Tag Archives: Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada

Interview with Martha Stoddard Holmes at VSAWC 2015

At the 2015 VSAWC conference, Victorian Bodies, Dr. Martha Stoddard Holmes gave the inaugural McMaster Lecture, “Liminal Children: Making Disability and Childhood in Nineteenth-Century Fiction,” which examined the intersecting developments of disability and childhood as cultural constructs. Victorian Review had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Stoddard Holmes, who wrote Fictions of Affliction, the seminal book on disability in Victorian literature,  about her research and what led her to it.  She told us that her interest in disability was instigated by Victorian studies, just when the field of disability studies was emerging in the humanities in the 1990s.

In the following video clip, Dr. Stoddard Holmes discusses the need for critically studying disability’s cultural construction, and she relates how examining Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens novels led her to become aware of that need. Additionally, she explains how the Victorian era was a crucial time in the development of disability as an object of discourse and social identity.


In our discussion with her, Dr. Stoddard Holmes also informed us how activism plays an important role in the field of disability studies, particularly since the study of disability in the humanities came out of disability rights movement that began in the 1970s. In the video below, Dr. Stoddard Holmes describes some of the social restrictions faced by an important Victorian activist for the blind, Elizabeth Margaretta Maria Gilbert—restrictions that appeared even after her death through the biography written by her good friend and fellow women’s activist, Frances Martin.


Dr. Stoddard Holmes also noted that in her research experience, she has often found that the Victorians engaged in issues regarding disability that we are still engaging with in the twenty-first century, sometimes in “less imaginative ways than in the nineteenth century.”

Interview with Juliet McMaster at VSAWC 2015

At the 2015 conference of Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada, we were given the opportunity to speak with Dr. Juliet McMaster about VSAWC’s origin, inaugural conference, and role in Western Canada. Dr. McMaster told us that in 1971, following the Middlemarch Centennial Conference held in Calgary and organized by University of Calgary professor Ian Adam, Dr. Adam suggested that they begin a Victorian studies association for Western Canada, since there was a similar organization in Toronto. They decided that, while Toronto’s organization met on a single day, VSAWC would need to hold a longer conference to make it worth the extra travelling that attendees would need to do. Dr. McMaster organized the conference for the following year. “It was a very congenial, happy event,” she said, adding, “In those days, we did conferences about stars. We had six speakers and that was it.” In the video below, she describes that first conference and comments briefly on how the organization has since developed.


In this second video, Dr. McMaster reads from a speech given by her late husband, Dr. Rowland McMaster, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the organization. Both Juliet and Rowland note that the core characteristic of the VSAWC, in addition to its high-quality scholarship, has been geniality. Of the VSAWC’s keynote address, newly named the McMaster lecture in honour of both Juliet and Rowland, Dr. McMaster commented, “I would like it to exemplify the best in Victorian studies, by the best.”


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:


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.