Humanities

  • Before the Country: The Native Renaissance and Our Search for a National Mythology

    With the recent reprinting of Before the Country, published over a decade ago now, we asked author Stephanie McKenzie to share how her book is still resonating with scholars interested in the study of the Native Renaissance in Canada.


    I’m not sure how others might understand what I hope is the continued significance of Before the Country, a study of the literary, political, and social context of the Native Renaissance of the late 1960s and 1970s and non-Indigenous mythologizing that followed on the heels of this movement. I hope my monograph has increased interest in this body of literature.

    The study is still very relevant to me and has spurred on further scholarship. Building on theories surrounding the study of oral literatures, I have now immersed myself in a consideration of the aesthetic markers in written literatures that grow out of oral traditions. This focus was at the heart of Before the Country when I turned to the theories of Milman Parry and Albert Lord to help make sense of writing produced by mature Indigenous voices during this Native Renaissance.

    There was little-to-no criticism during the time I was writing to help understand why the poetry of Chief Dan George, to offer one noteworthy example, carried such distinct markings of an aesthetic that was fresh in Canadian poetry when post-modernism was beginning to take hold. Recently, I have turned to Parry and Lord’s fieldwork in former Yugoslavia where they studied the gusle and guslar traditions and tried to define the formulaic characteristics of oral literatures. Living in Serbia for three months in 2017, I took gusle lessons and also produced my fourth book of poetry, Bow’s Haunt: The Gusle’s Lessons. I thought that, perhaps, pragmatic study of this instrument and immersion in a culture might grow my theoretical insights.

    I am belabouring an explanation of my own scholarly growth to highlight how Before the Country is still relevant to me and how I hope its assertions might still be examined by others. When I was writing Before the Country I was largely digging through boxes in the library of Victoria College at the University of Toronto. Many Indigenous texts of the late 1960s and 1970s lay buried in boxes with the exception of seminal works like Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed and Lee Maracle’s Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel.

    I believe that when Indigenous literature could no longer be ignored in the late 1980s and early 1990s and when academic units in Canada were scrambling to create courses and programmes for the study of Indigenous literatures, they immediately embraced what was before them – the writings of Tomson Highway, Jeannette Armstong, and Beatrice Culleton Mosionier, for example. They did not turn back to what I think is the most important body of Indigenous literature in Canada: the building blocks of what has become the most exciting creative writing in this country today.

    Perhaps the academy’s omissions were due to a lack of time. Most certainly, the omissions had to have a lot to do with the fact that a significant amount of Indigenous writing of the 1960s/1970s was out of print. This is still true today.

    I hope that a belief in the continued relevance of Before the Country leads to the following: the re-issuing of Indigenous texts from this time period; a serious revisioning of the Canadian literary canon, which needs to include these voices; a continued challenging of greatness in the study of poetry that still does not really account for notable aesthetics of Indigenous literatures during a foundational stage.

    I also hope that the greatest fault of Before the Country – the lack of fieldwork – will prompt scholars to reconsider the essential role of ethnography and anthropology in literary analysis. When I was writing this study, I simply spread books in front of me, read and critically responded to texts in isolation. On the one hand, I think this was healthy as it solidified the fact that Indigenous literatures do not have to be handled with kid gloves. They grow from ancient traditions (albeit arrested during the residential school period) which can hold their own. They deserve intricate criticism.

    On the other hand, though an understandable, if not virulent, avoidance of ethnographical research during the 1980s and 1990s, commensurate with the desire to efface a longstanding objectification of “the Indigenous,” is explicable, I don’t think this is healthy. It is important to understand what shapes voices and from where voices emerge. This is what the gusle has taught me and what Before the Country inevitably pointed to.

    With the reprinting of Before the Country, published over a decade ago now, I would hope that people would still consider this scholarship relevant, even if that means to challenge, refute, or reveal weaknesses in the book. There are many. However, I would hope that the book’s existence underscores the relevance of Indigenous literature of the late 1960s and 1970s and the reason behind my commitments.

