On September 27, 2007, Rutgers athletic director "Bob" Mulcahy launched a contemptible charge of "racism" at a remark I'd made in a New York Times story. The charge was echoed by Rutgers president "Dick" McCormick. Both tried, falsely, to assert that my comment had been made about Rutgers athletes. For an abridged version of an op ed that spells out the actual context of my remark, click here on Lynch Mob Without a Rope.
In connection with personal attacks on me by "Scarlet R" boosters, I've posted my Letter to the Boeotians here online. Some informed observers argued that this will permanently silence them. Others were not so sure.
For an excerpt from the book, click here on
As most of my students and colleagues know,
Students and others who wish to get in touch with me will find the relevant information here.
Students in my Spring 2015 English 201 class may click on the thumbnail for a downloadable version of the class picture taken on our last day of Prufrock.
Hello. My name is William C. Dowling. I'm a Professor of English at Rutgers University. This page tells a little about my work and interests, and about the courses I've taught.
Due to an unexpected alteration in class assignments, my Spring 2015 senior seminar on the Age of Johnson was not able to be offered.
In Spring 2016 I will be teaching my last English 201 class. This was was formerly the famous English 219. A video showing one of my own English 219 classes was made several years ago by Robert Andersen, director of the films Asbury Park and Ashore. It is now available on the Web.
In Spring 2016 I will also be teaching my last upper-level course at Rutgers: English 358:440 (Myth, Saga, Epic and Fantasy), a senior seminar in genre theory in which the only assigned text will beTolkien's Lord of the Rings. The seminar will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1:10. Enrollment is limited to 20.
My most recent class on Tolkien was Tolkien & Oxford Christianity. Though it was a large lecture class rather than a small seminar, an idea of my general approach can be gotten from its course page. In addition, a selection from one of my lectures may be heard at "The Temptation of Galadriel." In my final seminar, the focus will be more concentrated, devoted to the specific ways Tolkien's trilogy distills earlier sources ( e.g., theVölksunga saga, the Kalevala, Beowulf, medieval romance as in Malory's Morte d'Arthur) into the modern genre called "fantasy."
Here is my personal history. I grew up in Warner, New Hampshire, a little town in the middle of the state. I graduated from Simonds High School. Warner had three white churches and two covered bridges and looked like a Currier & Ives print. When I was away at college, all the elms on Main Street died. Eheu!
I was an undergraduate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. It was a great place to be an English major because there was always snow on the ground and one wanted to stay inside in Sanborn House library and read by the fire, and because afternoon Sanborn tea was an occasion for students and faculty to get together in a pleasantly informal setting. At Rutgers, Thursday Club teas at what was formerly Toad Hall on Union Street provided a similar occasion for a period of over twenty years.
English majors in my generation took a three-day Comprehensive Examination in the spring of our senior year. When we signed up for the major as first-semester sophomores, we were given a list of works and authors for which we'd be responsible on that exam. Most of the material was covered in our core English courses, but we all realized at the end that the list had an independent value: it gave us an immediate overview of the total body of knowledge -- literary periods, authors, works, intellectual background -- that constituted the English major. It shaped our reading, our thinking, and our discussions with each other about literature, during three entire years of college. At the request of some of my Rutgers students, I several years ago reconstructed the list for their personal use. If you'd like a copy in PDFformat to print down, click here on Senior Comp Reading List. Classroom teaching in English courses was based on "close reading" of major works in English and American literature. At Rutgers, this was the approach used in English 219, which for many years served as the foundation of literary study at the upper levels of the major.
I went to Harvard for my PhD, concentrating on 18th-century English literature, early American literature, and literary theory. My dissertation was on three works by James Boswell -- the Tour to Corsica, Tour to the Hebrides, and Life of Johnson -- and the idea of the hero in the later eighteenth century. This became my first book, The Boswellian Hero.
My latest work on American literature is Oliver Wendell Holmes in Paris: Medicine, Theology, and the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, a book about the way the revolution in French clinical teaching shaped Oliver Wendell Holmes's later career as author of The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table and other works. In February 2015 I gave a talk, "Boston in the Time of Cholera," based on my more recent research in History of Medicine.
Students who took my seminar on Holmes and Literary Boston have asked about the church of St. Etienne du Mont mentioned in The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. A picture of the interior may be found at St. Etienne du Mont.
My account of Holmes and literary Boston takes as its center the classical republican ideal of civic virtue as it shaped New England thought and writing through the end of the nineteenth century. A work that strongly influenced my own understanding of Boston literary culture is Charles Eliot Norton: The Art of Reform in Nineteenth-Century America.
