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The American Vandal, from The Center for Mark Twain Studies
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The American Vandal, from The Center for Mark Twain Studies

Author: Center for Mark Twain Studies

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An ever-growing collection of conversations and presentations about literature, humor, and history in America, produced by the premier source for programming and funding scholarship on Mark Twain's life and legacy.
20 Episodes
The recent HBO documentary series, directed by Raoul Peck, offers a grand narrative of European colonialism and American imperialism which is broadly sympathetic with the works of Mark Twain from the final decade of his life. In this episode, a diverse group of scholars discuss Peck's film, as well as where it fits in global cinema, the U.S. media ecosystem, and postcolonial scholarship.
A beloved member of the Mark Twain Studies community, author, and St. Louis University Professor, Hal Bush, recently suffered a traumatic brain injury which has put him into a coma. In this episode, friends and fellow scholars read to him from a series of his favorite works, mostly by Mark Twain. To learn more about how you can help, please visit Special Thanks to St. Louis University for providing theme music for this episode, a composition by Roberto Murguia and Róisín Malone.
Following on the heels of the grounding of the Ever Given in the Suez Canal last month, Matt Seybold speaks with Dr. Laleh Khalili, whose 2020 book, Sinew of War & Trade: Shipping & Capitalism in the Arabian Peninsula, covers the history, present, & potential futures of maritime transport. For a bibliography of this episode, visit
This episode brings together three scholars who have been researching and writing about Mark Twain's musical tastes and the role of music education and performance in the Clemens family household. For more information about the guests and a bibliography of works discussed during this episode, please visit
Very few embargoed archives are as momentous as Mark Twain's Autobiography, released a century after his death, but the Hale archive, opened last year, is an obvious rival. Emily Hale saved over a thousand letters from the poet and critic, T. S. Eliot, with whom she had a decades-long love affair. In this episode, we talk to three scholars who spent portions of 2020 reading the letters and processing their many surprising revelations. For more about this episode, including a bibliography, please visit
The hit Disney+ & Lucasfilm TV series, The Mandalorian, was produced under the working title of "Project Huckleberry." This allusion the Mark Twain's under-appreciated legacy as an innovator in Science Fiction provides the grounds for a ranging conversation about Star Wars, The Mandalorian, and genre fiction with Emmet Asher-Perrin of & Nathaniel Williams of UC-Davis. For more information about this episode, including a bibilography, please visit
Three scholars of finance and literature join to talk about the ongoing story of the "Reddit Revolution," members of the r/WallStreetBets forum who organized a run on several stocks, notably GameStop, using the retail trading app, Robinhood. How is this speculative mania interconnected with the 2008 financial crisis, the current economic recession, and the new U.S. Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen? For more about this episode, please visit
Following the storming of the Capitol Building on January 6th, there has been a resurgent interest in the era of Reconstruction following the American Civil War. Senators, journalists, and even scholars have perpetuated long-standing myths about Reconstruction. Brook Thomas explains and debunks some of these myths, while also arguing that an informed reckoning with the unfinished business of Reconstruction can help us understand and address the political volatility of the present day. For links to some of the works discussed in this episode, visit
The staff of the Center for Mark Twain Studies gathers in the library at Quarry Farm to discuss the recently-announced Quarry Farm Fellowships for the coming year, the peculiarities of living and working on the property, and the past and future of CMTS. For more information about applying for Quarry Farm Fellowships, please visit
Did you know that Mark Twain’s father-in-law lobbied for the release of a young woman arrested under the Fugitive Slave Law in 1853? That Twain’s grave lies in a cemetery with numerous conductors and stationmasters on the Underground Railroad? That Twain’s eulogy was given by the first woman ordained in the state of New York? With the help of Oscar-nominated actor, Hal Holbrook, and his grandson, Will Holbrook, Matt Seybold explores the largely forgotten and often surprising political history of the small town where the Center for Mark Twain Studies is located. This episode was originally produced for the official podcast of C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists. They are currently soliciting proposals for new episodes. For more information, visit
This episode focuses on a letter Mark Twain composed for his three-year-old daughter on Christmas 1875. After actor Mark Dawidziak reads the letter, Matt Seybold hosts a book club style discussion with Penne Restad and Jana Tigchelaar, two scholars who have done extensive research on the development of Christmas traditions in Nineteenth-Century America. SPOILER WARNING: The discussion (begins around 11:00) includes frank discussions of Santa and therefore may not be appropriate for young children.
