CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - American literary history is being made at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - literally, figuratively and frequently.
In the first place, the editorial office of the journal American Literary History and its founding editor Gordon Hutner have moved to the Illinois campus.
Published by Oxford University Press and most recently based at the University of Kentucky, ALH at age 17 is considered the pre-eminent forum for traditional and new scholarship on American cultural studies.
Specializing in 19th- and 20th-century American literature, particularly fiction, American criticism and ethnic literature, Hutner is the author of several books including "Secrets and Sympathy: Forms of Disclosure in Hawthorne's Novels" (1988) and is working on a manuscript about the mid-20th-century American novel.
Hutner envisioned a new paradigm for ALH: It would be a flagship journal for the new scholarship, "one that competed for primacy with a journal of 60 years' standing," he said, but that also gave traditional scholarship "its rightful place in our pages."
He would focus on American culture as seen through the prism of literary history, and he would hunt for new work "from scholars not quite so well known, but whose standards of achievement were no less luminous"; entry-level professors and promising graduate students as well as premier critics and literary historians also were targeted.
Gordon Hutner is the founding editor of American Literary History. Published by the Oxford University Press, it was most recently based at the University of Kentucky.
University of Illinois photo
Hutner encouraged scholars from all over the academic map - history, law, philosophy, political science, religion, and sociology - to submit to ALH.
Today, the U. of I. is supporting the journal - and in "very munificent ways," Hutner said. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in particular, he said, "has worked hard to give the journal the platform we wanted."
Martin Camargo, the head of Illinois' English department, sees a ripple effect from having Hutner and ALH on campus: "As the premier scholarly journal in the field, ALH has further raised the national profile of our already strong program in American literature."
In addition to maintaining its rigorous publishing schedule - three general issues and one special issue a year - ALH has, since coming to Illinois a year ago, pulled off a historic "first." Its latest issue is dedicated to one exceptional scholar.
"This is unprecedented for us," Hutner said of the issue devoted to Nina Baym, who taught at Illinois for 41 years and retired from teaching in 2004.
Six essays celebrate Baym's "career-long engagement with American writing, centered on her illustrious scholarship on and criticism of the American Renaissance, women writers and the writing of American literary history," Hutner wrote in his introduction to the Winter 2005 issue.
Dale Bauer was hired to take over the courses on American women's writing that Nina Baym had taught at Illinois.
University of Illinois photo
Baym, who "made her first reputation" on the study of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hutner said, is indisputably the leading literary scholar and critic of American female writers and the primary catalyst for major changes in the American literature canon during the past 25 years. The author of seven books, eight edited works and nearly 150 essays, Baym has been, since 1999, the general editor of "The Norton Anthology of American Literature," recognized as one of the profession's most prestigious assignments. She also has served as editor of two sections of the anthology since 1986.
Baym has garnered every major U. of I. award: She is a Swanlund Endowed Chair and is a Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Center for Advanced Study Professor of English. She won the Hubbell Award for lifetime achievement from the Modern Language Association in 2000.
In the first essay of the new issue of ALH, Dale Bauer said of Baym's work:
"She's a Jamesian figure. She knows what it means to be of her time and simultaneously ahead of it."
According to Bauer, Baym was "the key figure to change the way we read U.S. women's writing, beginning with her book 'Woman's Fiction.' "
Bauer, who is married to Hutner, had been teaching at the University of Kentucky when she was hired by Illinois last year to take over Baym's courses on American women's writing.
The English department was "delighted to welcome Bauer for her outstanding and continued expertise in turn-of-the-century modernist American fiction, and most especially, women's studies," said Julia Saville, the associate head of the department.
"In the later respect, she not only contributes substantially to an already growing departmental strength, but considerably ameliorates the great loss the department feels from the retirement of Nina Baym, an internationally recognized pioneer in this field."
Bauer is the author of a book about Edith Wharton's politics, has edited five books and collections, and 35 articles and book chapters. She is working on a manuscript titled "Sex Expressions and American Women," in which she traces the trope of sex expression in literature from the 1860s to the 1930s and '40s.
Camargo concedes that Baym and Bauer's personal styles and research emphases are quite different, "but they both have strong commitments to feminist scholarship, active service to the university and the larger profession, and outstanding classroom teaching and mentorship of graduate students," he said.
The trend in literature today, Bauer said, is to become more specialized in analyzing U.S. women's writing, "following Baym's lead, but also focusing on style, metaphors of civilization and cultures, specific issues and cultural debates."
Bauer said she began her own scholarship with "Feminist Dialogics," a book about feminist theory and 19th-century American literature. Her book on sex expressions "takes up where Baym and Ann Douglas left off in their meditations on the different ways that women's rhetoric and style generated an explosion of women's writing."
As Baym sees it, she and Bauer "overlap," but they aren't "in the same mold."
For one thing, the periods they study are different, Baym said.
"Bauer's chronological focus is late 19th century through the modernist period - that is, up to World War II - whereas mine was - is - from the early national period, the 1780s, up to World War I," Baym said.
Another difference: Where Bauer concentrates on female writers, Baym has devoted a great deal of research to male writers from the pre-Civil War era - Cooper, Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, for example. On the other hand, Bauer has devoted much energy to feminist literary theory, while Baym has only written two theoretical articles, "one of which is subtitled, 'Why I Don't Do Feminist Literary Theory,' " Baym said.
Bauer also stresses pedagogy. Indeed, she "makes the teaching of literature a second specialty and has won incredible numbers of teaching awards," Baym said.
When asked which accomplishment she is most proud of, Baym said the fact that more than 30 of her former graduate students attended her retirement celebration, and that she taught "the gargantuan" American literature survey course 15 years in a row - "a notoriously difficult assignment at a time when students preferred small classes," Baym said.
At the final lecture, the entire class gave Baym a standing ovation.
"I have thought about that response many times since, and although I don't really miss teaching, the event made the whole experience worthwhile."
Baym is still in high gear, supervising the eight editors of the Norton anthology - a publication that "remains the most widely used in the field," Baym said.
Baym also is continuing on the editorial boards of several journals, including ALH. She reads manuscripts for academic presses, does promotion and tenure reviews for several schools, gives invited talks and does book reviews.
As for research, she is beginning a new area of specialization on women who published from and about the Old West.
Who will make the cut?
"How many names do you want," Baym joked, before saying, "Let's start with Elizabeth Custer, the spouse of you-know-who; Amelia Clapp, whose 'Dame Shirley' letters were the first account from the California gold mines - preceding Bret Harte's by several years; Mary Hallock Foote, who figures as a source in Wallace Stegner's novel 'Angle of Repose'; Mary Austin; Helen Hunt Jackson; and Willa Cather."