Baylor professor starts non-profit remembering Washington Irving

Knickerbocker, a ranch headquarters in Irving, is named after one of Irving’s characters Diedrich Knickerbocker.

By Cameron Bocanegra | Reporter

After years of applying, The Washington Irving Society is finally an official non-profit organization in Texas. Baylor English professor Dr. Tracy Hoffman, is president of the new society and is still learning the ropes with the help of the American Literature Association (ALA) which focuses on supporting the study of American authors’ societies.

Washington Irving (1783-1859), was an American short story writer known for his classic stories, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.” Many accounts describe him as a reclusive man who never married or produced a lineage, so his memory is only resurrected by those who study him.

“The great thing about studying someones’ life and work is you never learn everything there is to know,” Hoffman said. “Theres always more.”

While earning her Ph.D. at Baylor, Hoffman began an independent study on Irving and wrote her dissertation on his work with a focus on gender. When she graduated, she connected with ALA and began gathering other scholars interested in Irving.

“We host conferences in hopes that graduate students, Ph.D. students and scholars will donate their time to the study of Irving,” Hoffman said. “This is influence on a small scale so that people will be encouraged to give papers and do research. We are a platform that is a devotion to the academy and Irving. When you’re studying someone’s work and life, you never stop learning.”

The Washington Irving Society began going to regular conferences hosted by the ALA in 2009. A challenge for the Washington Irving Society in Texas is the location in relation to the Irving scholars who flock toward Irving’s home in New York.

The recently elected vice-president as of May 2017, Sean Keck, an English professor at Emerson College, is working on their latest project for the ALA conference in San Francisco in May 2018.

Every year, they produce panels for the ALA and send out a call for papers, an invitation to scholars who have done research on the topic. In the past they have called for papers on Irving relating to Islam, digital humanities and agriculture.

“We are taking a different approach this time, inspired by Irving’s Bracebridge dinner from his Christmas stories,” Keck said. “We’re looking at food culture connecting to Irving, especially with the the history of particular foods, the politics of the kitchen, agricultural practices, cross-cultural food encounters, mealtime rituals, hunger and overconsumption.”

While Keck works in Boston on the food panel for the next ALA conference, Hoffman is holding down the fort in Waco, working on a round table discussion to discuss Irving’s Christmas stories for this December.

“Right now our expectations have to be reasonable,” Hoffman said. “If we keep having our annual meetings, we will grow. In the future, I hope we can eventually have our own conference for our panels, but we have steps to get there. We’re still chugging along right now.”

Next steps for the officers include opening a checking account, filing with the IRS and electing a treasurer in 2018. The Washington Irving Society is not currently taking dues and is open to the student body for membership.