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Canons and Values in Contemporary Literary Studies

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An online workshop and conference hosted by the Centre for Contemporary Literature and Culture, University of Birmingham.

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Scholarship on the contemporary has a unique relationship to questions of canonicity and value. What values shape the choices made in research and teaching on the contemporary? What canons does this work intentionally or inadvertently produce? And how do these values and canons relate to those produced in education and the publishing and cultural industries?

This event builds on previous workshops at the University of Southampton and UCL, which broadly debated ideas of canonicity and cultural value as they inform research and teaching in contemporary literary studies. Our final workshop and panels will address the rapidly changing picture of research and teaching the contemporary in 2020. Topics will include: Covid-19, bimodal teaching, and the return to campus; growing institutional impetus to “decolonise” and “diversify” the curriculum; the climate crisis; and the particular pressures placed on students and scholars of the contemporary to lead these initiatives. In this one-day conference, we want to not only discuss the challenges facing researching and teaching the contemporary during a global pandemic, but also to share areas of best practice that colleagues in the UK and abroad will likely be developing in isolation, creating community beyond our Zoom bubbles.

The day will feature three central elements:

  1. Canons, Values, and 2020: a workshop discussing the impact of 2020 on issues of characterising, researching, and teaching the contemporary, from the ongoing and escalating pandemic to police brutality, global #BlackLivesMatter protests, and calls to defund the police, decolonising the curriculum initiatives, strike actions and precarity, and the ever-present and uneven threat of climate change.
  2. Teaching the Contemporary - Online and F2F: a panel of pre-submitted paper presentations and/or pre-submitted syllabi, reflecting challenges and/or strategies for teaching the contemporary online. Will online or adapted modes of face to face teaching change the way we teach the contemporary? Have they changed the topics, texts, or range of texts set? Has resource scarcity and/or library closures led to problems with syllabus design and/or access?
  3. What is Literature Now?: a panel of flash papers on the current preoccupations and concerns of contemporary literary studies. Papers might reflect on: pandemic mental and physical health; climate crisis; university bureaucracy and duties of care; #BlackLivesMatter and student wellbeing; the problem of “decolonising” and “diversifying” as buzzwords; casualisation and other crises of futurity; creativity and innovation in theory and practice; the event as a mark of the contemporary; nonfiction’s response to the near present; research funding and planning; boredom and fun in social isolation; research cultures in 2020; recruitment and outreach; and where the contemporary begins or ends.

The event is free and open to all. The organisers are Contemporary Studies Network (Rachel Sykes [University of Birmingham], Diletta De Cristofaro [Northumbria University], Arin Keeble [Edinburgh Napier University]) in collaboration with Kevin Brazil (University of Southampton) and Andrew Dean (Deakin University).

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