In the Spring of 2017, the URI English Department hosted a group of professionals from various cultural institutions in the greater Rhode Island area. People affiliated with the Providence Public Library, the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, Mystic Seaport, and the New Bedford Whaling Museum formed a panel to discuss the ways in which students in the English Department can partner with these institutions in a collaboration aimed to bring the work we do as scholars to the public. This panel wasn’t simply an event about the hypothetical, but the introduction to a cultural institutions partnership in which teaching assistants could elect to spend one semester working with one of these groups in place of teaching a course, allowing us to explore ways in which the work we do as scholars may be translated to the public; how might we make it both palpable and meaningful? This program gives us opportunities to do work outside of academe so that we may be exposed to the various career paths a PhD student in the humanities might pursue as alternatives to that of tenure-track professor.
Ashton Foley-Schramm is a fifth-year PhD candidate in the English department focusing on the Reader in the Victorian Novel. Ashton recently received a tuition scholarship from the Graduate School and will be devoting the coming year to work on her dissertation, “Reading the Reader: Shifting Representations of Readers in Nineteenth-Century Fiction.” This project will explore changing depictions of reading in Victorian novels, including the disappearance of the male reader within fiction as well as contemporary concerns about time spent reading and what is being read.
Adrienne Jones Daly is a fourth year PhD student in the English department, specializing in Rhetoric and Composition. Before coming to URI, Adrienne earned a BA in linguistics from William & Mary in Virginia, taught English in Japan, completed her Masters in Linguistics from the University of Ottawa, and worked in a variety of positions in New Orleans, such as Admissions at a law school and in Loyola University’s Writing Program. Her background is in sociolinguistics and writing program administration. She is currently using translingualism to consider how language is treated in the writing classroom, and specifically how the teacher interfaces with language. She received a Dissertation Fellowship from the URI Graduate School for the coming academic year to work on her project Practicing Translingualism: Faculty Conceptions and Practices.
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.
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!
Dr. Ryan Trimm has been in the English department at URI since 2001. During his tenure here, he has served as the department chair and the director of graduate studies. He currently has a joint appointment in Film Studies and serves on the board for the Center for the Humanities on campus. Trimm received his PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and worked at Florida International in Miami before coming to URI. His main area of research is contemporary British literature and film, including postcolonial theory and literature. He recently published Heritage and the Representation of the Past in Contemporary Britain, which uses a broad range of British film, television, literature, as well as political theory and historic conservation texts. We had the chance to talk to him at the start of this spring semester to hear more about his recent book, other projects, and his current graduate seminar, Cultural Capital and Financial Fiction.
Laura is a 4th year PhD student working on a creative dissertation in Poetry in the English department at the University of Rhode Island. She came to pursue her PhD having completed an MFA in Performance and Interactive Media from CUNY Brooklyn. Laura is involved both on-campus and off in fostering a creative writing community, as well as teaching and publishing her own poetry and that of others. She curates Gemstone Readings in the NYC area, incorporating performance elements in non-traditional venues and heads the Literary Arts Committee at URI, which hosts readings among other projects focused on students pursuing the creative dissertation option. [br]
We reached out to her to talk more about her work and specifically LAMM presents at Artbook @ MoMA PS1, an exhibition series she is co-curating, which premiers Sunday, December 10 at 4pm at MoMA PS1.
You have an experiential poetry event at MoMA PS1 this month, what are the aims of this event? In this vein, how does experiential poetry differ from a reading or other live event? [br]
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.
Dr. Maury Klein, a URI professor of history emeritus, offered his insights into to the world of historical research through archives and interviews this March at the CI. The event had a wonderful turnout with people from across disciplines at URI—from oceanography researchers to land trust stewards, English doctoral students to urban park managers—all coming out to learn how Dr. Klein makes the most of historical research and the stories it offers which can’t be found online, at the library, or in the field. Though Dr. Klein’s research is not within a scientific field, there were many takeaways for those looking to communicate science effectively to a broad public audience.
Histories Mysteries and Science’s Secrets – Disciplinary Detective Work
He opened by addressing the ways in which scientific and historical research are not so different—both seek answers like detectives in a mystery story—one in the material present, and the other in the recorded past. Though he has researched scientists, such as James Van Allen, he does not do research in labs or in the field. Or, rather, his lab and field lay elsewhere—in the interview room, library, internet, or archive—and most curiously—in the unsuspecting ways these sites overlap to lead him to obscure holdings. He has found key information that allowed him to tell the story of important histories in overlooked bookshelves of family cabins, centuries old train station warehouse dumpsters, or even as a result of a phone call from a stranger.
Nine Rules of Effective Research Learned from Five Decades of Successful Practice
Dr. Klein notes that research, regardless of discipline, shares many of the same characteristics. Keeping these characteristics in mind explicitly is his rule for producing the effective research that led to his nineteen books and numerous essays.
- Patience – the time and effort it takes to comb through all the sources you will need to view for a research project can be overwhelming. This can even seem like more than you can manage. His advice is, rather than think about the whole, to just continue to do the next thing.
- Persistence – even though you can only ever do the next thing, you must continue this effort even if the end is not in sight.
- Imagination – research is directed by the questions you ask. You don’t know what you don’t know, yet, with research you can’t find an answer without a question. You need to be able to imagine a question that reaches beyond what you already know.
- Proportion – knowing when, where, and how to cut off your research is key. Knowing how to limit the scope of a project is a first step towards this despite the imaginative leap that begins an endeavor. It is important to keep in mind that if you never finish the research, especially with something as large as a book or dissertation, it won’t matter since no one will ever see it. You need to be able to decide when to stop looking and start telling the story.
