Author Archives: Lady English Professor

Conference report: Congress 2012

Well, I have been neglecting you, and I apologize for that. I have been away (a big fat Greek wedding celebration in Thessaloniki—opa!). And as soon as I returned home there was/is Congress. My involvement ended yesterday, so here I am again, your humble English department scribe/blogger. At least for another day.

Congress is such a big deal. Thousands of academics come to our community to discuss, to debate, to think, and to network. Ideas are everywhere, not just at the Big Thinker lectures but also in the small panel sessions hosted by dozens of academic associations in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. There’s always a good deal of socializing associated with these large gatherings of academics (who have been known to enjoy a good party, certainly a good meal). But the important stuff happens in those classrooms and lecture halls that have temporarily been turned into conference presentation sites. Through those conference papers ideas are shared, questions emerge, and contacts are established.

Personally I gave two papers, ran a panel, and chaired another. What came out of this for me are two exciting developments: a decision to co-author a paper with a colleague at York who is also interested in research on mothers’ stories of WWII, and an agreement in principle to co-edit a book on Canadian graphic life writing. How cool is that!

Many members of the English department were involved in Congress. I blogged about some of our graduate students and faculty who were presenting before the event, but there was much more going on. Of course, I don’t know about everyone’s activities, but I did take note of the following.

We are all so proud of Professor Neil Randall, who has won a whopping big pile of money to research the effects of digital gaming. Wow! Here’s the press release. This is the biggest SSHRC grant ever received by uWaterloo researcher. The grant was announced on the first day of Congress, shining a bright spotlight squarely on uW English.

Professor Andrew McMurry is one of the Arts researchers profiled in video clips that have been playing online throughout Congress.

So is Professor Marcel O’Gorman. Please click the link to watch the video (for some reason I can’t embed this video properly).


The Critical Media Lab is on-site at WLU for the duration of Congress—in a truck near the beer tent.

Professors Winfried Siemerling and Kenneth Graham both gave papers and were mentioned in the Daily Bulletin. And I know that many others among our colleagues gave papers at various associations such as ACCUTE, ACQL/ALCQ, CATR, CACLALS, SDH, CCA…and more.

As befits a progressive 21st century university (well, two progressive universities) organizers and participants are using social media A LOT. Twitter, FaceBook, as well as live streaming of videos of the Big Thinker talks, for example, all make for a rich multimedia experience. You can watch videos of the Big Thinker lectures from this website (updated regularly). Or you can link from the Congress website.

But, you know, there’s nothing like being in the room when Margaret Atwood enters it! And there’s nothing like sitting across a lunch table with a new academic collaborator hashing out a project.

Award winning PhD candidates

Three of our PhD candidates—Adam Bradley, Lauren Burr, and Dani Stock—have recently won prestigious SSHRC doctoral fellowships. I asked them to write a paragraph about their research. Here are two descriptions. 

Adam Bradley’s project is titled “Visualizing Literature: The Avant-Garde Aesthetic in the Digital Humanities”

My research centers on applying the modernist critical strategy of estrangement, as encountered in the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and in many strands of early twentieth century avant-garde art (e.g. surrealism, dada, futurism) to the problems of Digital Humanities. That is, I am creating digital tools that defamilarize the aesthetics of a given text in order to gain a new perspective on the components that make it up. If the computing tool itself is used in an imaginative, experimental spirit it opens up the possibility of a completely new type of scholarship. Jerome McGann writes that “the general field of humanities education and scholarship will not take the use of digital technology seriously until one demonstrates how its tools improve the ways we explore and explain aesthetic works.” I contend that by using the computer to explore aesthetic works, namely using digital tools to continue and extend the practices and sensibilities of critics and artists into new approaches, we can achieve this improvement. By combining the critical strategy of defamiliarization with rigorous mathematics and the adoption of scientific modeling techniques, we can “form a new kind of literary study absolutely comfortable with scientific methods yet completely suffused with the values of the humanities” (Potter). My project will approach this problem with a set of computational tools that aids the study of literature.

Dani Stock’s project is titled “Normalizing the body online: the rhetorical construction of disease and disability in online communities.”

As various theorists in health studies and the medical humanities have observed, online media afford disease sufferers an important mode of interaction with technology characterized by the reclamation of power over knowledge about the body. While these studies point to the social empowerment made possible by online media, there remains some question, largely unexplored by present scholarship, as to whether the elevation of “patient experience” and “participatory medicine” by the Medicine 2.0 movement partly disguises the central interests of funding groups in data collection, the continued centralization of medical authority, and the perpetuation of regulatory controls on the human body.

