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.
Beth 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.
On October 3, 2017 the English department welcomed Dr. Maurice S. Lee of Boston University 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.
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!
Prof. 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
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
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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!
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?
This guest post is by Christopher Cooney, a junior at URI. He began his career as a jazz percussion major but is now pursuing an English degree. He enjoys reading, lifting, and playing and listening to music of all kinds.
Professor Christy Clark-Pujara’s lecture on slavery in Rhode Island was both informative and eye-opening. I was not aware that the economy of Rhode Island was so reliant on the business of slavery, or for so long. Discussions of slavery often put great emphasis on the southern slave states, while the north is seen as a place where slavery was not quite as prominent. As I learned, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, Rhode Island was one of the first colonies to become involved in the slave trade, and its economy quickly became reliant upon it. Interestingly, one of the main functions of northern slavery was to sustain southern slaves, manufacturing and exporting clothing and rum. Having lived here all my life, placing all of this within the context of Rhode Island made it all the more unsettling. The vast majority of slave ships in Rhode Island left from either Newport or Providence, two places I frequent often. Another unsettling fact is this: during the peak of the slave trade, 25% of the Newport population was enslaved.
As enlightening as all this information was, Clark-Pujara made it clear that what she wanted to get across is how the business of slavery shaped the experience of slavery. To me, this is far more captivating. Facts are facts, but there’s little point in discussing them for their own sake. Facts are like compact representations. The real question is: what do they mean? What’s more important are the slaves themselves, their experience, and how these realities affected their lives. That is, in one massive way: the reliance of Rhode Island economy on slave labor effectively stalled emancipation. The well-being of slaves was held second to the well-being of the economy, as it would have been destroyed had slave labor been removed all at once. Despite this, slaves found ways to resist, rebel and stand up against the oppression.
What Clark-Pujara seemed to stress most of all was the slaves’ resilience. They did not simply lie down and accept their fate. They instead invested in themselves by establishing mutual aid societies for the welfare of their communities, and “attached these institutions to national institutions in pursuit of equality,” Clark-Pujara explained. She also emphasized the fact that slavery was essentially broken down by the slaves themselves through their actions, not simply as a result of the Gradual Emancipation Laws, illustrating their fortitude in the face of oppression. She expressed this in an extremely concise and effective way, saying that the gradual emancipation laws “reflected” the actions of the slaves rather than “catalyzed” their eventual freedom. The Gradual Emancipation Laws alone did not necessarily free the slaves; they were already in the process of freeing themselves.
This lecture was not just a stream of facts and information, it was a look at the history of people who took their lives into their own hands, and who refused to submit to the oppression thrust upon them. Clark-Pujara emphasized the importance of this particular history, and of historical knowledge in general. The slaves in Rhode Island (or anywhere else, for that matter) were not merely passive participants in their oppression; they took control and fought for freedom until it was theirs. Clark-Pujara talked about how important it is that this information persists through the years. It reminds us of how important it is to maintain autonomy, to stay conscious, and to remain vigilant in the face of injustice.
To me, this talk highlighted the importance of investigating common misconceptions within our sphere of “general knowledge.” It speaks to me even more as I become increasingly aware of the grand narratives that inhabit our lives. Today, there is an abundance of information on every subject you could possibly imagine. And often, misconceptions cut through, for example, in this case, the misconception that slavery was not prominent in the north, or that all slaves were granted freedom through the Emancipation Proclamation and 13th amendment. Thus, it is imperative that one thinks critically about the information that is being handed to them. Maybe the information that is easiest to come by isn’t the most accurate or thought through. Sometimes you need to go out of your way to find the truth. That’s precisely what happened to me in attending this lecture, as I learned things I may never have learned otherwise. And again, it’s not about the facts or the numbers, necessarily, however interesting they may be. It’s about the reality behind them. It’s about staying conscious; of history, and what it can teach us about the world we live in today.
Clark-Pujara’s 2016 book, “Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island”, goes further in depth on the subjects she discussed in her lecture. For anyone interested in learning more, here is a fantastic opportunity to educate yourself on this crucial history.
As everyone is rushing to get that grading done and those papers written, we at the blog wanted to take a moment and thank everyone for such a wonderful semester! All of your contributions help to make the Graduate English Blog a success and we couldn’t do it without you.
We’ll be taking a short hiatus during the break, but we’ll be back in January with some truly great posts. From an interview with our new Department Chair, to a write-up of students reading their original material, check back in to see all of the exciting things happening in our department and all of the amazing things our graduate students are involved in.
Drink some cocoa, play in the snow, spend time with friends and family, and have a wonderful break!
Hi, my name is Barbara Farnworth and I am a 4th year Ph.D. candidate in the English Department. I completed my Qualifying Exams in April 2016 and am currently working on my dissertation proposal. I am examining humor in nineteenth-century British literature, more specifically, how women writers incorporate irony and satire in their fiction. As I began examining humor in nineteenth-century fiction, I noticed that Jane Austen is the only nineteenth-century woman included in humor anthologies. When I developed my reading list for exams, my guiding question was: what happened to humor in women’s writing after Austen? I discovered several non-canonical authors who included irony and satire in their works. I also explored canonical authors whose humor has not received a great deal of critical attention. For my dissertation proposal, I am concentrating on how these authors employed their narrators to communicate humor. Currently, I am reading narrative theory regarding free indirect discourse and its ability to express irony.
On the home front, my daughter, Chrissy, is in her senior year at Hampshire College majoring in either animal behavior or adolescent psychology, depending on when you ask her. This year she will complete her senior project which, at Hampshire, is similar to a master’s thesis. My husband Mike and I are known as the crazy dog people of the neighborhood. We have two golden retrievers, who are couch potatoes, and a black lab who is obsessed with retrieving tennis balls. Chrissy has a dog of her own, a black lab mix, so when she is home from college we have four (yes 4!) 70 pound dogs at our house. Currently, Mike is attending a program with our youngest dog that will result in her becoming certified as a Pet Assisted Therapy dog.
I’m happy to report that, after several months of sitting on my butt and eating junk food while studying for my exams, I am finally exercising again. This summer I expanded my exercise routine with spinning and Pilates classes. Spinning is so addictive that I am participating in the 8 a.m. class at the Fitness Center with the undergraduates. Of course, I’m still eating the junk food!
The URI English Department is thrilled to announce that we have been honored with a large grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The grant, part of NEH’s “Next Generation PhD” initiative, is designed to fund planning for the innovation of humanities PhD programs. URI joins 27 other universities nationwide who received planning and implementation funding, with the goal of better preparing graduate students for today’s competitive array of Humanities career options, both in and outside of academia. As Marcus Cederström has recently urged in an article for Inside Higher Ed, “What’s missing in many humanities graduate programs is the framework that will help us translate the skills we develop, the guidance to do so and the support to pursue employment outside of academe. That has to change. And fast.” This is precisely the exciting opportunity URI’s English Department, University administrators, and both current and future PhD students have in front of them.
Dr. Kathleen Davis describes the grant as “[securing] partnerships, internships, new collaborations, and innovative curricular changes that will prepare our doctoral students to expand their career aspirations and to bring the fruits of Humanities learning to all aspects of civic life.” One of the central objectives of the NEH Next Generation Humanities PhD initiative is to increase cross-disciplinary communication and learning opportunities for doctoral students in five key areas: Coastal Environment, Health & Medicine, Publishing/Editing, Digital Humanities & Big Data, and Cultural Organizations. There are over 40 faculty, administrators, and students working on the grant from at least 10 disciplines (which readers can see here: http://web.uri.edu/nextgenphd/). Generally speaking, then, the task of the NEH committee is to ask two vitally important questions: “Where are the Humanities now?” and “Where are Humanities PhD programs going?” These have been critical questions for the Humanities for decades now, as the death knell for the Humanities has continued to be rung periodically, amidst what seems to be an increasingly Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM)—and digitally-focused world.
News stories about how the skills of Humanities undergraduate majors and doctoral students align with demands of the current job market have begun to appear. As recently as October 2016, Scientific American published an editorial staff-authored essay encouragingly entitled, “STEM is Vital—but Not at the Expense of the Humanities.” In our current moment, we may despair over the corporatization of the university, which seems increasingly designed to prepare students for jobs rather than encourage prolonged critical reflection about oneself or the world. Prominent politicians have not helped: “All the people in the world who want to study French literature can do so, they are just not going to be subsidized by the tax payer,” said governor of Kentucky Matt Bevin), while former Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio declared we need “more welders and less philosophers.” Scientific American supplies a helpful response to such reductive talk:
If . . . advocates of a STEM-only curriculum look more closely, they will find that the student who graduates after four years of pursuing physics plus poetry may, in fact, be just the kind of job candidate sought out by employers. In 2013 the Association of American Colleges & Universities issued the results of a survey of 318 employers with 25 or more employees showing that nearly all of them thought that the ability to “think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems”—the precise objectives of any liberal arts education—was more important than a job candidate’s specific major.
Contrary to what some parents, students, and politicians may think, the difference between STEM and the Humanities is not “useful v. useless.” As the editors of Scientific American show, a Humanities education offers students the opportunity to acquire skills that are not distancing them from current career demands, but are closing the gap as such skills become more and more necessary in a global business market demanding complex, precise communication between international business communities and divergent cultures.
If it is obvious, however, to the editors of Scientific American that the Humanities offers something necessary and, at times, intangible to the success of STEM fields (the “artistic sensibility” of Steve Jobs is the oft-cited example as the captain of industry who knew nothing of the nitty gritty of coding or computer engineering, yet still managed to change an entire technological field), it is still the case that many—like politicians in charge of state education budgets—need convincing of that basic premise. The Scientific American article performs for us, then, a double duty: it shows the value of the Humanities from the perspective of experts and active members in the STEM community (we see the skills that Humanities graduates bring to fields outside of the Humanities). The article also highlights, however, a gap in general understanding about the “usefulness,” importance, and value of Humanities programs and graduates. Recalling our attention to what Cederström writes above, the issue suggests itself as one of “translation.” How can the Humanities translate what we do to outsiders? How can the disciplines of the Humanities ally themselves to STEM disciplines in an effort to make this translation easier? How can we better prepare Humanities graduates to translate their skills more easily to jobs outside of the academy, and show that the depth of our theoretical training asks critical questions? This, perhaps most vitally, is the area where URI and the “Next Generation Humanities PhD” initiative is poised to intervene. With the support of the NEH and the University, we can enlarge the import of the Humanities, endeavor to create a stronger coalition of Humanities and other departments, and look eagerly to a future of the “new” and the “next,” one for which our current and prospective students will be fully prepared to take part in and, ultimately, to shape.
If you—readers—are interested in helping to bring to fruition some of the ideas put forth here (and some of the ideas put forth in planning meetings) please contact Kathleen Davis and/ or sign up for Kathleen Davis’s course next semester on the Public Humanities.