In the SAMLA Conference Panel 09-12, Paul Blom and co-host Desire Ameigh lead a panel titled “Scandalous Profession(al)s: Sovereignty, Authority, and Secrecy”. Following the Conference’s theme of scandal, this panel discusses the scandal involved in the development of past societies. Panelist Meghan Hodges and Samantha Gilmore each presented a scandalous development of the past, which served as the primary topics of discussion.
Samantha’s presentation focused on the Baltimore editorial scene in the early 1800s, and specifically Eliza Alexandar’s scandalous role in its development. As Baltimore developed rapidly during this period, so did its newspaper and editorial scene. This editorial scene naturally progressed into a scandalous one, as many editorials turned to humorously criticizing popular cultural, politics, and belief. This scene was dominated by male figures, so Alexandar’s presence was already intrinsically scandalous. Alexandar furthered the scandal surrounding her presence in the editorial scene by adopting a similar citicical and satirical tone of her male contemporaries, represented in her persona of “Beatrice Ironside”. Alexandar’s actions weren’t only unusual for her time, they were viewed as downright defiant to the expectations of women. It is this public defiance to the expectation of women at a widespread scale that makes Eliza Alexandar’s writing noteworthy and scandalous for its time.
Meghan Hodges’s presentation centered around Ibañez’s critique of the nationalism present in Spain in the late 1800s. As Spain had almost completely failed in its imperialistic goals, the nation was at an identity crisis. Most spanish people held on to their nationalistic beliefs, and rooted their actions in what was considered traditionally correct. Ibañez critiques this nationalism in his book “Entre Naranjos”. In this story, the protagonist, Rafael, falls in love with Leonora, a scandalous woman that defies the traditionalist values of spanish culture. However, his mother convinced him to not marry this woman and instead marry a more traditionally acceptable woman. The story progresses and when Rafael meets Leonora again she appears to not have aged and lived a fulfilling life, while Rafael has lived a miserable one. It is this positive portrayal of modernization and rejection of traditional nationalistic beliefs that creates scandal.
The panel then turned to an open discussion of both presentations. I learned a lot during this section, as the panelist and hosts began to further analyze and make connections between the two presentations. One thing I found particularly interesting was that in both situations, the writers challenged what was considered sensible at the time, and instead favored sovereignty. In the case of Rafael, he follows what is culturally expected of him, but this ultimately doesn’t make him happy. If he had instead followed his own motives, he would have likely lived a much more fulfilling life. In contrast, Alexandar takes action and doesn’t conform to what is expected of women at her time. Instead, she chooses to let her own moral compass guide her actions and express her autonomy. Neither Alexandar or Ibanñez completely reject the ideas of their time, but they show that a person shouldn’t conform to what is expected simply because it is convenient.
Overall, I took away a lot from this panel. I enjoyed the analysis of history present in both presentations, as well as how each of the texts analyzed created commentary on the cultural norms of the time period. Outside of the history discussed, I also furthered my skills in literary analysis. Watching the panelists create connections between the two presentations allowed me to think more deeply about the themes discussed, and create my own interpretations of each.
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