The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

From the Editors

When Joel Weinsheimer and Jeff Smitten took over Studies in Burke and His Time in 1976 and rechristened the journal as The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation two years later, the new editors noted that “since its inception . . . the journal has continually expanded its scope, growing from a concentration on Burke and politics to its present multidisciplinary breadth.” If that impetus toward interdisciplinary expansion reached a methodological turning point in 1978, the subsequent history of ECTI has indicated the commitment of new generations of editors—Bob Markley (1982-present), John Samson (1986-1990), Bruce Clarke (1988-1997), Joel Reed (1992-2001), Hans Turley (1997-2005), and Tita Chico (2001-present)—to an ongoing dialogue among various approaches to the eighteenth century: old and new historicisms, feminist theory, cultural studies, hermeneutics, and cultural materialism. As the first journal to bring the discourses of theory into eighteenth-century studies in a self-conscious way, ECTI remains open to any critical methodology committed to a rigorous, self-critical examination of the ways in which we read literature and culture between 1660 and 1830. Yet in the last twenty years, our understandings of “literature” and “culture” have themselves undergone a significant revaluation. The nature of interdisciplinary studies imagined in the 1970s has long since been transformed, in this journal and elsewhere, into a range of dialogic inquiries that continually redefine our understandings of both the long eighteenth century and the ways in which we write about it.

The essays published over the past two decades reflect our commitment to work that pushes readers to think anew in theoretically self-conscious terms, whether in topic or methodology. As every issue of The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation indicates, we define “the eighteenth century” in broad terms. Our contributors give voice to a range of cultural and national traditions, and represent not only a number of disciplines, but testify to the significance of cross-, inter-, and multi-disciplinary work in twenty-first century scholarship. While the term “theory” in our title comes from an earlier time, the so-called “theory wars” of the 1970s, the subtitle of the journal—Theory and Interpretation—signals our continuing commitment to theoretically-informed rigor and variety, where the very terms of analysis are themselves objects of analysis.

Our recent and forthcoming special issues reflect this intellectual endeavor. In 2003, our long-time editorial colleague Hans Turley edited a double issue entitled, “Preposterous Pleasure: Homoeroticism and the Eighteenth Century,” a collection of essays devoted to re-thinking what queer theory means in eighteenth-century studies. Robert Markley’s 2004 special issue, “Europe and East Asia in the Eighteenth Century,” features work that moves beyond the Eurocentric boundaries that have typically characterized readings of the Far East. Upcoming issues similarly forge new connections among and between disciplines to enhance our critical conversations, to recast our understandings, and to pose new questions. Essays collected in a special issue, edited by Sharon Harrow, to honor J. Douglas Canfield’s contributions to eighteenth-century studies, focus on issues of economics and class; our 2006 special issue, edited by Ruth Perry, features essays on ballads and songs in the eighteenth century. The articles we publish in our other issues each year similarly exemplify cutting-edge work, offering theoretically sophisticated analyses of nationalism, gender and sexuality, race, royalism, imperialism, abolition, anatomy, the grotesque, credit, and historiography, among other topics. If the academic terrain in 2005 looks very different from that of 1978, our editorial commitment to innovative scholarship remains the same.

Penn Press is now publishing The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, but we have included on this website an expanded, on-line version of our Essay-Review section. The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation publishes substantive reviews, 1200 to 2000 words in length, that discuss recently published scholarly works in the contexts of current developments and debates in and among disciplines. Given the number of books in eighteenth-century studies published each year, we are committed to using this site as a means to supplement those reviews that are printed within the journal itself. Reviews that appear on-line this fall will be indexed as ECTI 45 (2004), Supplement ( In this respect, the on-line presence of the journal will strengthen our commitments to both cutting-edge work and continuing dialogue.

Tita Chico, University of Maryland
Robert Markley, University of Illinois