Making Our Departments and Disciplines Less Oppressive: An SCLA Roundtable

Each year I attend the annual conference for the Society for Comparative Literature and the Arts. It is a medium-sized, incredibly supportive and welcoming event. Their support for graduate students, non-tenured and adjunct faculty, and independent scholars shows a deep commitment to both the humanities in general and an acknowledgment of the disparities and challenges that face the discipline. Thus, it was not surprising to see on this year’s conference schedule showed a special roundtable, “Making Our Departments and Disciplines Less Oppressive.” The roundtable was intended to address the ways in which the current climate in the U.S. was affecting not only departments, but students at various institutions, and to hopefully offer some ideas and suggestions on how we might better support colleagues and students at our own institutions.

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Student Spotlight: Beth Leonardo Silva

IMG_5092Beth Leonardo Silva joined the English department in September 2013 as a Master’s student and hit the ground running. Last year, Beth received the Student Excellence in the Humanities award for all the work she does in research, teaching, and service. Currently a Ph.D. student, Beth is working on preparing for her comprehensive exams towards her dissertation. Focusing on Victorian literature, she is most interested in sibling and sibling-like relationships in novels. Alongside this work, she has published one article, “Rethinking the Familiar: Social Outsiders in Eliza Lynn Linton’s The Rebel of the Family and Rhoda Broughton’s Dear Faustina,” in Victorians Institute Journal and has two more under review. “Rethinking the Familiar” asks readers to reconsider the New Woman novel to see the outlier as the heteronormative male suitor, rather than the threatening woman, due to the sibling-like relationships that are offered at the conclusion of the novels. “Milking the System: How Breastfeeding Opens Up New Readings of Doctor Thorne and the Familiar Marriage Plot,” currently under review, considers the relationship between breastfeeding and social climbing, and “Between Siblings: Performing the Brother in Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and No Name,” also under review, looks more closely at potential incestous desire as a radical rewriting of the marriage contract.

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Testing Literature and Producing Knowledge in Moby-Dick

On October 3, 2017 the English department welcomed Dr. Maurice S. Lee of Boston leeUniversity to present his lecture titled “Testing Literature and Producing Knowledge in Moby-Dick.” Dr. Lee is currently the Hilles Bush Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and is exploring the connections between 19th century literature and that period’s information revolution. His current project, Overwhelming Words: Literature, Aesthetics, and the 19th-Century Information Revolution, informed his talk at URI.

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A Talk by Dr. Jane Goodall: Tomorrow & Beyond

goodall1On September 19, 2017, hundreds of people packed the Ryan Center to hear primatologist and legend Jane Goodall speak. Goodall, who is most well known for her work with chimpanzees in Tanzania, gave a captivating talk as part of the URI Honors Colloquium, whose theme this year is Origins: Life, the Universe and Everything. The talk began with Goodall describing her childhood, as she became fascinated with animals and nature at a very young age. She credits her mother with fostering this love of nature, and encouraging Goodall to pursue a career outside of the limits set for women in the 1940s and 1950s. Goodall described her first job in the field of primatology as one happening by chance as she visited a friend in Tanzania and was introduced to archaeologist Louis Leakey. This first assignment proved groundbreaking, and after receiving a doctorate from Newnham College at Cambridge University (without even having a bachelors first!), Goodallcontinued challenging contemporary thoughts about primates. Among her discoveries was that she realized chimpanzees have social hierarchies and can have violent tendencies, but also exhibit instances of benevolence, all of which are characteristics of humans and human society.goodall2

The parting message Goodall offered was one of hope and a call to action. After her work strictly with primates, Goodall began interacting with native people near the preserve where she was working. Her goal was to help them improve their own lives so that, when not worried about basic survival themselves, they could focus on protecting the natural resources around them. She started the program Roots & Shoots, which has now become largely a school-based environmental education program. Their mission is “to foster respect and compassion for all living things, to promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs, and to inspire each individual to take action to make the world a better place for people, other animals, and the environment” (Roots & Shoots). Children and adolescents are learning the importance of changing our mindsets and habits in order to slow, and hopefully reverse, global warming and its effects. Goodall encouraged each person in the audience to take some type of action toward protecting and renewing our environment, as one individual’s actions combined with millions of others will make a difference.

