English Department Faculty by Area of Specialization: Eighteenth-Century British Literature

English Department Faculty by Area of Specialization: Eighteenth-Century British Literature


Eighteenth-Century British Literature at NIU

The period from 1660 to 1789 is usually called “the long eighteenth-century,” and in British literature it extends from John Milton to William Wordsworth, but the period saw the emergence of much we take for granted today, from modern science to opera to the novel—to the United States of America. It was also the golden age of English humor: satire like Gulliver’s Travels, comic novels like Tom Jones, and plays like the bedroom farce The Country Wife, all characterized the ebullient spirit of English comedy as England emerged from civil war into an age of empire.

Graduate students interested in exploring the long eighteenth century will find inspiration in NIU English faculty who combine expertise in the field with a scholarly breadth well suited to the scope of the period.


Neo-Classicism and the Enlightenment



Professor John D. Schaeffer specializes in the rhetorical tradition which dominated British writing in the eighteenth-century. His special focus has been on the rise of science in continental Europe, especially in Giambattista Vico’s New Science. His book, Sensus Communis: Vico, Rhetoric and the Limits of Relativism (Duke University Press, 1990) introduced the concept of sensus communis (common sense in its broadest meaning) into the study of cultural history. Recently, with the assistance of a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, Dr. Schaeffer has published a
two-volume Translation from Latin into English of Giambattista Vico’s Il diritto universale (Mellen Press, 2011). In addition, he has published on the impact of the classical tradition and classical rhetoric on English letters. His teaching interests include the history of rhetoric, rhetorical criticism, science fiction, and satire.

Professor David Gorman’s interest in the eighteenth-century focuses on the Enlightenment and its impact in Britain, especially in the work of the historian Edward Gibbon and the philosopher David Hume. He is also strongly interested in narrative technique, particularly as manifested in the fiction of Laurence Sterne and Ann Radcliffe.

Dr. Gorman is also one of the department’s leading scholars in the field of literary criticism, in which his work moves in several directions: general Poetics, studying the literary elements of theme, form, and technique (including the production process itself) that go into producing literary works; the history of criticism, especially by seeking to historicize the individuals, schools, and methods of studying literature; and the application of analytical philosophy, especially the work of Gottlob Frege, to better understand how literature works by understanding something of how language does. Gorman’s work has most recently appeared in Modern Literature Quarterly, Educational Philosophy and Theory, and Poetics Today, and he recently completed a four-year term as a member of the advisory board of PMLA.


Art, Satire, and Class


Professor Sean Shesgreen (emeritus) specializes in the representations of the working and lower classes in eighteenth-century art and literature. Images of the Outcast: The Urban Poor in the Cries of London (Rutgers University Press, 2002) explores artwork called “cries” portraying the lower orders, together with the epigrammatic poems and other written texts that accompanied them, from the reign of Elizabeth I through that of Victoria. He has also published books on the eighteenth-century satiric artist William Hogarth as well as articles on Jonathan Swift and Henry Fielding. Shesgreen’s essays in Critical Inquiry, “Canonizing the Canonizer: A Short History of the Norton Anthology of English Literature” (2008) and “Anthologies and Sausages” (2009), are exposés of the vested interests lying beneath the high-minded veneer of literary canon-formation.

Shesgreen is both a Presidential Research Professor at NIU and the recipient of the campus-wide Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. His teaching repertoire includes the whole field of the eighteenth-century, including Swift, Fielding, Alexander Pope, Samuel Richardson, Samuel Johnson, and James Boswell.


If you study Eighteenth-Century British Literature at NIU

You will find courses that make connections across national, linguistic, and disciplinary boundaries. You will find faculty that challenge received wisdom and stimulate new directions for research in this exceptionally dynamic and important literary period.

You may also join exceptional Ph.D. students who have dissertated in the field, and gone on to careers in college and university teaching. Kelley Wezner, named an Outstanding NIU Teaching Assistant for 2007, in that same year completed a dissertation entitled “Paratexts in the Struggle for Textual Authority in Eighteenth-Century Prose and Poetry” and was hired as an English professor at Murray State University, Kentucky, where she has since been appointed to the administrative position of Director of Institutional Assessment.


For More Information

If you have any questions, please call (815-753-1608), email (valtmaier@niu.edu), or stop by the Department of English Graduate Studies office in Reavis 215.

M.A. in British and American Literature program requirements < http://catalog.niu.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=21&poid=3722&returnto=646>

Ph.D. in English requirements < http://catalog.niu.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=21&poid=3669&returnto=646>

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