I’m Sydney Bufkin, Mellon Digital Humanities Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Washington and Lee University. Recursive Writing is a research and teaching blog where I work through pedagogical challenges and ideas, explore new directions of inquiry and generally attempt to practice scholarship in public.
One of my roles at W&L is to support instructors in the classroom as they try out new technology and innovative assignments, so I’m always looking for new ways to engage students in the classroom. I’m a writing teacher first and foremost, and I write a lot about writing, teaching writing, grading writing and writing about writing. It is, as the name of this blog suggests, a recursive and always-ongoing process.
My own research covers a range of interests, but much of my work is in reception studies and publishing history. I’m interested in bestsellers, potboilers and the nineteenth-century publishers who made them possible. I explore the networks of newspapers and magazines of the late-nineteenth century and try to figure out what people were saying about novels in publications ranging from the highbrow to the inconsequential. I’m also exploring ways of incorporating online publishing into my writing instruction to encourage students to see their writing in contexts that extend beyond the classroom.
My other major research interest involves what was known in the nineteenth century as the “purpose novel,” or novels that attempted to make some sort of social or political intervention in their moment of publication. In 1893, author F. Marion Crawford called the purpose novel “an odious attempt to lecture people who hate lectures, to preach at people who prefer their own church, and to teach people who think they know enough already.” To Crawford, the purpose novel was a literary bait-and-switch, “a simple fraud,” and a swindle, but many of Crawford’s contemporaries praised the genre, and purpose novels were often bestsellers. Purpose novels (and purpose movies and purpose television) are still with us, and they reveal a great deal about what we imagine the world might become and how we imagine fiction can work on its readers.