Peter L Shillingsburg

Personal History
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Peter and brother, John


1966 to 1970 I was in graduate school at the University of South Carolina, working as research assistant to James B. Meriwether.  Meriwether changed me utterly, laying the foundations for my career by training me to be a research scholar and by setting not quite but nearly impossible standards for accuracy, comprehensiveness, and usefulness in literary investigations. Bibliography and textual criticism came to life as intricate, fundamental, important, and vital aspects of literary study.  Interpretation of texts apart from this base frequently failed to impress. Like most of his students, I remember with gratitude the tough beginning, even as my professional life has led me away from his influence. The most important thing Meriwether did for me was introduce me to Miriam.  Without her, none of what follows would have happened.  Though I formed many friendships in those years, the most fruitful and long lasting have been those with James L. W. West and Noel Polk.

Peter and Noel

1969 I got my first real job as nights and weekends search-room supervisor at the South Carolina Department of Archives.  Its Director, Charles Lee, in one sentence taught me all I needed to know about Southern Pride, Grace, and Charm.  Gesturing to his very fine office in the then brand new Archives building, he said, "This is far too grand a place for Charles Lee, but it is perfect for the Archivist of the State of South Carolina."

1970 to 1997 I taught at Mississippi State University.  Before arriving to begin work, I knew nothing about Mississippi outside reports in Time and Newsweek magazines. The reality was much different, at least in Starkville--more or less appropriately named.  Mississippi was remote and rural.  It had only two cities, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Memphis, Tennessee--respectivly five and three hours of driving away.  But it was a wonderful place to raise children, with an easy and cooperative society.  I worry that my pleasant home life was supported by Mississippi's underclass in ways I did not recognize.  My children's "second mother," Mary Isaac, our housekeeper and childminder, did a magnificent job.  At my own mother's memorial service in 2003, Mary Isaac's eulogy to her was the most eleoquent and moving one given.
Of my colleagues at MSU, Price Caldwell had the greatest influence on my thinking and my way of pursuing questions.  He was not interested in debates or in winning arguments.  He merely wanted to know how what I knew or thought might affect what he knew and thought.  Once we learned to communicate, no conversation repeated old ground already struggled through; for we both kept changing.  For my first book, he provided me with the line that is the most often quoted and discussed.
    Wallace Murphree in Philosophy kept my mind busy and in check.  Joe Thompson in Aerospace Engineering kept reminding me of the importance of literature to life.
Price and AC Caldwell 

1976 to 1977 Miriam took off for New York City's Columbia University on an NEH supported seminar year.  I followed as Coordinator of the Modern Language Association's new Committee for Scholarly Editions. My experiences that year, particularly with committee members James Thorpe, G. Thomas Tanselle, Joann Boydston, and Don Cook again changed my intellectual life, broadened my horizons and propelled me into a deep engagement with the principles and theories of textual criticism.

1984  Miriam took off for Australia on a Fulbright appointment to the Royal Military College.  I followed as a visiting professor, giving the lectures that became my first book.  Our department head at U of New South Wales at RMC, Professor Harry Heseltine, holds the distinction of being the department head I would most like to imitate were I to be a department head.  His great joy was to promote the work of his colleagues, while, with little fanfare, he did as much research and publishing as they.  Great guy. But the person who changed my thinking the most that year was Jeff Doyle, who opened the world of literary theory to me.  Till then I had refused to countenance a body of writing that bristled with pretention, jargon and hot air. I suppose I was a positivist and essentialist.  Doyle taught me skeptical eclecticism.  He was an intellectual scavenger, an appropriator of ideas, endlessly curious and tolerant of ideas till he could cull out what was viable and useful to him.  From him I learned that theory was the test of practice, just as practice is the test of theory.  I found freedom  in theory to explore how apparently contradictory propositions can have power in the minds of adherents.  I wrote Scholarly Editing in the Computer Age first as a series of lectures, then as an "occasional paper" published by the RMC English Department. In 1986, an augmented version was published by the University of Georgia Press.  Its publication has brought me into valuable professional and personal relationships with colleagues I might not otherwise have gotten to know: Paul Eggert, Jim Bork, Simon Gatrell, David Greetham, Dale Kramer, George Bornstein, David Holdeman, Alex Pettit, Michael Groden, Hans Walter Gabler, Dick Van Vliet, Peter Robinson, and Gary Stringer.  It was Bornstein who arranged for publication of a revised SECA, 3rd edition, in 1996 with an introduction by Greetham.  The book has brought me many other less well-developed but valuable friendships.

