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REPRESENTING THE VICTORIANS: ISSUES OF RESEARCH AND PEDAGOGY INTRODUCTION ISOBEL M. FINDLAY University of Saskatchewan Ifhistory, whether social, political, intellectual, or literary, is a form of unfinished business, an ideological form or "magnet of meaning," as Catharine Stimpson (ix) terms it, then it is we who must take responsibility for making history meaningful, to some degree our 'own'. Research in cultural, literary, and historical studies in recent decades has alerted us to the processes of construction, deconstruction, reconstruction of diat body of knowledge, issues, and social formations we identify when we claim to represent die Victorians. Such work takes us a long way from presumptions about die innocence and objectivity of the documentary archive, historical narrative, or critical endeavor and die autonomy of die literary text. Questions of authority, legitimation, interest, and contestation in recent conceptions (feminist, marxist, poststructuralist , new historicist) of texts' complex relations to contexts have little place in die old historicist, New Critical, history of ideas or literary historical models that emphasize disinterest, teleology and continuity, periodizing and systems of classification. If, as Dominick La Capra suggests, "historians reduced texts to mere documents, literary critics and philosophers reduced history to background information" (14). When conceptual categories were not taken at face value from the Victorians themselves, traditional disciplinary divisions and rivalries did little to complicate entrenched views of the Victorians and especially the eminent male variety and the so-called disappearance of God. Indeed such "selective Victorianism," as WX. Burn has described it, consolidated the position of many academics as a sort of "Amoldian cultural elite" (Turner 8-9). Questioning of the terms of our representations is no light matter. Indeed, as John Brenkman reminds us, "When interpreters seek to Victorian Review 22.1 (Summer 1996) ISOBEL M. HNDLAY43 recover, preserve, or reconstruct cultural heritages, they enter into the politically charged conflicts of interpretation — the wars of persuasion — that characterize modern culture" (viii). Mary Poovey's work on the rhetorical functions and historical specificity of instruments of knowledge is equally relevant here. In Uneven Developments she traces the ideological work of gender, the organization of difference in ways that help construct what it seems merely to describe, consolidating bourgeois power in the process of locating virtue in a depoliticized and moralized domestic sphere (10). More recently, in Making a Social Body, Poovey explores the organization of knowledge and distribution of authority that helped constitute the social body. Deborah Cherry's work on Victorian visual culture similarly stresses the historical, institutional saturation of the historical project and its materials: "Far from simply containing information or relaying facts, surviving documentation as much as contemporary historical inquiry can be located within the exercise of power" (6). The conference panel on which these contributions are based was designed as an occasion for reflecting on the stories we circulate about the Victorians and the ways in which those representations impact on research and pedagogy. We might consider the extent to which recent research, new methodologies, and changing student bodies have made a difference in the disciplinary, discursive, and institutional frameworks we inhabit and which inhabit us — and in whose interests. Is it business as usual, a renovated formalism at best, or is there a more than trivial difference in the way 'we' currently do research and teaching? What do those explanatory narratives, and the terms they favor, make possible, what moves do they authorize, and what is rendered redundant or vulnerable in the process? Does the "and" in Research and Pedagogy signal significant linkage or no more than lip service to the notion of connection? Does the order imply hierarchy or equivalence? What institutional or other incentives or impediments are there to the sort of work teachers, researchers, students currently want to pursue? What role do standard CVs, departmental configurations, national funding priorities, graduate school requirements, individualist humanist models of creativity and intellectual property play in the production and reproduction of the past? These are but some of the possible questions/issues raised by a topic that will continue to inform our conferences, research, and pedagogy. From the vantage of different disciplinary affiliations and different career positions, contributors share their sense of issues, problems, and possible solutions or directions. Each represents something...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 42-45
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
N
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