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Conference Travel

Conference Travel, Graduate English, Master's Essay, Opportunities for Graduate Students, Student Research

Bringing the Love of Romance to a Conference on Militarism

Taya Sazama completed her degree in the Fall of 2016, but has continued to attend conferences to present her Master’s Essay research. As a graduate student, Taya took advantage of our teaching mentorship opportunity, and was also the recipient of our $1,000 student research grant, which she used to attend the Historical Romance Retreat in Spokane, Washington.

One of the most difficult transitions post grad-school is attempting to move on from your thesis project back into the “real world,”  For months—and perhaps longer—you have immersed yourself in your research.  For me, it was romance novels and the community of women who read and write them.  Not only were these the only texts I had read for well over a year, but all of my thoughts seemed to constantly churn over related ideas, to-do lists, and questions I needed to ask my advisor.  This obsession only seems to gain momentum as graduation nears and you prepare to review, submit, and defend the project to your committee.  It took me months to actually read something other than romance after I graduated in December 2016.  I intended to pick up something new right away as a sort of celebration, but romance had almost become an addiction and I struggled to get past the first few pages of any other book.  Finally, at the beginning of April, I read A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and I felt cured.  Don’t get me wrong—I still love romance novels.  But it was definitely time to take a healthy break.

Now, in contrast with the urge to break up with your thesis project, there is also the strong desire to hold on tightly to what has almost literally become your baby.  For months it has kept you up at nights, you were constantly changing it, and you had almost no social life because it demanded your undivided attention.  How can you just abandon it now?  The question of what to do with my paper began to plague me even before I graduated.  Sure, there is the goal of publication, but the path on how to get there is not always clear.  What I chose to do, and what I highly recommend, is to present your work at a conference.  Sure you can easily do this at St. Thomas, the U of M, or some other local university, but what I propose is something that, for many of us, is far outside of our comfort zone.  Go somewhere where nobody knows you—where nobody knows your research—where no one from your school is presenting.  This will give you the best chance at testing your ideas out in the scholarly world, getting fresh ideas and testing your conclusions in a way that cannot happen in the comfort of your own academic circle.

At the end of last October, an email came through with the following title for a conference taking place the following spring at Texas State University: “Century of Conflict: Dialogues on Women, Gender, Intersectionality, and Militarism. This event will provide a forum for diverse perspectives on work around issues of gender, ability/disability, veteran status, and intersectionality.”  As I was currently in that obsessive state with my project, I immediately emailed my advisor for confirmation that I should, in fact, do this.  After getting the green light from her that it was a good idea, I put together an abstract and sent it off, feeling rather pleased with myself.  Unfortunately, those good feelings quickly dissipated when I received my acceptance email post-graduation. At that point, I was trying unsuccessfully to break up with my thesis and was genuinely annoyed with myself for wanting to attend a conference in March, almost four months after I should have been done with my paper.

Yet, even with all this anxiety, I can assure you that this experience turned out to be one of the most rewarding of my academic career.  One of the biggest benefits to participating in this conference was that it forced me to evaluate my own conclusions with an eye towards seemingly dissimilar topics.  What quickly became apparent once the symposium began was that the conference, and almost all of the other presenters, were focusing very heavily on the militarism side of the conference topics. In fact, as I glanced through the titles in the program, mine seemed to be a glaring outlier.  As the morning sessions of the symposium progressed, I found myself panicking a little – How was I going to relate my project to all of these discussions on war and female soldiers in the military?  I imagined what the reactions of my audience members would be and could already see their confused faces as they wondered how a scholar on romance novels was admitted to be a presenter.  Silently chastising myself for getting into this predicament, I began to quickly brainstorm how to salvage what I assumed would be a disaster.  Thankfully, my dire predictions did not come true.  In fact, I was able to walk away from the experience with some major connections between my conclusions and the issues raised by the other presenters.  In additions, the questions and positive comments from an outside circle of academics did much to encourage me in my research.  They helped to validate the importance of my work while also providing helpful criticism and suggestions for further research.  Best of all, I was invited to submit my paper to the university’s academic journal on women and gender.

There is no shortage of opportunities at which to present your research.  I would urge all graduate students, especially those who are nearing the end of their programs, to seek out places where they can push their boundaries.  As much as I recommend presenting at local conferences—because any practice is helpful—there is almost more to be gained by widening your sphere.  It will help you to look at your work with fresh eyes and to really gauge the potential it has for publication.  So, fight the urge to fully break up with your thesis immediately upon graduation.  Take it somewhere new, but explain that you need an open reading relationship.

