Interview with Dr. James Reeves, Assistant Professor of English

We are thrilled to conclude our faculty interview series with Dr. James Reeves, who is an assistant professor of English at Texas State University, in San Marcos, TX. He received his Ph.D. in 2016 from UCLA, where he studied eighteenth-century and Romantic British literature. His research interests include the early novel, poetry, satire, Enlightenment philosophy, postcolonialism, and secularization. His work has appeared in Eighteenth-Century Fiction, the Keat-Shelley Journal, and SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900. He recently completed his first book, Godless Fictions in the Eighteenth Century: A Literary History of Atheism, which is currently forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

James Reeves, visiting assistant professorPhoto by Deb Grove, Office of Communications, Franklin & Marshall College

 

GSC: How did you become interested in eighteenth-century studies?

JR: I took one of Jennifer Snead’s classes on Alexander Pope when I was an undergrad. I loved the class, she was an exceptional teacher and mentor, and I was impressed by Pope’s command of poetic form. That said, when I entered my master’s course, I planned on being a Miltonist. That changed when I discovered that 5–6 other people in the course also planned on being Miltonists and my imposter syndrome told me I couldn’t keep up and that I needed to pursue something else. So, I went with the eighteenth century. I know that’s not the most inspiring answer, but it’s true.

I should say, though, that I’m incredibly glad I made the switch to the proper eighteenth century because it’s an absolute joy to work on, particularly for someone like me who’s interested in things like religion, satire, and secularization. And, it gave me the opportunity to work with two of the best mentors I could’ve asked for in graduate school: Helen Deutsch and Felicity Nussbaum. A large part of my interest in the century is the direct result of being taught by so many generous, supportive mentors.

 

GSC: What critical transformations have reshaped the field of eighteenth-century studies over the course of your career?

JR: The field is notably eclectic, and my career is still relatively young, but a few exciting developments stand out: the growth of disability studies (by scholars like Helen Deutsch, Lennard Davis, Chris Gabbard, Jill Campbell, Jason Farr, Travis Chi Wing Lau, and Susannah B. Mintz); the proliferation of ecocriticism and interest in the non-human (Tobias Menely, Anahid Nersessian, and Erin Drew, to name just a few scholars whose work I’m familiar with); and the increase in studies of secularization, or what has been called postsecularism. Although, if a recent BSECS roundtable I chaired on the topic is any indication, that second term is by no means unanimously accepted by those (David Alvarez, Misty Anderson, Lori Branch, David Diamond, Corrinne Harrol, Alex Eric Hernandez, myself, and others) who are currently invested in rethinking the relationship between religion and the secular in the eighteenth century.

 

GSC: What advice do you have for graduate students who are transitioning to the role of assistant professor?

JR: I’m only in my second year as a tenure-track assistant professor, so I’m obviously still figuring things out myself. But here’s a brief anecdote that might be helpful. During my first semester as a VAP, I had a moment of panic when it seemed like my students just weren’t getting the eighteenth century. I kept leaving class feeling like I’d been incoherent, that I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher after all, and that I really didn’t have any clue what I was doing. Part of the problem was that I’d made the mistake of beginning the semester with Pope’s Essay on Man instead of something more immediately palatable. But another (connected) issue was simply that I was a brand-new professor with relatively little experience managing his own classes. I texted a friend (Alex Eric Hernandez, another selflessly kind mentor among the many in our field), and he said exactly what I needed to hear: It’s normal to feel that way. Give it time. You’ll figure it out. He was right, so now I’m passing on his advice.

 

GSC: What scholarly writing methods/strategies have served you well over the course of your career?

JR: I’m a haphazard writer. I’ll go weeks without writing anything, but then at other times, I’ll write nonstop for 5–8 hours a day. However, when I really need to follow a specific schedule, I spend two months researching (and I cut myself off at exactly two months) and then one month exclusively writing. I inevitably go back and do more research once I know where the writing’s taken me and what gaps I need to fill, but in general that pattern was really helpful when writing my dissertation, my book, and the various articles and essays I’ve published/sent out. I also constantly remind myself that everyone works differently and that I don’t need to feel guilty about writing however/whenever works best for me.

 

GSC: Could you describe your approach to mentoring graduate students? What are some important attributes that graduate students should look for when choosing a faculty member?

JR: My approach is to try to emulate the ethical, professional, compassionate mentorship I received as a graduate student. That means responding in a timely manner to student emails, giving substantial, generative feedback on their essays, being equitable and available to all my students, and, perhaps most obviously but also most importantly, recognizing that they’re human beings with full lives outside of academia and that my class and research interests are rightfully not the center of their universes. It’s hard to know what you’re going to get out of a faculty mentor before you’ve actually spent significant time with them, but those are the qualities I’d look for in an ideal mentor, and they’re the qualities that I’d like to embody as a mentor myself.

 

GSC: What advice do you have on selecting topics? What advice do you have for grad students on writing a dissertation prospectus?

JR: I know it gets said repeatedly, but feel free to choose a topic that really interests you or that means something to you personally. And don’t let people’s disinterest stop you from pursuing your thing. When I first decided to work on religion (or, oddly, religion via atheism), I received pushback from random places. For instance, when I was just beginning my dissertation, I asked a question about atheism at a conference. Someone in the audience made a remark that basically questioned why anyone would be interested in the topic, which got some laughs from the crowd. On a different occasion, when I was actually finishing the dissertation and just beginning to think about the job market, I was told by an academic I’d just met that they’d only ever consider hiring me as a “Bible as Literature” guy (despite the fact that I hadn’t asked for a job or their thoughts). So, basically what I’m saying is that sometimes people, even highly successful academics, have no clue what they’re talking about. Pursue what matters to you because it’ll help sustain your interest and because you’re the person best suited to do that work.

As far as writing a prospectus goes… It’s such an odd document, and I’m guessing that different institutions have different requirements and expectations. So, my best advice would be to ask peers who’ve successfully written prospectuses if you can read theirs. And be in touch with your advisors regularly. You’re essentially trying to demonstrate to them that your project is viable, so include them in the process as much as possible.

 

GSC: What classes have you most enjoyed teaching? How has your teaching evolved over the course of your career?