Ricoeur on Time and Narrative, my introduction to Paul Ricoeur's three-volume philosophical work, Temps et Recit, has recently been published by Notre Dame University Press. A version of one chapter previously appearedin Raritan Quarterly as "Paul Ricoeur's Poetics of History."
In fall semester 2013, I taught English 491, a senior seminar on the problem of "internal" audience in art and literature. In relation to the authors we read -- Marvell, Browning, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, David Foster Wallace -- this was a course in the ontology of literary works. But we also treated the concept of "an audience posited by the work itself" in relation to film (Branagh's version of Henry the Fifth, Hitchcock's Strangers On a Train), art (Van Eyck, Holbein, Hobbema, Canaletto, J.M.W. Turner, Monet, Picasso), and the music of social protest from Woody Guthie to Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie. The theory of audience we examined was one based on my own work on internal audience in The Epistolary Moment and on Paul Ricoeur's theory of narrative inTemps et récit, in which a consciousness "emptied" of the contingent particularies of time, place, and cultural identity is posited as the sole medium in which any narrative is allowed to come alive as a self-contained world. This was an extraordinary group, one of the very best I've taught in my 25 years at Rutgers. The inset picture is a thumbnail. Click on it to see the group in its vibrant entirety.
In fall semester 2010, I co-taught with my colleague Myra Jehlen English 491, a small undergraduate seminar entitled Narratology: Style and Structure, which had its roots in Professor Jehlen's extraordinary Five Fictions in Search of Truth, published in 2008 by Princeton University Press -- more particularly, in the notion of "style as epistemology" that sustains her argument in that book -- and my own work on Ricoeur's theory of narrative temporality. The seminar met in Bishop House on Wednesday afternoon. It was one of the most exciting teaching experiences of my time at Rutgers. We were all of us, I think, sorry when it had to come to an end.
My main scholarly project at present is The Strange Death of Literary Boston: Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Lothrop Motley, and the American Civil War. In my research, I've done a great deal of work on Motley's studies at the Univesity of Gottingen, and especially on the influence of its school of "Herderian humanism" on his theory of history. Since the article on his teacher Arnold H. L. Heeren on Wikipedia is exiguous, I'm providing here my translation of a more substantial biographical article for those who might be interested in Heeren or in Johann Gottfried Herder's influence on New England literature and thought.
In my spare time, I'm also working on Professor's Song: A Life in Teaching, a memoir of my career in literary studies. An early chapter entitled Blossomberry Farm will give account of the folk-blues scene at Dartmouth in the 1960s.
Every year, Rutgers English majors ask me about going on for a Ph.D in English literature. To help answer their questions, I composed a booklet on graduate study in English for my students at Rutgers, explaining why I think the traditional English major may be doomed to extinction in the reasonably near future, giving newly-minted English Ph.Ds no place to find work. Formerly, I advised students interested in teaching English and American literature to consider going on for the MAT. But recent developments in MAT training have made that, too, an untenable option. You can read a revised version of my original booklet by clicking here on Graduate Study in English.
At Rutgers, I served for some years as faculty advisor to the Peithessophian Society, an undergraduate literary and debate society whose history goes back to the early the nineteenth century. The majority of the students I met through Peitho went on to top law schools, medical schools, or graduate programs in such areas as classics, philosophy, history, physics and mathematics. It was a great privilege to oversee their progress through a Rutgers essentially different from the one that exists today.
A lot of my students figure out sort of late in the day that you can't undertake the serious study of English and American literature unless you know Latin, which they didn't take in high school. For those who want to learn Latin on their own, I've composed a short booklet entitled "Learning Latin by the Dowling Method." It tells you how to become a really competent Latinist in a reasonably short period of time. Several generations of my students have used the method with spectacular success.
At the request of the Thursday Club sociolinguistics group, I am putting up a web version of the Upscale/Downscale speech analysis results we have discussed over the last several years. Those interested in sociolinguistics may click here on Upscale & Downscale.
Those who grew up with The New Yorker as edited by Mr. William Shawn, and who are trying to adjust to the editorial practices of David Remnick and his staff, may be interested in samples we've taken from the proofsheets of the revised New Yorker Anthology of Literature, which will be published early next year. They nicely illustrate the difference in editorial styles.
