CFP: The Working of Weeds at C19 Conference, Albuquerque, NM (March 2018)

Lisa Vetere's picture

Dear Colleagues: We invite submissions for the following panel to be proposed for the 2018 C19 conference this March in Albuquerque, NM:

"A Plant Out of Place": The Working of Weeds in the Long 19th Century

Emerson called them "plants whose virtues have not been discovered yet," and Thoreau battled them in his beanfield. Hawthorne weaponized them in Chillingworth's hands as the villain violated the sanctity of a human heart. Throughout the long nineteenth century, poets as varied as Walt Whitman and Lucy Larcom exploited the power of weeds as botanical symbols. But weeds are much more than objects of literary study. A weed is a working assemblage of nature and culture, subject and object, of climates past and present. A "weed" is a cultural category but also a plant with prodigious reproductive capacities and skillful dispersal powers. They grow best in recently disturbed land. When weeds disrupt, humans remove them. In removing weeds from fields and gardens, humans further disturb the soil and create ideal conditions for more weeds to grow; weeding brings weeds to life. Thus continues what Eco-theorist Timothy Morton calls "feedback loops of human-nonhuman interaction" in Dark Ecology (2016). Plant energy summons human language and  labor, which in turn summons more plants.

This feedback loop reached particular intensity in the long nineteenth century, when agriculture transformed itself into a science and weeds became its nemeses. While weeds have antagonized humans since agriculture began, in the long nineteenth century, according to environmental historian of Canadian weeds, Clinton Evans, rhetoric about the danger of weeds became most fierce. At the turn of the nineteenth century, weeds were personified as villains against whom humans struggle, and the goal became eradication rather than co-existence with these "fortuitous flora," as another environmental historian calls these plants (Falck). This 19th-century discourse on weeds therefore plays an integral part in the continual working of this assemblage.

While weeds have long been studied at length by farmers, scientists, botanists, gardeners, legislators-and only recently by a handful of environmental historians- they have rarely, and never at length, been explored by literary critics. Because this word has exerted such power-in its material impact and its metaphorical uses-we need to address this omission. 19th-century Americanists might be the ideal scholars to take on this project, considering that writers of the long 19th century created a lasting definition for a "weed": a plant out of place. Scientists throughout the twentieth century still recite it even when they disavow it. Herbicide use today still works under this assumption--with deadly effects.

We seek papers that further this inquiry into nineteenth-century writings on Please send 300-word proposals and a short CV to Lisa Vetere (<>) and Harry Brown (<>) by September 5.

Lisa M. Vetere, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of English
Monmouth University
West Long Branch, NJ 07764