Big Ten English departments launch Emerging Scholars Lecture Series

Big Ten logo and photos of Laura McGrath and Matthew Guzman

calendar icon August 28, 2018 - 2:51pm

The Big Ten Emerging Scholars lecture series was created in April 2018 during the inaugural annual meeting of the Big Ten English Department Chairs. Professors Cara Cilano (Michigan State University) and Marco Abel (University of Nebraska–Lincoln) proposed this idea to their colleagues, who received it with great enthusiasm. The purpose of this series is:

  • To help the selected Big Ten Emerging Scholars with their academic job search efforts by giving them an opportunity to simulate an on-campus visit (including but not limited to giving a job talk based on their research);
  • To help the selected Big Ten Emerging Scholars strengthen their curriculum vitae through the addition of a prestigious invited scholarly lecture;
  • To give the selected Big Ten Emerging Scholars the chance to present and promote their work as well as to network with scholars working in their fields;
  • To give the hosting departments the chance to connect their own students and faculty to the Big Ten Emerging Scholars whose work is at the cutting edge of their respective disciplines.

Last but not least, this series was also initiated in order to strengthen a sense of community among the participating English Departments in the Big Ten. The Big Ten Academic Alliance is the nation's preeminent model for effective collaboration among research universities and, other than the Ivy League, the country's most prestigious higher education consortium of top-tier research institutions.

Being selected as one of the annual Big Ten Emerging Scholars is, thus, a significant honor (the selection process is competitive), the recognition of which will expand over the next years as this series will establish itself in the landscape of higher education. You can learn more about the series on the Big Ten Departments of English website.

Our department's first Big Ten Emerging Scholar is Matthew Guzman, who will present his talk “Whitman’s Slaughterhouse: Nonhuman Animals and the War” at Michigan State University on September 10 (details below). Guzman is a doctoral candidate focusing on nineteenth-century American literature with an emphasis on critical animal studies. His work takes an interdisciplinary approach—often incorporating history, philosophy, science, cultural anthropology, and literary studies - in order to further understand not only the literature, but also the actual nonhuman animals of the nineteenth century.

As a department, we will host Big Ten Emerging Scholar Laura McGrath. McGrath is Associate Director of the Literary Lab and postdoctoral fellow in English at Stanford University. She holds a Ph.D. in English and Digital Humanities from Michigan State University. Her primary research interests lie in computational approaches to post45 American fiction. She is at work on a manuscript entitled Middlemen: Making Literature in the Age of Multimedia Conglomerates. Her talk, “Comp Titles, Computation, and Contemporary Literature” is scheduled for Monday, September 10 (details below).

Event Details

Laura McGrath “Comp Titles, Computation, and Contemporary Literature”

Monday, September 10, 2018, 3:30 p.m.
Andrews Hall Bailey Library (228/229)
University of Nebraska–Lincoln


More than bestseller lists or academic consecration via syllabi, “comps” (short for “comparative titles”) represent the most significant metric of literary value in contemporary publishing. Comps are identified by editors in the acquisition process to predict a book's performance on the market and are often the deciding factor in a new acquisition. In this talk McGrath will use large-scale computational methods to analyze comp title data obtained from publishers' quarterly catalogs, 2013-2017; she shows how comps produce and replicate “corporate taste,” not only limiting what—and who—is published, but defining literary style in the contemporary.

Matthew Guzman “Whitman’s Slaughterhouse: Nonhuman Animals and the War”

Monday, September 10, 2018
Michigan State University


Perhaps more than most other American writers in the nineteenth century, Walt Whitman had an intimate knowledge of the Civil War’s effects upon the human body and spirit. Arriving in Washington, DC, at the end of 1862 and remaining there as a volunteer in the hospitals throughout the war, Whitman daily witnessed death, amputation, and disease. In a 1863 letter to his mother, the poet comments, “I feel so horrified & disgusted—[the war] seems to me like a great slaughter-house & men mutually butchering each other.” Not coincidentally, what we now know of as the industrial slaughterhouse emerged directly after the war. Although Whitman is often praised for his reverence for the natural world, including animals, this metaphor of the abattoir provides occasion for a reevaluation of his nonhuman literary traces. Whitman and the slaughterhouse give us a glimpse into the horrific and increasingly pervasive concept of life as a condition of dismemberment during and after the war, and Guzman's talk will seek to reexamine Whitman from this context.