Up to a few years ago, when the program was still in existence, I directed one or two Henry Rutgers theses per academic year. The last of these was Ben Remsen's brilliant treatment of the problem of solipsism in the "anti-confluential" fiction of David Foster Wallace. A number of the students whose theses I directed pointed out that the Rutgers Dean who supervised the program was a principal member of the "Academic Oversight Committee" that attacked me for criticizing commercialized Div IA sports at Rutgers. After several faculty members wrote letters protesting that his subservience to the Athletics Department was grossly incompatible with the academic and intellectual values the program had always represented, the program was abruptly abolished. It is a great loss to the university.
At Rutgers, I try to teach regularly in all the areas in which I do research. In English literature, I have taught courses in 18th-century poetry and seminars on Samuel Johnson and Boswell & Johnson. In American literature, I teach both the first half of the American survey -- "American Literature from the Puritans to the Civil War" -- and English 352:315: "American Literature to 1800." In literary theory, I have taught senior seminars in Theory of Audience and the New Historicism. I also used to English 220 every other term. (For one of my 220 classes, I put up on the web a short note entitled "Who's the Narrator of Pale Fire." I'm leaving it up now for those interested in Nabokov.) Another page I wrote for one of my classes is "The Gradesavers' Prufrock," which comments on a bit of work done by an online termpaper service professedly staffed by "Harvard-educated" individuals.
I teach English 219 every semester. For my English 219 students, I produced a handout on how to use the Oxford English Dictionary when reading literary works written in earlier periods. I've been asked to leave the handout "How to Use the OED" up on my site for people who want to print copies. It is herewith left up. For my 219 students, I've also posted on my site a short excurus on Wordsworth's Upon Westminster Bridge, to illustrate a point about the "biographical fallacy" that very often comes up with that poem.
In spring 1999, the intellectual intrepidity of Rutgers English majors was memorably demonstrated when over 120 students signed up for 18th-Century Poetry, a course that covered not only standard authors like Dryden and Pope and Johnson but "difficult" poems like Dyer's The Ruins of Rome and Cowper's The Task. They were a heroic and wonderful group.
This is only part of the class. We had planned to have our picture taken by the memorial marking the spot where, when Rutgers was still Queen's College, Alexander Hamilton's artillery company covered Washington's retreat to Trenton, but there were too many cars in the huge parking lot that the Rutgers administration has installed around the Hamilton memorial, so we moved locations and some students got left out.
The class in the picture was also the latest to hear the never-ending saga of WCD, his friend Robert H. Bell, and Stephen Duck, the Thresher Poet. If you would like to meet RHB, click here on The Steven Duck Legacy. Another old friend about whom my students have heard me tell stories is John Gordon, the great James Joyce scholar who has recently and unexpectedly altered course and written the most original study of Charles Dickens published in the last 30 years. For my students' sake, I've often wished that he was on our English faculty here at Rutgers. To hear the inimitable Gordon voice, click here on his Conn College Convocation address.
Another of the courses I've most enjoyed teaching at Rutgers was a New Historicism seminar taught in the Fall semester of 1995. Here is a picture of me with the members of the seminar.
We are all looking serious because we had spent two weeks on the concept of "structural causality" in Althusserian Marxism and didn't seem to be getting anywhere. Right after this picture was taken we had a breakthrough, so if the photographer had shown up three days later we would all be smiling.
Another wonderful course was the Mirror of Enlightenment, jointly offered in Fall 1996 by the English department and the Comparative Literature program. This was a seminar in which we studied the relations between French and English thought and politics in the 18th century, and in which every assignment had readings in English and French. Here I am with members of the seminar. We are standing in front of the statue of William the Silent in the old quad. (You can see a larger picture of the seminar with their bronze friend by clicking here on William the Silent.)
This group is a great example of why so many faculty consider it a privilege to teach at Rutgers. Look carefully at the picture. It appears, does it not, to be a group of normal, happy, delightful American university students? And it is, partly. Happy they were, most days. Delightful they were, tous les jours. Normal they were not. Every student in the picture was able to go home at night and read an hour of Locke in English, then two hours of Montesquieu in French, an hour of Swift or Gibbon in English, then an hour or two of Voltaire or Rousseau or Diderot in French. And this they did, night after night, week after week, until we had covered the Enlightenment from Locke and Newton to the French Revolution. It was, in its way, heroic. (If you look carefully at the New Historicism seminar and the Mirror of Enlightenment picture, you will see that two students, Rob Young and John Davies, are present in both. Old men forget, and all shall be forgot, but they'll remember with advantages what deeds we did those days.)
I hope eventually to teach several other seminars in two languages (English and Latin, English and German), so I am leaving the original Mirror of Enlightenment course description in place as a sort of prototype. If you have friends who are Classics majors or German majors who might want to take such a seminar -- or who are English majors able to read Latin or German at an advanced level of competence -- tell them to come to this page and click here on Mirror of Enlightenment. They should get in touch with me if they would be interested in a similar course in their language.
