Park Church Summer Lecture Series

The Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College is pleased to announce the 2017 Park Church Summer Lecture Series.  The lecture series features three lectures in June at the historic and cultural landmark, The Park Church, 208 W. Gray Street, Elmira.   

The Park Church Lecture Series is free and open to the public.  Doors open at 7:00 p.m. for guided tours of The Park Church, with lectures beginning at 7:30 p.m.

The first lecture, “Twain and the Hawaiian Nation” presented by Molly Ball, assistant professor of English at Eureka College is Wednesday, June 14.  The lecture addresses Twain’s approach to nationhood in work that comes out of his 1866 trip to the Hawaiian Kingdom. In letters written for a Sacramento newspaper, Twain reflects on Hawaiian society in a moment in which Native Hawaiians sought to make their Kingdom legible to foreigners as a sovereign nation. By casting themselves as national, self-governing subjects, Native Hawaiians sought to ward off other nations’ attempts to make the Islands into an imperial holding. As Twain depicts Hawaiian scenes and settings, he troubles nationalist thought (dominant in the West in this period) that holds that national identity resides in a culturally homogenous citizenry.

The series continues on Wednesday, June 21, with “Conjuring the Superstitions of a Nation: Magic, Memory, and Huckleberry Finn,” presented by Sarah Ingle, English lecturer at the University of Virginia. In Following the Equator (1897), Mark Twain wrote, “Let me make the superstitions of a nation and I care not who makes its laws or its songs either.” Yet, despite this indication that Twain viewed superstition as a supremely powerful social force, scholars have had surprisingly little to say about the role of superstition in Twain’s most famous novel.  In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, conjure becomes a metaphor for two competing ways of reading: Jim’s fortune-telling and Huck’s transformative retrospection.

The Park Church Series concludes on Wednesday, June 28 with “Artemus Ward: The Man Who Made Lincoln Laugh,” presented by John Pascal, English teacher at Seton Hall Preparatory School in New Jersey. It is generally accepted that during his lifetime, Mark Twain was considered the preeminent American master storyteller and lecturer of humor. The tsunami that is Twain’s literary achievement can easily overwhelm the earlier vast movement of the American literary scene that led to its creation. The “underwater earthquake” of this movement is Charles Farrar Browne, but his more famous pseudonym is Artemus Ward.  This lecture will analyze the construction of Ward’s literary reputation by showing that what made Ward so popular in his time was the fact that his literary humor was rhetorically gentle. Ward parlayed the success of his nationally published letters into a commercially successful career as the first comedic lecturer to tour the nation. His platform appearances helped Twain become more professionally aware of humor’s literary and commercial value.