JR: In fall 2018, I taught a class on “Satire from Swift to SNL.” We read 18th-century satires by Behn, Pope, Swift, Gay, Montagu, Burney, etc. alongside more recent satires like It’s Always Sunny, The Colbert Report, and The Onion. It was a ton of fun, and I think it successfully made students aware of the 18th century’s ongoing relevance. I liked it so much, in fact, that I’m teaching two different versions of it in fall 2020, one at the undergraduate level and one for our master’s students.

The most significant shift in my teaching over the past few years has been that I’m now much more interested in hearing students’ personal responses to texts than I was when I started grad school. I’m also more and more convinced that I’m wasting their time if I just have them close read for close reading’s sake. That’s probably common sense for most teachers, but when I began teaching I’d primarily ask questions like: What are this text’s contradictions? Where does it undermine itself? What word choices stand out to you? What can this word also mean? What’s the meter here, and why does it change in line 17? That’s all fine, and I still ask those questions from time to time, but now I’m more interested in texts’ ethical and affective impacts. I now find questions like, “What does this novel teach us about living meaningful lives?” or, “How has this poem affected you?” much more compelling.

 

GSC: What advice on securing competitive research grants do you have for graduate students?

JR: I don’t have a ton of experience with this, to be honest. But, obviously, you can’t receive grants you don’t apply for, so don’t be afraid to submit applications. This question has me thinking now that I should go back through and read earlier interviewee’s responses, because I could probably use some help here, too.

 

GSC: What advice do you have on attending conferences and giving conference papers?

JR: My only real advice here is just to be yourself. If you don’t like social events, you don’t have to attend a ton of social events. (If you love karaoke, attend the karaoke. If you don’t, don’t worry about it.) If you want to see the conference city, spend time walking around the city. Take in the sights. Make the most of your trip. You’re there to share your ideas, to receive feedback, to hear others’ ideas, and ideally to meet some peers/colleagues. But conferences aren’t exams; you can’t fail them. Make the most of them, and don’t feel guilty for doing things your own way. And, finally, don’t feel pressured to present at tons of conferences every year. In grad school, I only did one a year, at most. Do what works for your schedule, your personality, etc.

(If all of this makes it sound like I’m not an ideal conference-goer, that’s because I am, in fact, not an ideal conference-goer.)

 

GSC: What are your current research interests? What are you working on at present, and what do you want to work on next?

JR: I’ve just finished my book, which will be out soon, and I recently submitted revisions on an article I’d been working on for a while. So, I’m currently trying to figure out what my next big project is going to be. I have no idea at the moment.

But I do have several article-length projects swirling around in my head, and I hope to have at least one or two of them finished by the end of the year: an essay on the common early modern correlation between gambling and atheism (expressed most famously in Pascal’s Wager); an article charting the prevalent eighteenth-century phrase “believe a God” (as opposed to “believe in God”), used by many authors to capture the ineffability of the divine and to distinguish belief from empirical knowledge; an essay on Frances Sheridan’s odd depiction of Islam in her 1767 Oriental tale The History of Nourjahad; and, finally, an essay on John Newton and William Cowper’s Olney Hymns (1779) that explores how public expressions of personal doubt often paradoxically affirm communal belief. All of these projects are still developing, but I’ll be presenting on this last one this summer, so chances are it’s the once that gets finished first.

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Thank you all for reading our interview series, and thank you, Dr. Reeves, for taking the time to interview with us! Everyone, keep an eye out for our next interview series!

Call for GSC 2020-2021 Co-Chair, 2021-2022 Chair Applications

We are now accepting applications for a two-year Graduate Student Caucus (GSC) executive position.

During the first year, the successful applicant will serve as the Graduate Student Caucus co-chair and will be responsible for organizing the Caucus’s scholarly panel at the 2021 ASECS meeting. During the second year, the co-chair will move into the chair position and will organize the Caucus’s professionalization panel.

Among other duties, the co-chair will assist the chair in the following:

  • Coordinating the annual Excellence in Mentorship Award—soliciting nominations, assembling an award committee, assessing application materials
  • Conducting interviews with colleagues and soliciting guest columns for the GSC blog
  • Keeping the GSC blog current with news/announcements, interviews, and columns
  • Monitoring and updating GSC Twitter account
  • Sharing members’ news and announcements
  • Keeping Caucus members informed about prizes, awards, deadlines, etc.
  • Composing an annual report for the ASECS Executive Board
  • Responding to queries and communicating regularly with the ASECS Business Office

 

Candidates must have at least two years remaining in their graduate program. To apply, submit 1) your C.V. and 2) a CFP for the GSC ASECS 2021 scholarly panel you would like to organize. Send these materials to the 2020-2021 GSC chair, Megan Cole (meganec2@illinois.edu). Applications are due on or before Monday, April 13, 2020, by the end of the day.

Rebecca Shapiro Wins 2020 Excellence in Mentorship Award

The ASECS Graduate Student Caucus is delighted to grant the 2020 Excellence in Mentorship Award to Rebecca Shapiro of New York City College of Technology. Shapiro is an Associate Professor of English, and she is the program founder of ASECS’s “The Doctor Is In.” She has served as a faculty mentor on several committees in the past years, as both a junior faculty mentor and a program founder of “Ask a Professor” at New York City College. Additionally, Shapiro is an associate editor of Lexicons of Early Modern English and was recently the Director of the First-Year Writing Program at her institution.

Shapiro’s nominators praise her innovative establishment with “The Dr. Is In.” Jason Farr of Marquette University explains that “What Dr. Shapiro has done with the creation of ‘The Dr. Is In’ is anticipate the future. She has provided for us a space in which to have such conversations, which are horizontal in nature rather than hierarchical.”

Kathleen Alves, a co-chair of “The Dr. Is In” team, commended her unwavering dedication to student mentorship, reflecting that in the first several years of these sessions, “Dr. Shapiro organized and led these sessions herself.”

Joel Sodano speaks to how Shapiro’s mentorship directly influenced his own graduate career when they met at a conference in 2013, and he states that “she made a point of connecting with me to talk about my work and offer encouragement.”

