Daniel Yu is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland who joined the faculty in August 2018. Daniel sat down with us for an interview about his research and the library services that prove useful in the classroom.
What is your academic background?
After earning a BA in English at UC Irvine, I completed an MFA in creative writing with an emphasis on poetry there. While earning the Master’s degree, I took some literature and critical theory classes, choosing to shift my focus to comparative literature. My PhD from Emory University is in Comparative Literature. As I completed the PhD program, I was a fellow for Emory’s Center for Faculty Development & Excellence.
What are your current research interests?
Through comparative literature, I draw parallels between linguistic and cultural literary traditions. Specifically, I am interested in the concepts of generosity and reciprocity in 18th century literature. I take an interdisciplinary approach to examine the question of what makes a good gift, making connections between literary depictions of generosity and the rise of industrial capitalism.
During the 18th century, ideas about self-interest are changing; individual greed becomes a force understood to have a positive influence on general prosperity. I’m interested in examining the question of what role generosity or beneficence plays in this context. I look at the ways morality, aesthetics, and economics are tied together in sentimental novels, and the ways morality provides a contrast to reason or logic. In contemporary society, the act of generosity has utility, meaning even gestures of radical generosity undergo a cost-benefits analysis, which I explore through the frame of continental philosophy and postmodern thinkers.
Alongside the major socioeconomic changes happening in the 18th century is the novel as a form coming into its own. I think of 1719 as a seminal year (and, coincidentally, this year marks the 300th anniversary!), when two significant works were published: Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and Eliza Haywood’s Love in Excess.
Do you have recent publications or presentations you’d like to tell us about?
Most recently, I presented at the ASECS conference — the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies — on “snuffbox spirituality” in the Laurence Sterne’s novel A Sentimental Journey. In the 1700s, tobacco represents an exemplary gift; it’s a luxury, not a necessity, and it’s shared as a way to solidify a friendship or alliance. In the novel, the protagonist exchanges snuff boxes with a monk, Father Lorenzo, and uses the box as a religious or magical implement. I examined the religious and social connotations here in my presentation.
I also have a recent article on Robinson Crusoe in the journal 18th Century Fiction, “Sociality and the Good Faith Economy in Robinson Crusoe.” (Btw, SMCM users can read the full text here!)
The English department here at SMCM is fortunate to have a long-standing partnership with the University of Ljubljana that has involved a student and faculty exchange for several years. I’m taking a trip to Slovenia this summer to give a talk on the novel The Woman of Colour, about a Creole heiress who must travel to England to marry her cousin.
How does the library help you in your research and/or the classroom?
It’s indispensable. The access to databases is vital to my research–there’s no other way to do research in literary studies. I’ve depended on the library’s copies of novels taught in class for students to get access to materials. I haven’t yet made Interlibrary Loan requests, but I’m looking forward to getting access to such a breadth of materials through that service!
What’s one thing you think students or faculty should know about the library, archives, or media center?
The library is staffed with experts who will help you. One thing I find unique about St. Mary’s is how engaged the librarians are across campus–they are in classes teaching and are integrated into many courses.
What is one 18th-century novel more people should read?
The sequels to Robinson Crusoe are great: The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe. Many people don’t realize the novel is the first in a trilogy published from 1719 to 1720. The third volume is actually a series of moral lessons drawn from the novels, as Daniel Defoe was unapologetically a moralist.
Favorite reads, whether research related or not?
I love The Expanse, both the book and the TV series. There are 8 books in the series written under the pen name James S.A. Corey. Since I commute an hour each way, I listen to the audiobooks to keep the drive interesting. The novels and the show are really well done in terms of racial representation and, from a science nerd perspective, provide a realistic depiction of space travel.
Can you tell us about an interesting class you’ve taught?
ENG 284 is a course I’m looking forward to teaching again in the fall. The course examines literature and history before 1800, and I approach this through the lens of self-writing, or autobiography. I’m hoping to build on the reflective journal writing students completed as a way to think about the self. Introspection is so important, and we don’t take enough time to do it.
If you could invite anyone, dead or alive, to guest lecture in your class, who would it be?
Adam Smith — he must have been a very conflicted guy. Within a few years, he wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations: two texts that contain almost contradictory messages about human nature.