Office Hoursfall 2021
Fall 2021: Classes are expected to be held in-person. Individual conferences should be arranged over e-mail.
Toni Bowers (Professor). I am fascinated by a paradox built into language: words work not only to permit communication and community, but also to limit possible interpretations and reinforce divisions. Representational language systems make possible comprehension and communication, but they also assign value to certain kinds of utterances only, and not to others. I study how, and I explore possible alternative ways of communicating.
I pursue these questions by focusing on three "sites" of analysis: 1) popular late 17th- and early 18th-century prose narratives from Britain, 2) low-brow pantomimic theater from the 16th century to the 19th century, and 3) early, pantomimic silent film. It might seem strange to combine consideration of such apparently disparate subjects, but I find illuminating overlap when it comes to the questions that motivate me. Popular narratives from 17th- and 18th-century Britain continue to haunt contemporary culture even they stand apart from the present; because of this peculiar combination of familiarity and strangeness, those stories can reveal language's power to shape imaginative assumptions more readily than present-day writing can do. Pantomime and pantomimic silent film actively challenge the claims of representational language and expose its complicities. Putting these three phenomena into conversation with one another clarifies the degree to which representational language necessitates complicity with uneven distributions of power and significance, and allows us to experiment with other possibilities.
In addition to dozens of essays and reviews, I've published two original monographs: Force or Fraud: British Seduction Stories and the Problem of Resistance, 1660-1760, (Oxford University Press, 2011), and The Politics of Motherhood: British Writing and Culture, 1660-1760 (Cambridge University Press, 1996). I also publish edited collections of thematically related essays by groups of scholars, student-friendly editons of important early narrativess, and edited collections of thematically related essays by other scholars.
For instance, with Professor John Richetti (Penn), I co-edited an abridgement of Samuel Richardson's 1747-48 masterpiece Clarissa (Broadview Press, 2010); our edition is now in frequent use in undergraduate and graduate classrooms worldwide. With Professor Tita Chico (Maryland) I edited a volume of scholarly essays titled Atlantic Worlds in the Long Eighteenth Century: Seduction and Sentiment (Palgrave: 2012). With Professor Albert Rivero (Marquette), and again under the auspices of Broadview Press, I am currently editing the first annotated student edition of Richardson's 4-volume novel Pamela (1740-41), one of the most influential works of the eighteenth century. Recently, I have been granted permission by the respective literary estates to edit and publish two first-person memoirs about the art of the pantomimist filmmaker Charles Chaplin; these works were written by close Chaplin contemporaries, but have never before been published. And I continue to re-think and revise a monograph-in-progress that traces how a particular set of metaphors was used in public debate to shape the creation of "Great Britain" between 1603 and 1707.
I consider my most important work to be my undergraduate teaching. I have taught at Penn for thirty years, and during that time have also served as a visiting professor at the University of Edinburgh and at Kings College London; in 2018, I served as MacLain Distinguished Professor at Colorado College. I regularly give invited scholarly talks across the United States, as well as in Canada, England, Finland, France, the Netherlands, and Scotland. I direct and advise doctoral dissertations both at Penn and at other institutions around the world, supervise independent studies at both the undergraduate and graduate leves, and serve on committees for Penn's English Department, the School of Arts and Sciences, the University as a whole, and several national and international scholary societies. I have been the recipient of a number of fellowships and prizes, having received support from the NEH, the British Academy, the Newberry Library, the Huntington Library, the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and the Harry Ransom Center, among other awards.
I co-founded the Atlantic Studies Seminar (at Penn's McNeil Center for Early American Studies) and the campus-wide undergraduate club Perspectives in Humanities; the latter, with my help, inaugurated the ongoing Penn Authors' Forum, where Penn faculty informally share their research with undergraduates. I served for many years as Faculty-in-Residence at Kings Court-English House College House, and on the Steering Committee and as a Core Faculty Member for Penn's Gender Studies program (GSWS), as well as on the Advisory Board to the McNeil Center. I serve as editorial consultant for a number of academic journals and publishing houses. I've been both Delegate and member of the Executive Committee of the Delegates for the ACLS (American Council for Learned Societies), and have served the Modern Language Association as a member, then Chair, of the Executive Committee for Restoration and Early Eighteenth-Century Studies. I've also been a Delegate for the MLA and have served on its Executive Committee for Scottish Literature.
I received the Ph.D. from Stanford.