EBAAS 2018 was a hugely anticipated event for scholars of Americana. With events at Kings College London, the British Library, and University College London, the 2018 conference had four action packed days of round tables, panel talks, networking lunches, receptions drinks, and even a theatre show. EBAAS is the largest opportunity in Europe this year to listen to cutting edge research specific to your own interests and engage with scholarship in the wider field. It also provided the space and time to meet other scholars and enjoy the facilities of the host institution’s city. It was, therefore, a great pleasure to receive an IAAS Bursary towards my attendance at the conference and it gave a welcome boost of confidence before setting off to the busy capital.
I am originally from the UK but I still get a shock of surprise and awe when standing before the bustling bridges spanning the Thames River. King’s College London was the central site for much of EBAAS. The venue was perfectly situated for visiting scholars, with easy transport routes and accommodation. With a brief walk, attendees could enjoy the river promenade that leads straight to the Tate Modern, the Globe Theatre, and the Borough Market. At the University the friendly registration crew were quickly on hand to provide all the paraphernalia of the day, including lanyards, tote-bags, and EBAAS refillable drinks bottles. They were also very good at giving directions. The Eccles Centre had provided a printed copy of Gary Gerstle’s plenary lecture, given at EAAS in 2016, as an added bonus. A conference App, including times and details of talks, provided an easy paper-free programme that allowed a personal timetable selection across the day.
With up to twelve consecutive panels on at a single time, EBAAS offered a little something for everyone. The sign of a good panel is one which sticks in the mind and for me this was ‘A Woman’s Place is in the Resistance’, with three postgraduate speakers – Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo, Niki Holzapfel, and Vicki Madden. Their papers traversed the topics of recovery narratives, women’s newspaper writing, and multiple personality disorder in fiction, with interesting discussion in the question and answers section that looked at the intersections of their work. Nicola Holzapfel’s paper on stunt journalist Nellie Bly is of interest in my own research and gave insightful consideration of how Bly’s self-mythologizing disrupted the burden of predefined female identity. The plenary talk, ‘As Seen From Above: American Poetry in the Jet Age’, by Professor Jo Gill was excellent. She offered an engaging, easily accessible, and new reading of poetry by John Updike, Georgia O’Keefe and Carl Sandburg, among others. In the subsequent reception drinks at the British Library, a number of people commented on Gill’s talk and we were all equally enthralled by Updike’s poetry which many, myself included, were unaware of.
The roundtable I participated in considered Wharton’s under-studied 1907 novel and was entitled ‘Edith Wharton’s Protest Novel? Rethinking The Fruit of the Tree’. The book deals with issues of industrial reform, euthanasia, and the social identities of the New Woman and New Workingman. The work has received a mixed reception among reviewers and scholars. It was a pleasure to be asked by fellow postgraduate Anna Girling to be part of the roundtable. We met ‘digitally’ after both appearing on Episode 3 of the Modernist Podcast early in 2017. The panel brought together the eminent Wharton scholars Dr Donna Campbell, Dr Laura Rattray and Dr Stephanie Palmer, and panel chair Dr Michael Collins. The ten minute papers each posed interesting questions about Wharton’s negotiation of industrial reform and her incorporation of contemporary social debates. Dr Campbell looked at the comparative intertextual sources between Wharton and Jack London’s Iron Heel, and Dr Palmer considered gender identities and the industrial novel. Dr Rattray talked about Wharton’s recently discovered 1901 play ‘The Shadow of a Doubt’ and how Wharton repurposed the storyline of euthanasia in her later novel. Anna Girling looked at forms of cultural inheritance and wealth in the novel, and my own paper traced contemporary sources that provoke a form of gendered social reading. After the papers, there was a lively discussion of the novel with audience members during which the subjects of melodrama, literary heritage, and the progress of Wharton as a writer were examined. The roundtable was an ideal format to debate a novel which remains perplexing and unwieldy. The ability to talk alongside and discuss Wharton with such engaging and knowledgeable scholars has been invaluable. My thanks and appreciation goes to IAAS for their financial support in this wonderful opportunity.
– Gaby Fletcher is a PhD candidate at NUI Galway