To watch a video of Dr. Goodall’s talk, go here: 

http://stream.uri.edu/archived-events/2017-uri-honors-colloquium/

For more info on Roots & Shoots: https://www.rootsandshoots.org/aboutus.

Welcome Back!

As the new semester begins, we’d like to take a moment to let everyone know about some exciting things that happened over the summer and a few upcoming events that everyone should put on their calendar!

blog nextgenProf. Kathleen Davis received The National Endowment for the Humanities Next Generation PhD Planning Grant. This project will explore career and experiential learning possibilities for twenty-first century humanities PhD students.

We will be featuring more interviews and spotlights on the blog about this exciting program, so stay tuned! In the meantime, you can learn more about the project at:

http://web.uri.edu/nextgenphd/

Our own Michele Meek and Rachel Boccio started an amazing podcast called Careers in the Public Humanities. This podcast explores the broad range of positions and prospects open to humanities PhDs beyond the tenure track. It aims to encourage cross-disciplinary learning and an engagement in research that serves diverse literary and cultural publics. .

It is being continued by Catherine Winters and Ryan Engley. Check it out at: https://soundcloud.com/user-842420423

Upcoming Events:

Oct. 26 (Thursday) 4:45-5:30

Historical Narratives: The Craft of Writing

Swan Hall 152, Hoffman Room

This discussion with historian, author, and former CFH director Marie Jenkins Schwartz and historical novelist Taylor Polites will focus on the joys and challenges of engaging with history when writing. Research is an essential part of writing any book set in the past. What approaches to research work, and when it is time to stop researching and to start writing? Both Schwartz and Polites will read excerpts from their latest books and explain how their approaches to research informed the stories they tell.

Sponsored by The Center for the Humanities

Oct. 27 (Friday) 4:00-5:30

Ocean State Writing Conference: Keynote by Masha Gessen

Swan Hallblog putin

Gessen is a journalist and author of ten books of nonfiction including the national bestseller The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.

 

 

URI at NeMLA 2017

The 2017 Northeast Modern Language Association meeting in Baltimore, MD offered many opportunities for members of the URI English Department to share their work and engage with other scholars from the northeast region. Participants included faculty, and students past and present. Our representatives presented on a wide variety of subjects from high school vampires to Shakespeare.

The URI English Graduate Students chaired and co-chaired 8 sessions on topics including Global Crime Fiction, Reading in Victorian Fiction, Collaborative Authorship, Globalized Romanticism and Turkish Literature. Third year PhD student and Graduate Faculty Liaison Jenna Guitar participated in a special session to mark the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her talk, “Buffy Summers: She Saved the World and Pedagogy a Lot,” examined the pedagogical legacy of Buffy as a forerunner of popular culture on the college classroom that has remained relevant twenty years after its initial airing. Fifth year PhD student Ashton Foley organized and presented on a panel representing her dissertation research on reading and readers in Victorian novels. The URI international community was represented by Graduate students Serap Hidir and Xinqiang Chang

URI alumna Nancy Caronia, who received her doctorate from the English program 2015, was honored as a recipient of the NeMLA Summer Research Fellowship. Caronia used the fellowship funding to work with Italian Diaspora Summer Seminar at the University of Calabria on her current research on Italian American communities and dime novels. Her poster session, titled “Transnational Passages: Italian American and Italian Women’s Literary Traditions” was showcased along with three other fellowship recipients in a special session at the conference.

Also of note was a reading by Jody Lisberger, URI Associate Professor in Creative Writing and author. Lisberger read from her piece “The Beast Down Under” as part of a panel on animal imagery in contemporary fiction. The session, titled “The Coyote in the Parking Lot: Writers Invoking Animals in an Increasingly Wild World” was sponsored by Kaya Press.

The Northeast Modern Language Association 2018 conference will be held in Pittsburgh April 12-15th. The conference theme is “Global Spaces, Local Landscapes and Imagined Worlds.” While the deadline for proposing a session has passed, abstracts are due Sept. 30th, 2017. You can submit your abstracts here: https://www.buffalo.edu/nemla/convention.html

Public Threads in the Humanities: A Panel Discussion

The English Department joined the Center for the Humanities in its annual festival, held at URI on April 6th, which was dedicated to the topic of Public Humanities. The Festival was opened by Annu Palakunathu Matthew, director of the Center for the Humanities, who awarded the Student Excellence Award Winners 2017: undergraduate students Kristina Canton (History Department), Charles Santos (Philosophy Department), graduate student Michelle M. Drummey (History Department), and PhD student Beth Leonardo Silvia, from the English Department, who not only has two articles accepted for publication but also serves as Administrative Assistant to the Center for the Humanities.

