Antje Anderson

Antje Anderson, Ph.D. (Rice University 1998) is professor emerita of British literature. For over two decades she was a generalist teaching English (and occasionally German) at liberal arts colleges in Pennsylvania and Nebraska; on the sidelines, she did research on British Victorian fiction, its adaptations, and its reception in Germany (her country of origin), focusing on Charles Dickens and George Eliot. In 2018, Antje returned to graduate school for an M.A. in Art History and a graduate certificate in the Digital Humanities (University of Nebraska-Lincoln 2020), with the goal of exploring 19th-century European and American culture in (to her) new and different ways. This eventually led her to pivot to interdisciplinary projects that seek to render interconnections among Black US-American artists, writers, and political activists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries more visible on the web and in print. In 2021, she built a public-facing website on the Black sculptor Edmonia Lewis (1844?-1907) with a subsidiary on another sculptor who followed in her footsteps, Meta Warrick Fuller (1877-1968), and she continues her research on both in the larger context of Black women sculptors. For the past three years, she has also contributed to expanding the digital and print archive of the Black novelist Charles Waddell Chesnutt (1858-1932), in her role of editorial assistant both for the Charles W. Chesnutt Archive at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and for the critical edition of his short stories Oxford University Press under the directorship of Stephanie Browner at the New School. She serves as one of the digital co-directors of the NCSA and as webmaster of the Charles W. Chesnutt Association. The biggest joy in her life is learning new things by going down research rabbit-holes, taking classes, traveling, and talking to people.

In which new directions would you like to see nineteenth-century studies evolve in the near future?

I am so encouraged by the way that we have begun to make headway in focusing on marginalized groups; I want to see that development continue in interdisciplinary and intersectional ways. I am excited for the emerging work on the 19th-century Black Transatlantic, because it spans so many different disciplines, regions of the world, and modes of inquiry. What I’d like to see, too, are more ways in which this work can become public-facing and widely available to an audience beyond academia, especially via open-source digital platforms.

What was the most recent experience that made you a stronger scholar-teacher?

Learning to do research under and with others as part of editorial teams. Collaborative work in scholarship was not front and center when I was socialized into academia in the 1990s, and 20+ years of putting teaching and administration ahead of research meant that I never got involved in collaborative projects, but just puttered around on my own. But I am learning so much from my involvement in such projects, as editorial assistant for both a traditional scholarly print edition, and for a digital archive (both for the Black writer Charles Chesnutt, 1858-1932). It makes my research feel much more useful and, for the lack of a better word, practical, and much less solipsistic.

What new thing did you learn about the nineteenth century in the last month?

There is not a month that goes by without me learning something new about the history of Black Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, since I started to delve into this three years ago with an almost blank slate. This summer, I started to learn about Black homesteaders in Nebraska and Kansas in the long nineteenth century, and in August I was able to visit the historical marker placed where the only documented Black homesteading community in Nebraska (DeWitty, later renamed Audacious, founded in 1906-07) used to be located.

What nineteenth-century dessert do you find most tempting?

I love to cook and bake—but truth be told, I have not spent a lot of time looking into 19th c. recipes, partly because they rarely “translate” successfully into today’s kitchens, and you also want to avoid the toxic food colorings! That said, I am 100% sure that bread pudding was eaten with as much enthusiasm in the 19th century as I eat it today, and probably made in very similar ways (I start with homemade sourdough raisin bread, and from there it’s just eggs, half-and-half, sugar and spices—what could be better?).

In which country and when during the nineteenth century would you like to live if you could go back in time?
That is a tough question! Given my interests in the latter half of the nineteenth century, probably in the 1890s, on the cusp of so many changes to the world. My own family’s roots make me curious about life in small-town Germany at this time—I still remember meeting one relative born in the 1890s and was thrilled with the idea of knowing someone born in the previous century as a child. But the 1890s in New York City must have been an incredibly exciting time, with opportunities—including some for women, although still not many for women or men of color—that had never been seen before. So I would love to have witnessed that, the many nasty sides of that time period notwithstanding.

If you could travel to the nineteenth century to change one thing, what would it be?
I do not know what constitutes “one thing,” but if Andrew Johnson had not become president, or had failed in dialing back Reconstruction basically immediately after it began to be implemented, that would have made a huge difference in the development of the post-bellum US and in race relationships.

Is there anything from the nineteenth century that you wish would come back into fashion?
Very little! The one exception is reading aloud from a novel in installments to a circle of friends or family in the living room at night. My father would occasionally read a snippet at dinner when I was a kid, and among my fondest memories of the time when my own kids were young is that we read several long children’s books this way over days or weeks—Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story was the biggest hit. (Sometimes I was the reader, sometimes the listener.) For the listeners to do their knitting, sewing, or quilting would need to be optional, though. I am terrible at needlework of any sort, but I doodle when I listen to others read.

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