The Graduate Student Caucus is honored to give this year’s Excellence in Mentorship Award to Rebecca Shapiro, and we thank her for making mentorship an integral part of her work.

Academic Land Acknowledgment for Settler Scholars: A Guest Post by Dr. Eugenia Zuroski

The first few times I delivered a territorial acknowledgment in a professional setting, I went about it the way I’ve learned to approach all professional presentations: I prepared obsessively, looked at as many official-seeming examples and templates as I could find, and then crafted and recited a statement that felt polished and rigorous. This is, after all, how I’ve learned to do my job well.

But when fellow non-Indigenous colleagues thanked me for the “beautiful” acknowledgment, that’s when I realized I needed to do much better.

In this piece, I offer a set of prompts and guidelines for settlers and others who are new to acknowledging Indigenous lands in academic settings. I use “settlers” here as a shorthand for anyone living on colonized land whose genealogy does not include Native kinship to the land, with the caveat that it is important to recognize how Indigenous communities define their genealogies and community affiliations, as well as the vastly different ways that non-Native people have arrived on Indigenous lands. Jodi A. Byrd, drawing on Kamau Brathwaite, has proposed the term “arrivants” (a term taken up by other scholars including Tiffany Lethabo King) to distinguish the descendants of enslaved African people and refugees who have been forcibly driven from their homelands by imperial war from descendants of European settlers claiming Native land as property. Considering the pathways by which you, personally, have come to be here and how your presence fits within these arrangements of power is part of the work of land acknowledgment.

I offer the following thoughts as a student of these practices, not an authority on them. I can’t tell you “how to do a land acknowledgment,” nor can anyone; instead, I can share what I’ve learned in order to help us think together about the work we are being asked to do and how we can do it responsibly. 

 

First: is this something we should do? 

Yes, I believe it is. Why? For one, because acknowledgments are already a part of our practice. We routinely recognize our colleagues, our mentors, our funders and fellowships and societies and institutions—anyone who has supported our work and made it possible—to express our gratitude and indebtedness to them. It’s a valuable way of situating our intellectual contributions within the broader structures and networks of relation that enable us as scholars, and, crucially, it names the bodies to whom we consider ourselves and our work accountable. 

But where we and our work are—the land not just as site but as our active situation, determined by the Indigenous communities who belong to the place; the treaties that protect the land and the relationships it sustains; and the histories of dispossession and extraction embodied in the land’s “development” into a site that upholds, among other things, our scholarship—has not traditionally been part of the professional ritual. Thanks to the sustained efforts of Indigenous communities and people working in Indigenous Studies, Ethnic Studies, anticolonial studies and movements, and bodies such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, academic institutions have been clearly called upon to reflect on these particular webs of relation and accountability. Learning how to practice acknowledgment of the land is a first step in responding to this call.

So the practice we call a “land acknowledgment” is really a site-specific exercise in reflective self-awareness: Where am I right now, and with whom? How have we come to be here, and for what purpose? To whom does this place put me in relation, and on what terms? To whom am I accountable here? And how will I act, and orient my work here, so as to meet my responsibilities?

 

Is there a script or template?

Some institutions have made these, but many members of Indigenous communities have insisted that acknowledgments that sound formal and scripted do not do the necessary work of illuminating relationships of responsibility and calling people into them. In fact, formal acknowledgments tend to have the opposite effect, offering some solemn-sounding words that the institution and its representatives can recite instead of making sustained efforts at being in good (or at least better, and improving) relation with the land and the peoples connected to it. Discussing his regrets at helping his home institution, Ryerson University, with a formal acknowledgment several years ago, Anishinaabe scholar Hayden King explained, “the territorial acknowledgement is by and large for non-Native people. So if we’re writing a script then providing a phonetic guide for how to recite the nation’s names … it doesn’t really require much work on behalf of the people who are reciting that territorial acknowledgement. It effectively excuses them and offers them an alibi for doing the hard work of learning about their neighbours and learning about the treaties of the territory and learning about those nations that should have jurisdiction.”

Therefore, if you decide to make an acknowledgement of our collective situation in this place—the people, treaties, histories, and responsibilities that determine it—you should craft one informed by your own efforts to learn the names and histories of the place; the peoples, languages, lifeways, and diplomacies that primarily belong to it; and how you come into relation with all of these by being here, now. 

Cultivate an idea of what you’re trying to do through the work of acknowledgment, and then learn how to do that. It’s a deep and ongoing process.

 

Ok, but can you offer any pragmatic tips?

Lots of folks have. Start here:

https://native-land.ca/territory-acknowledgement/

https://nativegov.org/a-guide-to-indigenous-land-acknowledgment/

https://apihtawikosisan.com/2016/09/beyond-territorial-acknowledgments/

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/unreserved/redrawing-the-lines-1.4973363/i-regret-it-hayden-king-on-writing-ryerson-university-s-territorial-acknowledgement-1.4973371

Other things to consider:

 

An effective acknowledgement should include:

    1. Recognition of the Indigenous nations on whose traditional and ancestral lands we are presently gathered, as well as nations with other meaningful connections to the place
    2. Recognition that we are gathered in this place as a result of its colonization
    3. Recognition of the treaties in effect on the land, to what extent they are being honored, and Indigenous nations’ efforts to enforce them (for example, movements to block oil pipelines and other industrial developments that violate sovereign territory and/or protected hunting grounds)
    4. Recognition that the Indigenous nations connected to this land, and forcibly displaced from it by colonization, are still here, and that these living connections need to be honored and restored—literally restored, as in giving the land back
    5. Recognition that honoring these relationships requires ongoing learning, work, and commitment, and that our scholarship can and must be part of that work
    6. Indication of some way those of us gathered at this conference can pursue that work in our scholarship
    7. Indication of how we can contribute directly by donating money to and amplifying the voices of local Indigenous land protectors

 

The acknowledgment need not be lengthy in order to include all of these elements, just focused. And it doesn’t all have to be contained in a prelude to your presentation—as I discuss in more detail below, your acknowledgment should both frame and weave its way into your work. Your presentation itself can acknowledge where it is and what it owes to this place. YOU, in the way you approach the conference as a chance to think with others, can make these acknowledgments part of how you make yourself present. 