Conference Travel, Student Research, Undergraduate English

Rediscovering Constance Wilde

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Grandma’s Story

Last fall, I undertook an independent study on the works of Oscar Wilde with Dr. Alexis Easley. When we began to study his fairy tales, I realized for the first time that one of them, “The Selfish Giant,” was one of my favorite childhood stories that my dad used to read to me. Intrigued, I researched these fairy tales further and discovered one of his wife’s fairy tale collections, There Was Once! Grandma’s Stories, a beautifully illustrated book that included five fairy tales and four nursery rhymes. Basic research revealed that Constance Wilde was a writer, editor, and public speaker who was an important voice in late nineteenth-century Britain, and as I learned more about her, I realized her work had been buried for over one hundred years. I knew that I needed to find out more about her.

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A Long Time Ago – Favourite Stories Retold by Mrs. Oscar Wilde and Others

During this last spring semester, Dr. Easley and I began the application process for the Luann Dummer Center for Women Undergraduate Fellowship Grant opportunity. Constance Wilde’s works have been out of print since she was first published in the late nineteenth century, so part of my application requested funding to travel to London in order to research her works at the British Library. Needless to say, we were ecstatic when I was informed that, out of all the possible applicants, we were awarded the grant. This trip to London was quite possibly my favorite part of the project. In the midst of traveling through the underground train system, getting lost for hours in the British Library pouring over books, letters, and documents from the nineteenth century, I discovered her amazing work for the Rational Dress Society, where she was the lead editor for the Society’s Gazette from April of 1888 to July 1889. Her work centered on the idea of healthy and sensible dress for young girls and women without sacrificing the aesthetic appeal of fashion. As editor, Constance Wilde’s work was crucial in getting the necessary health information out to women in order to encourage them to take charge of both their own and their children’s health, especially relating to their habits of dress.

One of the exciting opportunities I have had with this project so far was a presentation of my first research paper on Constance Wilde, focusing on her journalistic career with the Rational Dress Society, at the Streamlines Undergraduate English Conference in Dubuque, Iowa. The conference was a fantastic experience! Presentations were given by students from all over the United States, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them. I also loved the opportunity to share my own research and to hear what questions people had about it. The unique quality of this particular conference is the wide variety of topics students can present on, such as creative writing (fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction), presentations on films, literary theory, the classics, global issues, identity, women in literature, and even one on handwriting in our culture. It was intellectually rich with all of these topics and more!introduction

Since my paper had to do with a female writer, I was placed in a panel that focused on the subject of women in literature. The other students in my panel had fascinating and excellent papers and it was intriguing to see that all of our papers tied together without our realizing or planning it. After we had all presented our papers, one of the audience members brought that to our attention, and it sparked a fantastic discussion that went in multiple directions. It was an incredible day, as the faculty, students, and everyone listening to the panels were supportive and interested in the work we were sharing. It was truly a worthwhile experience, and I hope to attend the conference again in the future simply for the pure enjoyment of it.

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Jack and the Beanstalk

The next step for my research on Constance Wilde will be an article on her collections of fairy tales, which I will be submitting this upcoming May to the International English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta. In the introduction to one of her collections, There Was Once! Grandma’s Stories, Constance Wilde tells children the story about the way these fairy tales were handed down to her orally by her grandmother. Through this, she draws attention to the importance of women’s relationships in the storytelling tradition. She highlights this process of transmission, honoring her foremother and making her own contribution to the retelling of these classic tales. One of my greatest hopes in carrying out this research project is to shine light on Constance Wilde’s work, highlighting her authorial achievements with more precision and promoting greater understanding of who she truly was – a unique and important writer of the late Victorian era.

 

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Meaghan Scott is a senior majoring in English. Two of her favorite literary eras are the Medieval and Victorian, and some of the authors she’s especially enjoyed studying are Dante, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Constance Wilde, just to name a few. However, she also loves fantasy literature in general, especially the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, who she will be studying in Dr. Martin Warren’s Tolkien: Middle Earth/Middle Ages class. She is currently applying to graduate English programs in Ireland and Minnesota in order to continue her studies in English Literature.

Conference Travel, Student Research, Undergraduate English

My Streamlines Conference Presentation of “Notes on Emptiness”

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to present a paper I wrote at the Streamlines Undergraduate Language and Literature Conference in Dubuque, Iowa.streamlines_program_2016 The conference took place on Saturday, November 5th, though for me it began weeks earlier with the nerve-wracking process of submitting my paper. I stand by my opinion that nothing — not even presenting — compares to the anxiety of the submission process. The whole thing consists of sending off what I truly believe to be my best work to someone I don’t know, so that it can be judged against standards I haven’t been acquainted with. That’s enough to make most people question whether or not their paper is good enough in the first place, and believe me, I am most people.