Kathleen Davis, Professor of English at URI and director of the NEH Planning Grant “Humanities at Large,” introduced the topic of Public Humanities and the “culture of yes!”, and highlighted the importance of a productive dialogue between academia and the Public.

The panel discussion was moderated by Christina Bevilacqua, a cultural curator who currently serves as Conversationalist-in residence at Trinity Repertory Company. The three main panelists—who come from different experiences, background, and education—confronted and debated the idea of Public Humanities. Each panelist defined their own approach.

What is Humanities? That question opened the discussion, as Christina Bevilacqua highlighted the way practitioners go into the world of humanities. Interdisciplinarity seemed to be the thread that bound the intervention of the panelists Shereen Marisol Meraji, co-host of NPR’s Code Switch podcast focused on race and culture in America, Ry, Cordell–Assistant Professor of English and core founding faculty member in the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Network at Northeastern University, and Loren M. Spears, Tomaquag Museum Executive Director and URI alumni.

Cordell pointed out the importance of interdisciplinarity, and gave as an example the way computational and humanist method are combined in his work. Technology is present, Cordell stated, we use it. History and literature, or the history of literature may become a history of technology. In labs, students learn about codes. Technology has become a part of the history of humanities, as digital archive is replicating a traditional archive. Technology should be interrogated, and used to perpetuate culture. Social media put people in conversation and used to spread and reinforce messages of diversity and humanity.

Shereen Marisol Meraji, with her NPR podcast that discusses the idea of race in America, proves that humanists can become activists, and that technology can have a positive impact on society. Her podcast, in her own definition, “is an archive about race and identity in America.” It is a radio archive that collects and retells oral stories, providing a virtual but important space to raise questions about memories, stories, race, and background. These are “humanities” questions. How to give the invisible a voice? That is what the Humanities do. They make those stories public. That is one of the values of the Humanities.

Christina Bevilacqua moved the discussion to Digital Humanities and the relationship between history and technology. How to combine, then, archival work in 19th, 18th century history and literature, with technology?

Loren M. Spears jumped in the conversation. She illustrated how her work in Tomaquag Museum is using different types of media such as videos and podcast to enlarge the interested audience and involve more young people in the museum’s life, which is based on connections. Connections between communities and families. Between past and present. Archival research and digital archive. The humanists’ job, after all, is to tell stories. And the question is, how do we tell stories? How do we recollect them? How do we make them available for future generations? How to involve the community members, students, and the public, in the life of a museum?

Loren Spears shares her cultural knowledge and traditional arts with the Public through museum programs. A museum brings new knowledge and awareness about history and the history of the community.

English majors are in demand, but there is an existing stereotype about the uselessness of humanities. In her speech, Spears sounded encouraging and supportive towards the students and the humanists who are now going into the job market. Spears reported about one of her internships, a young student who was trained during her experience in the Tomaquag Museum to write grant proposals, share her knowledge with the public, and to make her skills crucial and necessary to the success of the museum’s projects.

The Public seems to ask the university system to engage in a conversation about the practical society’s needs. The Humanities are becoming the ideal bridge that makes the encounter between the academia and the outside world finally possible.

Photos of the event can be found here: http://web.uri.edu/humanities/

 

The Global Ocean: Racial Geographies and the Oceanic Humanities

This week we are excited to share a guest post by Prof. Steve Mentz. Prof. Mentz teaches in the English Department at St. John’s University, working on Shakespeare, literary theory, and maritime literature and culture with a focus on the “environmental humanities.” He gave a talk entitled “Wet Globalization” at the Rumowicz Symposium and has graciously allowed us to cross-post his write-up of the event. You can find his original post on his website http://stevementz.com along with more information on Prof. Mentz, his interests, writings, and publications.

It may have been foolhardy of me to join an intense full-day symposium and workshop just three days after the madness of #shakeass17, but the gates of the wonder-world only open so often. Such a flood yesterday at URI!