At the end of this piece, I’ve attached some images of my “acknowledgment notes” from two talks I gave in New York City last year as examples of how I’ve tried to approach this. They are mere examples, not exemplars. 

I’ve also tried to demonstrate in my “acknowledgments” at the end of this piece how our conventional academic acknowledgments can be directed toward honoring the land we are on, as well as the people we think with. 

 

Being in good relation means knowing what you ask of people.

As you work on your acknowledgment, be cognizant of how you ask for help as someone in the process of learning from others. Settlers habitually struggle to navigate the boundary between recognizing the authority of Indigenous knowledge and demanding access to that knowledge when we decide we have need of it. While it is a settler’s responsibility to learn, it is not the responsibility of Indigenous people or communities to teach us. How, then, do we respectfully proceed? There are many resources. Do the reading. Listen (without speaking!) to conversations already in progress in places like Twitter. Make use of the wealth of information that has already generously been put into circulation, some of which this article links to. 

At some point, it may become appropriate to consult—respectfully—with the communities you wish to acknowledge. Once you’ve drafted an acknowledgment for a conference, for example, you might reach out to the hereditary chiefs, community elders, or governmental offices of the nations whose traditional territories you’ll be visiting, to say that you’re working on a land acknowledgment and want to make sure you are using wording that they prefer; you might also ask whether there are other nations and communities that should be included. Carefully consider existing protocols of consultation through these pathways. You could also reach out to members of Indigenous Studies programs in the area, or colleagues you think might have insight into the acknowledgment you’re making. 

With any of this outreach, always recognize that every email you send seeking input is a request for someone’s labor. Are you asking for it on fair terms? Do you have something to offer in exchange? Asking informed questions is an important part of the process, as is centering the knowledges of Indigenous communities, but it’s important to remember that no one is obliged to answer you. Learning to ask questions without expecting immediate or direct answers is part of settler pedagogy. 

 

You are literally here.

Are you familiar with the phrase “decolonization is not a metaphor,” the title and declaration of Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s vital article? Like other kinds of professional acknowledgment (your grant, your co-author, your mom, etc.), your acknowledgment of Indigenous land names a literal, not a metaphorical, relationship. You are literally and materially beholden to this place and its communities for enabling you to be here and do whatever it is you’re doing. Is what you’re doing consistent with your obligations here? How can you make it so? And, crucially, how can you practice land acknowledgment in a way that doesn’t turn it into a “settler move to innocence” (Tuck and Yang) that disavows these obligations? 

If your acknowledgment refuses to own the possibility that we settlers should just literally leave, then it isn’t fully doing the work. 

 

An acknowledgment frames your way of knowing and what it does in the world.

Don’t distance the act of acknowledgment from the content of your scholarship; weave them together. How does presenting this work on this land frame particular questions or concerns? How does the work contribute not only to the academic field but to the project of being in good relation with the people connected to this place? These are particularly pressing questions for our field of eighteenth-century studies, which encompasses the historical period in which European colonization intensified to a global system. There is nothing from the eighteenth century to which the history of colonization is not relevant, and that history generates a web of present relations that demand our attention. By routinely acknowledging the land, its people, and ourselves as part of its history, we can draw crucial connections between the knowledge we gather as scholars of the eighteenth century and the responsibilities we bear as practitioners in the present.

 

Acknowledgment is a small part of a big project.

Land acknowledgments belong to a broader body of anticolonial and decolonizing thought and practice. There’s a lot of work out there in this area; make a reading list and dive in. Some colleagues and I made this resource list for a workshop we organized last fall at McMaster, located on lands protected by the Dish With One Spoon wampum agreement, the traditional territories of the Mississauga and Haudenosaunee nations, and site of the first treaty made between a First Nation and European settlers on Turtle Island, the Two Row Wampum. You could start here, but also recognize that with such site-specific learning, your own reading list may best draw on bodies of knowledge situated nearer to where you are.

 

Feeling ill at ease is central to the work.

Acknowledgment is an act of unsettling and, to a settler, it should feel unsettling. You are learning how not to be (in the) “right” where you are. Therefore you must fight all your professional urges to appear polished and authoritative in how you do it. 

This brings me back to my own early attempts and what I learned from them. We are trained to assert ourselves as experts when presenting our scholarship, to command respect by performing the knowledge we possess and our mastery of it. But the act of acknowledging land to which you are not Native runs counter to the dynamics of mastery; you are placing yourself in relation to what you don’t know, what you don’t possess, what you shouldn’t claim, what you are connected to and responsible to for reasons beyond your control and full comprehension. As Métis scholar Chelsea Vowel writes, “territorial acknowledgments … can be transformative acts that to some extent undo Indigenous erasure …  as long as these acknowledgments discomfit both those speaking and hearing the words.” The use of these lands by settlers to practice “professionalism,” to claim expertise that erases Indigenous knowledges, and to consolidate capital for colonial institutions through our intellectual exercises—these are fundamental colonizing practices that are part of what we are being asked to acknowledge, confront, and divest ourselves of.

In acknowledging the land, you acknowledge your own alterity to it, and your need to account for your privileges on it. If that doesn’t make you uncomfortable, you aren’t fully engaged.

I am by nature an anxious and obsessive over-preparer for professional presentations. I don’t always read from a script, but until recently, I always prepared one, for any shared remarks. Lately I have begun challenging myself to make my land acknowledgments “off the cuff,” using only the resources that arise within me in the moment, from the knowledge I’ve gathered up to that point. There is still lots of preparation—all the homework described above, practicing the pronunciation of names and terminology, reflection on how historical placement conditions the work I have to offer. But instead of writing or memorizing a script, I challenge myself to think through the acknowledgment in the moment I make it, as a way of being fully present in the act in an honest and vulnerable way. 

It always leaves me feeling exposed and inadequate: that I could have articulated something better, that I pronounced something wrong, that my way of accounting for how my work might contribute meaningfully to Indigenous life was dubious and painfully sketchy. I always feel like I could, and should, have done better. And that feeling, as excruciating as it may be, is true to the practice. Our acknowledgments will always, necessarily, be inadequate to the task of addressing how deeply and violently colonization has implicated us in one another, to the task of answering fully for what must be repaired. They are, by definition, an acknowledgment that we can and should do better by one another. 