Nothing in that moment seems to reassure me that something I wrote could, in fact, be good enough to be presented, published, or otherwise recognized as real writing. Chalk it up to me being a young writer without many rejections to roughen me up, or to being too shy about sharing my work, or whatever else you want. I suspect that at any age or stage of writing, reassurance about the quality of one’s work isn’t what a writer needs. It’s probably more important to cultivate an air of indifference toward judgement out of genuine affection for your work. That, or to have the voices of feminist writers like Dunham, Gay, and Kaling whispering in your ear, telling you to smash that submit button with confidence (I fell back on this latter option).

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My paper incorporated a number of works from this anthology, including Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Rousseau’s Confessions, and inspiration from Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground.

Fast forward to November 5th. I had made it through the submission process, and my paper, “Notes on Emptiness,” had been accepted to the Streamlines Conference. I had edited, practiced, and practiced some more. The final draft was mixture of literary analysis of the book Madame Bovary, personal memoir, philosophical musings, and quotes on emptiness from literature. Because it’s such a thorough mix of styles and concepts, I would have been surprised no matter which category they put me into. I ended up on the creative non-fiction panel along with four other students from schools across the Midwest, feeling like I was going to crush it with an unconventional nonfiction paper.

The presentation itself was exhilarating. As I explained my paper and started reading, I had the thrilling feeling that my audience was hooked. They laughed when I wanted them to laugh, shifted in their chairs and chuckled uncomfortably when I expected them to feel awkward, and nodded along as I drove home my argument. It was a rare opportunity to see people react to my writing in real time. I loved every minute of it, feeling like I possessed a superpower to control people’s emotions, simply by sitting at the front of a room and speaking.

I also got to listen to the papers of the other four people on my presentation panel. Dr. Miller once said to my Writing Poetry class last spring that you should always go to readings because you’ll either leave filled with admiration and a desire to write as well as them, or with the impression that it wasn’t that great and you can do better than them, and either way you’ll want to go home and write. I don’t think I need to clarify that I experienced the former reaction upon hearing the papers of other students. Not only did I leave feeling energized and excited about writing, I felt honored to be included in a group of such excellent writers.

The question and answer session at the end of my reading rivaled the actual presentation for my favorite part of the day. Both students and professors, genuinely curious to know more about my writing, asked thoughtful questions about my themes, processes, and drives. Discussing my own work is something that I’ve had little experience with, and it was a treat to be able to talk about it and hone those skills I rarely get the opportunity to practice.

No other experience has validated my work more than this presentation. I left the conference feeling like a legitimate writer, and had the whole four and a half hour drive home from Dubuque to contemplate the experiences that will bring me to my next destination as a writer.

graffunder300Hayley Graffunder is a junior with a double major in Linguistics and English with a creative writing emphasis. She looks forward to studying abroad in Scotland this spring at the University of Edinburgh and will be writing for Arcadia University as a student blogger while she is away.

Conference Travel, Graduate English, Opportunities for Graduate Students, Research Grant, Student Research

Research Grant for “Paradise Lost”

Each year the graduate program awards at least one $1,000 research grant to support student research. This summer, graduate student Mark Van Dusseldorp traveled to San Marino, California, to visit the Huntington Library to research John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Mark was gracious enough to write about his incredible experience. Mark graduated this summer with a Master’s Essay titled “The Suburbs of Eternity: Dreaming in Paradise Lost.”

Paradise LostAs the story goes, a friend and student of John Milton’s named Thomas Ellwood made a visit to the poet and read the manuscript of Paradise Lost, after which he said: “Thou hast said much of Paradise lost, but what hast thou to say of Paradise found?” Some attribute Ellwood’s question as the inspiration for Milton’s brief epic Paradise Regained. Whether a factual anecdote or not, it’s a nice story, and I thought of this and Milton’s Eden as I walked around the 120 acres of garden at the Huntington library in San Marino, California, completely alone.