     

    Stephanie McKenzie teaches in the Department of English at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Corner Brook. Listen in on Dr. McKenzie's recent podcast, Poetry and the Gusle, in which she discusses her recent book and shares her research on the gusle, a musical instrument that accompanies epic poetry in Southeastern Europe. For more information see www.stephaniemaymckenzie.com.


    Looking for more on the subject? You might also be interested in Cheryl Suzack's Indigenous Women's Writing and the Cultural Study of Law.

  • Putting the Devil in Context

    Elizabeth Lorentz was a young maid servant in early modern Germany who believed herself to be tormented by the devil, and who was eventually brought to trial in 1667. We invited Peter A. Morton and Barbara Dähms to discuss their new book, The Bedevilment of Elizabeth Lorentz, and how they give the reader the opportunity to grapple with Elizabeth’s testimony for themselves.

    Written by guest blogger, Peter A. Morton

    This book is the second translation of trial records from the city of Brunswick in the seventeenth century that Barbara Dähms and I have published with University of Toronto Press. The first was The Trial of Tempel Anneke: Records of a Witchcraft Trial in Brunswick, Germany, 1663. Both trials involved an accusation of a pact with the Devil. A question that naturally arises is what this trial offers that distinguishes it from that of Tempel Anneke. The short answer is that Lorentz's testimony reveals some of the richness and complexity of early modern ideas of the Devil and his relations with human beings.

    The first point to make about the trial of Elizabeth Lorentz is that it was not a witch trial. Although she was accused of making a diabolical pact, no one involved in the case suspected that Elizabeth was a witch according to the picture that drove the witch trials. And this raises the question, why not? It would not have been difficult for the court officials to interrogate Elizabeth about the common aspects of witchcraft, especially the use of harmful magic and attendance at the sabbat. The use of torture was an option open to them, if they had wanted to force such confessions from her. The same court did just that in the trial of Tempel Anneke just a few years earlier. Yet, according to the records, both the court and the legal faculty at the University of Helmstedt accepted fairly readily that Elizabeth was a troubled soul, and that her pact (if there was one) did not derive from a desire to harm others as was commonly assumed of witches. A second point is that the stories of the Devil came from Elizabeth herself, not from the questioning of the court officials. The officials based their questions on what Elizabeth said of her own experiences.

    There is here, I believe, a valuable lesson about early modern European beliefs concerning human relations with the Devil and his demons: There was not a single template applied universally to every suspicion of involvement with the Devil. As Stuart Clark long ago emphasized in his book, Thinking with Demons, despite the degree of uniformity in demonological thinking, the concept of human interaction with demons served a myriad of purposes and could be adapted to many circumstances. In the introductory essay to The Bedevilment of Elizabeth Lorentz I tried to convey some of the variety of ways in which concourse with the Devil was conceived of between the medieval and early modern periods. As I emphasized there, fitting Elizabeth neatly into any of these categories is problematic. These trial records will hopefully underscore the importance of not rushing to conclusions when we find the Devil appearing in historical documents.

    With regard to understanding Elizabeth's testimony, the reader of these documents is in somewhat the same position as that of the court officials. We have Elizabeth's behavior as it was reported by the family and servants of her employer, Hilmar von Strombek, and we have her own descriptions of her experiences. What we don't have is her presence before us, and so we must use the documents we have as best we can. The objective in preparing this book, as it was with The Trial of Tempel Anneke, was to present the reader with the documents as much as possible in the same manner as they would be encountered in the archive reading room. The opportunity is there for the reader to sift through the evidence so as to determine how best to make sense of the rather extraordinary tales Elizabeth tells.

    Readers in the twenty-first century are of course not likely to take Elizabeth's descriptions of the Devil as literally true, and so they will perhaps look for psychological origins of her testimony. This is an option the court considers as well. But understanding the trial records requires us to recognize that Elizabeth's testimony conformed with a belief in the reality of the Devil that was universally accepted. There was at that time no reason to reject the truth of her testimony of demonic temptation without some kind of strong evidence against it. For the court, the possibility that Elizabeth was "not of sound mind" was fully consistent with the truth of her stories of spiritual torment by the Devil. We cannot, therefore, simply label or explain away her claims of demonic encounters; to gain a sympathetic reading of the records we must, rather, "think with demons."