And they position us to recognize how we and our scholarship can help create the conditions under which we will do better. 

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I offer thanks to all the people whose ideas and expressions of support are part of this document. In particular, in addition to the people cited in the piece and my colleagues in Indigenous Studies at McMaster, I thank Megan Peiser (Choctaw Nation), Natalee Kēhaulani Bauer (Kanaka Maoli), and Griffin Epstein for sharing their knowledge here. This piece was written in my house on colonized Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee land, the Dish With One Spoon. I recognize the dubiousness of my right to share in the dish and my obligation to protect others’ rights to it. If this piece gives anything to you and your work, I ask you to consider giving back in one or more of these forms: 1. Cultivate a literacy in wampum belts and help me learn how to honor the wampum treaties that protect the land we’re on; 2. Support Wet’suwet’en land protectors by donating to their legal fund; 3. Donate to the Back 2 the Land: 2Land2Furious LandRaiser organized by Chelsea Vowel; 4. Support land protectors at Mauna Kea by donating to the Kahea Legal Defense Fund; 5. Support Indigenous political prisoners and their efforts to protect Standing Rock and other waterways by donating to the Water Protector Legal Collective; 6. Support land protectors in many areas by donating to the Native American Rights Fund; 7. Learn about an Indigenous land protection or land back movement in the place where you live and work, amplify it, and donate to it.

 

Appendix: Two images of attempts of the work, in progress.

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Eugenia Zuroski, McMaster University  

Gena photo

Eugenia Zuroski is Associate Professor of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University and Editor of the journal Eighteenth-Century Fiction. She is author of the monograph A Taste for China: English Subjectivity and the Prehistory of Orientalism (Oxford University Press, 2013) and the poetry chapbook Hovering, Seen (Anstruther Press, 2019). Find her on Twitter @zugenia.

Interview with Dr. Alistaire Tallent, Associate Professor of French Culture and Literature

For our November blog post, our co-chair Megan had the pleasure to interview Dr. Alistaire Tallent, Assistant Professor of French at Colorado College. To read more about the courses she teaches and her research interests, see her departmental profile here!

AlistairePhoto

GSC: How did you become interested in eighteenth-century studies?

AT: My first semester of graduate school at the University of Tennessee I was in Mary McAlpin’s seminar on the eighteenth-century French novel. As a non-native speaker who at that point had never even been to a French-speaking country, reading the long, wordy prose of Rousseau, Graffigny, and Laclos was the hardest thing I’d ever done intellectually. But Mary had a masterful skill of bringing us into the world of Enlightenment France, helping us tease out the dominant discourses and identify the thrilling moments of resistance to those narratives, particularly from a feminist standpoint. I was fascinated by how the almost naive optimism of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution appeared alongside countless elitist, racist, classist, and misogynistic assumptions in everything I was reading. I realized that the eighteenth century was not just a key moment in the history of my own country (the US) and the country I loved from afar (France), but it was also a site where I could explore the tensions between beautiful words and the difficult realities they sometimes mask.

 

GSC: What critical transformations have reshaped the field of eighteenth-century studies over the course of your career?

AT: I got my Ph.D. in 2005, and since then I’ve seen a real growth in the field of eighteenth-century French studies in terms of what topics and approaches are considered legitimate points of scholarly inquiry. My work on fictional prostitutes in racy, non-canonical pseudo-memoirs is still a bit unusual, but I no longer get the quizzical looks and condescending, disingenuous comments of “How interesting!” There is a greater variety of theoretically informed methodologies and of primary texts, and the field has become richer for it.

 

GSC: What advice do you have for graduate students who are transitioning to the role of assistant professor?

AT: First, no matter where you are, take a moment to celebrate having snagged a tenure-track position. In teaching undergraduates, remember that you don’t have to impress them. You’re a doctor, a professor, and for many, the most educated person they’ve ever met. It’s more about generating their curiosity and excitement and ideas than demonstrating your own.

Know that you’ll be the new kid in school. Be flexible, helpful, and easy to work with. Beyond that, don’t stress too much. Yes, the tenure process is scary and awful. It is torture for everyone, and there are no assurances your colleagues or the administration could give that would make it less scary. The thing is, though, worrying doesn’t make it better. Do your best. Work like you’re going to be there for the rest of your life. Just remember it’s your job, not your identity.

 

GSC: What scholarly writing methods/strategies have served you well over the course of your career?

AT: I may be one of the worst people to ask about this. I’ve had a very fulfilling and challenging career up until now, but I haven’t written very much, and I’ve published even less. I’m fortunate that my institution is more flexible than most in its publication expectations, and I’ve felt valued for my work as a whole. Still, it’s admittedly embarrassing. I fear people will see me as a solid workhorse rather than a stunning intellectual. But my own ego aside, I’ve found it’s best to accept I don’t multitask well. The whole “write a little bit every day” approach works for some people, but not me. I write best in a bubble with little to no distractions. I’m also a big believer in the importance of the physical space of a work environment. I associate my home with taking care of my kids, cooking, and housework; in my office I prepare my classes and grade. It’s very difficult for me to write in either place. So, I go to a public library or a café to write. Actually, hotel rooms are my favorite workplaces. While I’m at a conference or traveling, away from the distractions of my family and students, I can focus on my work in a way that helps me get good writing done and a lot of it. All this to say, know thyself, figure out what works for you, and make no apologies.

 

GSC: Could you describe your approach to mentoring graduate students? What are some important attributes that graduate students should look for when choosing a faculty member?

AT: I’ve only ever worked at an undergraduate institution, so I have no experience or advice to give on this.

 

GSC: What advice do you have on selecting topics? What advice do you have for grad students on writing a dissertation prospectus?

AT: I suggest going for the most interesting topic you can find, even if it’s not apparently academic, serious, or marketable. It’s easier (and more fun) to take a unique or sexy topic and make it into an impressive tool of intellectual investigation than to take a traditional topic and try to make it interesting. Also, don’t think too much about how others will view your subject. You’ll be working on this topic for years and years. The most important thing is to make sure it will hold your interest. The rest can be worked out.

