Nineteenth-Century Philanthropy: Poverty, Giving, and the Culture of Altruism

full name / name of organization: 
Frank Christianson and Leslee Thorne-Murphy/Brigham Young University
contact email: 
frank_christianson@byu.edu, lesleetm@byu.edu

Nineteenth-Century Philanthropy:
Poverty, Giving, and the Culture of Altruism

Given the pervasive nature of private philanthropy during the long nineteenth century, its influence on the basic institutions of society was inescapable. In the uneven march toward the modern welfare state, fluctuating government policy dictated the scope of the public sector and the space for private volunteerism, and philanthropists became increasingly effective at shaping policy debates. With the growth of charitable organizations came the development of presumably scientific and disinterested methods of coordinating and systematizing relief, often in order to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor. Examining the discourse involved in these methods illuminates the complex motives behind charity work and the ways in which nineteenth-century philanthropy worked hand-in-hand with the other institutions of its day.

Literature of the period both reflected these issues and sought to influence debates over the nature and function of philanthropy. While some social reform writers adopted philanthropy as the figure for their own artistic endeavors, others militated against its rising influence—Carlyle characterized the new phenomenon of “philanthropology” as a “sugary, disastrous jargon.” Many writers, understanding its polarizing energy, made it a central theme of their works.

We propose a collection of essays addressing the function of philanthropy in British and American writing of the long nineteenth century. Essays should explore the multi-faceted nature of philanthropic discourse and try to account for its prominent and dynamic role in the literature of the period.

Possible topics include:

  • Philanthropy as social classification: modes of discrimination, the “deserving poor,” detecting pauperism
  • The science of charity: ethics, altruism, philanthropy in evolutionary thought, moral and social psychology—Darwin, Spencer, Bain, etc.
  • The economics of philanthropy: business models, paving the way for the welfare state, criminal philanthropists
  • Lady Bountiful: women’s contributions to charity work and philanthropic constructions of gender
  • Imperial philanthropy: transnational exchange, colonial subjects as philanthropists, negotiating competing ideologies of race and nation, abolitionist discourses
  • Competing ideologies of philanthropy: political economy, religion, socialism, utopianism
  • The “Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists”: self-help societies, the poor as philanthropists, reverse philanthropy
  • Educational philanthropy: ragged schools, Sunday schools, working men’s institutions
  • Philanthropic fiction: authorship as philanthropy, depictions of charity in mass media, philanthropic print culture, satirical portraits

Please send a 500-word proposal and 1-page vita by August 10th, 2012 to:

Frank Christianson
Associate Professor of English
Brigham Young University
frank_christianson@byu.edu

Leslee Thorne-Murphy
Associate Professor of English
Brigham Young University
lesleetm@byu.edu

Essay drafts (7-10,000 words) will be due by August 1st, 2013.

cfp categories: 
american
interdisciplinary
journals_and_collections_of_essays
romantic
victorian