CFP: The Turn into the Twentieth Century and the Problem of Periodization: Critical Essays on American Literary History

Despite the substantial reconceptualization of the field of American literature in recent decades, century-based constructs typically remain in place throughout the field, particularly in relation to “nineteenth-century American literature” versus “twentieth-century American literature.” Courses are taught, textbooks sold, and academic jobs are constructed around such distinctions. Such logic particularly limits scholarship on the turn into the twentieth century, often characterized as a midpoint on a teleological trajectory culminating in literary modernism.  This collection of essays aims to complicate and challenge the conceptual divide between the 19th and 20th centuries by exploring turn-of-the-century works (“T-20” works) in light of the particular negotiations engaged in by writers from the 1880-1920 era, or those that render writing from this period irreducible to a clear periodization by century.  We are especially interested in essays that rethink boundaries denoted by century and in those that create models for extending both “19th c thought” and “modernity,” so as to interrogate the meeting of a long, late 19th century and an extended, emergent modernity.


Proposals for 25-page  essays might consider the following:

*What constructs, authors, and texts are particularly useful in exploring the unique historical and ideological assumptions about literature from the century’s turn?

* In what ways does the language we use to describe cultural and literary movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reinscribe the logic of periodization by century?  How, for example, might rhetorics of progress and teleology reveal assumptions that undergird our approach to turn-of-the-century American literature? In what ways might these assumptions/terms be reconsidered?

*In what ways does the idea of the “turn of the century” emerge as a useful category through which to explore  continuities across centuries rather than stark divisions between them?  If there is a “long nineteenth century,” where might it end? If there is an “emergent modernity,” at what point(s) might it begin?

*In what ways does the profession of literary studies—the job market, academic conferences, scholarly journals, and book publishing—reproduce or challenge these divides in regard to specific authors or works?  In what ways can scholars and students take a less temporally restrictive view of the field?


Send abstracts of 250-500 words and short c.v.s to Melanie Dawson ( and Meredith Goldsmith ( by September 15, in anticipation of full-length essays being due by February 15.  Enquiries welcome.