I’ve just come back from this year’s NVSA at Columbia. If you haven’t been, this is a conference I particularly like to attend just for the sake of attending. There are no concurrent panels, so it really feels like a communal intellectual enterprise as the shared experience of seeing many papers as an audience builds up over the weekend.
This year’s theme was “Clichés and Orthodoxies.” Two papers I particularly liked were Aeron Hunt’s (U of New Mexico), “Methodological Orthodoxies and the Business of Victorian Character” and Sarah Maurer’s (University of Notre Dame), “Caring for Strangers: The Sketch Writer and the Parish Visitor”. These papers looked at the development of narrative structures that we often see as novelistic–such as the representation of character, and the possibilities of sympathy–in character books kept by businessmen and parish visiting manuals respectively. I had no idea that businessmen kept little black books on people’s characters–this pre-Facebook surveillance on potential employees and clients was fascinating material. Continue reading