My proposed study combines critical and new media theories, disability studies, and medical humanities to examine contemporary power relations that structure online medical discourse. Through a qualitative study that examines the design, user activity, and political economy of three major online social networking sites, specifically,, and, the project will explore the political, economic, and social functions of online media that position the subject according to a particular set of ideals, and both reinforce and upset normative standards of human behaviour.

Wow! Such interesting research is being undertaken at uW English. BIG congratulations to all SSHRC winners! 

English Graduate Students host the annual colloquium

Our graduate students in English are very serious about research, and for the past several years they have organized a colloquium that brings together graduate students from uW and other universities, uW English faculty, and prominent keynote speakers. This year’s keynote speaker is Professor Cary Wolfe from Rice University.

It’s always a good couple of days. I can’t attend this year, as I’ll be out of the country (boo!) but you are all welcome and encouraged to check it out. Here’s the main information. There are links at the bottom of this page to more.

SAGE 2012 Colloquium: De/Centering the Human Subject:A Graduate  Conference on Posthumanism in the Humanities

Department of English Language and Literature
University of Waterloo
May 18-19, 2012

May 18: Keynote address by Professor Cary Wolfe (check out his webpage) and colloquium reception

May 19: Full day of colloquium panels and roundtables (schedule below)

Colloquium theme: A wide range of cultural theorists and philosophers classify the present age as a “posthuman” one, in which Enlightenment humanism and classical liberalism cannot be considered effective models for conceptualizing “the human.” Posthumanist thinkers question whether we have ever been only or wholly human in a way that upsets received understandings of the term, itself. Instead “the human” is thought of as a locus of ontological tension, biological hybridity, and technogenesis. While this line of thinking has given way to rich
scholarly development, to the creation of theories and critical responses to older models, what can we say posthumanism makes possible or creates? What set of conditions, what products (material or immaterial), what questions and problems does the post human present engender? Specifically, in the area of humanities research–a body of inquiry traditionally devoted, generally, to the analytical study of the human–what are the consequences or products of posthumanism?

Participants work  in the areas of literary studies, new media, rhetoric, disability  studies, animal studies, game studies, cognitive science, and other related fields.

Here’s a PDF of the schedule. SAGE Colloquium 2012 – tentative schedule
To register for the colloquium–it’s FREE–please click here.

More awesomeness from English @ Waterloo!


Our Awesome Alumni!

Want to know what English alumni do after they graduate? Well, of course, we do. And I’m happy to post profiles and news items about any and all alumni, so please just send me the information!

Today I have for you a story about Russell Wong, who is featured in the KW Record’s  “40 Under 40,” a feature article about young leaders in the  Waterloo Region. Russell graduated from the English Rhetoric and Professional Writing program in 2002 and now works as Undergraduate recruitment co-ordinator for the Faculty of  Engineering here at uW. He is also a prolific volunteer and contributes to many organizations in the region.

To read the feature, please click here and go to page 20.

To read a profile of Russell on our alumni page, please click here.

How awesome!

Professor Randy Harris to be keynote speaker at Tapei conference

While many of us in the English department will be busy with Congress in early June, Professor Randy Harris will be a keynote speaker at Incommensurability 50, a conference in Tapei, China.
If, like me, you’re not quite sure what “incommensurability” means, here’s what I copied from the conference website:
In 1962 Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend independently suggested the provocative idea that under certain conditions theories (paradigms, world-views) are incommensurable – they have no common measure. Kuhn introduced the idea in his exceedingly influential The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), dramatically claiming that the history of science reveals that proponents of competing paradigms fail to make complete contact with each other’s views and are always talking at least slightly at cross-purposes. According to Kuhn, competing paradigms lack a common measure because they use different concepts and methods to address different problems according to different standards. This effectively limits communication between conceptual frameworks across the revolutionary conceptual divide, and requires bilingualism, relearning on the basis of a conceptually incompatible perspective. Kuhn called the collective reasons for these limits to communication the incommensurability of pre- and post-revolutionary scientific traditions. The idea of incommensurability was also central to Feyerabend’s philosophical pluralism from its early stages in post-War Vienna in the late 1940s, through to his post-modern approach in the early 1990s, as the idea began to be applied to languages and cultures more generally. Ever since, claims about incommensurability have been central to controversies across an array of disciplines, and the idea of incommensurability has played key roles in a wide range of discussions within and beyond the philosophy of science. This conference will focus on a number of interrelated themes: from the nature of the notion of incommensurability, to incommensurability in logic, mathematics and the natural sciences, in the social sciences and the arts, in comparative philosophy, in intercultural communication, and as a challenge for global politics. 
Dr. Harris will be giving a paper titled “(In)commensurability, Rhetoric, & the Curious Case of David Brewster.” Here’s his abstract. 