 

GSC: What classes have you most enjoyed teaching? How has your teaching evolved over the course of your career?

AT: I am so fortunate in the freedom I have to invent new courses and to take the traditional courses of our curriculum and adapt them as I want. I teach everything from French 101 to advanced literature and culture topics (in French and in English) and directing senior thesis projects. The course that has most closely reflected my own scholarship is one I co-taught a few years ago with a colleague in the English department called “Pornography in the Enlightenment.” I also enjoyed a course on Molière in which the entire class read and researched L’École des femmes, then wrote an abridged and adapted script (in French) that they then staged and performed. Oh, and everything I’ve taught in our semester in France program: “Paris and the Arts,” “Social Inequality in France,” and “The Politics of Food in Contemporary France.” There’s nothing like being able to immerse students in what you’re teaching.

The biggest change in how I teach has been in the kinds of assignments I require. I have discovered the value in allowing students to be more creative in the ways they demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. I’ve found that when students are told they have to convey the same depth of analysis in a creative project they work harder and arrive at better ideas than if they were writing a standard essay. And creative work is way more fun to grade. In general, a greater sensitivity to learning differences has led me to use different approaches to teaching in every class, which has the added bonus of keeping me from getting bored.

Also, rubrics. They were not at all a thing when I started.

 

GSC: What advice on securing competitive research grants do you have for graduate students?

AT: Here is another topic on which I am not the person to ask. Instead I’ll give some unsolicited advice on the job search.

Somehow, I landed my dream job right out of grad school during my first time on the job market. Certainly, a lot of luck and the proper alignment of the stars were involved, but I also prepared for writing the cover letter, interviewing, and the campus visit to a degree that not all candidates do. First, do your homework on the institutions where you’re applying. Here at Colorado College, we are on a sort of intense quarter system we call the block plan. Students take and we teach one course each month during which time we cover a semester’s worth of material. One-class-at-a-time is kind of our thing. And yet, from this side of the job search I’ve encountered so many candidates who appear never to have heard of this plan in their cover letters to us or even in the interview. Find out what your institution’s thing is.

Second, figure out how you would fit. For my first face-to-face interview with Colorado College, I not only knew enough about the block plan to ask about it, but I was also familiar with what courses they offered, who offered them, where they sent students to study abroad, and where I thought I could fill out their curriculum. I brought one-page proposals for a variety of courses (3 maybe) at different levels. I was a little afraid this over-preparation might be annoying or presumptuous, so I was careful to say that I was open and eager to see how I could fit in. I nonetheless showed them how hard I was prepared to work and that I didn’t have to be told what to do. As someone who has chaired search committees and chaired departments, I can tell you those are attractive qualities in a future colleague.

 

GSC: What advice do you have on attending conferences and giving conference papers?

AT: If you haven’t presented at a regional conference (WSECS, NEASECS, SEASECS, etc.) do so immediately. I find the vibe at these smaller conferences more relaxed and the feedback more helpful than at the bigger ASECS meeting—which is also a very positive place to present. If you’re feeling intimidated by ASECS or ISECS, don’t be. But the affiliate societies’ conferences are more conducive to meeting people and really getting to talk to them.

As someone who has sat in on many panel presentations, I would suggest being clear, specific, and (dare I say) engaging in presenting your new ideas. Be prepared to list the previous scholarship on your topic should someone ask, but I personally don’t want to hear about the history of Montesquieu studies or the author and title of every work about the Lettres persanes before I get to hear your new reading of Usbek’s harem as an ecosystem suffering from a kind of manmade climate change. It’s your exciting new ideas we want to hear, not proof that you know all the names to drop. Also, when you attend a panel be succinct in your questions. Please.

 

GSC: What are your current research interests? What are you working on at present, and what do you want to work on next?

AT: With the book I developed out of my dissertation research (and greatly revised) currently under review, and with the luxury of tenure, I’m in that wonderful phase of looking around for something new to pique my curiosity and occupy my attention. I’ve done some research on the intersections between natural philosophy and the novel in eighteenth-century France, so I’m interested in exploring how the rational thought processes used to explain natural phenomena became useful idioms in literature for validating other inexplicable mysteries—like love and desire. Basically, I’m still looking for some thrilling sites of resistance to the powerful narratives of the Enlightenment. I’m pretty sure this work will never get old for me.

Interview with Dr. Alison DeSimone, Assistant Professor of Musicology

For our November blog post, we had the pleasure to interview Dr. Aliso DeSimone, Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. To read more about all of her incredible accomplishments and involvements, click here!

DeSimone Headshot 2015

GSC: How did you become interested in eighteenth-century studies?

AD: I became interested in eighteenth-century studies through my interests in Baroque music (composed between 1600-1750). I fell in love with Baroque music through performance, first; in college, I started taking organ and harpsichord lessons, and immersed myself in music from this time period. What I love the most about Baroque music is the tension between tight, rigorously controlled formal structures embedded in the music, and the extravagant virtuosity on its surface. As I started thinking about a dissertation topic, I kept returning to George Frideric Handel’s music, which I had been listening to non-stop. His music was the gateway to learning more about eighteenth-century Britain, and what a fascinating place it was in terms of political strife, religious conflict, and issues of class and gender. After I started digging into the literature, I was hooked!

 

GSC: What critical transformations have reshaped the field of eighteenth-century studies over the course of your career?

AD: In musicology, there are a number of really exciting trends that are reshaping the field. While it’s taken some time, many compelling new studies that are coming out aren’t focusing on composers, specifically, but rather on other aspects of music-making in the eighteenth century. For example, reception history is becoming an important way of interrogating and deconstructing the canon of eighteenth-century music that we often take for granted. Studies that have influenced me, particularly, are those that focus on the history of performers and performance—especially singers and what they contributed to the development of opera across Europe in the eighteenth century. I have also been excited to see so many recent interdisciplinary approaches to eighteenth-century music. I have friends writing books and articles that borrow methodologies and theories from cultural history, theater history, comparative literature, and art history. My own book project takes the idea of the literary miscellany, which emerged in the seventeenth century, and applies it to early eighteenth-century music, so I have been indebted to studies in English literature and history as well.

