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Tuesday, 04 December 2007


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And may I just point out, you know, to all the haters, that my serious scholarly work looks different from anything I post. Point of fact, if I previewed something I was about to post and saw that, I'd whittle it into a few more paragraphs. Massaging the medium, you know ...


May I ask where this is going? (ie does this go at the front of your dissertation, is it the "abstract" one sends out while on the market, or grant proposal, or what? It surely isn't the "prospectus" or you wouldn't want feedback on it at this late date ... I think.

After all, knowing where it goes and what you're going to do with it would affect what suggestions we make. (And if you accept my changes, do I get royalties?)


It's the abstract that would go out with my job letters ... you know, to show how IMPORTANT and EARTH-SHATTERING my dissertation is, so that some school will decide to employ me in perpetuity ...


As for the royalties, well, yes, I'll profit-share any profit I profit off this profitable enterprise that is my dissertation.

(Just don't ask for residuals from the blog, which has, sadly, been far more lucrative.)


Dude, on the interwebs 2.0, the users create the content. The comments are more valuable than the posts. Therefore, you owe us all Amazon Bux. QED.


Well, good, cause my school's grad division wants the abstract on the first page of your diss to be 500 words max (I think it's for the sciences to do searches or something).

Unfortunately, I was told that the diss abstract for the market should be a single page, single spaced (no cheating on the margins, 10 pt font is not great but ok.) Mine is exactly two pages --- maybe that's why I haven't had much luck so far?

I could send you mine, but it'd be worth its weight in gold to ya.

I guess that means I should, I dunno, actually _read_ yours. Alrighty then.


My abstract was 350 words, as required by my institution. This is.... more like the length of the prospectus I wrote to convince my advisors that I had a plan before I started writing the damn dissertation.

I have seen abstracts sent with job applications that were as long as two pages, though, close to a thousand words. Any longer than that and you have to call it a "writing sample"....

Sorry, I'm already grading: I'll come back to this when I actually need a break.


More comments tomorrow, but some general thoughts tonight (as it's somewhat late over here in the central time zone):
Very smart stuff here and I think this is, in fact, a very good compressed draft of your introduction, but this isn't an abstract, at least it isn't like any abstract I've seen (which would include some English/Comp Lit ones). Sisyphus is right about the length thing (this is too long), but it's also missing an intro paragraph that lays out the argument for your diss as a whole. Why does all this matter? Why is it interesting/important? Right now you've got framed in terms of why should one do it the way that you're doing it, but that's the starting rather than the ending point. Having done it (looked at non-Darwinian evolutionary ideas in fin-de-sicele lit) what does it get you? It could be something as simple as, "Allow us to better appreciate the complex and idiosycratic nature of these writers engagement with evotionary ideas, rather than reducing their literature to social Darwinist zeitgeist," but this needs to be fronted up.
Like I said, more tomorrow.

Adam Roberts

Shouldn't there be something on Selma Hayek in there?


Salma Hayek has a doppleganger? Sweet.


In terms of length, maybe this is an institutional thing, but I've always been told that the abstract you send out when you're on the market should be five pages, single-spaced. Its purpose is to give potential employers a more substantive account of your research, after they've already read the more condensed account of your work in your application letter. So this abstract, once the Twain chapter is added in, will be the right length.

In terms of this particular abstract, I can pretty much tell you what our mutual advisor's going to say about it: the first two paragraphs need to be more literary. Right now, they do a great job of laying out the complexities of evolutionary theory in the late nineteenth century, but they don't really explain why this is important to our understanding of American realism/naturalism. The way to go, I think, is to say much, much more about naturalism/realism as genres and why your changed conception of evolutionary theory matters in terms of how we read it. I.e., say more about the aesthetics of late nineteenth century lit., less about the content.


You know, were this a larger community blog, the first comment on every post would now be:



So, as to the concerns about length: this is one of those things I assume my advisor has correct, because, well, because he landed a tenure track job at two R1 institutions in the five years he's been on the market. Of course, you're right to point out that this might be a ploy designed to force me to condense, condense, and condense (even more maddeningly than I already have).

(And JPool, the fact that I may have condensed the stakes -- the "so what?" -- right out of this thing is exactly the reason I wanted unfamiliar eyeballs on it.


Happy to be an unfamiliar set of eyeballs.