    Much the same can be said for the supplementary reading of the book, the preface to a book of prayers for Appolonia Stampke, a girl who believed herself to be possessed by the Devil. There are dramatic ways of imagining cases of possession: violent behavior, strange preternatural powers, and so on. Some of these ideas have their origins in the history of possession. But there is little of this in the behavior of Appolonia, although some of the scenes in the church must have been startling. The story presented to us by her pastor, Melchior Neukirch, is that of a pious girl struggling to maintain her faith against doubts implanted by Satan. Like the attacks on Elizabeth, Appolonia's actions need to be read carefully against their social and religious background.

    The editor and translator of this book hope that the records will offer a chance for the reader to work directly with the complexities and nuances in the responses of ordinary people in early modern Europe to evidence of the Devil in their world.

    Peter A. Morton is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Humanities at Mount Royal University and author of the newly-released book The Bedivilment of Elizabeth Lorentz.

    Barbara Dähms is a translator.

  • The Enduring Power of University Press Publishing

    In this contribution to the University Press Week Blog Tour (November 12-17), our editor, Stephen Shapiro, reflects on the enduring power of university press publishing. When considering today's theme of #TurnItUP: History, Stephen goes beyond just our history list to explore the legacy of what we do as a publisher.

    By Stephen Shapiro

    The theme of today’s contribution to the University Press Week Blog Tour is #History. As one of three acquiring editors for history who work at University of Toronto Press, I assumed that I would write about some of the excellent history books that UTP publishes every year. Many of those books reflect the press’ mission to advance scholarly knowledge and our authors’ commitment to #TurnItUP by amplifying stories and voices from the margins, whether those are geographic, social, or temporal. Indigenous history, queer history, and migration and memory studies are only some of the areas where UTP is proud to bring important, often overlooked, issues to public attention.

    However, the more I dug into the press’ backlist to write about those themes, the more I was reminded that they were just a small slice of the publishing that University of Toronto Press has done over the past 117 years. A quick look uncovered some eclectic bestsellers from the press’ past, like Frank Parker Day’s novel Rockbound, first published in 1928 and re-issued in 1973 by UTP, which became a CanLit smash hit after it won the first CBC Canada Reads competition in 2005. Or E.H. Moss’s Flora of Alberta (revised by John G. Packer in 1983), which seems to still have a devoted following in that province. Other strong sellers include the works of Canadian Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan, whose papers are held at the Lonergan Research Institute at Toronto. UTP published the first volume of the Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan in 1988 and should complete the twenty-five volume series, with any luck, in 2020. It is only one of several major series at the press that have taken twenty or more years to complete (the eighty-nine volume Collected Works of Erasmus of Rotterdam, a truly herculean project, began in 1968 and is still ongoing here). Like many university presses, UTP has to balance obligations to stay the course with the need to encourage the latest trends in scholarship (like those fields mentioned above that barely existed in academia in 1968, when the Erasmus project began), but it’s humbling as an editor to think the manuscripts on my (virtual) desk today might still be relevant fifty-plus years from now.

    Of course, no editor goes into a project thinking they are handling a future classic. But I take comfort in knowing that, smash hit or not, the books UTP publishes will be out there, making a contribution to knowledge, fifty or more years on. That’s a consequence of unsung work all across the press, from the managing editors whose XML workflow helps us “future-proof” our e-books to the production department, printing our physical copies on acid-free, 100% post-consumer recycled paper, and a sales and marketing team that aims to put books not just in the hands of consumers today but also in libraries around the world. UTP’s own heritage is being preserved at the University of Toronto, where they fill 1,070 boxes spanning 450 linear metres (almost 1,500 linear feet) … so far. According to our website, right now the press has 4,898 different books either in print or forthcoming. With any luck, they’ll all still be available to #TurnItUP in another 117 years.

