03 January 2020

2020 Dunlap Fellowship Winner: Anna Flinchbaugh

The William Morris Society in the U.S. is pleased to award the 2020 Dunlap Fellowship to Anna Flinchbaugh. Ms. Flinchbaugh holds a BA in Anthropology and Environmental Studies from Middlebury College. She is currently a candidate in Pratt Institute's M.S.L.I.S. and M.A. History of Art and Design program. Her research focuses on late nineteenth and early twentieth century textile design history. Here is Ms. Flinchbaugh’s summary of her project, “The Mycorrhizal Morris: A Network Analysis of the Morris & Co. Embroidery Workshop”:
Cushion Cover (ca 1900) embroidered by May Morris. 
This work is part of the Botanical Expressions exhibition
at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. 

Drawing upon my roots in anthropology as well as my recent experiences with linked data in library and information sciences, my research in design history is centered on the deep conviction that more nuanced understandings of aesthetic impulses and influences are made possible through the examination of holistic communities than through exemplary individuals. While William Morris was certainly a singular genius, a true understanding of the reach of his ideas requires looking not simply at his own accomplishments, but at the wider network of artists, makers, suppliers, and customers that he brought together. The Morris & Co. Embroidery Workshop provides an ideal site to begin this web-weaving. My previous academic work within Pratt Institute’s History of Art and Design graduate program has revolved heavily around nineteenth century textiles and embroidery, including research on May Morris and floral wallpapers for Anca Lasc’s
Daughters of Eve: Glamorized Femininity, Fashion, and Interiors From Versailles To Today and on the Medieval roots of the art needlework movement for Frima Hofrichter’s Art by Women: 15th Century to the Present. I recently returned to research on May and William Morris in my work as a curatorial intern for the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum’s upcoming exhibition Botanical Expressions, a project that solidified for me the feedback loops between natural environment and artistic expression that underpin the work of the Morris & Co. Embroidery Workshop. 

Finally, echoing William Morris’ conviction in the importance of firsthand experience, I also draw upon more than five years of work as a natural dyer and textile artist. Building upon the work of Morris scholars such as Virginia Davis and Ray Watkinson, my current research aims to explore the ways in which the personal and professional relationships between the individuals at the Leek Embroidery Society, Merton Abbey Mills, and Morris & Co. Embroidery Workshop, as well as private contractors for Morris & Co, impacted the aesthetic output of the firm. Operating within the frameworks of political economy and ecology, this work hopes to make more visible Morris’ guiding belief in the dialectical relationship between the goods produced and the means of production. It will trace object histories from the gathering of dyestuffs to the purchase of pillows, taking note of all the human relationships that form along those journeys. The Huntington Library in San Marino holds a rich trove of resources that address these questions, including Morris’ Merton Abbey Dyebook and letters of William and May Morris. Given the rare and fragile nature of these materials, an in-person visit to the library is a must for my research needs. Once these ideas are investigated and arranged, the Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution’s forthcoming conference Retailing, Distribution and the Natural World: Historical Perspectives presents an ideal staging ground for this conversation, through its emphasis on the intersections of ecology, aesthetics, and consumption. I would like to use any funding provided by the Dunlap Fellowship to support my travel to the Huntington Library and to Retailing, Distribution and the Natural World: Historical Perspectives conference. Ultimately, this research will form the first chapter of my master’s thesis exploring the links between the Arts & Crafts movement in England and the Celtic Revival in Ireland through the embroidery and textile works produced by the two respective communities.


30 October 2019

MLA 2020: Panels Sponsored by the William Morris Society U.S.

The Morris Society in the United States is pleased to sponsor two sessions at the Modern Language Association Convention to be held in Seattle, WA, in January 2020. 

Our first session, “Re-evaluating the Pre-Raphaelites,” examines how in the past decade a number of exhibitions from Manchester to Moscow have reassessed Pre-Raphaelite art and design, from William Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision at the Manchester Art Gallery in 2009 to the traveling exhibition Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts and Crafts Movement at venues through 2021. These displays have positioned the intersection of art, design, and literature as defining features of the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement, marking them as both “avant-garde” and deeply engaged with the past. The papers in this session thoughtfully respond to these recent re-evaluations of the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement. 