1989 I took off to Australia for a year at UNSW campus at the Australian Defense Force Academy, during which I all but finished Pegasus in Harness.  Miriam, in a new position as Associate VP for Academic Affairs at Mississippi State, did not follow, except for one extended visit. The most important influence on my mind that year was exchanges, nearly daily, with Paul Eggert.
Though I sometimes think I tolerate Paul so that I can enjoy the company of his incontestably better half Anna--sculptress, painter, thinker, and finisher of other people's sentences--Paul is a great and essential questioner.  Under the guise of sincere interest in my thinking, he identified and pushed on every weak point in my arguments.  Whenever I get going now, I hear his voice in my mind saying, "Now wait just a tick, . . ."  He and I wrote my best article that year, though I of course took all the credit: "Text as Matter, Concept, and Action," Studies in Bibliography. paul
1996 Miriam took off to be Dean of A&S at Lamar University, Beaumont, TX.  I did not follow immediately, but commuted frequently that year from Starkville, MS..

1997 I was named a William L. Giles Distinguished Professor at MSU, but a job in the Research Office at Lamar University and the chance to live in one place instead of two seemed more attractive than continuing to be distinguished.

1997 to 1999 I was associate director and then associate dean of graduate studies and research at Lamar U.  My boss, Robert Moulton, was a kind mentor, though his standards for himself were higher than those of anyone I have ever worked for.  He was tireless in his endeavors to improve everything for which he was responsible.  And he was very receptive to new ideas.  I took pleasure in his calling me his idea man. 

1999 to 2003 Professor at the University of North Texas.  In some ways this was my dream job.  For the first time I had a viable and vibrant department with a real graduate program.  For the first time I had PhD students in my classes and I became director of dissertations in my field.  The library was better than those at MSU or Lamar, and its defficiencies were easily redressed at libraries in Dallas, Forth Worth and Austin.  It may be too late for life-changing influences, but my most stimulating intellectual exchanges came with David Holdeman and Haj Ross, two very different thinkers who may not have appreciated each other anywhere near as much as I did each of them.  David is a man with an intellectual conscience and a love of accuracy, reliability, and sophistication.  He is an aesthete of the mind.  Haj on the other hand is a bit like an intellectual baglady and will rummage anywhere for new things to look at, analyze, and appreciate in their own right.  I took a course in syntax from Haj; he is the most brilliant consecutive thinker and talker I've ever had the privilege to listen to.  If David is UNT's Shelley, Haj is its Coleridge.

2003 I took the post of Professor of English at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK,  in order to work with Peter Robinson, the world's best producer of electronic scholarly editions. After two years Robinson moved his opperations to the University of Birmingham. 

2005 to 2008 I gave an inaugural lecture as Professor of English, and I was made director of The Centre for Textual Scholarship at De Montfort University. See CTS. Each year that website gets older, but it still reflects some of what happened while I was there. Master Classes brought two wise greybeards of textual studies along with younger people in the field to exchange ideas.

2008 to 2013 In early 2008 I retired, very happily for two months. Then I was asked to became the Svaglic Professor of Textual Studies at Loyola University, Chicago.
My inaugural lecture was a new departure for me, made possible (or necessary) by the kind of institution that is Loyola University Chicago. The day conferences I initiated every semester were modelled on the Master Classes at DMU. My department chair, Joyce Wexler, rivaled Harry Heseltine as the best department head I had ever worked for. And my colleagues Allen Frantzen, Steve Jones, Thomas Kaminski, Micael Clark, and Edward Wheatley, to mention only those I see most often, have made the prolongation of my academic career a pleasure.
From 2011 to 2013 I served as President of the Society for Textual Scholarship (STS), and gave as my Presidential Addres, "The Semiotics of Bibliography."
2013 I retire to begin a new narrative in June 2013, DV.
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First Posted: December 2004
Updated: October 2005; April 2008; April 2012