Hosted by Martha Elena Rojas, James Haile, and the Rumowicz Program on Literature and the Sea, the event brought together four scholars actively working in the oceanic humanities to discuss works in progress and the state of scholarly inquiry. The short takeway for me is that “oceanic humanities” covers a lot of water and lots of ground too. The precirculated papers and short talks were varied, brilliant, and inspiring. The day’s juxtaposition of a series of vexed terms, including “global,” “racial,” and “humanities,” emphasized that the tasks oceanic scholarship has set for itself, including thinking past or at an angle to national, religious, linguistic, or geographic collectivities, remain difficult and valuable. I was especially struck, as sometimes I am not in in-group conversations among theory-minded ecofolk, about the unsettling valences of the term “posthuman,” and why it’s necessary to interrogate that category as we employ it.

Taking our speakers briefly in the reverse of the alphabetical order in which we spoke at the end of the day —

Ketaki Pant, a post-doc at Brown who’s heading off for a job in sunny SoCal next year, presented brilliant work on merchant families from Gujarat whose travels and business connections spanned the Indian Ocean from the east coast of Africa through the Arabian peninsula and the subcontinent. Exploring multilingual poetic compositions that she translated herself, she unfurled a terraqueous network of distance and connection, finances and emotional poignancy.

I spoke about “wet globalization,” a term that also appears in Shipwreck Modernity. I’m planning to use the phrase in my introduction to The Cultural History of the Sea in the Renaissance, a volume of essays I’m editing for Bloomsbury (due out in 2021!). The publishers will support illustrations, so I’ve been thinking about resonant objects and images through which to explore the inexhaustible waters. I came away from yesterday’s event convinced that I need to keep exploring the tension between “wet” experience and early modern “globalization” as both historical event and intellectual challenge.

(Side-note: when teaching a small slice of the work of the Africana studies scholar Kevin Quashie last week I came across a great new motto for what scholarship aims to do: “There is nothing promised by work other than more work.” We want generative, creative, world-opening scholarship; we hope for the changes that education creates and perhaps also for political progress, but scholarly labor is seldom about neat “solutions” or about finishing coversations.)

Jason Chang from UConn spoke about “sea coolies,” Chinese sailors who ran afoul of the U.S. Exclusion act of 1882, but their essentially maritime nature — they were not immigrants, just sailors on leave who got entangled with the authorities — seems to have convinced American courts that these were men whose “home is the sea,” which made them exempt from, or differently subject to, legal prohibitions. It’s a great project about oceanic identity and mobility in the Pacific during the emerging American imperium. I look forward to seeing more of it!

Monique Allewaert from Wisconsin-Madison opened up our talks with a preview of a new project, “American Atlantis,” which takes the sea’s third dimension — depth — as a key to its meanings. The new project about 18c rearticulations of Atlantis looks quite amazing, as does the essay she circulated on the Haitian maroon Francois Makandal. The Makandal material derived an alternative interpretive practice that used Charles Pierce’s notion of “indexical signs” to reconsider Makandal’s fetish objects, as well as his life, death, and afterlife. She also connected these indexical reading strategies — stunningly — to the poetics of Emily Dickinson.

These are all great, original projects. I feel fortunate to have been introduced to them and their authors and have had a chance to think intensely about them through the invitation of the Rumowicz program. At the risk of generalizing too quickly, I’ll offer two meta-ish points around which my thoughts are swirling today:

  1. Racial justice and posthuman circulations: These projects each in distinctive ways reemphasize the scalar, ethical, and conceptual tension between the human and the ocean. I sometimes think about this issue through the visual image of a swimmer’s body in a vast sea, but the ethical urgency of racial and social justice on human and political scales also strains against the rush to ocean-ize. I recognize that tidal pull as a risk in the practice of oceanic literary studies, very much including my own work. Monique’s effort to bring together materialisms both old (Marxist) and new (Latour-ish) seems a compelling response to this challenge. She reminds us, in terms that recall Quashie’s motto, that newer theoretical methods never quite displace, only supplement, old and intransigent questions of politics and power.
  2. Plurality of expertise: Whenever I present with historians, I’m always amazed by archival breadth and erudition. Ketaki’s linguistic acumen and Jason’s legal historiography showed me ways to engage archives that are quite alien to someone like me who spends a lot of classroom and writing time with Shakespeare’s plays. Our desire to create and support intellectual plurality — in materials, methods, conclusions, and projects — will require consciously expanding our networks of scholarship and collaboration. That’s why I’m glad to have worked intensely for ten hours yesterday at an oceanic humanities conference while still feeling sleep-deprived after a weekend with the Shakespeareans!