    To continue on Day Four of the University Press Week Blog Tour, check out posts by these other fine university presses:

    Wilfrid Laurier University Press
    Blog: https://www.wlupress.wlu.ca/Blog
    Twitter: @wlupress

    University of California Press
    Blog: https://www.ucpress.edu/blog/
    Twitter: @ucpress

    University of Nebraska Press
    Blog: https://unpblog.com/
    Twitter: @UnivNebPress

    University of Alabama Press
    Blog: https://uapressblog.wordpress.com/
    Twitter: @UnivofALPress

    Rutgers University Press
    Blog: https://www.rutgersuniversitypress.org/category/news/
    Twitter: @RutgersUPress

    Boydell & Brewer
    Blog: https://boydellandbrewer.com/blog/
    Twitter: @boydellbrewer

    Beacon Press
    Blog: https://www.beaconbroadside.com
    Twitter: @BeaconPressbks

    University Press of Kansas
    Blog: https://kansaspress.ku.edu/
    Twitter: @Kansas_Press

    Harvard University Press
    Blog: https://harvardpress.typepad.com/hup_publicity/
    Twitter: @Harvard_Press

    University of Georgia Press
    Blog: ugapress.wordpress.com
    Twitter: @UGAPress

    MIT Press
    Blog: https://mitpress.mit.edu/blog
    Twitter: @mitpress

  • Toronto: A City of Neighbourhoods

    In today's stop on the University Press Week Blog Tour (November 12-17), our Director of Sales and Marketing, Jane Kelly, discusses the many neighbourhoods that constitute and define the city of Toronto, and how UTP publishes for and about those neighbourhoods as part of its mission. An excellent contribution for today's theme of #TurnItUP: The Neighbourhood.

    By Jane Kelly

    Earlier this year the UTP Book Publishing group moved to a new location in Toronto. After almost 30 years in the same office, we moved to a brand new high tech open concept office space in downtown Toronto. As a new employee and a suburbanite, this was my first time working downtown and this move gave me the opportunity to explore and learn more about the city.

    Toronto is known by many different nicknames: The Big Smoke, T Dot, The Six. It is the biggest city in Canada and is the financial centre of Canada. However, it is not a cosmopolitan city, it is a city of neighbourhoods. The Toronto Star recently published a listing of 170 unique neighbourhoods identified by their geographic boundaries, history, or unique population. A ten-minute walk from our new office location can take you to Yorkville, the Kensington Market, the Annex, or the financial district. Walk a little more and you can tour the entertainment district, Little Italy, or the Distillery District.

    UTP recognizes these diverse neighbourhoods by publishing titles that celebrate the cultures, people, and politics of Toronto’s neighbourhoods. Toronto Iberic and Toronto Italian Studies Series give a voice to scholarship and research for these populations. Individual books like Kensington Market by Na Li focus exclusively on well-known Toronto neighbourhoods. UTP also publishes many books focused on important issues that affect individuals in these neighbourhoods like racism, poverty, the environment, and education. Our recent publication, Queering Urban Justice, examines how to map space in ways that address very real histories of displacement and erasure.

    As I discover Toronto, I also learn more about the thousands of books from the UTP list. After a short 9 months with the book publishing team, I am so impressed with my coworkers’ dedication to the mission of the organization “to publish exemplary works of scholarship, and to disseminate knowledge widely for the benefit of society.”

    In Canada, research shows that loneliness is reaching epidemic levels and one in five people suffer from loneliness, the effects of which can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Social media technology designed to bring people together could be contributing to increased feelings of loneliness. People need to connect with others and find a community. Perhaps by giving a voice to Toronto neighbourhoods, UTP can help people be more connected.