1: ‘I Seek No Dream . . . but Rather the End of Dreams’: Exhibiting Edward Burne-Jones
Andrea Wolk Rager, Case Western U

2: The Radical Roots of William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites
Monica Bowen, Seattle U

3: Race and the Radicals: Victorian Racial Theory and the Arts and Crafts Movement
Imogen Hart, U of California, Berkeley

4: Toward a Historiography of Pre-Raphaelite (Post)Modernism and the Future of the Pre-Raphaelite Past
Julie F. Codell, Arizona State U

Presider, Anna Wager, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Our second session, "Ecosocialism and the Late Victorians" (co-sponsored with Association for the Study of Literature and Environment), addresses how the late nineteenth century saw writers, artists, and thinkers such as William Morris help plant the seeds of ecological concerns in socialist politics, leading to innovative approaches to both environmental and socialist ideas. The papers in this session explore the ways (literary, artistic, political) that resultant ecosocialist impulses influenced or grew out of late Victorian culture. 

1: Full Steam Ahead? Ecosocialist Thinking in Late-Century Women’s Fiction
Heidi Aijala, U of Iowa

2: ‘A Pretty Never-Never Land’: Ecosocialism and William Morris’s News from Nowhere
Jude V. Nixon, Salem State U

3: William Morris’s Ecosocialism, Then and Now
Frank A. Palmeri, U of Miami

Presider, Florence S. Boos, U of Iowa

For paper abstracts, panelist, and scheduling information for both sessions, please see http://www.morrissociety.org/MLA2020sessions.pdf    

Guest Passes

All MLA members and members of the profession that the MLA serves must register in order to participate in or attend sessions.

A convention speaker may obtain a pass for a guest who has no professional interest in language or literature; the pass is valid only to hear a presentation given by that speaker at a single session. The speaker must request the pass at the MLA registration and welcome center on the day of the session, before the center closes. The speaker must provide his or her name, session details (session number, room, date, and time), and the guest’s name. Passes may not be requested by guests of speakers or by MLA members who have not registered for the convention. MLA convention registrants may obtain free passes to the exhibit hall for guests they accompany in the hall. Persons who are not registered for the convention and who are not accompanied by registrants may purchase a one-day pass to the exhibit hall for $10. These passes are available at the exhibit registration booth, Washington State Convention Center (Atrium, level 4).

23 October 2019

Call for Applications - 2020 Joseph R. Dunlap Memorial Fellowship (Due 12/ 1/ 19)

The William Morris Society in the United States is calling for applications for the 2020 Joseph R. Dunlap Memorial Fellowship. The deadline is December 1, 2019. Applications are judged by committee, and the decision will be announced by January 15, 2020.
The Dunlap Fellowship supports scholarly and creative work about William Morris.  The fellowship offers funding of $1000 or more for research and other expenses, including travel to conferences and libraries. Projects may deal with any subject—biographical, literary, historical, social, artistic, political, typographical—relating to Morris. The Society also encourages translations of Morris's works and the production of teaching materials (lesson plans and course materials) suitable for use at the elementary, secondary, college, or adult-education level. Applications are sought particularly from younger members of the Society and from those at the beginning of their careers. Recipients may be from any country and need not have an academic or institutional appointment, nor must recipients hold the Ph.D. Although recipients are not required to be members of the William Morris Society, we encourage those applying to join and to share in the benefits of membership.
In some years the Society offers a second, smaller fellowship, the William Morris Society Award (the amount to be determined by the committee of judges).  The purpose and aims of this second award are the same as for the Dunlap Fellowship.
Applicants should send a two-page description of their projects, along with a c.v. and at least one letter of recommendation. For a translation project, please submit an additional letter from a recognized authority able to certify the applicant's competence in both languages. For teaching materials, we ask also for a cover letter describing the ways in which the materials might be used in learning situations. The Society would be pleased to publish any completed translation or teaching materials on its website, but this is not a requirement. 
Send applications by email (with the subject line "Application for the 2020 Dunlap Award") to:
Dr. KellyAnn Fitzpatrick
For more information, please see the Morris Society website.

06 April 2019

New Voices in Morris Studies: Sheryl Medlicott, Bath Spa University

[Image 1] Frontispiece of News from Nowhere,
Kelmscott Press Edition
William Morris & the Environment

When William Guest awakes in the future utopian London envisaged by Morris in News from Nowhere, the ‘smoke-vomiting chimneys’ are gone, there are salmon nets catching salmon in the Thames, and he is taken out on the river by a boatman who is utterly confounded by attempts to pay him for the boat trip, the exchange of labour for money being a completely alien concept.[1]  Evidently society has fundamentally transformed, and with it the environment. 

