Dr. Murray Ellison “retired” a few years ago after enjoying more than a thirty year career as a special education teacher, school principal, and a special education director for several school districts in Virginia. During his last ten full-time working years, he served as the Virginia State Director of Community Corrections Programs for the Virginia Department of Correctional Education. Since then, he has continued to be an active editor for the International Journal of Correctional Education. In 2012, he began pursuing a slow but thorough graduate study of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction at VCU. At present, he is working on his MA thesis on Edgar Allan Poe and Nineteenth-Century Science, which he is hoping to defend in the fall of 2015. He is also presently serving as a volunteer tour guide at the Poe Museum in Richmond and a literature teacher at the Lifelong Learning Center of Chesterfield.
Title: “Edgar Allan Poe and Nineteenth-Century Science: The Art of the Science Hoax.”
Panel on Nineteenth-Century Literature by Four VCU Masters’ of Arts Candidates
Date: Friday, April 24, 2015 at 11:45 a.m. in Hibbs Hall, Room 402—next to the Cabel VCU Library
The Author: Edgar A. Poe grew up in Richmond in the early nineteenth century and took his first full-time job in 1835 as a writer and editor for the Richmond-based Southern Literary Messenger.
Abstract: Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) lived at the perfect time to observe and to write about several of the most dramatic technological developments recorded in history. In 1898, renowned scientist Sir Alfred Russell Wallace called the “marvelous inventions and discoveries” of the previous one hundred years, “immensely superior to anything that had been developed up until that time.” Within a few decades, the introduction of new Industrial Age technologies such as electricity, telegraphic communications, railroads, photography, balloon-travel, astronomy, and high-speed printing presses, dramatically altered the lifestyles of the American public in ways that few could ever have anticipated.
While employed as an editor and writer at the Southern Literary Messenger, Poe worked to increase its circulation from about 500 to over 3500 paid subscribers and helped make it one of the most important literary journals in America. In 1837, he moved on to write for several of the other important newspapers in America (in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston). Most readers are familiar with his classic poems like, “The Raven” and Anabelle Lee; and his chilling works of fiction, like, “The Tell-Tale-Heart,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” However, fewer are familiar with the important works he produced about science as a journalist.
This workshop focuses on the ways that Poe’s early career journalistic article for the Southern Literary Messenger, “Maelzel’s Automated Chess Player,” reflected the uncertainties of science during the Industrial Age. Poe uncovered the hidden secrets of the “automated” chess player when it toured Richmond, and broke down the illusion that Maelzel had been trying to create with as much skill as Poe later used to create his own fictional hoaxes. He also concluded, through his journalistic investigations, that the public could be deceived by almost any spectacular false notion supported by circumstantial facts. As his career advanced, Poe also became known as the master hoaxer of his generation— both for his non-fiction and fictional narratives. This topic has increased relevance today because many modern science historians and literary scholars have concluded that they could learn more about nineteenth-century culture and science by reading works by authors like Poe, than by scrutinizing the works of professional scientists of that time-period.
Contact Murray at [email protected] for comments.