James McBride's retelling of John Brown's epochal raid on Harpers Ferry through the eyes of a young black man won the National Book Award in 2013 and was recently adapted into a Showtime miniseries by Ethan Hawke. Two scholars of antebellum abolitionism discuss Good Lord Bird and, more generally, rising popular interest in the events leading up to the American Civil War.
American Humor Studies scholars Jalylah Burrell, Bambi Haggins, and Maggie Hennefeld join host Matt Seybold to discuss the recent work of stand-up comic Dave Chappelle, especially his free half-hour routine, "8:46," released directly to YouTube the month after the murder of George Floyd.
Concluding the 2020 Trouble Begins Lecture Series, Matt Seybold interposes the early careers of Mark Twain and James Redpath, both of whom, in the years surrounding the American Civil War, denounced police forces in Charleston and San Francisco for violently oppressing people of color. What does it mean to be a witness?
The Gothic has been, since Mark Twain's time, a popular way for artists to reckon with the life and afterlife of American slavery. But only recently has a Gothic tradition emerged which places black protagonists and black perspectives at its center. The recent HBO series, Lovecraft Country, is exemplary of what Sheri-Marie Harrison has dubbed New Black Gothic. In this episode she talks about the show and the artistic movement it is a part of. Show Bibliography: "The New Black Gothic" (LA Review of Books, 2018) "Global Horror: An Introduction" (Post45, 2019) "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: An Ode To An Audiobook" (Post45, 2020) "Marlon James & The Metafiction of the New Black Gothic" (Journal of West Indian Literature, 2018)
Coming off the 2020 Quarry Farm Symposium which she organized, Judith Yaross Lee talks with Matt Seybold about her ongoing project, the disciplinary history of American Humor Studies, romantic comedies, Amy Kaplan, and much more. To view the program for the 2020 Quarry Farm Symposium, which includes Dr. Lee's essay on "American Humor & Matters of Empire," as well as watch all the presentations, visit
With the backdrop of a large COVID-19 outbreak within its walls, Andrea Morrell talks to Matt Seybold about Elmira Correctional Facility, one of the oldest continuously-operational prisons in the United States. What does it mean to be a "prison town"? How has the prison system changed during the long history of ECF? What does the current outbreak reveal about its future? For more about Andrea Morrell's research, visit or check out the associate post at
Susan K. Harris, author of "Mark Twain, The World, & Me: Following the Equator, Then & Now," sits down with Matt Seybold to discuss the project that took her to Australia, India, New Zealand, and South Africa, among other places, and found her examining her own life and career, as well as the author whose footsteps she was following in.
This episode begins with Todd Nathan Thompson's paper for "The Viral Twain" panel at Virtual C19. Dr. Thompson tracks how Twain's jokes based on his visit to Hawaii were reprinted and often misprinted in the 1870s and 1880s, as Twain was increasingly approached as a pundit on annexation. The second half of the episode (24:00) contained Mark Dawidziak's Trouble Begins Lecture about the influence of Twain on Bram Stoker. For more information on joining "The Viral Twain" conversation, including the presentations by Avery Blankenship and Matt Seybold:
Mark Twain's publicist and booking agent, proprietor of the Boston Lyceum Bureau, started his career as a hardscrabble freelance journalist. He discovered he had a knack for star-making long before he met Mark Twain. Matt Seybold tells the largely forgotten tale of James Redpath becoming John Brown's "right hand man" on the cusp of the Civil War. This episode is part of "The Viral Twain" panel at Virtual C19. For more information visit or
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