The Center for the Study of the Novel promotes conversation on the novel and related narrative genres as these forms have been practiced across history and cultures. CSN is committed to the importance of studying literature as a primary form of human expression, even as it examines what interdisciplinary perspectives may tell us about literature and the novel in particular. CSN further is committed to studying the history and practice of literary criticism and theory illuminating the novel and its relations to society and culture.
Objects of inquiry include long prose fictions, the powerful cultural role played by the novel, oral forms and their relation to print culture, as well as the expansion of narrative into newer media, such as cinema and digital technologies. We attend to the poetic and aesthetic dimensions of the novel and ask how the literary aspects of the novel are shaped by extra-literary contexts and other artistic paradigms. Even as CSN devotes significant attention to major works of the novelistic canon, we also study forgotten and poetically devalued novels, including those that are situated at, and help to define, the boundaries of the genre.
CSN was founded by Franco Moretti in 2000. Events during his directorship (2000-2004) charted the contours of the novel across geography and history. Under the leadership of Margaret Cohen, director from 2004-2007, the center focused on how the novel edges other media, genres, and forms.
Alex Woloch directed CSN from 2007-2010, and started the Working Group on the Novel, a workshop for graduate students and faculty concentrating on narrative form, genre and the history and theory of the novel. Nancy Ruttenburg organized three conferences from 2010 to 2013: Is the Novel Secular?; Is the Novel Democratic?; and What is the Nature of Literary Being? The papers given at What is the Nature of Literary Being? have been collected for a special issue of the journal NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction. Professor Ruttenburg also introduced two initiatives, the Undergraduate Colloquia and the Stanford-Berkeley Liaison.
CSN’s outgoing director Mark McGurl organized the Sciences and Fictions conference in 2014, Novel Marxisms in 2016, and Novel Institutions in 2017. Nancy Ruttenburg returned as CSN director for the 2017-2018 academic year: she organized Novel Dostoevsky. The 2018-2020 CSN director is Margaret Cohen.