Wednesday, 29 October 2008

My wretched cover letter; or, Hire me? (This post will self-destruct before the Google-spiders spy it.) Below the fold you'll find a copy of my cover letter. It's your typical—or what I've been told is "your typical"—four graph affair: introduction summary of dissertation basic teaching philosophy (as related to the dissertation) contact information I'm not happy with it. We'll see what my advisor thinks this afternoon. (That was an audible gulp you heard.) This is, of course, only a template. I could venture into much more detail about any of these points depending on the demands of the job I'm applying for, but even where templates are concerned, the shorter and punchier, the better. Is this short and punchy enough? Dear Professor _____: I am writing to apply for the position of _____ advertised in the _____ Job Information List. I completed my Ph.D. in English at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), where I specialized in nineteenth and early twentieth century American literature and culture. In addition to the interest that shaped my dissertation—the generic history of realism and naturalism and the historical development of evolutionary theory—during my time at UCI, I helped develop the curriculum and standards for the only undergraduate program in literary journalism in the UC system. As the editor of the online journal The Valve, I have organized symposia on books directly related to the literary studies, such as Nancy Armstrong’s How Novels Think and Amanda Claybaugh’s The Novel of Progress, as well as books by literary scholars pertaining to the public sphere, such as Michael Bérubé’s What’s Liberal about the Liberal Arts? and Walter Benn Michael’s The Trouble with Diversity. My dissertation, “Maximal Diversity: Non-Darwinian Evolutionary Theory in American Fiction, 1895-1910,” argues against the tradition of literary critics who consider “social Darwinism” the ascendant evolutionary influence on fin de siècle literary and popular culture. It examines how non-Darwinian evolutionary theory manifests in the works of writers traditionally interpreted in light of Darwinian notions like “survival of the fittest,” but who are as distinct in theme, genre and mode as Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Jack London, and Silas Weir Mitchell. My thesis is that Richard Hofstadter’s powerful argument in 1944’s Social Darwinism in American Thought compelled later critics to distort the literature of the period by reading it as if the caricatured Darwinism of anti-eugenic polemics was the only evolutionary theory in which writers of the time trafficked. Each chapter reevaluates literary influence accomplishment in light of the actual evolutionary theories which influenced these writers. Chapter One, “The Ambivalent Naturalist: The Authority of Evolutionary Rhetoric in Edith Wharton’s ‘The Descent of Man’ and The House of Mirth,” documents how Wharton’s struggles against the environmental determinism manifest as structural elements of her narrative, such that the plight of Lily Bart is less an illustration of a particular evolutionary theory than a narrative experiment in evolutionary speculation. Chapter Two, “Accelerating Evolution: Social Reform and the Baldwin Effect in Jack London’s The Iron Heel and Before Adam,” addresses the apparent contradiction that has long dogged...

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