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.
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.
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!