From time to time we intend to use this blog to ask a scholar in our community, “What's on your desk right now? What are you working on?,” and then post the response. (We got the idea from The Believer magazine.) This seems a good way for all of us to keep up with new or forthcoming projects and to be inspired by their example. So we started by asking the question of Kevin Binfield of Murray State University.
I just spent two weeks face down in the copyedited manuscript for my book, Writings of the Luddites (forthcoming Spring 2004, John Hopkins University Press). Though famous for their violent protests, the Luddites also engaged in literary resistance in the form of poems, proclamations, petitions, songs, and letters. This volume collects complete texts written by Luddites and their sympathizers 1811-1816, organized into the three primary regions of origin—the Midlands, Northwestern England, and Yorkshire. The book includes an extensive introduction to the texts, a historical overview for those unfamiliar with the particulars of the Luddites and their activities, an exploration of their rhetorical strategies, detailed headnotes and a discussion of the social and rhetorical context. Written for the most part from a collective point of view, the Luddite writings range from judicious to bloodthirsty in tone, and reveal a fascination with the language of custom and trade, legal forms of address, petitions and political discourse, the more personal forms of Romantic literature, and the political revolutions in France and America.
I’m also working on a book tentatively titled Labor Romanticism. The book treats the poetics of several working class writers and writer collectives during the long Romantic period--Elizabeth Hands, Susanna Pearson, Janet Little, Frances Greensted, Robert Bloomfield, Christian Milne, Charlotte Richardson, William Lane, Sarah Newman, and the Luddites. My purposes are to read the verse for its formal elements, to identify a set of practices and preferences that we might call a "Labor Romantic" poetics, and to advocate reading their work as poetry with a beauty that results from locale, trade, and custom, rather than merely as sociological artifacts.
Thanks for asking!