In spring semester 2002 I taught a Rutgers General Honors seminar entitled "The Face of Battle," focusing on the way individuals and cultures try to come to terms with combat as an "unrepresentable" experience -- pain, death, screams, confusion, agony -- through the imposition of narrative structure: stories about heroism and suffering and honor and national purpose. The course took as its center the work of the great military historian John Keegan -- author of The Face of Battle, The Mask of Command, The Price of Admiralty, and other works -- and we also read Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers, Alvin Kernan's Crossing the Line, Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth, as well as viewing Kenneth Branaugh's film version of Henry the Fifth and Stephen Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. A high point was the session we spent with Commander Charles Standard, a Helldiver -- dive bomber -- pilot who won the Navy Cross for extraordinary bravery in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. His visit came immediately after we had read Kernan's Crossing the Line, with its first-hand account of the carrier war in the Pacific. We found it a rare and moving experience to have the chance to talk for three hours with a carrier pilot who had actually lived through the events we had been discussing. It was, as one member of the seminar said, like having someone walk into the seminar room straight out of the pages of history. The picture above shows the class with Commander Standard on the day of his visit.
I taught the same course in Spring 2004 as my farewell to the Honors Program, having notified the director that I would not be available to teach seminars again until Rutgers began to devote the same amount of resources to its best and brightest students that it has been devoting over the last 10 years to a handful of hired athletes on the basketball and football teams. The splendid group with whom I spent my farewell semester is pictured at right.
My last work devoted entirely to eighteenth-century literature was on the English verse epistle. This is the subject of my book The Epistolary Moment, which is also about the concept of "internal audience" in literature. In early American literature, I subsequently concentrated on literary Federalism. Poetry and Ideology in Revolutionary Connecticut is about the Connecticut Wits, a group of poets who thought of their poetry as a form of "symbolic action" that could change the course of history. It was followed by Literary Federalism in the Age of Jefferson, which is about the literary opposition to Thomas Jefferson and "American jacobinism," has just been published.
My most recent work in film studies is an essay on my favorite director, John Ford: "John Ford's Festive Comedy: Ireland Imagined in The Quiet Man." I'm also at work on an essay on the turn-of-the-century school stories of Arthur Stanwood Pier, about whom I've put up a Web page for other people who might be interested in Pier's writings.
In literary theory, my best-known book is Jameson, Althusser, Marx, an introduction to Althusserian Marxism and the work of the American theorist Fredric Jameson. It has been translated into a number of languages, including Chinese and Korean. I keep a copy of the Korean translation in my office so that Sean Yoon and Alicia Kim and my other Korean students can read it and tell me what I said. I am a member of the Twin Oaks Theory Seminar, at which I deliverd "The Gender Fallacy." In published form, it appears in Theory's Empire: An Anthology of Dissent, edited by Daphe Pata and Will H. Corral (Columbia University Press, 2005).
My next work in literary theory, The Senses of the Text, concerned the relations between semantic theory and the problem of determinate meaning in literature. It concentrates on Chomskyan linguistics and the work of Jerrold J. Katz (The Metaphysics of Meaning) in philosophy of language. Some of my influences in literary theory may be found on my Saints & Heroes page.
Since I've received many requests for offprints of my article "Scholarly Publishing in the Age of Oprah," I asked permission from The Journal of Scholarly Publishing to post a copy here on my Web site. I have also posted "Manfred Mickleson Applies for an 18th-century Job," a letter that I found in my files from an 18th-century search run by my department some years ago. Another letter I've found in my files concerned hiring in the Rutgers English Department over a decade ago. If you'd like to read it, click here on Rutgers English Then and Now. More recently, after reading about the controversy at surrounding Cornel West's departure from Harvard, I did a bit of research on earlier members of the Harvard faculty who combined a career in popular music with eminence as teachers and scholars. By way of providing context for the West episode, I'm making available to the general public an excerpt from Doo Wop Days: the Inside Story of 50s Rock 'n' Roll, a little-known book I was lucky enough to run across in the used bin at Micawber's.
Several years ago, in PMLA, Professor Wendell Harris predicted that over the next 10-20 years, most English departments will either become departments of Cultural Studies or divide into separate Departments of Cultural Studies and Departments of English. Since this seems to me a prediction with important implications for Rutgers, I've put up a page on "Literature & Cultural Studies" that tries to visualize its possible consequences. On a related note, Chip Szalkorski recently sent me a copy of "Ideology in the Classroom," which addresses some of the same issues.
