Fredson Bowers essentially founded the UVA English Dept. As part of our orientation I was part of a group who gave a talk on Bowers scholarship and role in the dept. Below is my section as pertains to why I am at UVA. Thought it might be interesting to like 3 people.
Fredson Bowers’ legacy continues today. Were it not for Bowers I doubt I would be here. Bowers’ legacy lies not so much in his publications per se but in the discourse he initiated, specifically at UVA. Prior to Bowers’ Principles of Bibliographic Description the study of bibliography existed as the handmaiden of literature. Bower’s choice to privilege the physical book as an object as worthy of study, as more than simply a container for an author’s text, rubbed some the wrong way. Moreover his conception of bibliography as a rigorous discursive field of categories and terms felt too ‘scientific’ for many literary scholars. Perhaps Bowers was a decade early. By the late 50s and early 60s Theory with a capital T oozed out of Paris and into every niche of the academy, Theory deeply concerned with structures and achieves, Theory that was pervasively conditioned, as our own Bruce Holsinger has shown, by a medievalism rooted in bibliography. And yet, simple recapitulating his influence in the field of bibliography fails to do Bowers justice. Had Bowers formidable intellect been any less accommodating to divergent views, had he been any less stringent in his responses to those same critics, Bowers legacy would be akin to any number of other great critics. Bowers did run from his critics. He invited them into his home: his campus and his journal. Today that is his greatest gift to us. He both initiated a defining discourse and insured that the critical conversations took place here. He embedded bibliography into the fabric of the university by ensuring UVA became a place where critics of all stripes could and would flourish. To close briefly: I remember the feeling the first time I ‘got’ a book in the Bowers-ian sense. It changed the course of my life. It happened under the tutelage of Ralph Hanna, himself deeply influenced by Fredson Bowers and then three years later when it came time to make my PhD decision Ralph was the one urging me towards UVA because, he said, they will respect what you do. For me, for all of us, Bowers’ legacy is the chance to continue his conversation in his house, under his house rules. The rules are simple: Be excellent. Be interesting. Don’t hide. We hope that we live up to his standards, sartorial included.