Finally, some quick OED-noodling that may be useful eventually (with the reminder not to trust the OED’s dates too much!):

Human – as distinct from either animals or God, from around 1450

Humane – variation on “human” that emphasizes kindness, from around 1500

humane letters – from around 1610

humanist – description of an academic working in classical languages, from around 1589 (Harington, Bacon, etc)

“the human” – from 1840

posthuman – from mid-20c sci fi, including H.G. Wells’s “posthuman monsters” in 1940

Thanks again to Martha Elena Rojas, James Haile, and the Rumowicz program for hosting this great event!

Investigating History through Archives and Interviews: A talk by Dr. Maury Klein

Dr. Maury Klein, a URI professor of history emeritus, offered his insights into to the world of historical research through archives and interviews this March at the CI. The event had a wonderful turnout with people from across disciplines at URI—from oceanography researchers to land trust stewards, English doctoral students to urban park managers—all coming out to learn how Dr. Klein makes the most of historical research and the stories it offers which can’t be found online, at the library, or in the field. Though Dr. Klein’s research is not within a scientific field, there were many takeaways for those looking to communicate science effectively to a broad public audience.

Histories Mysteries and Science’s Secrets – Disciplinary Detective Work

He opened by addressing the ways in which scientific and historical research are not so different—both seek answers like detectives in a mystery story—one in the material present, and the other in the recorded past. Though he has researched scientists, such as James Van Allen, he does not do research in labs or in the field. Or, rather, his lab and field lay elsewhere—in the interview room, library, internet, or archive—and most curiously—in the unsuspecting ways these sites overlap to lead him to obscure holdings. He has found key information that allowed him to tell the story of important histories in overlooked bookshelves of family cabins, centuries old train station warehouse dumpsters, or even as a result of a phone call from a stranger.

Nine Rules of Effective Research Learned from Five Decades of Successful Practice

Dr. Klein notes that research, regardless of discipline, shares many of the same characteristics. Keeping these characteristics in mind explicitly is his rule for producing the effective research that led to his nineteen books and numerous essays.

  1. Patience – the time and effort it takes to comb through all the sources you will need to view for a research project can be overwhelming. This can even seem like more than you can manage. His advice is, rather than think about the whole, to just continue to do the next thing.
  2. Persistence – even though you can only ever do the next thing, you must continue this effort even if the end is not in sight.
  3. Imagination – research is directed by the questions you ask. You don’t know what you don’t know, yet, with research you can’t find an answer without a question. You need to be able to imagine a question that reaches beyond what you already know.
  4. Proportion – knowing when, where, and how to cut off your research is key. Knowing how to limit the scope of a project is a first step towards this despite the imaginative leap that begins an endeavor. It is important to keep in mind that if you never finish the research, especially with something as large as a book or dissertation, it won’t matter since no one will ever see it. You need to be able to decide when to stop looking and start telling the story.
  5. Clear focus – it is difficult to read things and only look for what you are looking for, but you need to be able to do this or no amount of persistence and patience will turn your research into a story you can tell.
  6. Making Connections – the core of education is making connections between things you never saw before encountering them in close proximity. He shares how, as an undergraduate he had a common aha moment when he started to see that all the classes are connected despite their different ways of seeing the same things. It is the same at the research level. Things that seem inconsequential end up being connected, and even changing the direction of what you are doing entirely.
  7. Organization – his method for organizing his sources and notes appears to be almost archival in itself. The more stuff you have the more organized you need to be. You never want to be looking for something endlessly just in order to finish a sentence when you are finally telling the story.
  8. Style – style is about not just writing but finding a way for how you want to do the research and story drafting itself. This is a way of navigating stuff. The same system won’t work for everyone but everyone needs a system, even if it is of their own making.
  9. Judgment – you are constantly making decisions as a researcher in small ways—about where you will look, what you will address next, what is important, what the connections are. You also need to decide what will the source allow you to do, what the source tells you, how does it help you answer your question, what is the data telling you? It will not be self-evident. The more contextual and background information you know before you start, the easier it is to decide.

