About this Conference

Early American studies has long had an ambivalent relationship to various forms of critique and theory. Yet, over the past few decades, historians and literary critics have devoted articles and anthologies to precisely this question. Surveying some of the most pressing critical and theoretical issues of the early twenty-first century—privacy, sexuality, materiality, empiricism, temporality, slavery, psychoanalysis, and the Anthropocene —“Situation Critical!” creates an opportunity both to re-interrogate the methods and theories that have come before and also to introduce and configure new modes of critique, with which present and future work might engage. The conference brings together an eminent cast of scholars whose research demonstrates that early American studies can be invigorated by engagement with critique and theory, just as critique and theory can be transformed by engagements with the archives and thematics of early American studies.


All sessions will take place at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, 3355 Woodland Walk, on the University of Pennsylvania Campus at 34th and Walnut Streets. Most papers will be precirculated and only briefly summarized by the presenters. Copies will be made available online to those who preregister for the conference. Attendees are strongly encouraged to read the papers in advance to participate fully in these sessions.


“Situation Critical!” is sponsored by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies with support from the School of Arts and Sciences, the University of Pennsylvania Departments of English and History, and from Professor Nancy Bentley and Professor Max Cavitch.


The conference will take place at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 3355 Woodland Walk, Philadelphia, PA.


Image credits: Left: “The Antiquarian,” lithograph. Ca. 1830. Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society.


Right: Gift Drawing: The Tree of Light or Blazing Tree. Hannah Cohoon (1788-1864). Hancock, Massachusetts, United States, 1845. Ink, pencil, and gouache on paper. 16 x 20 7/8. Collection American Folk Art Museum. Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2013.1.3. Photo credit: Sotheby's.