News from Nowhere is in many ways Morris’ response to man-made (or specifically capitalist-made) environmental degradation.  This blog post focuses on Morris’ environmentalism and the insight his utopia offers for twenty-first century responses to environmental crisis, in particular with regards to a common concern about the scale on which humans are acting as agents for environmental change.

[Image 2]  1871 Ordnance Survey Map
Morris wrote Nowhere in the context of environmental change that he perceived as crisis, and which was precursor to the environmental crises we currently face.  In the late nineteenth century London was expanding and industrialising at great pace.  As observed by Ruth Levitas in her 2000 Kelmscott Lecture, one need only look at the area surrounding Morris’ London home Kelmscott House to witness the transformation of farmland and gardens into city sprawl.  The Ordnance Survey map of 1871 shows the house set in relatively open space.  This was all built upon by the time the map was redrawn in 1894.[2]  Morris wrote News from Nowhere in 1890, in the midst of this development. 

[Image 3]  1894 Ordnance Survey Map
Nowhere is also a reaction against Edward Bellamy’s 1888 socialist utopia Looking Backward.  Bellamy’s utopia is urban, with goods delivered to the home almost instantaneously by pneumatic tube, short working lives for citizens and abundant leisure time spent taking dinner at the dining halls or listening to piped music at home.  Nowhere by contrast is decidedly rural and all about work, which is pleasurable and connects the inhabitants of Nowhere to their environment.

In Morris’ utopia, humanity is not the only beneficiary of the demise of capitalism; non-human nature is also flourishing.  Wandering by the Thames in early morning, William Guest sees ‘the bleak speckling the water under the willow boughs, whence the tiny flies they fed on were falling in myriads; heard the great chubs splashing here and there at some belated moth or other’ – a picture of biodiversity.[3]  Given the oppositional nature of News from Nowhere, this suggests that for Morris, the nineteenth century capitalist construction of place did not support an environment that was mutually beneficial for both human society and non-human nature.  Elizabeth Miller goes further and argues that Morris was ‘an early adopter of the position that capitalism is fundamentally incompatible with Earth’s ecological balance’.  She notes Morris shared the Marxist view that ‘the idea of free exchange obscured the market’s remainders of profit and surplus value’ and suggests Morris translates this imbalance in capitalist exchange across to the environment where he perceives the environmental remainders of capitalist practice – waste, dirt, filth - accumulating in ‘a vision of steady ecological destruction under capitalism’.[4]

It is certainly the case that in the absence of capitalist exchange pollution is as good as eradicated in Nowhere.  However, it is hard to see ecologism as Morris’s primary motivator for societal reform.  While the environment is an obvious beneficiary of the changes depicted, Nowhere still foregrounds human experience of, and influence on, place.  Morris’ imagined future England is described as ‘a nature bettered and not worsened by contact with mankind’, which still presumes place is mostly defined by human interaction.[5]

Morris’s privileging of the human position within the ecology is problematic to attempts to define his environmentalism in terms of modern ecological thinking.  Florence Boos has sought to align Morris’s ideals with late-twentieth century environmentalism, suggesting he anticipated what she calls ‘“spiritual” ecologists, ecofeminists, social ecologists and advocates of environmental justice’.[6]  However, key to these movements is not simply place-consciousness and love of place, which is present in News from Nowhere, but also flattening the hierarchy between humans and nature where in Western society humans have historically assumed authority over the rest of the natural world.  In News from Nowhere the human control of nature is not challenged.  When Guest enquires about the ‘wastes and forests’ he has seen, and why they are kept now England is ‘a garden’, he receives the response:

“We like these pieces of wild nature, and can afford them, so we have them; let alone as to the forests, we need a great deal of timber, and suppose that our sons and sons’ sons will do the like.”[7]

This is not an argument for the retention of ‘wild nature’ for its own sake.  Rather, these environments have been conserved for the pleasure and utility of the human population. 

Elsewhere, Morris employs nineteenth century rhetoric of man’s ‘victory over Nature’ to argue for his ideas of labour reform.  In his lecture ‘Useful Work Versus Useless Toil’ he argues:

Men urged by their necessities and desires have laboured for many thousands of years at the task of subjugating the forces of Nature and of making the natural material useful to them… that struggle with Nature seems nearly over, and the victory of the human race nearly complete… Surely we ought, one and all of us, to be wealthy, to be well furnished with the good things which our victory over Nature has won for us.

