Molly Volanth Hall is a fourth year PhD candidate with the English department at URI and a force to be reckoned with. Molly joined the URI department after receiving a masters in Humane Education from Cambridge College in 2010 and a masters in literature from the University of New Hampshire in 2014. She focuses on ecocriticism, trauma, war literature, and modernist literature and is currently worked on her dissertation entitled “Ecologies of Materiality and Aesthetics in British Modernist War-Time Literature, 1890-1939.” She also very recently received a Dissertation Fellowship from the Graduate School for the coming 2018-2019 academic year and a NeMLA Summer Fellowship.
We have just received news that four graduate students in the English department have received Fellowships and Scholarships from the URI Graduate School for the coming academic year! Congratulations to Molly Volanth Hall (Literature) and Adrienne Jones Daly (Writing & Rhetoric) on receiving fellowships and Ryan Engley and Ashton Foley-Schramm on receiving tuition scholarships.
We’ll be featuring student spotlights on Molly and Adrienne shortly.
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.
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!
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.
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
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?
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.