “The Present & Future of Scholarly Publishing: The Faculty Editor’s View,” has been accepted for Chicago. It will be presided over by Jennifer Crewe, Director of Columbia University Press, and will include (in addition to Cassuto, Bonnie Wheeler from Southern Methodist, and me),  Kim Nielsen, a historian from the University of Toledo. The annual meeting of the AHA will be in Chicago at the same time, and this roundtable will take advantage of the two conferences honoring each other’s badges, as will the CAFPRR roundtable, “The Uses and Misuses of Academic Freedom,” which I’ll be chairing and will include David Tse-chien Pan (UC-Irvine), Aaron R. Hanlon (Colby), Patricia Matthew (Montclair State University), and historian Lora Burnett (UT Dallas). Looking forward to talking about academic publishing and academic freedom with English and history people in the City of the Broad Shoulders.

Old (Recent) News

In old but not too old news, I gave a talk at the annual meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association in LA in March that turned into a bunch of tweets and an essay in The Chronicle Review. The tweets and the piece in the Chronicle got a bigger-than-expected response, prompting “University Presses Are Not in Crisis” in Publisher’s Weekly and an interview in the ACLS Humanities E-Book Newsletter. We’ll see what’s next for this discussion, which was prompted by a number of recent events concerning university presses at public universities, which either are or are not under pressure, depending on who you talk to. I’ve been talking to a bunch of people on the subject since I started working on the talk, and the experience has shown me that 1) people can be incredibly generous, 2) people sometimes get mad, and that’s okay, and 3) there’s more to be written on university presses.


Upcoming Workshop

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Looking forward to attending the ADE-ADFL Summer Seminar in Atlanta in two weeks. Always educational, inspirational, and fun to gather with colleagues involved in helping departments run. Looking forward especially to co-moderating (with Sheila Smith McKoy) a pre-seminar workshop, Reversing the Decline in English Majors and Enrollments, where we’ll share stories and strategies and I will steal as many as I can to bring back to Missouri.