Incipit: On the Present and Future of the Field


For the first installment of this new dialogic series, the journal asked David F. Bell (Duke University) and Catherine Witt (Reed College) to reflect on where the field is now, where it is going, and what is likely to be meaningful in nineteenth-century French studies ten years from now. The authors composed their initial essays without knowing the identity of their interlocutor; the ensuing conversation took place in person. Unless indicated otherwise, all material in footnotes comes from the author of the related passage.



The university context for research in a field like nineteenth-century French studies is rapidly changing. Pressure to engage in interdisciplinary teaching and collaboration as well as to reach out more broadly to the public beyond the university (“public humanities” is a phrase we hear often) means that the time available for specialized research is no longer a given. The present situation, however, can be seen as an invitation to re-conceptualize our work in order to articulate more compellingly its place within broader public concerns. The potential offered by new digital media tools and databases ought to be recognized and developed. Digital archives allow us to explore history in different ways and to collaborate more easily, and digital authoring tools invite us to reflect on other ways of presenting our research results, including other ways of writing. The media environment is always in transition, always a space of remixing. Combining established and experimental perspectives offers the potential for synergies that will characterize the next phase of work in our field. (DFB)

This essay offers a brief overview of notable trends that have emerged in nineteenth-century studies in the last ten years and reflects on contemporary researchers’ distinctive commitment to historicity and interdisciplinarity. It considers the impact of recent technological innovations on the re-centering of today’s scholarship on the digital archives of the nineteenth century as well as on the reshaping of communities of researchers across national, disciplinary, and methodological boundaries. A claim is also made that the return to the archive calls for the renewal of both the understanding and practice of philology that would critique rather than serve traditional acceptations of the notion of field. (CW)

David F. Bell and Catherine Witt
Volume 44.3-4