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Date: Tue, 6 Dec 2022 12:24:27 -0800
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From: Nathaniel Williams <[log in to unmask]>
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Dear Colleagues,

Please feel free to share this information about next fall's symposium at
Elmira College. I'm attaching the PDF and copying the text below for

Abstracts are due February 10, 2023. Feel free to email any questions to
me. Hope to see many of you there. Best wishes for the holidays and new


2023 Quarry Farm Symposium on “Mark Twain: Invention, Technology, and
Science Fiction”
October 6-8, 2023
Elmira, NY

The Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College is hosting its annual
Quarry Farm Symposium during the Fall 2023 semester, from Friday, October
6, to Sunday, October 8, 2023, organized around the theme of Mark Twain:
Invention, Technology, and Science Fiction. The year’s Keynote Address will
be presented by Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction
magazine and multiple Hugo Award winner. The annual symposium gathers
scholars from various fields around a theme related to Mark Twain studies
or the nineteenth-century more broadly and is held at the historic Quarry
Farm site, where Twain wrote his most famous works during summer stays with
his wife’s family in Elmira, New York.

In his landmark 2010 essay, “On Defining SF, or Not: Genre Theory, SF, and
History,” John Rieder wrestles with the slippery definition of “science
fiction.” He notes that clear genre distinctions are frequently demanded by
“two institutional locations, commercial publishing and the academy, and
this pair of institutions bears no accidental resemblance to the
oppositions between high and low culture....” (204). Building from Bourdieu
and Habermas, Rieder argues that because of these “contradictory drives for
economic profit and cultural prestige in commercial publishing, the history
of sf is well positioned to contribute importantly to broader cultural
history...” (206).

SF is uniquely positioned in this way, and Twain is a particularly useful
lens for such genre examination. Scholars have acknowledged that much of
Twain’s work could be labeled “science fiction” if it were published today,
an understanding that goes back at least as far as David Ketterer’s 1984
collection, The Science Fiction of Mark Twain. Twain’s writing appeared in
the nineteenth-century literary marketplace side-by-side with dime novels
about boy explorers in submarines or airships, hero-worshipping biographies
of famous inventors, and the translated works of contemporaries like Jules
Verne. Moreover, Twain’s career—then and now—straddles contradictions of
popular success and cultural prestige that Rieder mentions. Locating when
and how Twain’s work fits the “science fiction” label can help us see the
limits and utility of genre.

Of course, Twain is more than just a literary figure; he was part of a
culture immersed in science and technology. Alan Gribben, in Mark Twain’s
Literary Resources, Vol. 1 (2019), specifically notes science was one area
Twain read voraciously, including “an entire set of Charles Darwin’s works”
and “at least a dozen titles” on astronomy (44). Once he had money, Twain
constantly sought new inventions to fund; his investments in new printing
technology partly caused his bankruptcy. Gary Scharnhorst’s recent
biography The Life of Mark Twain: The Final Years (2022) reminds us that
Twain spent his later years scrutinizing osteopathy, Christian science, and
other nascent medical movements, partly to help his ailing wife and
daughters. Twain constantly interacted with all these developing fields and
more, frequently in very public, mercurial ways.

With all this in mind, this symposium will work to understand the “broader
cultural history” Rieder mentions by placing Twain and his contemporaries
within the cultural transformations of science and technology, and within
the broad literary boundaries of science fiction. We welcome a range of
papers on this theme, including any of the following topics and more:
* Portrayals of science and technology in fiction by Mark Twain and/or his
* Scientific and pseudo-scientific ideas that influenced literature during
Twain’s lifetime (1835-1910)
* Critical interrogations of nineteenth-century scientific rhetoric,
knowledge-making, and science-related art and letters
* Critical examinations of the writing surrounding nineteenth-century
invention and science, including patents, copyrights, planning documents,
promotional materials, and more
* Research on inventors in Twain’s circle of acquaintances, including James
Paige, Nikola Tesla, Jan Szczepanik, or larger concerns such as Hartford’s
Colt Arms Factory, and their portrayals by Twain or by other writers in
“heroic” biographies, magazine features, etc.
* Science fiction in nineteenth-century humor, including frontier
narratives, tall tales, scientific romances, and satires
* Twain’s place in the evolving definition of science fiction, including
perceptions of him among writers of the Gernsback era, the “Golden Age,”
the New Wave, Afrofuturists, and other movements
* Modern technologies and their role in reproducing Twain in online
editions, in memes, in repurposed quotations on Facebook, et al.
* Studies of appropriations of Twain’s image or work in science fiction,
including steampunk, space opera, or other sub-genres

Please send 300-word abstracts and either a CV or biographical statement,
preferably in PDF format, to Nathaniel Williams ([log in to unmask])
by February 10, 2023.

- - -

Dr. Nathaniel Williams
Author: Gears and God: Technocratic Fiction, Faith, and Empire in Mark
Twain's America <,6823.aspx>
Book Review Editor,
* The Mark Twain Annual *University Writing Program
University of California, Davis
363 Voorhies
Davis, CA 95616
UC-AFT Lecturer | UC Davis Local 2023 - Faculty Equity, Student Success