Special issue of Public Humanities (Cambridge University Press)

Deadline: August 1, 2024

Call for Papers

Special Issue: Towards Global Public Literary Humanities

For Public Humanities (Cambridge UP)


Edited by Tim Lanzendörfer and Pavan Malreddy (Goethe University, Frankfurt)

The ongoing crisis of the humanities (Reitter and Wellmon 2021) has produced what Rachel Arteaga calls “an increasing interest among scholars in literary studies, however positioned, to turn toward, engage with, and learn from various publics beyond the academy” (Arteaga 2021, 1), a public humanities practice. This practice is often understood as part of a larger concern for literary studies practices as a whole, and their worldly impacts. Despite decades of work on the need to find “more cogent and compelling reasons for what we do, that need remains” (Dillon and Craig 2021, 8). Efforts to push the public humanities can also be understood as part of a larger effort to put the ‘human’ back into the humanities, as indigenous and decolonial critiques have argued – a daunting task in times when the traditional canons of the humanities [that] have a long record of firing cannons of inhumanity” (Coleman et. al 2002, 143). Forms of such reparational work have been what both Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Jonathan Kramnick call “public-facing writing” (2018, 159; 2023, 99), Dillon and Craig’s attempt to place “narrative evidence” at the heart of “public reasoning” (2021, 12), or Jens Gurr’s understanding of public debates (2024). More broadly, Fitzpatrick has sought to think through the transformation of “our working in public—creating public access, valuing public engagement, becoming public intellectuals” into “genuinely public scholarship,” “practices […] that include and are in fact given over to the publics with whom we work” (2018, 172) and which often touch and cross the line between literary studies practice and arts activism.

Various humanities disciplines have, in the past decade or so, successfully mastered at least parts of what Philip Lewis dubs the “public humanities turn” (2024). But if historians and philosophers especially have found a receptive public for both shared, often local and embedded projects and scholarly communication, the literary humanities appear to face greater difficulties, or potentially a more severe lethargy. What would—what does?—a public literary studies look like? Susan Smulyan notes that “[s]cholars in literature and the arts have taken part in public discourse by explaining how people should appreciate poetry, plays, novels, music, or paintings” (2021, 29; though cf. Arteaga and Johnsen 2021); odd, given that most literary scholars would not consider themselves experts in the appreciation of literature so much as critical readers of it. As Judith Butler notes for the American context, there is no straight path from the appreciation of literature as a medium and understanding the need for literary studies education (2022, 50): “People like literature. They just don’t like literature professors” (Kramnick 2023, 100). Much recent criticism has conflated the value of literature with the value of the study of literature; the public humanities remind us that such a conflation is unwarranted, and that we may be in need of better, public rationales. And indeed, such better rationales are important beyond themselves. To think about public literary studies is also to think about the specificity of literary studies as such: it is to ask what it is about literary studies that produces value, for whom, and how, and how we might best understand ourselves as literary humanities scholars in the wider network of social actors and across the world. It is to rethink the role of the university through the role of one of its constituent parts; to be challenged to come to terms with what it means to do literary studies in the first place.

The special issue of Public Humanities, a new Cambridge Journals OA journal, is scheduled for Fall/Winter 2025 and seeks to offer a forum for an extended discussion of what a genuinely public literary studies might look like from different disciplinary vantage points. How do we envisage it formed within, but also reshaping, the current disciplines of the literary humanities, from the quasi-national language disciplines to area studies disciplines and world literature to postcolonial literary studies? What do we think its publics are, how they might be addressed, and how does this address relate to our professional practices? With Judith Butler, the proposed special issue understands that the “question of the future of the humanities [incl. the literary humanities] is tied to the question of the value of the humanities and the general task of making public what that value is: that is, establishing the humanities as a public value or, indeed, a public good” (2022, 42). Specifically, it asks after literary studies as a public practice with a public value, understanding literary studies broadly as a “literary humanities” that crosses language, national-literary, and disciplinary boundaries. It is interested in the specific national and local contexts for public literary studies, in generalizable ideas across the disciplines, in the ways in which it matters to teach and communicate American literature in Athens or Athens, Georgia, German literature in Nairobi or Nuremberg, or Anglophone literatures from the Global South in Europe and the Americas? Where do we pick up from practices that already exist in the wider public humanities, and where do we need to forge our own routes? What might it look like to “take as our point of departure those public poetry and literature readings that compel people, especially young people from communities of color, to show up or tune in with the hope of making sense of their world” (Butler 2022, 51)? What is the relationship between our profession as literary humanist scholars and the public practices of literature?

We are looking for essays across the literary humanities disciplines that address themselves to the present and future of the public literary humanities. Subjects for contributions might include the following topics, but are not limited to them:

  • the specifics of literary studies as they pertain to their public practice
  • decolonial, indigenous, and postcolonial public intellectuals
  • literary truths and power structures
  • Discussions of the relation between the local, the disciplinary, and the global
  • discussions of concrete examples of public literary studies practice
  • the role of (professional) method in public literary studies
  • the question of what we might learn about literary studies from rethinking it as a public practice
  • the question of the form of our contributions, publically or professionally
  • the links between research and public presentation
  • the relation between spaces for the public exploration of literature (on Youtube, Booktok, Goodreads, and other online platforms, for instance) and literary studies?

Please send proposals (300-500 word abstracts & three-sentence biographies) to Tim Lanzendörfer (tlanzend@em.uni-frankfurt.de) and Pavan Malreddy (malreddy@em.uni-frankfurt.de ) by August 1, 2024. Complete essays will be due March 31, 2025.

Please also see the Cambridge Journals site for additional information on potential article formats: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-humanities/announcements/call-for-papers/global-public-literary-humanities

Submission of articles must be through Cambridge Journals Online Submission system. While the submission of full articles by March 31, 2025, is possible without abstract submission beforehand, we encourage you strongly to have touched base with us before submitting a full essay.

Works Cited

Arteaga, Rachel, and Rosemary Erickson Johnsen, eds. (2021). Public Scholarship in Literary Studies. Amherst: Amherst College Press.

Butler, Judith (2022). “The Public Futures of the Humanities.” Daedalus 151 (3), Special Issue: The Humanities in American Life: Transforming the Relationship with the Public. 40-53.

Coleman, Daniel, Marie Battiste, Sákéj Henderson, Isobel M. Findlay, and Len Findla, (2012). ‘Different Knowings and the Indigenous Humanities.’ English Studies in Canada 38 (1). 141–159.

Chaudhuri, A., ed. (2017). Literary Activism: Perspectives. Oxford University Press.

Dillon, Sarah, and Claire Craig (2021). Storylistening: Narrative Evidence and Public Reasoning. New York and London: Routledge.

Findlay, Len (2004). “Always Indigenize! The radical humanities in the postcolonial Canadian university.” Unhomely States: Theorizing English-Canadian Postcolonialism 31 (2). 367.

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen (2018). Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP.

Gurr, Jens (2024). Understanding Public Debates: What Literary Studies Can Do. London: Routledge.

Kramnick, Jonathan (2023). Criticism and Truth: On Method in Literary Studies. Chicago: U Chicago P.

Reitter, Paul, and Chad Wellmon (2021). Permanent Crisis: The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age. Chicago: U Chicago P.

Rigby, Kate (2022). Reclaiming Romanticism: Towards an Ecopoetics of Decolonization. Bloomsbury Academic.

Smulyan, Susan (2021). “What can the Public Arts Teach Public Humanities?” Doing Public Humanities, ed. Susan Smulyan. New York and London: Routledge, 28-38.