 

GSC: What advice do you have for graduate students who are transitioning to the role of assistant professor?

AD: Protect your time. It is so exciting getting a tenure-track job and starting off at a new school—you might feel like you can do anything and everything! But the transition from being a dissertating graduate student on fellowship to a full-time faculty member can be really tough. I had a couple of one-year positions in between finishing my Ph.D. and starting at UMKC, but I remember how difficult it was to come off of a few years of dissertation fellowship and into a 2/2 (and now, a 3/3) teaching load. It can be incredibly difficult to find time to write, so learning how to say “no” to things that might be extraneous and not necessarily helpful for tenure (being on that extra student committee or adjudicating that regional paper prize) becomes even more important.

 

GSC: What scholarly writing methods/strategies have served you well over the course of your career?

AD: Everyone writes differently. What works for me is a combination of two things: letting ideas marinate (actively thinking about them) and carving out a full day for writing at least once a week. Some people say “write every day,” and while I was able to do that in graduate school, I’ve found less time and energy for that approach now that I am a full-time faculty member. However, as long as I am able to save one full day a week (even if it’s a weekend day) to sit down, collect my thoughts, and really work deeply on an article or a book chapter, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. On those days, I’m usually able to write at least 10 pages of prose, which I wouldn’t be able to do if I only had an hour here or there during the week. But the only way I’m able to churn out that much writing is because I am always actively thinking about my writing projects, whether that’s through reading or simply turning ideas over and over in my mind during the week.

I also make sure to get friends and colleagues to read my work. This isn’t always easy, as people are busy and deadlines are often tight! But with major publications, I try to workshop my writing as much as possible, and I’ve come up with a really great group of friends/colleagues who are always there to provide honest feedback.

 

GSC: Could you describe your approach to mentoring graduate students? What are some important attributes that graduate students should look for when choosing a faculty member?

AD: I’ve been so lucky at UMKC to have graduate students who are absolutely top-notch and responsible. It’s been a real pleasure to work with all of them. My approach in mentoring is to treat each like a peer as much as possible. I am, of course, here to guide them in learning how to research and write, but I really like my graduate students to follow their own instincts. I try to lead them by asking questions and shaping their ideas from the sidelines, rather than telling them exactly what to work on or what their arguments should be.

In looking for a mentor, I think it’s important to understand how you work best. Do you need lots of deadlines? If so, find someone who will make sure you stay on track and who will check in with you constantly. Do you need significant help with your writing? If so, find someone who will really spend time with your work and who will give you really good, consistent feedback, rather than just skimming your writing. I would say, above all, do not work (or continue to work) with someone who is not treating you like a human being; make sure you have a healthy and productive relationship with your advisor or mentor.

 

GSC: What advice do you have on selecting topics? What advice do you have for grad students on writing a dissertation prospectus?

AD: At UMKC, we don’t have a Ph.D. program in musicology, so I am mostly working with master’s students who are writing theses. That said, I think the same strategies apply. 1) Find a topic that genuinely interests you, and that you think you could spend 2+ years working on. If you choose a topic that someone forces you into, you may never finish your degree. 2) If at all possible, choose something that will give you a jumping off point for future projects. My dissertation ended up becoming a number of articles, rather than a monograph. But a lot of the ideas in the dissertation ended up inspiring the direction of my monograph; essentially, I took the questions that frustrated me in my dissertation, that I never got to answer, as the impetus for my book project on musical miscellany. 3) Write on a topic that engages with broader cultural/social issues. I’ve found that my successes as a scholar have come from being very interdisciplinary, and I always encourage my graduate students to immerse themselves in topics that will bring in scholarly literature from many other disciplines. I think it makes for a more interesting project, and I think it looks more interesting to Ph.D. programs (or to search committees once you hit the job market).

 

GSC: What classes have you most enjoyed teaching? How has your teaching evolved over the course of your career?

AD: My favorite class to teach at UMKC is my seminar on “Gender and Music Before 1800.” I love teaching this class because it’s interdisciplinary in its approach, and because my students are so invested in the material. For performers, especially, gender issues are still so relevant, and so I think they find it really interesting to see how much has changed, and how much has remained the same since the early modern era. I organize the course into a series of units, such as “Women as Musical Patrons” or “The Castrato” to investigate the different ways in which gender and music collided before 1800.

I think that the main way my teaching has involved is that I pay more attention to issues of diversity and inclusion in the core classes that I end up teaching. Nearly every semester, I have to teach the Western music history survey course, which—if using a textbook—barely acknowledges how Western music engaged with other traditions and cultures across the world, especially in earlier musical periods. I’ve tried my best to incorporate a broader array of musical examples by women and by composers of color. I also try to discuss ways in which people participated in music beyond composing it: as patrons, as audience members and domestic consumers, and as performers.

 

GSC: What advice on securing competitive research grants do you have for graduate students?

AD: Apply for everything. When I was a graduate student, I probably applied for 50 grants and fellowships, and I was probably awarded about half of them. It’s free money, and if you don’t apply for it, you’re not going to get it! Also (and I can say this because I’m a performer), practice makes perfect. I really refined my grant-writing skills simply because I was writing so many applications year after year. Again, I was rejected from a lot of those opportunities, but by the end of my time as a graduate student, I was able to articulate aspects of my project in ways that would serve as the basis for job applications.

 

GSC: What advice do you have on attending conferences and giving conference papers?

AD: Attending conferences can be really fun and really stressful at the same time, especially if you’re on the job market. My favorite conferences to attend are ones that are smaller and more intimate, and because of that, I’ve gotten to know the regular attendees very well. I also like bigger interdisciplinary conferences such as ASECS because I always learn something that is absolutely essential and relevant to my topic, but that I might not hear at a more general musicology conference. I would say find those conferences out of which you get the most constructive and supportive criticism, and where you can get to know the other regulars to the point where you might be able to ask them for letters of recommendation (or a job!) at some point.

 

GSC: What are your current research interests? What are you working on at present, and what do you want to work on next?

