The Long Nineteenth Century in Detail

“The detail is gendered and doubly gendered as feminine.”—Naomi Schor, Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine

“High cultural criticism is an aesthetics—and much more—of specifically postmodern detailism. Or, to name the method’s related leading concepts, it is particularism, localism, regionalism, relative autonomism, incommensurabilism, accidentalism (or contingency), anecdotalism, historicism, and—to draw attention to a set of curiously prominent Greek prefixes in the method—micro-, hetero-, and poly-ism.”—Alan Liu, Local Transcendence: Essays on Postmodern Historicism and the Database

This panel examines the nature and function of the detail as an aesthetic, historical, or methodological category in the long nineteenth century. How does the long nineteenth century—a century of crowds and individuals; the Romantic lyric and the “loose, baggy monster” of the realist novel—represent or theorize the detail? What is the detail’s relation to the miniature, the specific, the unique, or the case as categories of analysis? When it comes to detail, how little is too little; how big too big; how close too close; how far too far? While the panel welcomes papers that treat detail and detailism as a spatial or temporal category, it is also interested in the detail as an aesthetic or critical category. What is the quantum level of literature or culture? How does the detail manifest or fade from sight? How do our critical methodologies theorize the detail? Conversely, why do we care about details—the example, the case, or the close reading—in our research? (Do we care?)

Papers need not be limited in their focus to the British Isles: transatlantic, American, colonial, or comparative subjects are welcome. In addition, papers that engage with methodological, critical, or theoretical approaches to the detail are strongly encouraged. Possible subjects may include:

Formal, Generic, or Aesthetic Details

  • the Romantic individual
  • realism
  • naturalism and excess
  • Ruskin’s Gothic
  • Blake’s “grain of sand”
  • filth, dirt, and waste
  • melodramatic tableaux
  • free indirect discourse
  • dates and names in historical novels
  • poetic form and meter
  • paratext
  • figure
  • technical, connotative, and denotative language
  • illustration
  • character, scene, plot
  • narration versus description
  • the miniature
  • the anecdote
  • the fragment

Political and Cultural Details

  • liberal individualism
  • the individual and the collective in socialism
  • enfranchisement
  • the “_” question (e.g., Jewish, Woman)
  • representation in government
  • political movements (e.g., Chartism, anarchism, decolonization) and defining the political subject
  • religious practices and religious freedom
  • fashion
  • interior decoration
  • empire as system versus lived experience
  • local versus global
  • the im/migrant or refugee
  • industrial versus financial economy
  • the derivative

Epistemic Details

  • objectivity
  • the case
  • the experiment
  • risk and actuarial science
  • graphs, maps, trees, diagrams, tables
  • statistics and the outlier
  • transcendence and immanence
  • nominalism
  • the particular, specific, or unique
  • the singular, general, or normative
  • archives, exemplarity, and explanation
  • phenomena
  • numbers and quantification
  • the precedent
  • molecules, atoms, and cells

Methodological Details

  • with/against detailism in New Historicism
  • universalism in ecocriticism or globalization
  • Marxism and materialism
  • disciplinary specialization and the protocols of reading
  • distant/close reading
  • form and formalist approaches
  • data and Digital Humanities
  • incommensurability
  • the “concrete”
  • specificity in critique

Proposals of no more than 300 words should be submitted by email to Please include a one-page CV with your proposal. The deadline for submissions is Monday, March 14, 2016.