In recent years, I have done a good bit of research on standardized testing and college admissions, in preparation for an essay about American democracy and the "consumer model of education." My most recent substantial article on educational policy was "Why America Needs the SAT," published in Academic Questions in Winter, 1999.
I am proud of my membership in the Drake Group, which was founded at the Drake Conference on College Sports Corruption, a historic national meeting on ways to save universities from being swallowed up by the TV-revenue-driven behemoth of professionalized college sports. n response to requests from Drake Group members, I've put up a copy of my review-essay "Big Time Sports as Academic Prostitution," originally published in the journal Academic Questions, and "Sports and Ressentiment: Why the Boosters Run Ohio State," which appeared in Social Science and Modern Society.
Another educational policy issue that concerns me is teaching evaluation forms, which I regard as "customer satisfaction surveys" that encourage students to adopt a "consumer model" of education. To understand why I see the commodity model as the single biggest danger to genuine education in America read my Targum op-ed column "Why We Should Abolish Teaching Evaluations." Another short guide I've composed on the "consumer model"is posted on my web site. Click here for "5 Ways to Tell If You Go to a Third-Rate University."
Some of my students think it's pretty funny that I detest the constant interjection of "like" into sentences uttered by undergraduates, and that I annually give out a Likosaurus Award to those who make the greatest progress in their battle against Lykelyke Syndrome. Michael Sun drew this caricature of me reacting to a bad "like day" in class. He thought it was pretty funny. (He did not laugh so hard when he found out what he got for a course grade, ho ho.)
Another student, Tim Steffens, thought it was funny that I loathe and detest television and keep telling my students to smash their TV sets and fill their rooms with books. (I actually do think that the people in Hell watch TV. Also that people who watch TV here on earth -- instead of reading books and learning Greek and arguing with their friends about Aristotle or Milton or Tocqueville -- are in Hell and simply haven't realized it yet.) I've put Tim's caricature of me exhorting a class to throw out their TV sets on a separate page, so that you can see how funny he thought he was being. (Tim was taking 18th-century poetry. He flunked the course.) Last of all, some students think it's funny that I keep telling them that students who misspell words and won't learn the elementary rules of English punctuation are doomed to be total failures in life, no matter how admirable they may be in other respects. I've put the "No Bull" exhortation that I hand out to my classes up along with Michael and Tim's caricatures.
Some personal notes. My wife and I recently moved to Reading, Pennsylvania. For over twenty years, my favorite pastime outside of reading and studying languages was training for marathons. Until I got injured I ran the Marine Corps Marathon every fall and the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, Vermont every spring. For a picture of me in marathon trim, with my amazing mother Lillian Dowling and my younger brother John, click here on Vermont City Marathon. My favorite contemporary writers are Patrick O'Brian and Elmore Leonard. My favorite "personal" writer is Parson Woodforde, an 18th-century Norfolk clergyman who kept a five-volume diary covering most of his adult life. I also play blues guitar -- my heroes are Hubert Sumlin and Mance Lipscomb -- and listen to jazz (Miles Davis, Bill Evans) and classical music (Vivaldi, Corelli, Handel, Mozart). Another of my musical enthusiasms is gospel, and here at Rutgers, I am a fan of the Liberated Gospel Choir. (For the story of how my students have been expanding my musical and cultural horizons, click here on Jerry Garcia.)
With Mrs. D, I spend part of every year in Paris. A few years ago, I began doing restaurant reviews for the guide Bon Sejour. For a review of my favorite Paris restaurant, click here on Le Refuge du Passe.
During the Vietnam war, I was one of the principal organizers of the New England Resistance, whose role in breaking the will of the Johnson administration has, until recently, never been given its due by historians (mainly because the story of the antiwar movement has relied on the accounts of those who spent the Vietnam period hiding out behind student deferments or Peace Corps exemptions or other Bill Clinton-type dodges for "opposing" the war while remaining perfectly safe). Now the story has been told in Michael Foley's book Confronting the War Machine. It will make a lot of so-called tenured radicals unhappy, but it is going to have a marked effect on the way future generations understand the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Just because I opposed the war in Vietnam does not mean that I consider all wars the same. They can be quite different. I helped my graduate school friend Chip Szalkorski compose a page explaining why the War in Iraq, for instance, is being fought for entirely different reasons than the Vietnam War. My contribution was research on the Constitutional amendment -- the one that gives every American a inalienable right to drive an SUV no matter how many American soldiers are dying for Mideast oil -- that makes the war perfectly legal.