[T]he claim that two theories are incommensurable is more modest than many of its critics have supposed. 
—Thomas Kuhn (2000, 36)

Incommensurability, strictly construed, does not obtain of scientific theories. They are not numbers. The implied metaphor is bad. Weakly construed, on the other hand, incommensurability obtains, but carries little more force than misunderstanding. It just sounds more imposing. The material question, then, is whether incommensurability is meaningful in the middle ground. And that is a question rhetoric can help to answer.

We will look at the curious case of David Brewster, a nineteenth century Scottish physicist whose work, in attempting to bridge corpuscular and undulatory conceptions of light, occupied that middle ground. 
Dr. Harris has published a book on Rhetoric and Incommensurability.
You can order your copy here.
We certainly hope that Dr. Harris comes home with lots of PHOTOGRAPHS for the blog. Thanks, Randy 🙂

Conference report: A Canadianist in Cuba

I’m back.

Last week yours truly was at the University of Holguin, Cuba. I was participating in the Canadian Studies conference, which included a one-day teaching workshop with students and faculty (I was one of the teachers) and then a couple of days of conference presentations. The conference is sponsored by the Canadian Studies Centre of the University of Holguín, in collaboration with The University of Western Ontario, and it is also supported by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT) and the Canadian Embassy. This was the sixth International seminar on Canadian Studies, but the first one I had been to. Hopefully it will not be the last, as it was a wonderful experience. The theme of the conference was “Canada: Society and Identity,” a fairly broad theme. Interestingly, many of us who presented on Canadian topics (without consultation with each other beforehand) talked about Aboriginal issues.  If you are interested in seeing the fully conference program, please click here.

On the teaching day I delivered a course on critical approaches to Métis literatures, outlining some of the current debates in this particular scholarly field. My conference paper the next day was on place-based identities in Mėtis literature where I focused on theorizing the connection between particular geographical locations and Mėtis stories, including life stories. I was a bit nervous because Clément Chartier, the President of the Métis National Council, was in the audience, but apparently I didn’t say anything too silly or completely wrong. It was actually great to meet President Chartier. Had to go to Cuba to do so!

Cuba itself has changed a lot since the last time I was there in 1999. There was more variety of food, more consumer goods to buy, more openness to entrepreneurship and to Cubans owning small businesses. American dollars no longer circulate, but there are two different Cuban pesos: the CUC, which is what we foreigners pay with, and non-convertible Cuban pesos, which the folks use. One CUC is equivalent to about 25 non-convertible pesos, so that tells you something about wages and cost of living. Cubans who work in the tourist industry have access to CUCs and the goods that they can buy, so clearly those are much-desired jobs. But, in true socialist style, tips earned by workers at resorts are pooled so that everyone gets the same. Tourists ride in fancy air-conditioned buses. Ordinary Cubans take cranky old buses, ride in old cars (some as old as the 1940s), or use horses and buggies to get around. Beaches were as pristine and gorgeous as ever, and the people are truly hospitable.

As for the academic context, here are some observations:

  •  Cuban students and professors are passionately interested in all things Canadian.
  • They desperately need books and other resources in Canadian Studies.
  • Cuban universities look and feel a lot like universities anywhere: students look like students; professors look like professors.
  • The weather is better than it is here, but some of the buildings are in disrepair.
  • I will never again take air conditioned university classrooms for granted.
  • It is possible to show a perfectly adequate PowerPoint presentation projected onto a white bed sheet or a blank wall.
  • People were so grateful to have Canadians come to teach them, to talk to them, and to mentor them that it truly felt like an honour to be there.

Of course, it made sense to go to Cuba on a package deal to an all-inclusive resort. Before and after the conference we had a little beach time. And yes, it was glorious. Much needed decompression after the end of winter term. Here’s the money shot.

A brief hiatus

Dear friends of English,

I’m going to a conference next week, to a place that apparently has unreliable internet, so I’ll be taking a break from blogging. But do watch this space for new posts in May.

Hasta Luego!