Untimely Time: On History’s Instrumental Narratives

History is frequently at the heart of how people view themselves and others in modern culture. The construction of the self in political, social, religious, and other spheres often exhibits an “instrumental” use of history in Nietzsche’s terms (a category also taken up by others, notably Foucault, Trouillot, and, more recently, implicitly in Priya Satia in Time’s Monster). The past is not simply a narrative of meaning connecting causality, leading from former times to the present, but it is also a means of crafting and molding a particular moment. In other words, the present is in the past. Perceptions of history are finding footing in modern causes and are proving to be instrumental for predetermined ends. 

“Untimely Time: On History’s Instrumental Narratives” takes as its starting point recent works on history that demonstrate the value of theorizing the discipline for critical examinations in specific subfields of the past and present. This lens functions as instrumental for identity formation, political and cultural—if not also religious—will, and even serendipity, where discoveries of the past surprise scholars and leaders and force new frameworks around the way an ancient “them” relates to a modern “us.” The result can be a “usable past,” or the sort of claim about history as simply evident and obvious all the while masking the modes and manners of the work of creating history and the political ends to which such claims are put to work.

This issue seeks to produce a cross-cultural, transdisciplinary approach in which the utility and instrumentality of history are put into direct conversation across regions and subfields. This special issue will ask “where does the past lie?” “Lie” in this sense suggests a threefold approach to the subject. First, it interrogates the concept of origins, and where subfields in the areas of history have contributed, rightly or wrongly, to the notion of an inherited past. Second, “lie” refers to the grounds for writing and claiming a historical past: what evidences count? Who decides? What sorts of questions do we pose about history and why? Third, as all “inherited pasts” are matters of contention and construction, “lie” also refers to the misleading nature of historical reconstruction. When modern scholars, politicians, or cultural leaders appeal to a past for current exigencies, what happens when they are wrong, when such claims to the past are built on ideological and subpar evidentiary grounds? The goal is not, in each case, to impugn motives, but rather to trace the larger forces that give shape to what history is and what we think we are doing when we attach ourselves to a past. As such, interrogating how the past has been framed for utilitarian, political ends in subdisciplines can hopefully also provide a map in which to orient ourselves toward critical self-reflection and to label pasts “worthy of condemnation” that are being written in this very moment.  

Essays from all disciples of 20 to 25 manuscript pages are welcome. For inquiries, please email samuel.boyd@colorado.edu. Submissions are due October 1, 2024. Essays will undergo peer review, and the formatting should adhere to the Chicago-style endnote citation format. Submissions should be uploaded to the ELN website https://www.editorialmanager.com/eln/default.aspx.  


Metaphors of Compilation

This special issue of English Language Notes invites interdisciplinary perspectives on the poetic and metaphorical possibilities of compilation, a word both ubiquitous and lacking a single, agreed-upon meaning. From Latin compilatio (“a raking together, pillaging, plundering; hence, concr., sportively of a collection of documents, a compilation”), “compilation” can describe poetic composition, physical construction, and the artful orchestration of those domains by means of page-layout, indexing, and comparable readerly aids. Both action and result, compilation figures an object in terms at once material and literary.

As the turn in Lewis and Short’s definition above suggests (“hence, concr., sportively …”), metaphor inheres in compilation: the palimpsest, the dig-site, the mix-tape, the kaleidoscope, the cartograph, and the family tree are but a few analogues that scholars of the book have used to describe what compilations are like. What then are the poetics of compilation? What are the stakes of the metaphors we use to think through the problems that compilations create? What are the limits of description in the interpretation of compiled texts? Which and what kinds of compilations generate useful similitude, and to what ends? How can compiling a text, a book, or an archive make and unmake meaning? We invite textually and/or materially grounded attempts to think through such questions from scholars working across disciplines and cultures.

The co-editors are medievalists but aim to cast a wide net in terms of period, place, language, dialect, genre, repository, and archive, so as to compile fresh perspectives on materiality and textuality within the broad remit of “book history.” Too often, “book history” is taken as a proxy for “print history,” which centers the Western printer and publisher; other forms of bibliographic making become inherently marginalized. Medievalists know well the exclusionary force of normative practice, so we envision this special issue as a forum for descriptive language that may be strange or even inimical to the tropes of book-historical description most familiar for Eurocentric study.

Please send ca. 300-word abstracts for short essays of ca. 4-6k words to metaphorsofcompilation@gmail.com by June 1, 2024. Solicited essays will be due on January 10, 2025 and will receive double-blind peer review, undertaken by ELN.