Liu, NASSR-L Discussion, Message 1 - The Fate of Our Field

Alan Liu, NASSR-L Discussion, Message 1 - The Fate of Our Field

This e-mail from Alan Liu marked the start of an intense NASSR-L dicussion. Some messages are reposted here. For the full discussion, see the NASSR- L archive.

Date: Mon, 13 Jan 1997
From: "Alan Liu" (
To: North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR-L@WVNVM.WVNET.EDU)
Subject: The Survey/a response

Susan mentioned my anticipatory worries about the the survey results that have just been released. These were the reasons (as I expressed them to Susan) why I am concerned about the survey--both in its interpretation and its use. I had wanted to write a longer, more carefully argued letter on the matter (and actually started a draft); but in the interest of timeliness I am here simply reposting my earlier language without benefit of the adjustments I would now ideally want to make: (a) a questionnaire of this sort that depends on volunteers, and e-mail-savvy ones at that, is not dependable when the issue has to do with change. The person who reads NASSR-L is more, rather than less, sensitive to change. (b) The hypothesis about the long 18th and 19th century vs. Romanticism was previewed in advance of the questionnaire; this may pre-shape the response. (c) Such a survey would be more interpretable if measured against an equivalent survey in other period-fields. (Romanticism is certainly not the only period feeling the threat of extinction. Given the recent debates in our department regarding searches in the 20th century versus searches in any previous period, it may well be that all the historical fields will before long be rolled up in a single field on the model of the "classics." In this light, the "long"-century syndrome is a step in that direction.) The reason I care about this is that I very much fear that any finding to the effect that Romanticism is dying as a professional field will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. This conclusion will be disseminated among colleagues and administrators who are looking for a reason to downsize wherever they can. I am not convinced that a survey of NASSR-L members that depends on voluntary responses can be objective or authoritative enough to warrant volunteering ourselves as the first period to put its neck on the chopping block.