AD: Right now, I have a number of pots in the fire. I’ve just finished up editing an essay collection (with my co-editor, Matthew Gardner [University of Tübingen]) on the history of the benefit performance in eighteenth-century Britain. It will be published by Cambridge University Press in December. Now that that’s done, I’ve been able to focus more on my monograph, which considers musical miscellany in early eighteenth-century London—specifically, how musical miscellany (in concerts, operas, songbooks, musical compositions, and musical aesthetics) helped to shape public taste and opinion, especially concerning the relationship between English music and foreign music between 1700–20. My manuscript draft is due in May 2020, so that is most of my focus at the moment!

I’m also rewriting an article on Elisabetta de Gambarini, a female composer and performer, who, as I discovered in the archives two summers ago, was also physically abused by her husband. (See Elisabetta de Garmbarini’s portrait below, which was engraved by Nathaniel Hone in 1748 and is found as the frontispiece to her Op. 2 collection of songs for the harpsichord.) I decided to write a feminist biography of her that discusses her as a musical entrepreneur while not diminishing her experiences as a victim of domestic abuse. This project has also led me to a new interest: researching women as musical entrepreneurs in eighteenth-century Britain. I will be writing a book chapter for an essay collection on that subject next summer, and it is my hope that this will eventually become a second monograph. But first, I’ve got to finish my other monograph!

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Interview with Dr. Anita Guerrini, 2018 Pfizer Prize Winner for ‘The Courtiers’ Anatomists’

We are pleased to interview Dr. Anita Guerrini, Emeritus Horning Professor for the Humanities at Oregon State University, for our October blog post! To read about her wonderful publications, current research projects, and more, visit her regularly updated website.

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GSC: How did you become interested in eighteenth-century studies?

AG: I originally wanted to study the history of socialism in the nineteenth century.  Then I went to Oxford for two years and discovered the history of science, and the Scientific Revolution, and kind of settled into the period 1670-1730, which I have never really left.

 

GSC: What critical transformations have reshaped the field of eighteenth-century studies over the course of your career?

AG: In the history of science, the eighteenth century was kind of a blank period between the Scientific Revolution and the Victorian era when I entered the field in the late 1970s.  This was particularly true of the history of medicine and the life sciences, which is what I work on.  This began to change in the 1980s, but really got going in the 1990s.  Meanwhile, I became involved in ASECS in the late 1980s and became much more aware of literary and cultural studies, which have had a major impact on my work.

 

GSC: What advice do you have for graduate students who are transitioning to the role of assistant professor?

AG: Take care of yourself.  Take time to be with friends and loved ones.  Don’t take on a lot of committee work.  Learn to say no, politely but firmly.

 

GSC: What scholarly writing methods/strategies have served you well over the course of your career?

AG: Just write, every day you can.  I always write very messy first drafts, and then edit and re-edit.  When my computer broke down recently and I could not get it fixed for a while, I went back to writing in notebooks, which I found very liberating.  If you do that, write only on the right-hand page and then use the left for notes and revisions. Think about the story you want to tell, which may not fully emerge in that first draft, but will down the line.  I am a big fan of Evernote, which allows me to jot down ideas or clip articles or e-mails, all on my phone.

 

GSC: Could you describe your approach to mentoring graduate students? What are some important attributes that graduate students should look for when choosing a faculty member?

AG: The most important thing for a mentor is to listen.  Every graduate student is different and some require a lot more face time than others.  I realize that not everyone is suited for academic life and that recognizing that and letting it go is not a failure but a victory.  To me, writing is the most important and I spend a lot of time with my grad students on their writing.  When you choose a mentor, look for empathy, but also for someone who continues to be active in your field.  However, a long list of publications is not necessarily a recommendation.  Sometimes the person with the biggest name will not be the best mentor because they are too caught up in their own work.

 

GSC: What advice do you have on selecting topics? What advice do you have for grad students on writing a dissertation prospectus?

AG: Select a topic you like, that excites you, because you are going to be spending a lot of time on it!  But don’t be afraid to adjust as you go along.  In history, I feel a topic should be archive-driven, but secondary sources will help to find the right questions to ask.   A prospectus is important in two ways: as a blueprint for the dissertation, and as an exercise in organizing your first big piece of writing.  I think the second is actually more important than the first, because only when you begin to write do you really figure out what your topic is.  So the dissertation might not end up as you thought it would from the prospectus, and that’s fine.  But it is important as a template for grant proposals and to show your committee that you know what you are doing, so it is worth spending some time on it.

 

GSC: What classes have you most enjoyed teaching? How has your teaching evolved over the course of your career?

AG: I have enjoyed teaching early modern science, the history of medicine, and the history of animals in science.  When I was at UCSB I taught a course on disease and the environment which is probably my all-time favorite, even though it’s not a field I do research in.  My teaching has evolved to the extent that I no longer stick to a script – sometimes I don’t even have a script.

 

GSC: What advice on securing competitive research grants do you have for graduate students?

AG: Apply, apply, apply.  Be careful to follow the instructions exactly. If your department or university offers workshops on grant writing, take advantage of that.  Although your prospectus will be useful as a template, you will probably not be able to use exactly the same proposal for each grant.  Give yourself, and your letter writers, plenty of time.  Do not hesitate to ask your mentors for multiple letters, but don’t ask for them a day (or even a week) in advance.  Remember that even if you are unsuccessful, applying will make you known to a wider group of people in your field and may pay dividends later.

 

GSC: What advice do you have on attending conferences and giving conference papers?

AG: Conferences are great for networking, for meeting up with friends, for getting your research out in front of interested audiences, and for finding out what is happening in the discipline. They can also be expensive and emotionally taxing.  Overall, I advise going to around two a year and presenting at one of those.  If you can do more, great, but in terms of getting a job, publishing will be more important than conference papers.

 

GSC: What are your current research interests? What are you working on at present, and what do you want to work on next?

AG: I’ve worked on the history of early modern humans and animal anatomy for some time.  Lately, my focus has shifted to skeletons.  I’m currently working on early modern discoveries of fossil bones that were thought to be the bones of historic giants.  It’s about national identities and history as well as about science.  After that, who knows?