Though all this may sound overwhelming itself, he adds that research is fun if you like doing it. He always used to tell students who would ask: what can you do with a history major? – if you chose not to find a career doing what you like to do you’ll end up a miserable rich person. The research you do comes down to the size of what you are trying to accomplish – small projects will involve more targeted searching, and large ones comprehensive immersions – regardless of size however, you can’t control where the material takes you, and you must be willing to follow it to find the story you need to tell.

Plumbing the Archives

Here are Dr. Klein’s practical tips on doing archival work:

-Don’t take notes. You don’t know what you will need later. Always photocopy, scan, or photograph sources when possible.

-Don’t just look for primary sources, archival holdings of researchers materials also sometimes contain original documents from their own archival work, much of which may have become lost or is now even harder to access.

-You must do the initial leg work to find out where the holdings are which you need to access; this is not as straight forward as typical library searches.

-Go look at things yourself and don’t have someone do your research for you, they will make decisions for you and since you don’t know exactly what you are looking for until you find it, this can lead to missed opportunities.

-You need your own system of determining what is of interest.

-Companies that are around for a long time often hold on to centuries of records comprehensively. Many will allow you access if you ask and have the right connection.

-Large and/or important families often hang on to archival items until the death of the last surviving kin, often things get lost. Many will allow you access if you ask and have the right connection.

-A source on one thing will often convey information about something else; for example, he once found 19th century railway engineer notebooks that contain much flora and fauna notes about surrounding landscape which they were laying track through.

-Periodicals are a great source because they don’t know what is coming next so they are good for giving you the tone of the day.

Instigating Interviews

Dr. Klein notes that, often, there isn’t always enough direct primary source material to make a source driven story, so you may need to branch out. Interviews are both a good way to do this, and to find additional sources. He suggests asking people for introductions to other people you can interview to help you with your story, this often leads back to archival holdings you would not otherwise have found. Inventory who you know. Keep track of who they know. Ask around.

When there is a generation of people outgoing you can often convince a company or organization to debrief the outgoing staff and get a good story that would otherwise have been lost, or good leads. Hence, interviews often lead to unforeseen research directions, and will help you bring your story to life later, connecting it to real and present world. With contemporary history, interviews are more important often than the archival documents. Finally, and most importantly, Klein urges researchers to always record an interview, and back it up ASAP. If you do lose it, however, you can call back and say: I had some follow up questions. Use this call to clarify key information minimizing what is lost.

Telling the Story

For Dr. Klein, how he organizes his notes and sources on archival documents and interviews corresponds to how he will write the story they tell. He picks what stories to tell several ways. Sometimes it is assigned to him – an opportunity presents itself from a publisher, educational organization, or even law firm, and he accepts it if it intrigues him. Other times he decides on his own to pursue something. In this case it is often something he wants to know more about – and what better way. The point is that you never know where a topic will come from. You never know where your research is going to take you or what further avenues it is going to open up for you. It used to always be important to answer the phone as the vanguard of career success, now it is never ignore an email, explore every opportunity. Klein explains one often blunders into things. He seems to say, however, that in order to do so, you must already be immersing yourself in an area, rather than researching narrowly or transactionally. You need to carve out the space to do exploratory work and the story will usually reveal itself. When thinking about how to tell a story – how to present information so that it does not overwhelm a reader, Dr. Klein explains the way you communicate will depend on how you approach the research. For him, this leads to a sort of condensed style. He likes to say as much as he can in as small a space as possible, this leads to succinct and dense sentences and necessitates using active verbs, the opposite of, say, a Victorian style.

Most importantly, you need to be able to see the scaffolding of the story the data will tell. When a story has not been told yet it isn’t usually because the facts aren’t known, so much as it is that researchers haven’t yet found a way to scaffold the information. The scaffolding – or organizational structure – emerges during the research stage, which you make explicit in your telling. When revising his stories, he follows the same style of condensation, rather than altering the scaffolding and reorganizing or removing whole sections. He goes page by page reducing each by an equal percentage. All of this – research and writing – are more achievable if you have regular work habits – a routine that you follow. For him, this is writing seven days a week, every morning at least. He doesn’t take vacations because his work is fun. Regarding the presentation of quantitative data, he suggests always writing at a level comprehensible by a non-technical reader. He also suggests not so much explicating the data as providing it alongside a qualitative narrative which emerged from it.