- Clear focus – it is difficult to read things and only look for what you are looking for, but you need to be able to do this or no amount of persistence and patience will turn your research into a story you can tell.
- Making Connections – the core of education is making connections between things you never saw before encountering them in close proximity. He shares how, as an undergraduate he had a common aha moment when he started to see that all the classes are connected despite their different ways of seeing the same things. It is the same at the research level. Things that seem inconsequential end up being connected, and even changing the direction of what you are doing entirely.
- Organization – his method for organizing his sources and notes appears to be almost archival in itself. The more stuff you have the more organized you need to be. You never want to be looking for something endlessly just in order to finish a sentence when you are finally telling the story.
- Style – style is about not just writing but finding a way for how you want to do the research and story drafting itself. This is a way of navigating stuff. The same system won’t work for everyone but everyone needs a system, even if it is of their own making.
- Judgment – you are constantly making decisions as a researcher in small ways—about where you will look, what you will address next, what is important, what the connections are. You also need to decide what will the source allow you to do, what the source tells you, how does it help you answer your question, what is the data telling you? It will not be self-evident. The more contextual and background information you know before you start, the easier it is to decide.
Though all this may sound overwhelming itself, he adds that research is fun if you like doing it. He always used to tell students who would ask: what can you do with a history major? – if you chose not to find a career doing what you like to do you’ll end up a miserable rich person. The research you do comes down to the size of what you are trying to accomplish – small projects will involve more targeted searching, and large ones comprehensive immersions – regardless of size however, you can’t control where the material takes you, and you must be willing to follow it to find the story you need to tell.
Plumbing the Archives
Here are Dr. Klein’s practical tips on doing archival work:
-Don’t take notes. You don’t know what you will need later. Always photocopy, scan, or photograph sources when possible.
-Don’t just look for primary sources, archival holdings of researchers materials also sometimes contain original documents from their own archival work, much of which may have become lost or is now even harder to access.
-You must do the initial leg work to find out where the holdings are which you need to access; this is not as straight forward as typical library searches.
-Go look at things yourself and don’t have someone do your research for you, they will make decisions for you and since you don’t know exactly what you are looking for until you find it, this can lead to missed opportunities.
-You need your own system of determining what is of interest.
-Companies that are around for a long time often hold on to centuries of records comprehensively. Many will allow you access if you ask and have the right connection.
-Large and/or important families often hang on to archival items until the death of the last surviving kin, often things get lost. Many will allow you access if you ask and have the right connection.
-A source on one thing will often convey information about something else; for example, he once found 19th century railway engineer notebooks that contain much flora and fauna notes about surrounding landscape which they were laying track through.
-Periodicals are a great source because they don’t know what is coming next so they are good for giving you the tone of the day.
Dr. Klein notes that, often, there isn’t always enough direct primary source material to make a source driven story, so you may need to branch out. Interviews are both a good way to do this, and to find additional sources. He suggests asking people for introductions to other people you can interview to help you with your story, this often leads back to archival holdings you would not otherwise have found. Inventory who you know. Keep track of who they know. Ask around.
When there is a generation of people outgoing you can often convince a company or organization to debrief the outgoing staff and get a good story that would otherwise have been lost, or good leads. Hence, interviews often lead to unforeseen research directions, and will help you bring your story to life later, connecting it to real and present world. With contemporary history, interviews are more important often than the archival documents. Finally, and most importantly, Klein urges researchers to always record an interview, and back it up ASAP. If you do lose it, however, you can call back and say: I had some follow up questions. Use this call to clarify key information minimizing what is lost.
Telling the Story
For Dr. Klein, how he organizes his notes and sources on archival documents and interviews corresponds to how he will write the story they tell. He picks what stories to tell several ways. Sometimes it is assigned to him – an opportunity presents itself from a publisher, educational organization, or even law firm, and he accepts it if it intrigues him. Other times he decides on his own to pursue something. In this case it is often something he wants to know more about – and what better way. The point is that you never know where a topic will come from. You never know where your research is going to take you or what further avenues it is going to open up for you. It used to always be important to answer the phone as the vanguard of career success, now it is never ignore an email, explore every opportunity. Klein explains one often blunders into things. He seems to say, however, that in order to do so, you must already be immersing yourself in an area, rather than researching narrowly or transactionally. You need to carve out the space to do exploratory work and the story will usually reveal itself. When thinking about how to tell a story – how to present information so that it does not overwhelm a reader, Dr. Klein explains the way you communicate will depend on how you approach the research. For him, this leads to a sort of condensed style. He likes to say as much as he can in as small a space as possible, this leads to succinct and dense sentences and necessitates using active verbs, the opposite of, say, a Victorian style.
Most importantly, you need to be able to see the scaffolding of the story the data will tell. When a story has not been told yet it isn’t usually because the facts aren’t known, so much as it is that researchers haven’t yet found a way to scaffold the information. The scaffolding – or organizational structure – emerges during the research stage, which you make explicit in your telling. When revising his stories, he follows the same style of condensation, rather than altering the scaffolding and reorganizing or removing whole sections. He goes page by page reducing each by an equal percentage. All of this – research and writing – are more achievable if you have regular work habits – a routine that you follow. For him, this is writing seven days a week, every morning at least. He doesn’t take vacations because his work is fun. Regarding the presentation of quantitative data, he suggests always writing at a level comprehensible by a non-technical reader. He also suggests not so much explicating the data as providing it alongside a qualitative narrative which emerged from it.