I arrived at the Huntington on a Tuesday, the day the grounds are closed to the public, so before I began days of research in a windowless room I took my “solitary way” through the twelve gardens, a lush oasis in a sadly parched part of the country. It was, in Milton’s words, “A happy rural seat of various view.” This turned out to be the perfect setting for Miltonic research because it felt like one could read portions of Paradise Lost at the desk, then simply walk outside to do laboratory research in Eden itself. In truth, there were only two reasons I was able to distinguish between this Southern California manmade garden and pre-fallen Paradise. (1) Alas, there was neither a Tree of Life nor Tree of Knowledge (despite my earnest searching), and (2) the roses had thorns. (According to Milton’s epic, the rose grew its thorns only after Sin made its horrific debut when Adam and Eve fell. Keep in mind that Paradise Lost was published 192 years before Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.) It would be best to quote Milton at length here, who knew well how short words and artifice fell in the face of perfection:

Groves whose rich Trees wept odorous Gumms and Balme,
Otheres whose fruit burnisht with Golden Rinde
Hung amiable, Hesperian Fables true,
If true, here only, and of delicious taste:
Betweixt them Lawns, or level Downs, and Flocks
Grasing the tender herb, were interpos’d,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Another side, umbrageous Grots and Caves
Of coole recess, o’re which the mantling vine
Layes forth her purple Grape, and gently creeps
Luxuriant. (IV.248-254; 257-260)

5But like Adam and Eve, I was driven out of Eden for more laborious tasks. For a week I took my seat in the Ahmanson Reading Room to page through rare books, first editions, and manuscripts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. My Master’s Essay was on dreaming in Milton’s Paradise Lost, so the goal of this research trip was to find out a bit more about how early modern people thought about the dream. This is pre-Freud, of course, so all the typical notions we have about dreams are going to be quite different in this period, or at least written about in unfamiliar ways. For example, in a moment that anticipates Freud, Sir Thomas Browne writes that dreams “intimately tell us our selves.”

I looked at first editions of many books, which was an exciting experience in itself (though in a non-fetishistic sort of way), being able to handle the original printed materials of Milton, Sir Thomas Browne, Thomas Nashe, Sir Philip Sidney, and others. The first edition of Paradise Lost from 1667, for example, is quite interesting. The copy I handled was a rather plain artifact, a small quarto in nearly perfect condition. It has subtly raised bands on the spine and a brown Morocco-leather binding that shows off the beautiful but modest gilding. What is really fascinating about this first edition, however, is that the poem has line numbers. Now we are all familiar with the newer, annotated paperbacks that include line numbers for students who need to easily reference parts of a poem. But isn’t it odd that a first edition would have line numbers? I haven’t quite figured this out, and perhaps it is not unusual, but it seems to me that a printer or Milton himself expected Paradise Lost to be studied like Renaissance scholars studied line-numbered versions of Homer and Virgil.

untitled3Perhaps the most fruitful parts of this research were the other books and pamphlets written by authors that were unknown to me. I found in some of these writings a passionate appeal to the dream world because it has the ability to tell us truths outside of our waking rationality and hint at transcendence. For example, Thomas Tryon writes, “Now ’tis no wonder if a Discourse of such sublime Subjects, as the Entertainments of our Souls (during the Body’s Nocturnal repose) when they having shaken off for a time the Fetters of the Senses, are upon the Wing, in the Suburbs of Eternity.” Likewise, a preacher named Philip Goodwin argued that dreams revealed the certainty of God’s being: “a free concession to, and due cognition of Divine Dreames, may draw out much of the manifold Knowledge of God.” Writing about dreams at this time would not be an innocuous endeavor. Society was fundamentally Christian, and dreams often present an individual with sinful realities. Thomas Nashe writes that in dreaming “the table of our hart [sic] is turned to an index of iniquities, and all our thoughts are nothing but texts to condemne us.”

William Prynne was a rather cruel fellow who did, in fact, use dreams as a text to condemn Archbishop William Laud, a clergyman Puritans hated for his Catholic tendencies. Prynne oversaw the eventual trial of Laud, and for evidence Prynne confiscated Laud’s dream diary that was meant to prove, among other things, that Laud was most certainly a Catholic. The most incriminating dream was one that read, “I dreamed last night that I was reconciled to the Church of Rome.” I was able to look at this pamphlet which was titled “A breviate of the life, of William Laud Arch-bishop of Canterbury: extracted (for the most part) verbatim, out of his owne diary . . . as a necessary prologue to the history of his tryall.” The key words here might be “for the most part.” Perhaps Prynne took some creative autonomy to ensure Laud’s execution, but this vindictiveness may have been motivated for good reasons. About a decade earlier, Prynne had found himself in a bit of trouble after printing a book that admonished stage-plays, actresses, and playgoers. The untitled2Queen herself was an actress, and the King a fervent playgoer, so perhaps inevitably, Prynne was punished: his Oxford degree was revoked and both his ears were cut off. He blamed Laud.

