5 Questions with Affiliate Faculty Member Dr. Coleman Hutchison

Happy Monday! Today we bring you an interview with associate professor of English Coleman Hutchison, an affiliate faculty member of the American Studies department.

unnamed

What has been your favorite project to work on and why?

I have a healthy dose of the presentist in me: I really like whatever I’m working on right now. For instance, I’m really excited about a collection I’m pulling together for Cambridge University Press, the first omnibus history of American Civil War literature. As editor I’ve been able to draw on a number of disciplines—literary studies, yes, but also, history, cultural studies, musicology, art and art history—and draw together a truly international roster of scholars. Together we’ll be addressing a literature that emerges in response to a very specific historical drama and then continues to develop across both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Needless to say, this is a much more collaborative project than my first book, and it’s been hugely gratifying.

Of course intellectual pleasure can also come from unexpected and somewhat awkward sources. My first book offered a literary history of the Confederate States of America. It may have been about the “bad guys,” but there was immense pleasure in getting to work with archival material that people either didn’t know existed or didn’t want to deal with. The extraordinary historical interest and extraordinary political problems of that material were really exciting and daunting and uncomfortable for me. That project pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone, the edge of what I thought I could do as a responsible critic. There was, then, a strange intellectual pleasure in that sort of “recovery work.”

How do you see your work fitting in with broader conversations within academia or within society as a whole?

Because I’m a first-generation college student—because this life was never a given for me—it’s always been important for me to make my writing and research available to as many people as possible. Part of that has to do with style—with writing in a clear, cogent, and concise way that doesn’t involve a lot of jargon. The work may be theoretically rich and complex, but it is, I hope, delivered in a way that’s accessible. I think that scholarly knowledge production is increasingly important in a moment of intense information overload. Just because everyone has a blog or a Tumblr or a Twitter feed doesn’t mean that the knowledge we produce in the academy is less necessary, less urgent.  The glacial pace of academic publishing and knowledge production is in some ways an advantage, because we can take a more considered, more careful argumentative tacks and engage in longer, older, maybe even slower critical conversations. This is not to say that we should return to a closed circuit wherein academics produce work only for other academics, but we should continue to do what we do best, which is produce careful, well-researched critiques, and then put those critiques into new and interesting forms. For instance, I’ve done a good bit of work for Southern Spaces online, and I love the idea that careful, considered scholarship can engage a broader, open source community.

Continue reading