To return to my comments from last night, I think that you're burying the lead here. You've made the stronger argument in the past that there was no such thing as social Darwinism, as we typically understand it. You give a weaker version of this argument and why it's important in the sentence "'Maximal Diversity' unearths the actual evolutionary theories influencing the literature of the period and demonstrates how they functioned as a vehicle for more than the laissez faire ideology with which Darwinism is regularly considered complicit." A stronger version of this might be, "Commonly held understandings of Hofstadter's Social Darwinism have lead to overlydetermined readings of these writers' politics. By reading them in light of a more heterogenous understanding of evolutionary thinking, we are better able to understand the intentions and effects of their fiction."

If you want actual ms word red pencilings, I can email them to you. Otherwise here are a couple structural observations.

You introduce "Spencerian" without prior expalnation at the end of the first paragraph, so I think the second needs to be reorganizaed to move the explanation of him to the front and then move on from there. The second paragraph and parts of the first would also make more sense if they were reframed as a summary of your historical first chapter.

The trhee chapter summaries are good, but need condensing as what you're trying to do is abstract/summarize the argument rather than recapitulate it. [OK, having read the comments after I drafted this, which was based on an understanding of abstracts derived from the ones that go at the front of dissertations, you can maybe ignore this and recapitulate to your heart's content.]

In general, while I'm encouraging you to edit down, you need to unpack your sentences, cut down on the independent clauses and explain the unclear referents.

Hope that helps.


As others have said so far, you definitely need to sell the "literary" upfront, lest readers wonder why you're applying for a position as an Americanist and not, say, a historian of science.

Does this require us to revise our understanding of what constitutes "realism" and "naturalism"? Imaginary Reader will probably wonder about the latter in particular, given naturalism's frequent links to scientific modes of observation, evolutionary theory, etc.

Minor stylistic point, as the late Al Wlecke would say: "In Principles...; however..." "When one of his...; however..." The argument doesn't appear to mandate repeating your sentence structure.

Andrew R.

I can't really offer substantive comments, as my own field (thirteenth-century catechesis in England) is pretty far and away removed from yours.

In the realm of pure puffery, though, I would like to note that I will almost certainly download a copy of your dissertation once you've defended the thing and it's up on ProQuest.

Amanda Claybaugh

I'm so glad you posted this, Scott--I've been really curious to see how your whole project fits together, and this draft has given me a lot to think about (in fact, I was just talking about Lamarck (and you!) in my postbellum novel course).

Since you're asking for advice, I'd say that JPool, Stephen, and Miriam are exactly right: you're defending an approach when you should be summarizing an argument, and the payoff of your argument should be literary. (I do have thoughts about how to translate this advice into specific revisions, and you can e-mail me if you're interested). It seems to me that one way of getting to the literary payoff might be to explain why you're focusing on these four authors, which you need to do in any case since this is not the obvious canon.

As for length, I'm surprised to see such differences of opinion here, although I'm guessing that at least some of it is disciplinary. In my department, we tell students to write two pages, single-spaced, with one page describing the project as a whole and one page summarizing the chapters. I had thought that this was the norm for English jobs--certainly, it describes the vast majority of abstracts I've read in my time on various search committees. But Stephen's comment suggests I'm misremembering?

Rich Puchalsky

For real condensation, you should just do it in a limerick:

Late 19th, when Darwin was young,
Evolutionary theories did throng
Wharton, London, and Twain
Had Lamark on the brain
So Hofstadter is just wrong


The comments here point to what I think is a structural problem with my dissertation: my "introduction" currently consists of the intellectual history you see in the first two paragraphs. It shouldn't. That should be my first chapter and -- I can't believe I'm writing this -- I need to produce another introduction, one which, as you all advise above, demonstrates how the shift from social Darwinism to what I call "evolutionisms" impacts literary naturalism and realism. At the moment, I'm not exactly sure how to do that -- that is, I'm not sure what this means to the big picture. I'm just glad I have the opportunity to address the big picture at all.

Now, I just need to start thinking about which version of realism/naturalism I think I'll be revising. So many to choose from!


Rich, I think that last line would scan better as "And so Hofstadter is wrong."

I rendered my research as a haiku once. Fun, but there's damned few hiring committees that would be favorably impressed. Though I'd love to work in a department like that....

I find introductions are much easier to write once I have conclusions.

Rich Puchalsky

"At the moment, I'm not exactly sure how to do that"

And I gave him a perfectly good limerick, too. Some people are never satisfied.

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