    To continue on Day Three of the University Press Week Blog Tour, check out posts by these other fine university presses:

    University of Manitoba Press
    Blog: https://uofmpress.ca/blog
    Twitter: @umanitobapress

    Syracuse University Press
    Blog: https://syracusepress.wordpress.com/
    Twitter: @SUPress

    Fordham University Press
    Blog: www.fordhampress.com/blog
    Twitter: @FordhamPress

    Northwestern University Press
    Blog: https://incidentalnoyes.com/
    Twitter: @northwesternUP

    University Press of Mississippi
    Blog: http://upmississippi.blogspot.com/
    Twitter: @upmiss

    Temple University Press
    Blog: https://templepress.wordpress.com/
    Twitter: @TempleUnivPress

    University of Alberta Press
    Blog: https://holeinthebucket.wordpress.com/
    Twitter: @UAlbertaPress

    University of Texas Press
    Blog: http://utpressnews.blogspot.com
    Twitter: @UTexasPress

    University of Washington Press
    Blog: https://uwpressblog.com/
    Twitter: @UWAPress

    Johns Hopkins University Press
    Blog: https://www.press.jhu.edu/news/blog
    Twitter: @JHUPress

    University of Illinois Press
    Blog: https://www.press.uillinois.edu/wordpress/
    Twitter: @IllinoisPress

    Rutgers University Press
    Blog: https://www.rutgersuniversitypress.org/category/news/
    Twitter: @RutgersUPress

    Oregon State University Press
    Blog: http://osupress.oregonstate.edu/blog
    Twitter: @OSUPress

    Columbia University Press
    Blog: cupblog.org
    Twitter: @ColumbiaUP

    University of Georgia Press
    Blog: ugapress.wordpress.com
    Twitter: @UGAPress

  • Hashtags and Rabbit Holes: Confessions of an Academic Writer

    To kick off the University Press Week Blog Tour (November 12-17), our Social Media Specialist, Tanya Rohrmoser, reflects on the many ways in which social media can be used as a vehicle for communicating research in the arts and humanities.

    “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” – Alexander Pope

    “I want you to take a Post-It and write, ‘Don’t write like an academic.’” said my new Digital Communications professor. “Stick it on your desk, your wall, your computer. Anywhere you’re working. And don’t forget it.”

    I blinked. But, ever the conscientious student, I slowly wrote it out in my notebook. (Yes, in ink, on paper.) I underlined it twice.

    As a mature student, I had enrolled in Humber College’s Professional Writing & Communications post-graduate program. I came armed with 6 years’ experience as a teaching assistant in Brock University’s English department, and a Master’s degree which had focused on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British literature and gender studies. I loved studying that period, where manicured sentences wound long and lush as a garden path, heroic couplets were the chosen form of intellectuals, and you could stand on a Richardson novel to change a light bulb. Sadly, no one ever did beat down my door after graduation to discuss Judith Butler or Mr. Darcy’s masculine performance in Pride and Prejudice. So here I sat in this classroom, fluorescent lights buzzing, debt accruing, determined to bridge the distance between the ivory tower and the landscape beyond.

    And, over the next eight months, my writing changed. Write for screens! Know your audience! Drop those adjectives! Bullet points! I ducked red pens and track changes, as my clauses fell away like petticoats. Watched as my murdered darlings dropped breathless to the floor, certain I’d never recover from the sacrifice. In time, I learned to step over them.

    But if I bristled at changing my writing, I positively shut down when I was told to sign up for Twitter. As part of a generation that has recently been dubbed the “Xennials,” I grew up with the luxury of picking and choosing the parts of digital life in which I participated – and Twitter wasn’t one of them. I dutifully claimed my handle, but certainly didn’t see how I would ever need it in the workplace.

    Is a tweet different than a heroic couplet? Yes, that’s a silly question. And no, it’s not silly at all. Alexander Pope may not have constrained himself to 280 characters, but he did know how to pack a nice, salty punch into two short lines. I made my peace with the fact that a tweet is a similar burst of information, deliberately chosen to display its author’s worldview. As with any writing, both form and content are debated. Some are written poorly. Some are politically charged. Some will send you careening down a bot-peppered rabbit hole into chaos. Some are profound, impactful, and memorable.

