English faculty hosts Daniel Defoe conference

English faculty hosts Daniel Defoe conference

Katherine Ellison (standing), Elizabeth Zold, and two other Defoe scholars hold a lively discussion of 18th century chamber pots at the recent Daniel Defoe conference in Normal.

Associate Professor Katherine Ellison organized and hosted the Defoe Society’s third biennial conference, “Global Defoe: His Times and His Contemporaries,” on August 9-10.

Forty international 18th century studies scholars in history, literary studies, cultural studies, the history of science, art history, computer science, and women’s and gender studies gathered to discuss the writings of Daniel Defoe and his contemporaries and bring the scholarship of the discipline to the doorsteps of undergraduate and graduate students at ISU.

Defoe, most well known for his authorship of the Robinson Crusoe trilogy, Roxana, Moll Flanders, Journal of the Plague Year, and Captain Singleton, was a businessperson, spy, political activist, Royal Society participant, economist, climatologist, pamphleteer, publisher, public health organizer, amateur astronomer, and world traveler. He is noted by some to be a founder of modern journalism, and he also authored countless political pamphlets, periodicals, essays, tracts on the supernatural, and poems.

Papers at the “Global Defoe” conference focused on early ecocriticism and ecology, digitization, bibliographical and archival research methods, crime and piracy, public intellectualism, family and motherhood, canonization, science, sermons, and cosmopolitanism. Attendants even learned that during the 18th century, chamber pots often featured the images and names of controversial celebrities.

The keynote speaker was Robert Markley from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who spoke on “Defoe and the Literature of Circumnavigation.” Illinois State doctoral student Amy Hicks (English) presented on adaptations of Robinson Crusoe for girls, and Illinois State alum Elizabeth Zold (English) presented on Lady Montagu as public intellectual.

Ellison presented two Defoe essays on cryptography and cipher-writing.

“Dr. Ellison is a world-class scholar in her field,” noted Christopher C. De Santis, chair of the Department of English, “and she is also a wonderful mentor to both undergraduate and graduate students. The fact that a current doctoral student and a recent alum presented at this prestigious conference speaks to both Dr. Ellison’s excellence as a teacher-scholar and the outstanding graduate education that the Department of English provides to its students.”

The Defoe Society is an international body, formed in 2006 to encourage scholarship and discussion of Daniel Defoe’s writings and the writings and culture of the late 17th and early 18th century. The Society sponsors Digital Defoe: Studies in Defoe and His Contemporaries, which is co-edited by Ellison, and has 16 officers who are respected scholars in the field of 18th-century studies more broadly. The conference was also supported by AMS Press, who is publishing a forthcoming 2013 collection co-edited by Ellison with Kit Kincade (Indiana State University) and Holly Faith Nelson (Trinity Western University).