- ASECS at 50:Interview with Felicity Nussbaum
Felicity Nussbaum is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, renowned for her work on gender, life writing, theater and performance, disability, race, empire, and globalism in the long eighteenth century. She is the author of Rival Queens: Actresses, Performance, and the Eighteenth-Century British Theater (2010); The Limits of the Human: Fictions of Anomaly, Race and Gender in the Long Eighteenth Century (2003); Torrid Zones: Maternity, Sexuality, and Empire in Eighteenth-Century English Narratives (1995); The Autobiographical Subject: Gender and Ideology in Eighteenth-Century England (1989), which was co-recipient of the Gottschalk Prize; and "The Brink of All We Hate": English Satires on Women, 1660–1750 (1984). Most recently, her contributions to widening the field of eighteenth-century studies as editor of The Global Eighteenth Century (2003) was commemorated by a WSECS 2019 conference devoted to global scholarship. In addition, as co-editor of The Arabian Nights in Historical Context: Between East and West (2008) with Saree Makdisi, Defects: Engendering the Modern Body (2000) with Helen Deutsch, and The New Eighteenth Century: Theory/Politics/English Literature (1987) with Laura Brown, respectively, Professor Nussbaum was instrumental in integrating work on Orientalism, disability studies, and critical theory into the purview of the eighteenth century.
Professor Nussbaum is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, including Guggenheim, Mellon, and NEH fellowships. She has also held a Marta Sutton Weeks Fellowship at the Stanford Humanities Center, and a Rockefeller Humanist-in-Residence Fellowship at the Institute for Research on Women, Rutgers University. Committed to advancing the field of eighteenth-century studies, Professor Nussbaum served on the ASECS Executive Board from 1978–1981, as [End Page 369] Vice President from 2004–2006, and as President from 2006–2007. Her dedication to her students and to fostering the next generation of eighteenth-century scholars has been recognized by the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award with Distinction in Graduate Teaching (2014) and the inaugural ASECS Award for Excellence in Graduate Mentorship (2007–2008).
In her own classroom, Professor Nussbaum introduces The Life of Johnson (1791) to her uninitiated graduate students with James Boswell's appraisal that the literal weight of his book equals the figurative weight of his biographical subject. Here, the reader will find quite the opposite: the weight of Professor Nussbaum's scholarship and the measure of her influence on the field of eighteenth-century studies are not bound up in so-called "marginal stuffings." Rather, her legacy as a scholar, educator, and mentor is vested in her gift for abridging her compendious knowledge and experience for those who wish to travel the trail that she has blazed.
What are your most noteworthy recollections of ASECS? How has the organization influenced the direction of eighteenth-century studies?
I remember ASECS near its beginning in 1969. I first learned about the Society around 1974 when, as a William Andrews Clark Memorial Library Fellow, I was preparing to move to Syracuse University for an assistant professor position. A number of people at the Clark Library mentioned to me that they were planning to attend ASECS. Soon after, I gave my first ASECS paper on women and satire. At the time there were not very many women in the field of eighteenth-century studies. Responding to the beginning of a new wave of feminism, many scholars at the Society encouraged me in the profession, and I was very lucky to become one of the at-large members of the Executive Board early on in my career.
Being an Executive Board Member was quite important for me because I was able to meet and speak with influential scholars who encouraged my work, such as Patricia Meyer Spacks, who was at Yale at the time. I was very active in ASECS and was offered the position of delegate to the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), which meant I went to New York City twice a year for their meetings (I was already living in Upstate New York). As an ACLS delegate, I met people from all different learned societies and was able to see the ways...