    When finally, happily, I was hired by the Journals Division of the University of Toronto Press, it was as their Digital Marketing Coordinator, where one of the largest parts of my job was to run their social media accounts. And I was pleased to learn along the way that Alexander Pope and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu both have hashtags, and that a “Swiftie” not only refers to songstress Taylor, but satirist Jonathan.

    I slid back into the academic world like a hand finds its glove. I knew this world. I loved this world. What was different now was that I knew how to promote this world. And I also knew that, in some ways, it would be a challenge. Part of each day was spent finding contributors on social media in order to market their articles and gain a wider reach. I searched for the handles of their university departments. I tracked down and promoted the work of grad students. Though they are often quite sparing with their words, I tried to get scholars talking on Twitter, and I discovered an active, robust academic community that was happily leaning in to it, and using social media to their advantage.

    And, in perhaps an even odder twist, wrung from the student who once turned her nose up at the prospect of having a Twitter account, I’m now the Social Media Specialist for UTP’s Book Publishing Division.

    As humanities majors, we’re told we have a wide variety of skills; we just need to market them. But we’re rarely taught how, and many of us are more comfortable curled up with a good book than we are singing our own praises. One week into my job at UTP, I went home to my own academic, a quiet historian who’s writing his dissertation, and told him to make sure he uses social media to promote his research. That when the time comes to apply for one of those coveted academic positions, to show not only that he can write, teach, and produce, but that he can help promote the department on its digital platforms. Useful advice? Academics on hiring committees would know more than I.

    Is the debate about writing for social media similar to the heated debates about the potential dangers of the novel when it first appeared? Poetic license with the sonnet? The modern, post-Victorian aesthetic?

    Today, I saw a man reach out to another we follow on Twitter: “It grieves me that I’ve had to degrade myself to contact you over Twitter. Is there really no other way to reach you?” I trust that by this point you know I understand the sentiment, but here is the truth, the raw truth for those of us who, as author Tim Bowling puts it, are “dragging the bloodied pelt of the twentieth century” behind us: social media is simply an exchange. A hand reaching out across a shrinking globe to create and participate in community. How does Alice not fall down the rabbit hole? If I ever find out, I’ll let you know. Sometimes I feel like I’m leasing space down there.

    But here is what I also know to be true, as the academic world shifts shape into something new: there is a way to marry the two, and still retain the integrity and traditions of the former.

    Last year, I was in Washington at the American Historical Association meeting, and my colleague was attending the Modern Language Association convention in New York. As I followed the conference hashtags, what struck me was just how many academics were reaching out to each other in kind and positive ways. During the worst of the January storms, there were offers of child-minding services for presenters if daycares were closed, promises to post grad student papers online if they couldn’t attend their sessions, and gentle reminders to tenured professors that a drink and a chat with a vulnerable adjunct can go a long way.

    Can you fall down the rabbit hole, Alice? God help you, yes.

    But you can also find support in an online community that will help you find and market your research, provide career advice, and offer opportunities to form new collaborations – often with a little humour thrown in for good measure. You just need to make sure you’re opening the Twitter handle to the right door.

    To continue on Day One of the University Press Week Blog Tour, check out posts by these other fine university presses:

    MIT Press
    Blog: https://mitpress.mit.edu/blog
    Twitter: @MITPress

    Athabasca University Press
    Blog: http://www.aupressblog.ca/
    Twitter: @au_press

    Rutgers University Press
    Blog: https://www.rutgersuniversitypress.org/category/news/
    Twitter: @RutgersUPress

    Yale University Press
    Blog: http://blog.yalebooks.com/
    Twitter: @yalepress

    Duke University Press
    Blog: https://dukeupress.wordpress.com/2018/11/09/how-partnerships-with-museums-help-build-a-strong-art-list
    Twitter: @DukePress

    University of Minnesota Press
    Blog: uminnpressblog.com
    Twitter: @UMinnPress

    Thank you for supporting university press publishing!

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