I’m Sydney Bufkin, nineteenth- and twentieth-century Americanist and University of Texas PhD. Currently, I am the Mellon Digital Humanities Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Washington and Lee University. My research interests include African American literature, reception study, publishing history, the literature of reform and digital humanities. I’m also fascinated by the rhetorics of online spaces, popular reading and reviewing habits, and the way reading gets discussed in the media.
My current research focuses on the genre of the American purpose novel—fiction motivated by the desire to provoke social or political change. In 1893, author F. Marion Crawford called the purpose novel “an odious attempt to lecture people who hate lectures, to preach at people who prefer their own church, and to teach people who think they know enough already.” To Crawford, the purpose novel was a literary bait-and-switch, “a simple fraud,” and a swindle, but many of Crawford’s contemporaries praised the genre, and purpose novels were often bestsellers, while at the same time promoting causes like temperance, labor reform, or socialism. In other words, the purpose novel was a viable and much-contested genre at the end of the nineteenth century, particularly since many of its defenders claimed among its ranks the most well-known and best-selling book of the past fifty years, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
I have taught a variety of courses on American literature, from surveys of American and African American literature to a course on American bestsellers designed to introduce students to the English major. My pedagogy has been deeply influenced by my work with the University of Texas’s Undergraduate Writing Center, and I emphasize a process-based, writing intensive approach to literature. I am also committed to the pedagogical importance of reception study, and each of my courses uses reception events to provide students with a framework for better understanding both the importance of literary study and their own multiple reading practices.