Spring Conferences Coming Up

It’s Spring Break here at URI and we’re looking forward to the 12th Annual Graduate Student Conference on April 7 and the Northeast Modern Language Association Convention April 12-15, 2018 in Pittsburgh, PA. If you’re planning to be there, make sure to check out some of our graduate students who will be presenting.

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New PhD Student, Heather J. Macpherson, awarded EGRA

Heather J. Macpherson is a first-year PhD student in Literature in the English department with interests in Poetry, Animal Studies, Modernism, and Creative Nonfiction. Her writing, mostly essays and/or poetry, have appeared in Pearl, Spillway, Clare Literary, The Broken Plate, Parlour, Niche, Gravel and other fine places. She has thrice been features editor for The Worcester Review. Heather’s poem “Sestina Lot #41994” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016 by RadiusLit.

Heather received an Enhancement of Graduate Research Award (EGRA) this fall to work on a project regarding Marianne Moore. The EGRA is offered by the Provost, the Vice President of Research and Economic Development, and the Dean of the Graduate School at URI to to support research, creative or artistic projects. These awards, of up to $1000, are competitive and offered only once a year. In addition to the application, graduate students applying for the EGRA must include a proposal and budget for their project as well as a letter of support from a faculty member (Heather is working with Dr. Mary Cappello on this project). The applications are then reviewed by an interdisciplinary committee based on the writing, benefit to the student conducting the research, and the anticipated benefit of the research to the field and wider community.

We asked Heather a bit more about how she found out about and applied for the EGRA and to tell us more about her project.

How did you learn about the EGRA?
I first learned about the Enhancement of Graduate Research Award (EGRA) at our graduate orientation. Faculty members from the science department presented a workshop on proposal and grant writing with a focus on the EGRA; this particular award has, or had, a fall deadline so there was about six weeks, I think, between the workshop and the proposal deadline.

What is your current project and how did you come to this topic?
When I was a Master’s in English student at Worcester State University, I focused my thesis on the relational discourse in three pairs of animal poems by Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore. During that time I was fortunate to receive university grant funding to do archival research at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. My current project stems from those interests.
As I continued studying and reading Moore’s poetry and letters, I became intrigued by the influence of animal studies and biology in her work. I saw the EGRA as a great opportunity to further explore Moore’s visits and research at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. My aim is to create a sound essay replicating aspects of her July 5th, 1932 visit to the museum when she was writing her poem, “The Jerboa.”

We look forward to hearing more about Heather’s project as it comes to fruition!

Professor Spotlight: Ryan Trimm

Dr. Ryan Trimm has been in the English department at URI since 2001. During his tenure here, he has served as the department chair and the director of graduate studies. He currently has a joint appointment in Film Studies and serves on the board for the Center for the Humanities on campus. Trimm received his PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and worked at Florida International in Miami before coming to URI. His main area of research is contemporary British literature and film, including postcolonial theory and literature. He recently published Heritage and the Representation of the Past in Contemporary Britain, which uses a broad range of British film, television, literature, as well as political theory and historic conservation texts. We had the chance to talk to him at the start of this spring semester to hear more about his recent book, other projects, and his current graduate seminar, Cultural Capital and Financial Fiction.

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Write Now: Genres of Writing – Opportunities for Self-Transformation

The Center for Humanities (CFH) hosted “Write Now: Genres of Writing – Opportunities for Self-Transformation” on Dec. 12, 2017. This workshop, geared towards junior faculty and graduate students, offered attendees the opportunity to rethink our relationship with writing so that it can become a more generative and productive practice. Rather than focusing solely on our output as academic writers, we were asked to consider our practices and the different types of writing we engage in to find more enjoyment in this task, allowing for exploration and aiding in clarifying ideas.

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A Conversation with Laura Marie Marciano

Laura is a 4th year PhD student working on a creative dissertation in Poetry in the English department at the University of Rhode Island. She came to pursue her PhD having completed an MFA in Performance and Interactive Media from CUNY Brooklyn. Laura is involved both on-campus and off in fostering a creative writing community, as well as teaching and publishing her own poetry and that of others. She curates Gemstone Readings in the NYC area, incorporating performance elements in non-traditional venues and heads the Literary Arts Committee at URI, which hosts readings among other projects focused on students pursuing the creative dissertation option. [br]

We reached out to her to talk more about her work and specifically LAMM presents at Artbook @ MoMA PS1, an exhibition series she is co-curating, which premiers Sunday, December 10 at 4pm at MoMA PS1.

You have an experiential poetry event at MoMA PS1 this month, what are the aims of this event? In this vein, how does experiential poetry differ from a reading or other live event? [br] 

The event at MoMA PS1 and Artbook is part of a new venture project, LAMM, in which my long time friend and fellow poet, Monica McClure, and I explore what it is like to create immersive poetry events within an institutional space, and also, consider how capital, commerce, and popular culture can effect the way poetry is experienced.[br]
Monica and I came together through my project gemstone readings. We want to evolve from the project, and transition to a different model that negotiates with mainstream culture rather than resists it altogether. We both come from humble, down-home backgrounds, have an affinity for fashion and design, and share very similar aesthetic tastes, which make the project easier to navigate with little conflict.

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Reflections on the Ocean State Writing Conference

The University of Rhode Island English department has hosted the Ocean State Writing Conference for the last eleven years. This distinguished event is planned and coordinated yearly by the creative writing faculty, Mary Cappello, Peter Covino, Derek Nikitas, Jody Lisberger, the conference director, the wonderful Tina Egnoski this year, and the conference administrative director, Michelle Carraccia.  In addition, many graduate students volunteer each year with both the preparation and in helping the conference run smoothly for attendees, from registration to cleaning up after workshops and panels. This year we asked several of the graduate students who volunteered and attended workshop sessions with our featured writers about their experiences.

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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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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:


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.



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!