Scholars to Review Interpretation in Humanities Scholarship at Conference

September 18, 2013

At a time when critics are challenging the practical value of humanities in higher education, international scholars will gather at a conference Thursday and Friday at the University of Virginia to discuss the relevance of their work interpreting literature and culture.

In today’s economy, many people think education should emphasize students learning marketable skills through efficient content delivery, but “the idea of interpretation offers a more complex view of education – one in which there is no single right answer and what we know cannot be separated from how we know it and why it is worth knowing,” wrote U.Va. English professor Rita Felski in her blog as editor of New Literary History.

“Speakers at the conference will address the value of interpretation in the university and in everyday life,” she said. New Literary History is sponsoring the event, along with the Institute for the Humanities and Global Cultures in the College of Arts & Sciences and Johns Hopkins University Press (which publishes New Literary History).

The conference will address questions such as “Is interpretation a historically limited practice that is now in decline?,” “At a time when the humanities are under attack, should scholars defend interpretation as lying at the very heart of what they do?,” “What is the impact of the ever-expanding reach of the Internet and media culture on scholars’ interpretation and teaching?” and “Is the art of close reading tied to a slowly disappearing culture of the book?”

“Interpretation & Its Rivals,” to be held in the auditorium of the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature and Culture/Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, brings 10 internationally known scholars in the humanities and interpretative social sciences to Grounds to address topics related to these key questions. Felski will open the event with welcoming remarks at 4 p.m.

For the schedule, click here.

“Perhaps the virtues of slow and patient deciphering are out of tune with our decreasing attention spans – our practices of surfing, sampling and skimming in an age of distraction,” Felski wrote in the blog.

Other critics, however, are eager to reclaim the value of interpretation as something unique and irreplaceable to the humanities, she wrote.

Those scheduled to speak include Linda Alcoff, philosophy professor at Hunter College and the Graduate School, City University of New York; Jeffrey Alexander, sociology professor and director of the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University; T.J. Clark, art history professor emeritus at University of California-Berkeley; Antoine Compagnon, professor of French and comparative literature at Collège de France, Paris, and Columbia University; Steven Connor, English professor at University of Cambridge; N. Katharine Hayles, literature professor at Duke University; Sharon Marcus, a specialist in 19th-century British and French literature, and gender and sexuality studies; David Scott, anthropology professor at Columbia University; Susan Stewart, poet, translator humanities professor at Princeton University; and Zhang Longxi, professor of comparative literature and translation at the City University of Hong Kong. 

Essays from the conference will be published in a future issue of New Literary History.

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications