Category Archives: Department News

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

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.

Interview with Department Chair, Dr. Travis Williams

  1. What do you think are some of the challenges facing the department?

Numbers. We need more undergraduate and graduate enrollment, and we also need more full-time faculty hires. As usual, of course, we also need more funding at every level. These things all work together: the more undergraduates that are enrolled, the more teachers we can hire. Higher enrollment in the graduate program is also vital, especially completed degrees because that satisfies the University. In very basic ways, it provides the reasons for why we exist

  1. On the heels of that, do those challenges change in the wake of the recent election results?

Yes. We are very worried about the election results. Money for the humanities is already comparatively low and it could get even lower if the state does not receive the funding that it usually receives. There are three direct ways it could affect us: first, if there is a decrease in direct aid to students (in the form of grant aide, scholarship aide, and fellowship aide at every level); second, if student loans continue to be as expensive as they are in terms of interest rates, or it they get worse; third, if science funding really decreases. It is not an exaggeration to think that this may be a very anti-science administration and Congress. If funding for science is cut, then the University may feel the need to redistribute its funds, and that could mean that it would squeeze the humanities even more than it does already.

I am also worried about the revival of the kinds of culture wars of the late 80s with attacks on things like the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which were really terrible and from which I don’t think we have yet properly recovered. I don’t see any positive change happening there either.

  1. What new things are being talked about in the department?

 Back to the numbers question. We are trying be more organized and deliberate about how we recruit students to our various programs at both the graduate and undergraduate level, how we retain them once they are here, and how we keep in touch with them once they’ve left us. And I think in various different ways – undergraduate to graduate— we are trying to re-conceptualize what these programs are really meant to be doing and how we present them and sell them, frankly, to the people we want to be participating in them. As we know, the issue at the graduate level is that there are many, many more PhDs than there are academic jobs and I don’t see that changing considering the last question concerning the federal situation. So, re-conceptualizing what one can do with a PhD in the humanities, something that Professor Davis is working really hard on right now, and that might lead to changes in the structuring of programs, the offerings available, different tracks within a degree that people might choose from. It is all very new so none of that is certain yet, but it is what we are talking about very seriously because it is a market world and we have to move with the market. We are no longer insulated, if we ever were, from these pressures.

 At the undergraduate level, where we’ve lost 40 percent of our majors in the last eight years we need to allay fears that an undergraduate degree in English is a dead end where basically a productive career and financial security is not attainable. It certainly is not a dead end and there is plenty of evidence to show that, but that evidence has not yet caught up with the people who make larger, broader decisions at the University. And parents are still quite anxious about what a degree in English may or may not do for their children. So, representing ourselves, speaking more clearly and finding opportunities to make contact with these groups is something I am working very hard on as chair.

  1. How is the department talking about hot issues, such as adjuncts?

 Adjuncts are certainly not an ideal way to staff courses. Tenure track is always best. Here at URI we have gone from 28 to 17 tenure track positions since 2006 and we still offer so many classes. This is a poor labor and pedagogical model, especially when we think that the undergraduate needs to build relationships with the faculty. Also, tenure tracks are here for a long time, which is of course not the case with itinerant faculty. We also need to make more generous working conditions for adjuncts. We need to bring them in. We need to extend the invitation to participate. And we also need to increase morale among adjuncts.

  1. What are some goals that you have for the department? What are some of the things that you want to get done in your time as chair that you would like people to know about?

 As chair, I first want to keep things running smoothly. As for goals, we want to work on increasing numbers, which we have talked about. We need to fundraise for all kinds of reasons. We need to contact alumni. We need more general student support in the form of scholarships, fellowships, grants, etc. We also need to expand overseas activities and we need to draw more support for that. We need to grow our creative writing activities. We need to do more things like micro-scholarships to help poorer students. And we need more secure funding at the graduate level, especially in the form of endowed scholarships. That is more of a long-term goal. These are some of the things I will be working on.

Margo Jefferson: The conversation started at the URI OSSWC continues

In the third episode of the Rhode Island Council of the Humanities podcast celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize, Margo Jefferson considers the intersection of journalism, the humanities, and the environment. Topics in the interview cover the tension between scholars and journalists, the possibilities for the 21st century essay, and the cultural environments that inform Jefferson’s work. From the traditional essay published as a book to an online version scored to music, the possibilities for this “theater of the mind” have expanded greatly in this last century. A keynote speaker at this last year’s Ocean State Summer Writer’s Conference, the meeting of academics and creative writers is also given attention towards the end of this insightful conversation.

http://rihumanities.org/program/pulitzer/

URI English Department Receives Prestigious NEH Grant

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.

 

Of Mood: A Talk by Mary Cappello

cappelloIf mood is something that is induced from the outside, then the performance on November 1st by author and Professor Mary Cappello of the English department and pianist Kirsten Volness, called the audience to participate in an event that could alter and influence mood.

The performance was not in the Hoffman Room of Swan Hall where we typically gather for the Read/Write series events, rather it was held in the Fine Arts Building Recital Hall. And so the very space of the occasion was responsible for creating mood.  As the audience entered, we were met with hues of violet and indigo and a soundscape of speech accompanied by a musical loop: “eyes remove themselves from your body…  and [become] a masterpiece, a work of art…” From the start, this performance rendered an overlapping of thought and mood and posited the necessary connection between our senses and our moods.

Reading from her latest book, Life Breaks In (A Mood Almanack), Professor Cappello gave the audience the opportunity to wonder where mood resides, and to sit with the idea that mood is both of and outside the body.

Professor Cappello brings to her students and the audience and readers of her work, an examination of and reflection on those elements in our lives that we often ignore, that we do not allow ourselves the time to pause and think about. Here we are called by the author to consider mood. This may seem a contradictory exercise, to use our minds to interpret what we feel when mood may be more visceral. For this reason a reading itself is not enough. The multimodal elements of the event created a space for listeners not merely to use their minds to think about what was being read, but color and images and sound, invited us to enter a mood—what Professor Cappello might have in mind when she refers to a mood room.

 

 

Words are one medium Professor Cappello uses to create mood. Words transmit to the audience Cappello’s childhood memories. Her mother’s words and sounds constitute a sonorous envelope—a term coined by Édith Lecourt, which Cappello builds off of, “a common zone…. created by the mother’s voice, which, though originally affiliated with contact, ‘will subsequently exist on its own, without the body contact that accompanies it’ ” (305).  These sounds surround us in our formative year and may continue to reside both in our memories and somewhere outside our bodies throughout our lives.  Words are also the tools of thinkers and writers such as Roland Barthes and William Gass that inform Cappello’s reflections on mood. Thus through the blending of all of these voices, we are left with the recognition that words are a fusion of sound and thought carrying with them the both meaning and mood.

The performance also included the work of Berlin based trumpeter and composer Paul Brody’s sound instillation, “Talking Melodies.” The piece overlays music with recordings from interviews Brody conducted, turning speech into something melodic and musical.  Words and tune combine again invoking thought and emotion to induce mood.

A little over a week after the performance, I am also left thinking of the ethereal nature of mood. By projecting images of clouds behind her as she read, Professor Cappello used these stunning visuals as a metaphor for the transitory and ethereal nature of mood. Clouds shape shift as we gaze at them, the air currents sculpting their form before our eyes. They change color when the angle of light changes.

We are invited into Professor Cappello’s mind by the words she shares with us to describe the studious mood.  We might assume such a mood is fixed. In one of the chapters from which she read, “In a Studious Mood,” we follow her from the initial proclamations of what mood is not, “It doesn’t begin: ‘Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious by this sun of York,’ ” to the study of anatomy books furnished with intricate descriptions of the ear and precise scientific language. We are taken into Cappello’s study, designed to let in more light, imagining this will help in creating the studious mood, influenced as much by the outer as it is by interiority. But in this studying, this dismantling and excavating of ideas that Professor Cappello leads us through, as listeners it is possible that we do not remain in the studious mood. The reading closed with her reflections on three sounds made by her partner Jean: footsteps the “ ‘puh’ ” sound of a wooden door stuck to its frame,” and the laying of keys on a table. And though as she reads, it might be that like Cappello, it is our inhabitation of a studios mood that allows us to stumble upon unknown mysteries—including those related to the people we love—as a listener, hearing this recounting of sounds made by a loved one, I was transported from my own attempt to soak in ideas, to think in new ways, and be engaged in studious reflection, to a mood more akin to wonderment and reverence.  Which may indeed be essential to the studious mood. And so the cloud of mood continues to dance in the currents.

The evening’s performance ended with wordless sound—the music of Kirsten Volness. The audience entered into a space where the music, which lies outside of the body, travels to the body through the ear. We are reminded that our body functions as a type of interpreter. And as the evening’s presentation came to a close, Kirsten Volness’s piano composition with notes ethereal and rooted tones, provided a space in which to give ourselves up to mood—reflective, invigorating, studious, serene.

A Report from the Inaugural International Girls Studies Conference

This April, I attended the first International Girls Studies Association Conference (IGSA) in Norwich, UK. Having immersed myself in Girls Studies for the past several years as part of my dissertation research, this conference felt like academic paradise.

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The conference opened with a keynote by Catherine Driscoll, a leading scholar in the field who authored the book Girls: Feminine Adolescence in Popular Culture and Cultural Theory. In her keynote “The Girl: Dynamics of Anxiety and Reassurance,” she discussed how the girl is both “fantasy” and “fact.” She noted how anxieties about girls are fixed within historical and cultural contexts. For example, she argued how she believes the current fourth-wave of feminism is nearly “an exclusively digital event.” Quite interestingly, Driscoll returned to Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex as a lens for re-thinking girlhood. What I was most excited to hear in Driscoll’s talk was her emphasis that “leaving the figure of the girl open to anxious irresolution may be more productive than….proliferating attempts to formulate reassuringly certain answers.”

In her talk, Driscoll also critiqued terms that are often employed in Girls Studies like neoliberalism and post-feminism, arguing that these words have simply come to mean something “bad” that “we don’t like” and that they have lost their specificity through overuse.  Of course, this comment resonated throughout the conference—and anyone who had used the words post-feminism or neoliberalism in their paper (or in some cases, their title) felt the need to defend or acknowledge the term. (I have to admit, I was glad to find neither of these words in my own paper when I went to check).

Although I attended three conferences in a month, the IGSA Conference was the only one I attended for the entire duration, due partially to a Richard Beaupre Hope & Heritage Fund grant and a travel grant from the Graduate Assistants Union. Over the course of the three-day conference, I went from panel to panel, hearing dozens of papers.

Some highlights included:

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Melinda Luisa de Jesús in her paper “Re/Constructing girlhood: Transgender girls in girls studies” posed the question, “What would a trans-inclusive non-binary girls’ studies look like?” She referenced several of her own students’ work making handmade ‘zines, which is something I will definitely be using in future classes. The link to her presentation is online (including some of the ‘zine samples) at http://prezi.com/ozfkvyqfxxlc/

New York school teacher Ileana Jimenez (feministteacher.com) spoke as part of the Plenary Session “Pedagogies of Girlhood: Schools, Feminism, and Media” calling the conference a “historic” moment, not only because of how it has brought together girl studies scholars, but how it integrated the conversation with university scholars with feminist educators of girls, like herself.

Since as Driscoll had noted girls are both ‘fantasy’ and ‘reality’, both real girls and imagined girls were the subject of conference presentations. Media scholar Sarah Projansky presented her paper “Finding gender in media franchising,” in which she investigated what trends emerge by looking closely at the highest grossing franchise films between 1990 and 2015, while Rosemary Carlton, from the University of Montreal, presented her paper “Failing to self-protect: Responsibilsation for risk in child protection practice with sexually abused teenage girls,” which outlined some of the complexities of agency and coercion emerging from her conversations with sexually abused girls who live under the government’s child’s protection laws in Canada.

meek 3Several scholars pondered how media and merchandising specifically affects girls, like Halliday’s paper “My anaconda feminism: Nicki Minaj, consumption and Twitter/Instagram (re)production”; Jessalynn Keller’s “#CropTopDay: Girls’ media activism as a challenge to normative girlhoods”; and Emily Aguilo-Perez’s “I hated her, she loved her! Barbie in intergenerational Puerto Rican girlhoods and familial relationships.”Aria 

 

Others looked at girls’ production or critiques of media. Fiona Handyside, Danielle Hipkins and Alexandra Allan from the University of Exeter presented on a joint panel “What it feels like for a girl: Filming, girlhood and emotion,” in which they reported on their experiences encouraging girls to create their own media. They raised several important points, like the way that girlhood is “intensely local” while media is “transnational,” and key questions, 

such as, what should we do when we feel girls are making their films not for themselves 

One of my favorite presentations was “The (Un-) Making of a feminist cool girl: A cross-generational dialogue,” a conversation between feminist scholar Annalie Branstrom-Ohman from Umeå University, Sweden and her fashion model/writer daughter Amanda 

Brohman. In their dialogue, mother and daughter presented their own unique views on what it means to be the ‘cool’ girl both in their own worlds—academia and fashion. Although their talk provided no pat answers, they raised crucial questions about if or how one can embody feminist choice.but for us? And Kirsten Pike in her paper “Complicating Second-Wave Feminist Media Histories: Girl writers and activists” looked closely at the diaries from 1968 to 1980 of feminist activist Trina Porte to show how we might sometimes overlook how girls are not only consumers but more consciously critics than we might suspect.

 

And then, of course, there was my own paper, “A Dangerous Girl or a Girl in Danger?: Shifting Sexual Agency of the ‘Long Island Lolita’” in which I look at the media narratives that emerged in the early 1990s about Amy Fisher, the seventeen-year-old girl who shot the wife of her lover Joey Buttafuoco. In the presentation, I show how narratives of the “dangerous girl” perpetrator or the “girl in danger” victim oversimplify the complexities of desire, consent and coercion embedded in Fisher’s story.

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Certainly one of the highlights for me was meeting Mary Celeste Kearney, author of the book Girls Make Media, and having the opportunity to hear her review the impact of her book and where we go from here in her closing keynote “Girls Make Media: Then, Now, and So What?” Kearney’s talk highlighted how technological changes have offered new opportunities for girls to make and distribute their own media, while acknowledging that there still exists a dearth of women and girl filmmakers in both mainstream and independent cinema. Certainly, for me, it felt like a call to action, and I was glad that I already have another film in post-production and have been helping my nine-year-old daughter to make her own media as well.

For more information about the International Girls Studies Association, visit www.girls-studies.org.

  Author Michele Meek’s most recent film Imagine Kolle 37 (www.kolle37.com) is in post-production, and she is finishing her dissertation Consent Puzzles: Locating Girls’ Sexual Agency in Narrative Ambiguities of Literature and Film of the 1990s. For more information about her, visit www.michelemeek.com.

URI GradCon 2016. Trans(forming) Directions

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On April, 9th, 2016 the Department of English hosted the 10th Annual URI Graduate Conference. This year’s theme was “Trans(form): New Insights and New Directions,” a topic chosen by the Conference Committee with the intent to highlight interdisciplinarity and encourage students from every research field to contribute. According to the co-chairs, PhD students Jenna Guitar and Serap Hidir, transdisciplinarity was utilized “to help us think beyond the borders of disciplines while also allowing graduate students from any discipline to participate.” That is exactly what happened this year, with the theme of transdiciplinarity explored through the lens of chemistry, engineering, sociology, geosciences, psychology, literature, philosophy, and media. Transcultural. Transect. Transition. Transcend. Translation. Transportation. Transfuse. Transplant. Transformation.

With more than 100 participants, over 30 panel sessions, 3 roundtables, and 15 posters presented, GradCon2016 can be defined as a huge success. Graduate students not only from Rhode Island but from the east coast to Canada reached URI to participate and present their research: 16 different universities were represented, Salve Regina University, University of New Hampshire, Hofstra University, Southern Connecticut State University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Toronto, and many others.

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Paul Bueno de Mesquita, professor of psychology at the University of Rhode Island and director of the URI Center for Nonviolence & Peace, was the plenary speaker. His inspiring lecture titled “Eclectic Visionary Synthesis: The Transformative Power of Kingian Thinking,” opened the proceedings.

Paisley Currah, professor of political sciences and women’s & gender studies at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center at CUNY, concluded this year’s GradCon with a lecture titled “Transgender Beside Itself: Paradigms, Paradoxes, and Other Exemplary Subjects.” His lecture was the perfect conclusion for such an intense one-day conference. Professor Currah, who is also a co-founding editor of Transgender Studies Quarterly, discussed the notion of gender as a social, political construct, and described how apparent contradictions in sex classification policies reflect fragmented state projects.

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The poster sessions – with their “inventiveness and possibilities” according to the Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Jean Walton – highlighted the idea of transdisciplinary research, as presenters from humanities and sciences shared the same space and time, and used the same medium -the poster- to show the results of their academic work.

Participants reframed and reshaped the notion of transdisciplinarity by interacting, discussing, debating, and creating a vibrant exchange of ideas across disciplines in the spirit of what a graduate conference means. The presence of professors Stephen Barber, Peter Covino, and Jean Walton from URI’s Department of English strengthened the idea that URI GradCon is more than an occasion for presenting your work; it is the place for establishing an intellectual connection, and creating a positive, inspiring environment for the future of our research. Any research. In Biocultures Manifesto Davis and Morris made clear how interdisciplinarity has become a rule in academic research: sciences and humanities, biology and culture, have always interacted, interweaving their paths in many ways, but now –according to Davis and Morris – they are not considered as distant fields anymore. URI GradCon translated this concept into reality by creating an interdisciplinary

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Thinking, inspiring and being inspired, reflecting, dialoguing. Brainstorming around a prefix. Trans(forming). Moving into new directions. Moving forward. GradCon 2017.and transdisciplinary space and place for scholars.

Stephen Henderson: Examining the Power of Writing Recursively to Face 21st-Century Challenges

On March 18th, a group of writers considered the audience they write for and the varying purposes the essayist entertains when she sits down to write. The question was posed: Do we write for those who want to know, for those who want to care, for those who want to feel? The venue provoking this dialogue is the Essay in Public Conference funded by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and organized by professors (Martha Elena Rojas (URI), Wendy S. Walters (The New School), and Patricia Ybarra (Brown University).The conference is part of an ongoing discourse on and collaboration of folks who are examining the role of the essay in the ever-changing landscape of journalism and politics while considering its place in academia as well as in more visible platforms such as blogs for outlets like Slate, Quartz, Gawker, and Buzzfeed News.

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Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Stephen Henderson was this year’s afternoon keynote speaker. Henderson is currently the editor for the editorial page of the Detroit Free Press, worked for the Baltimore Sun, and hosts the radio program, “Detroit Today,” and the television show, “American Black Journal.” Henderson’s talk centered on the idea of recursivity. He postulated that recursivity may be a means to “confront the challenges of the 21st century.” Turning to Picasso’s Guernica, Hamilton’s Federalist Papers, and a personal example of how recursivity has, of late, emerged in Henderson’s own life and work in his hometown, Detroit, the audience was called to reflect on what occurs when we think and write recursively.

Recursivity might work in multiple ways. As we return to a theme at different points in our lives, our thinking about topic may evolve as the natural result of our own life experiences.  So too, coming back to a topic, idea or issue in a way that is public—by writing or engaging in some other form of creation—one is also allowing for her audience to interact in multiple and potentially more profound ways with the same topic. Henderson turned to Picasso’s work to demonstrate how this occurs. Henderson’s talk centered on the idea of recursivity.

By using Guernica as one example of an artist who returns to certain images and themes, Henderson makes a case for the role of the essay to not only report but to induce emotion. He invited us to look, as he does, at “Guernica as an essay, an editorial, a

guernica3commentary,  someone reacting to the news and rendering his opinion about it; trying to convey his emotion but also the emotion his country should feel about it and damning the people who perpetrate this.” Through his art, Picasso questioned the brutal and violent regime that held power. Henderson showed sketches from Picasso’s notebook and other works where, over the years, Picasso continued to draw similar images. The horse, nostrils aflare; the woman wailing over the death of her child; the nearly-cyclopean bull. Could it be that a returning to these images aided in Picasso’s ability to create something for the public that would speak out against a fascist regime? Could our repeated study of the painting influence our political actions, our own writing and art? Recursivity may impact both audience and artist.

Henderson next brought our attention to Alexander Hamilton’s contributions to the Federalist Papers. What’s particularly interesting about this example is the timeframe in which Hamilton was working through his ideas. Henderson notes, “Hamilton wrote 51 of Federalist essays in 6 months. Each essay is distinct in that it is trying to do something different and discreet, but even in this exercise there is recursivity.” Henderson highlighted two of Hamilton’s papers, 66 and 76, which were written within roughly three weeks of one another. Each essay is examining the different powers that the separate branches of government will hold—specifically these essays look at the relationship and balance between the executive and legislative branches.  We see that by returning to a theme, Hamilton worked out or thought through an idea over time.

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Recalling Henderson’s musing that recursivity may help us to face 21st century problems, we might ask how sticking with the same subject can prove more beneficial than placing our attention in myriad areas as one might be wont to do given the glut of easily accessible, ready-to-Google information. We too are not fixed. We come to the topics that hold sway on us as different people than we were years or months or weeks ago when we last encountered the same subject. We write about the federal government differently, we change the lines or the size of the horse’s shoulders to depict more strength and agility, or perhaps when we next conceive of the same image it appears vulnerable. Our childhood home is still well cared for; others are creating memories in the same space. Or it slowly falls into disrepair, stripped of pipes for scrap metal, lawn overgrown with weeds. The home represents something about our foundational years, but it also represents something about a place that is larger than we are. In his final example, Henderson demonstrated what it is to disallow a place to go untended.

Henderson ended his presentation by sharing the subject that continues to call him to reflect, examine, act. In 2007, Henderson returned to Detroit despite the fact that his own mother questioned the rationale of one who would return to a city that was on the brink of bankruptcy and decay. Nevertheless, as Henderson reminded us, “emotion does carry our decision making in some very important ways.” Upon his return, he went back to his old neighborhood and was relieved to find his childhood home was still in decent shape. He expressed that it helped him feel anchored and that it even helped his writing to sit in his car outside of the house. Yet as the city bore the effects of the economic downturn, more houses became abandoned including his old house. His home served as a symbol for the city which, by 2012 had 70,000 abandoned houses.

At some point, thinking makes itself manifest in the material world. For Henderson, a reporter, it is logical that this thinking takes the form of writing. He wrote autobiographically about the house, the neighborhood, the sense of loss. Making his thoughts public through the medium of personal essay prompted others to engage in dialogue and also to take action. Old high school friends read his pieces, contacted him and are now working with him to buy houses on this block, spending time and money to rebuild. As Henderson wrote about his house, it prompted him to think about what his ideal vision for the space is. He settled on the idea of turning his old house in to a type of literary center with book readings and signings. It may function as a home for college professors who receive fellowships at the local universities. I suppose the city of Detroit could have, at some point, conceived of a valuable use for the block Henderson grew up on. But there is something to be said for the fixation he had on his house, the continued interest in it that serves as a catalyst for this revitalization.

What calls us to act? Emotion or reason? We can assume that at different times we are motivated by various different forces. By placing work in the context of its tendency towards recursivity, Henderson gave the conference participants cause to reflect on what it means to look at the same topic at different points in one’s life. Not only do we, the subject, change but it’s quite possible that the subject matter that’s the focus of one’s art and writing changes over time. This was certainly the case for Picasso who witnessed increasingly totalitarian policies under Franco. This was the case for Hamilton who was writing as the country was working to craft its government and identity. This is also the case for Henderson who has witnessed the changing landscape of the city where he grew up. The writer and artist are called to and charged with deepening or complicating our understanding of complex issues like war and political systems and the lives of cities. This they do by refusing to be satisfied with writing about issues once. No “one and done” for the essayist.