My trip to the Huntington Library was thoroughly enjoyable, and I learned a great deal about archival research in the process. It was also a treat to work beside some professional scholars, including a famous Miltonist who was working on a new Oxford edition of Paradise Lost.

It’s also worth mentioning that I recently made a stop at Milton’s former church, St. Giles-without-Cripplegate in London. After I took communion I found myself standing on Milton’s grave. I had a nice chat with the parishioners and took this photo of a Milton statue by the coffee percolators

Conference Travel, Graduate English, Opportunities for Graduate Students, Student Research

Graduate Students take Savannah, GA

Professional conference presentations are a unique opportunity for graduate students. In February of this year, three of our students, along with Dr. Catherine Craft-Fairchild, traveled to Savannah, Georgia, for the Southeastern American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. The Graduate English program happily reimburses students for conference travel, making these professional opportunities more affordable. Grad student Victoria Pyron Tankersley was gracious enough to write about her experience. Victoria will graduate from the program this summer.

Graduate students Andrea Dennis, Victoria Pyron Tankersley, and Pearl Nielsen

Graduate students Andrea Dennis, Victoria Pyron Tankersley, and Pearl Nielsen

During the first class of GENG 628: Criminals and Rogues in 18th Century British Literature, Dr. Craft-Fairchild distributed a packet with information concerning perhaps the largest interdisciplinary group in her field—the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. She then told us that the individual paper proposals for the conference she regularly attends—the Southeastern American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies—were due by November 1, and encouraged us to submit our mid-term papers for the conference.

I, along with a few peers, decided to submit. The context for writing my essay widened; along with writing for the course, I was writing for the conference, and this seemed to drastically change my experience. I felt more invested in the essay, as I could more easily imagine how and where it would fit in current scholarly conversations, and I was more inclined to seek mentoring from Dr. Craft-Fairchild as the essay developed. Around mid-December, we turned in our final drafts, awaiting the conference in the spring.

The historic 1858 fountain at Forsyth Park.

The historic 1858 fountain at Forsyth Park.

The conference was held in Savannah, Georgia, from February 25–27, and the theme was, “East and West: The Broad Expanse of the Eighteenth Century.” Dr. Craft-Fairchild orchestrated our panel, which was titled, “Questioning the Status Quo: Eighteenth-Century ‘Criminal’ Literature,” and she presented her own essay, titled, “Teaching Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina and Betsy Thoughtless: The Joining of Opposites,” side-by-side with me, Pearl Nielsen, and Andrea Dennis. Pearl and Andrea focused on the ways in which gender was criminalized—essays titled “Deregulating Women’s Conduct and Exposing Men’s Conduct: Authorship and Gender in Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina and Betsy Thoughtless,” and “Prostitution and the Malignancy of Desire in Aphra Behn and Eliza Haywood,” respectively. My essay, “Criminality as a Stimulus for Colonial and Capitalist Growth in Defoe’s Moll Flanders,” focused on the criminalization of the poor.

The questions and feedback we received after presenting our research was one of the most valuable takeaways from the conference. We quickly realized that the small crowd listening was filled, not just with other graduate students, but with other professors and experts in the field. The group asked us intriguing questions, pointed out avenues of inquiry we had not yet investigated, and suggested new resources that could contribute to the development of our work.

St. John the Baptist Cathedral, the oldest church in Georgia.

St. John the Baptist Cathedral, the oldest church in Georgia.

Not all of the conferences I’ve attended have given such a depth of feedback, so I attributed this surprisingly lively feedback to the nature of the conference itself—being a small, tight-knit group, deeply invested in its area of study. For this reason, and although generalized conferences can be helpful in different ways, attending a specialized conference quickly became one of my most treasured graduate school experiences.

Along with being lively, our small crowd was also kind. After the panel, Dr. Craft-Fairchild informed me that her dissertation advisor—who wrote an exhaustive 688-page biography of Defoe—was sitting amidst the crowd. Instead of openly criticizing my essay, which she very easily could have done, Dr. Paula Backscheider sat quietly and supportively in the back row—an action which, again, speaks to the nature of the small, specialized, and friendly conference.

Pearl, Andrea, and I ended that conference feeling intellectually energized. And, after attending the keynote speaker and networking with some peers and professors, we were free to go out to dinner with Dr. Craft-Fairchild and then roam the city of Savannah, taking way too many Instagram pictures of each other and the historic town squares.