I Give

2001-2002

Worcester Polytechnic Institute Professors' Work is an Encyclopedia of 19th-Century American Literature

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE/March 21, 2002
Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

Worcester, MA - March 21, 2002 - In less than seven years, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) professors Kent P. Ljungquist and Wesley T. Mott have produced 10 reference works that are the major, comprehensive sources for mid-19th century American literature. The two WPI professors of English have edited profiles of more than 1,200 writers, theologians, philosophers, educators, scholars, politicians, scientists, artists and reformers. In this body of work they have covered biographical, bibliographical, historical and cultural/intellectual/social contexts for the American Renaissance – the outburst of creativity that occurred in the decades before the Civil War.

"The literary answer to an encyclopedia, these 10 volumes comprise the standard reference sources on the period for public and private libraries," says Ljungquist. "Our audience," adds Mott, "includes high school students, college students and college professors, and we know that these books are standard reading for doctoral exams in American and European universities."

Ljungquist has edited three volumes in the Dictionary of Literary Biography series: Nineteenth-Century American Fiction Writers (1998), Antebellum Writers in the South (2002) and Antebellum Writers in New York (2001). He also edited the Facts on File Bibliography of American Fiction to 1865 (1994).

Mott is the editor of three volumes of the Dictionary of Literary Biography that were published in 2000-01: The American Renaissance in New England: The Concord Writers, Boston & Cambridge Writers and Regional Writers. In 1996 he was the editor of the Biographical Dictionary of Transcendentalism (designated an Outstanding Academic Book of the year) and the Encyclopedia of Transcendentalism.

"As editors we identify the major and minor authors for each volume and select and contract with the scholars who will write each profile," explains Ljungquist. "And, most important, we provide a substantial introductory essay for each volume that synthesizes the historical and intellectual background of the period." Ljungquist and Mott have also contributed to the volumes they have edited, as have several other WPI Humanities and Arts professors, including William Baller, JoAnn Manfra, Laura Menides and M. David Samson.

"This body of work is remarkable not only for its scope, but for the fact that these books were produced by professors at a technological university," adds Mott. "They have created a reputation for a certain kind of hard-nosed scholarship emanating from the WPI English group within the university's Humanities and Arts Department."

The professors bring impressive credentials as "Americanists" to their work as scholarly and textual editors. Ljungquist, of Holden, Mass., is WPI's most recent Paris Fletcher Distinguished Professor of Humanities and Arts. One of the world's leading authorities on the life and writings of Edgar Allan Poe, he earned a B.A. at Clark University, an M.A. at the University of Connecticut, and a Ph.D. at Duke University before joining the faculty in 1977.

The author of The Grand and the Fair: Poe's Landscape Aesthetics and Pictorial Techniques (1984), Ljungquist is known for his critical analyses of Poe's writings. In 1991 he determined that an unsigned review of Poe's series on "Autography" that appeared in 1841 was, in fact, written by Poe himself. He is a member of the American Antiquarian Society and an honorary member of the Poe Studies Association. He is on the editorial boards of both Poe Studies/Dark Romanticism and The Edgar Allan Poe Review. In 1998, WPI honored him with its Board of Trustees Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Scholarship. In addition to his contributions to Poe-scholarship, Ljungquist is the co-editor (with WPI Assistant Provost and English Professor Lance Schachterle) of the standard critical edition of James Fennimore Cooper's The Deerslayer and has written essays on Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman. Among his research and teaching interests are writers from the Worcester area, including Stanley Kunitz and S.N. Behrman.

Mott is a native of Foxboro, Mass., who lives in Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard. An expert on Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and other Transcendentalists, he is vice president of publications for the 1,800-member Thoreau Society and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the society's journal The Concord Saunterer. He is the current president of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society and publisher of its WPI-based newsletter, Emerson Society Papers, published the critical study "The Strains of Eloquence": Emerson and His Sermons (1989), edited volume 4 of The Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1992), and (with Robert E. Burkholder) co-edited Emerson Circles: Essays in Honor of Joel Myerson (1997). In 1999 The Emersonian Society honored him with its Distinguished Achievement Award for organizing the society and for his overall contribution to Emerson studies.

Mott holds an A.B., A.M. and Ph.D. from Boston University. He joined the WPI faculty in 1987 and was honored with the Board of Trustees' Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Scholarship in 1993.

Mott says he was attracted to WPI because Worcester is less than an hour from Concord, the heart of the Transcendental movement. "In general, undergraduates are very bright here at WPI," he says. "The fact that they elect to take courses in literature because of the Sufficiency (a WPI degree requirement) or because of an interest in the subject makes them dedicated students."

Ljungquist notes that the number of students majoring in humanities and arts has increased over the past 15 years. "We teach introductory courses and upper-level seminars in our specialties," he says. "Increasing numbers of our students are double majors. Many are interested in drama/theatre and take literature courses as significant parts of their programs."

For the past two decades, WPI has been a center of excellence in the field of textual editing, with Professors Joel J. Brattin, Ljungquist, Mott and Schacterle having published volumes in the standard edition of works of such 19th-century giants as Cooper, Dickens, Carlyle, Emerson and Thoreau.

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