Contributed by Ivan Kreilkamp, editor, Victorian Studies
When Victorian Studies was founded in the 1950s, its interdisciplinary approach to the study of a particular period, publishing the work of scholars of literature, the fine arts, history, the history of science, political thought, among other topics -- was groundbreaking and influential, part of the birth of what became Cultural Studies. And although interdisciplinarity long ago become a buzzword and a familiar method in the academy, Victorian Studies remains a leader in offering an intellectual and institutional space for a creative, imaginative, and rigorous inter- and multi-disciplinary approach to the study of nineteenth-century Britain. Simply to scan the contents of a given issue's book reviews always sparks new lines of insight and connection for me, as work on poetry, popular science, utilitarian philosophical thought, media history, the Crimean War, Pre-Raphaelite painting, working-class ballads, music history, and so on, lies cheek by jowl. I was trained as a scholar of literature with a strong interest in cultural studies and other forms of interdisciplinary work, but editing Victorian Studies (and therefore reading each issue very carefully!) over the past decade has vastly enriched my understanding of the ways any given event, art work, cultural production, historical fact, or piece of discourse will variously signify within, to to the side of, and across traditional disciplinary categories. Even as I retain a healthy respect for the specificity of disciplinary training and the value of focused expertise -- sometimes it does take a scholar of poetry to explicate a sonnet most resourcefully, or a historian to offer the deepest analysis of a cultural turning point -- I love the way Victorian Studies invites and generates opportunities for surprising and mind-expanding affiliations, crossing-points, conversations.
I'm especially proud of the book forums we occasionally organize, in the place of a more typical single review, for work of particular interest and importance. We recently asked, for example, a social historian, a political theorist, and a literary scholar to discuss Living Liberalism: Practical Citizenship in Mid-Victorian Britain by Elaine Hadley, a literary scholar; and a historian of science, a historian who specializes in science and visual culture, and a philosophically-inclined literary critic to evaluate Objectivity, by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, two prominent historians of science. In such forums, the Victorian Studies ideal of cross-disciplinary exchange is especially visible, as a given book forum -- including a response by the book's authors -- always exceeds the sum of its parts by showing how variously a given methodology, argument, or interpretation will communicate in different disciplinary contexts.
A similar buzz is generated by our annual issues containing papers originally delivered at the North American Victorian Studies Association conference. For these, we typically ask two or three senior scholars from different fields and disciplines to choose three papers from the conference that they found especially strong and interesting, embodying emergent ideas and issues. We then publish these papers as a group along with a response from the senior scholar; the results have often been memorable, including major assessments of the state of the field by such eminent figures as Mary Poovey (English, NYU), James Vernon (History, UC Berkeley), and Tim Barringer (Art History, Yale). Part of what makes these forums so lively is their mixture of established and newer voices; it's always exciting to see a rising graduate student or new assistant professor step forward to make a compelling statement in this context, in conversation with some of the best-known scholars in his or her field (and elsewhere).
With the help of IUP, Victorian Studies is extraordinarily well-produced, with vivid cover art drawn from the contents of a given issue and, often, beautifully illuminating illustrations to articles. I like to think that the respect we pay to the visual, and to the production values of our print (and online) publication more generally, is one seemingly small but crucial element in our recognition of the richness and multivalence of scholarship and of culture itself. The Victorians certainly knew that no word, image, object, event, or statement contains or confers its own meaning in isolation: a rich interpretation or analysis of any aspect of art, thought, or culture needs to consider it in the widest context, as part of an endlessly complex totality.