He concludes ‘Nature will not be finally conquered till our work becomes a part of the pleasure of our lives’.[8]  By this measure, the future depicted in News from Nowhere represents the conquest of nature, an idea that would be deeply troubling to the like of ecofeminists.

This is not to say that Morris’s ideas were not progressive, but they necessarily did not transcend all the ideological assumptions of his time and this makes attempts to align his position with twentieth century environmentalism problematic.  For Morris, the natural world is “our” environment, something outside us that we interact with and is defined by us.  This is typical of nineteenth century environmental thinking, even that of radical thinkers.  As Boos points out, ‘Marx was hardly an ecologist, and tended to accept the dominant economic view of nature and the environment as resources for human appropriation’.[9]

Morris likewise does not question the authority of humans in place-making or the idea that they should be agents for change within the environment.  While this is problematic in the context of twentieth century environmentalism that aims for humanity to relinquish its control over the rest of the natural world, there is a current movement to recognise that human activity has altered Earth systems to such a degree to have irreversibly changed the course of Earth’s geological history.  Our growing consciousness of the scale on which humans are acting as agents for environmental change returns us to the original nineteenth century crisis: through our human endeavours we have made place strange, made the natural abnatural, how do we deal with this?[10]

[Image 4]
Stone plaque of William Morris by George Jack,
Kelmscott Village, Oxfordshire
The ‘Morris response’, as Raymond Williams terms it, was to envisage a ‘positive movement of social change’.[11]  Morris’ response to the transformation of London in the late nineteenth century was not to doubt that humans should have such agency but to keep alive the possibility of further change.  News from Nowhere suggests there is a reciprocal relationship between the organisation of society and the condition of the physical environment.  It depicts a return to nature, but not in a retrogressive sense; rather, Morris’ imagined future England is a post-industrial environment where ecological balance is attained through the establishment of an equitable society.  Re-reading News from Nowhere in the context of twenty-first century environmental crises was to me a reminder that traces of human activity within an environment need not always be signs of its destruction, depending upon how we organise ourselves.

Sheryl M. Medlicott has recently completed her Master's degree in Literature, Landscape and Environment at Bath Spa University.  Her research interests are in utopian literature and ecocriticism - the branch of literary criticism concerned with the relationship between humans and the rest of nature, particularly in the context of environmental crisis.  She is a member of the William Morris Society in the UK and finds great inspiration in Morris's writings. 

[1] William Morris, ‘News from Nowhere’ in News from Nowhere and Other Writings, ed. by Clive Wilmer (London: Penguin, 1998), p.48
[2] Ruth Levitas, Morris, Hammersmith and Utopia (London: The William Morris Society, 2005)
[3] Nowhere, p.178
[4] Elizabeth C. Miller, 'William Morris, Extraction Capitalism, and the Aesthetics of Surface', Victorian Studies, 57 (2015), 395-404, pp.395-96
[5] Nowhere, p.159
[6] Florence Boos, An Aesthetic Ecocommunist: Morris the Red and Morris the Green’ in William Morris: Centenary Essays, ed. by Peter Faulkner and Peter Preston (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1999), pp. 21-46, p.40
[7] Nowhere, p.106
[8] William Morris, ‘Useful Work Versus Useless Toil’ in News from Nowhere and Other Writings, ed. by Clive Wilmer (London: Penguin, 1998), pp.293, 295
[9] Boos, p.25
[10] Abnatural is a term coined by Jesse Oak Taylor to mean both derived from and away from nature.  See Jesse Oak Taylor, The Sky of our Manufacture: The London Fog and British Fiction from Dickens to Woolf (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016), p. 5
[11]Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (London: The Hogarth Press, 1993), p.274

Image Sources
[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_from_Nowherescanned from Pamela Todd, Pre-Raphaelites at Home, New York: Watson-Guptill, 2001
[2] Ruth Levitas, Morris, Hammersmith and Utopia (London: The William Morris Society, 2005), p.54
[3] Ruth Levitas, Morris, Hammersmith and Utopia (London: The William Morris Society, 2005), p.58
[4] http://shoffmire.blogspot.com/2013/08/kelmscott-manor-heaven-on-earth.html