We welcome wide participation in the NAVSA 2019 seminars. They are open to Victorianists as well as to non-Victorianists seeking out relevant cross-field discussions. Participants will submit a short paper (approximately five pages) in the weeks before the conference, to be pre-circulated within the group. All participants and paper titles will be listed in the NAVSA 2019 program.


Registration is required for seminar participation. As of 9/24/19, most seminars still have a few spaces available. See the options at registration, or contact with questions. Seminar registration will close after 9/27/19.

Beyond Britain

Sukanya Banerjee

Over at least the last two decades, Victorian studies has interrogated the geoethnic contours of Britain.  Even as Victorians may have nurtured thoughts of “splendid isolation” or emphasized the boundaries between “Home” and “Away,” the material, psychic, and political reality of their lives point to a radically different picture.  Postcolonial scholars, for instance, have underlined the inextricable relation between the imperial metropolis and the colonies. Similarly, scholarship on transatlanticism, cosmopolitanism, globalization, or transnationalism has illuminated the various circuits that sustained Victorian Britain and its ideals but were often disavowed in ways that, as we can see, generated a complicated legacy of disavowal that resurfaced in the recent debates around Brexit. This seminar welcomes papers that explore the various places, modes, and genres of exchange through which Victorians engaged with what/who lay beyond the geographical confines of Britain, be it in the “Continent”, the Americas, the British empire, other empires, or other places and spaces. In so doing, we will consider the analytic tropes or frameworks that have been available to us for studying such exchanges. However, as the central objective of this seminar, we will consider how, moving forward, we can make these frameworks more supple by drawing from current scholarship in ecocriticism, affect theory, translation theory, indigenous studies, migration studies, oceanic studies, studies of settler colonialism, and queer theory, among others. What kinds of disciplinary intersections and alliances can we mark? What caveats should we bear in mind? And how might we, in turn, productively question and revivify our understanding of “Victorian” by looking beyond Britain?

Theory Now

Alicia Mireles Christoff


This seminar invites reflections on the use of contemporary theory in Victorian studies. What recent work in critical and literary theory and cultural studies are we using now? What recent work are we neglecting, and at what cost? Participants are invited to: draw attention to particular theoretical texts, thinkers, or innovations; model ways of engaging new theory through readings of literary texts, historical texts or events, or artwork, or examine theoretical questions through those texts; and/or reflect on larger trends in the field and beyond. How is “theory” itself changing, and becoming more syncretic, in the twenty-first century? My hope is that in shifting away from the recent “methods” debates (on surface reading, the formal turn, or therapeutic criticism) to focus instead on theoretical innovations drawn from wider sources, we can also interrogate the insularity of Victorian studies. (Theory, now!) How are the most important recent interventions in literary and cultural theory challenging traditional field demarcations and encouraging us to think across geographies, methodologies, time periods, and media? Areas of interest might include: critical race theory, critical ethnic studies, Indigenous critical theory, settler colonial studies, postcolonial studies, decolonial studies, affect theory, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, queer theory, gender and sexuality studies, posthumanism, Afro-pessimism, Afro-futurism, disability studies, crip theory, media theory, theories of the digital, eco-theory, theories of transnationality and the transatlantic and transpacific, and others.

Climate Change: Critical Inquiries, Collaborations, Action

Barbara Leckie

This seminar invites papers that address questions at the intersection of climate change and Victorian studies. In recent years many scholars have been engaged in productive explorations of what our field can contribute to ongoing climate change conversations in scholarly forums. With the rapid transformation of almost every area of life ushered in by the industrial revolution, the Victorian period is often perceived to introduce many of the issues with which we currently struggle in the period many now label the Anthropocene: reconfigured relationships between people and work; reconfigured orientations to time (including efforts to grapple with seemingly incommensurable temporalities as well as mechanized time); reconfigured comprehensions of “nature” and “culture” as well as the human and non-human; and, more broadly, reconfigured understandings of epistemology and ontology (as well as the often contested relationship between the two). To what extent is the Victorian period relevant to current climate change conversations? How do we most productively discuss Victorian and current issues together? This seminar invites papers that take scholarly approaches to these issues as well as papers that creatively explore and experiment with the parameters of the traditional academic paper. As the young climate change activist Greta Thunberg emphasizes, our current moment calls for diverse methods of engagement and communication. This point seems as relevant to academic work as it is to activism. In short, this panel seeks not only to deepen the rich and ongoing research in Victorian climate change studies but also to think broadly and creatively about the social and political impact of the work we do.

Victorian Systems

Chris Otter


In his recent book, System: The Shaping of Modern Knowledge, Clifford Siskin argues that systems should be understood as a type of genre, “a form that works physically in the world to mediate our attempts to know it.” The Victorians were tremendous producers of systems: gas and sanitary systems; transport and communication systems; workhouse and prison systems; legal and political systems; philosophical and economic systems; social and religious systems. They replaced old systems (parliamentary, social, educational) with new ones, supposedly better and more efficient and systematic. They implanted their systems (legal, financial, disciplinary) into their colonies. They experienced their world and communicated through the systems with which they interacted (trains, post offices, telegraphs, newspapers). This seminar invites papers on any aspect of Victorian systems, from the infrastructures knitting the empire together to the systems created by scientists, public health officials, and political economists. We will discuss physical systems and discursive ones. We will explore individual systems, conceptualizations of particular systems, inter-relations between systems, and the relationship between the systematic and the unsystematic. 


Nineteenth-Century Aesthetics

Rachel Teukolsky


This seminar invites papers addressed to nineteenth-century aesthetic ideas in any medium. Taking a wide-ranging and capacious approach to the topic, we’ll explore how scholars today understand the intersection of art-making and theoretical values. “Aesthetics” might connote a traditional philosophical line from Kant onwards, theorizing beauty, form, and idealism. But aesthetics might also encompass a broader understanding of nineteenth-century art values, looking to novels, poetry, paintings, essays, drawings, or even the popular items of mass-marketed print culture (among others). How did Victorian aesthetic ideas intersect with crucial political concepts like identity, empire, nation, gender, sex, race, religion, or social class? Does the global or comparative turn in recent scholarship affect our understanding of Victorian aesthetics? What is the role of the body or the senses in Victorian art perception? How did language, visuality, or new media inform aesthetic ideas?