Tag Archives: VSAWC

Robert O’Kell: The History of VSAWC

By Sabrina Schoch and Reba Ouimet

At last year’s Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada conference, we interviewed Dr. Robert O’Kell, one of VSAWC’s founding members. Dr. O’Kell spoke with us about the origins of VSAWC, the ways in which the association has changed over the years, and the organization’s interdisciplinary function. The Victorian Review has been affiliated with VSAWC for several years, and the two organizations have often collaborated. Since VSAWC was first founded, in 1972, the association has brought Victorian studies scholars from Western Canada closer together, allowing them to share research and determine scholarly conventions.

Dr. Robert O’Kell and his colleagues formed VSAWC in order to meet “a need felt by scholars far and wide to get together” to share Victorian studies scholarship. At that point in the 1970s, there was significant difficulty in Victorian scholars’ ability to discus their research with academics in distant locations. There was a strong need for a central location to host a convention where scholars could share interdisciplinary research. At the first VSAWC meeting, in Edmonton in 1972, “55 or 60 of the 75 delegates were men,” but the association has shifted over the years and is now comprised primarily of women. In the early days of VSAWC, there were often two keynote speakers at each conference; usually, one represented literature and one history. Until the early 2000s, the conference tended towards literary criticism; Dr. O’Kell applauds the association’s recent attempts to balance literature and history.  Currently, there is a single conference held annually, typically with only one keynote speaker. The 2014 VSAWC convention was held in Banff, Alberta, on 26-27 April, and the keynote speaker was Dr. Aileen Fyfe, who presented on the communities behind Victorian scientific journals.

Dr. O’Kell concluded the interview with reflections on how technology has changed the ways in which we build scholarly communities in Canada:

YouTube Preview Image

Robert O’Kell

Professor Robert O’Kell is Dean Emeritus of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Manitoba. He holds a PhD in English, an MA ,and a Certificate of Victorian Studies from Indiana University, and he earned an honours BA from Carleton University. His interests include Victorian and Romantic literature, the history of the novel, and nineteenth-century politics. He is the author of Disraeli: The Romance of Politics and a founding member of VSAWC.

2014 Publication Workshop for Emerging Scholars

By Sabrina Schoch and Reba Ouimet

The Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada (VSAWC) was fortunate to have  Drs. Lisa Surridge and Mary Elizabeth Leighton host a publication workshop at the 2014 conference.  Drs. Leighton and Surridge are co-editors of the Victorian Review and have hosted one other professionalization seminar, making the 2014 Publication Workshop for Emergent Scholars their second professionalization workshop. The workshop was intended to give “cumulative advice that enables career growth” to junior faculty, graduate, and pre-tenure scholars in Victorian studies. Dr. Surridge stated that in an academic setting, students are taught to write essays but not articles, and in the publishing world, there is a significant difference. The seminar was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), which meant that the workshop was free of charge. The goals of the publishing seminar were to help participants understand “what to do to get published and the differences between an essay, a chapter, and an article.” Each of this year’s eight participants received 25 minutes of one-on-one tailored constructive criticism from Drs. Leighton and Surridge on their works in progress. At the end of the seminar, the participants redrafted large portions of their work based on the hosts’ suggestions.

Two of the 2014 seminar participants also attended last year’s workshop, but there were many fresh faces. The participants came from diverse backgrounds: scholars from various disciplines and of various levels of their scholarly careers, from students to junior faculty members, were in attendance. Drs. Surridge and Leighton reviewed a range of topics at this year’s seminar, about different “authors (Charlotte Bronte), genres (animal studies), and historical situations (pornography, law).” Dr. Surridge briefly discussed the jointly assumed risk in hosting a seminar during which such honest critique is to be expected and for which participants must bravely submit their research for advice and suggestion. The workshops are provided in an environment in which the “professor is in a position to make a class successful, but it’s the students’ willingness and participation that makes it a success.” Dr. Surridge also stressed her great respect for students at both this and last years’ conferences, as it takes great determination and courage to submit a paper for critique.

The 2014 publication workshop was held in Banff, Alberta.  Last year’s workshop was held at the VSAWC conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. Dr. Surridge briefly mentioned that the location and the students provided a great atmosphere and stated that the 2013 and 2014 seminars were “tremendously exciting.” Drs. Surridge and Leighton look forward to hosting next year’s seminar in Kelowna and to providing students and junior faculty with information about how to strategize when it comes to publishing academic papers.


The dates of the 2014 workshop were Friday, 25 April, 9-5, and Monday, 28 April, 9-12.