 

The Job Market: An Interview with Amy Foley

This past fall, Amy Foley went on the job market for the first time. She was kind enough to answer some questions about the process and give some advice to those of us who will one day have to go through the same process. Her interview is below.

First of all, congratulations on finishing your PhD in four years! That’s truly impressive. This last fall, you went on the job market for the first time, and, as something many of us are looking forward to and also dreading, thanks for letting us pick your brain!

1. Given the state of higher education and the cuts to permanent positions happening throughout the academy, how did you feel about the number of tenure track/full time jobs that were available in your area? Were there as many as you expected? Fewer? Were you forced to stretch your area to cover certain job calls?

I was surprised that there were as many jobs as there were in the fall of 2016. I have very strong feelings about our use of the phrase “going on the market,” which reminds one of a nineteenth century debutante ball. This phrase is unnecessarily intimidating for many candidates and implies a level of importance in higher education that I think we could all do without.  Yes, our profession requires a level of preparation and a portfolio that some careers do not, but many other professions do require similar preparation or an even more rigorous application process, yet do not use this kind of simultaneously self-aggrandizing and debasing language. I did not feel disappointed about the number of jobs available since my attitude is that you only need one interested party, which is why I think candidates should apply to as many jobs as they can handle in a given time. I suppose that if you do not see the process as a coming out ball, then you will not feel rejected by a scarcity of suitors.
I was looking at primarily twentieth and twentieth first century literature positions. They were all in North America, though I will be expanding my search internationally in the future. I found some that were specific to one of my areas in global modernism. Roughly half of the ten full time positions to which I applied were in modernism. The others were more generalist or focused on specific topics that were of interest to me, such as environmental studies. I did not feel forced to apply to any jobs that were not of interest.
2. How did you prioritize which jobs to apply for?
 Since I was still writing the last two chapters of my dissertation while teaching, working as a research assistant, conferencing, and doing the service work (as we all do), I had limited time for applications this year.  I decided to apply to at least ten full time positions. As it turned out, that number somewhat matched the number of jobs I felt qualified to apply for or positions that seemed like a good fit. I am primarily interested in full time positions that require or allow me to pursue research and writing along with teaching, so I applied to the jobs that clearly facilitated both. All of the jobs to which I applied I discovered through the MLA Jobs List and HigherEdJobs. In the future, I plan to cast a much wider net.
3. What was the most time-consuming part of the process? The most difficult?
The most time-consuming part of the process was composing the first set of cover letters and any extra materials required by an application. I had not actually assembled my teaching portfolio beforehand and only one position required it. This was very time-consuming, and I would recommend putting it together earlier since it is not particularly difficult. It was also time-consuming to revise and edit one chapter of my dissertation as a writing sample since I had written it so recently and had not revised the dissertation yet. I knew it would be tough to write applications while in the middle of the dissertation and working toward a definite deadline, but I felt it was good for my own morale and experience.
4. If there was one thing you wish you’d done before you started applying to make the process easier, what would that be?
I wish I had known when I began teaching in different institutions nine years ago to hold onto student evaluations. I was very far from applying to full time positions then and did not know that those would be valuable later.
At this point, I do wish I would have applied to more postdoctoral positions, but I do not know when I would have done those on top of the work I was able to complete. Now that I am finishing my graduate career, I can focus more on postdoctoral jobs and full time applications. I would advise candidates to complete all materials that are not job-specific in the summer if possible. Teaching statements, writing samples, teaching portfolios, research statements, and dossiers can all be done ahead of time. Have as many faculty in your discipline and area as possible read your materials.
I stayed very organized throughout the process, keeping track of all descriptions and document submissions. I kept a list of jobs, descriptions, and deadlines, which I shared with my recommenders. I also gave them specific instructions for submitting letters for each job, which I think reduced chaos significantly. I wanted to make the process as painless as possible for my recommenders since these are the people supporting me the most.
5. Were you surprised by any part of the process, or was it about what you expected?
I was ABD at the time I applied. I did not receive any calls for interviews, which is exactly what I expected. I am not being self-disparaging. From everything I have read, the job market changes significantly for many candidates after having a doctorate in hand. I still consider it well-spent time, and now I have a greater advantage for my applications in the future.