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!


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.

2015-11-21 14.26.53


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?

Interview with Dr. Kathleen Alves, Associate Professor at Queensborough Community College, CUNY

We are pleased to interview Dr. Kathleen Alves, associate professor of English at Queensborough Community College, CUNY, for our September blog post! To see more about her publications and works-in-progress, see her departmental webpage.

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

KA: Completely by accident! I had no idea what I wanted to do when I sat in my first grad course at St. John’s University. I wanted to do well, but I also knew my learning curve was steep since I majored in Forensic Psychology at John Jay College (CUNY). I had ZERO formal experience with the literature in the period. When I sat in Kathy Lubey’s class on the early novel, I fell in love with comic fiction and satire. I find the world comically absurd most of the time, and I feel a great kinship with Haywood, Fielding, Swift, and Smollett.

Kathy’s interest in the period’s material was also undeniably infectious. My scholarly direction into eighteenth-century studies was determined in large part from her fantastic teaching and generous mentoring.


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

KA: As a nonwhite, immigrant woman, I am gratified to see the field engaging more with marginalized communities—in the period and in the academy. Some time ago, I had deeply considered transitioning to an area which engaged more with nonwhite voices. The feminist spirit is strong in eighteenth-century studies, but for a long time, it was only white feminism. Recently, I am encouraged by the work of Tricia Matthew, Eugenia Zuroski, Emily MN Kugler, Julie Chun Kim, and the ASECS Race and Empire Caucus. When I read their work and listen to their papers, I feel seen and validated.

The discipline has a diversity problem, let’s be frank. For years, I sat on panels and audiences in which I was the only nonwhite person. There has been more conversation on why eighteenth-century studies attracts few black and brown people, and this important work needs to continue—not only to invite nonwhite students into the discipline, but to retain nonwhite scholars. I am an example of this. Exclusionary practices are embedded in all institutions seeded from the soil of white supremacy, and we—white and nonwhite academics—have to do more conscious, structural work beyond the superficial level to appease neoliberal egos.


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

KA: The year after I was hired, my department underwent a cataclysmic change of leadership. Faculty were divided in loyalty—and I think this was especially difficult for junior faculty and the newer hires. Consider department politics carefully. Faculty relationships can quickly become toxic and can harm you when you are up for reappointment or tenure. If you have not been assigned a senior faculty mentor, find one who can help you safely navigate the cultural terrain of the department and the university.

If you are a nonwhite person or a woman, you are more likely to be asked to do more service. Speak with your mentor before committing to serve on any committees—which demand the most time, which give you the most university visibility, and which “earn” the most points for reappointment and tenure. Strategically say yes. I serve on committees which satisfy my advocacy work—pre-tenure, I’ve sat in committee meetings that made me want to set myself on fire. Choose service that is worthy of your time and effort.


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

KA: I co-parent two children under the age of 10, so I have learned to write in short, furious bursts. On teaching days, I prep and grade. On non-teaching days, I read and write. This schedule has helped me maintain a writing momentum, though I know plenty of faculty parents who can’t write during the school year.


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?

KA: I teach at a two-year college, so I don’t have the opportunity to mentor graduate students. As a member of ASECS’ The Doctor is In, however, I have the chance to speak with graduate students with whatever concerns they have navigating the profession. Reach out to us via twitter or! You can also sign up to meet with a particular mentor during the annual convention. You’ll see me hawking our services in front of the door.

As far as choosing a faculty mentor from your program, in addition to looking for someone who can give you the best support in writing the dissertation, speak with junior faculty regarding their experience on the job market. It might be a dream to work with Academic Superstar, but if they’ve been removed from the job market experience for 25 years, they may not offer the best guidance. As Emily said, it’s worthwhile to build a network of support, rather than depending on a single person for help.


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

KA: This might be an unpopular opinion, but I think keeping track of trends in the job market and tailoring the dissertation topic to those trends is a practical move. I’m sure plenty of people would disagree with me, but I tend to think pragmatically. I’m not saying to force the topic to fit what departments are looking for (they’ll be able to tell!), but be prepared to anticipate questions of how your research informs your teaching and serves their students.

That being said, if you are interested in pursuing topics outside of the white canon (important work that is grossly underrepresented in eighteenth-century studies), you might find yourself defending the significance of your work more often than your friends who are working within the canon. I am not saying this to discourage anyone, but this is the reality for nonwhite scholars, especially, and one of the reasons why students quit their grad programs. Please know that there are academics in the field that acknowledge your work as critical for the growth of the discipline. Like Stephanie and Emily, I’m an enthusiastic (although more recent) advocate for Academic Twitter, and Jason’s already acknowledged the importance of Gena’s #BIPOC18 and Manu Samrit Chander’s @Bigger6Romantix in redirecting the conversation of race.


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

KA: Like Stephanie, I teach at CUNY, but at one of its two-year colleges. I teach mostly first-year literature surveys, though I have taught a few more specialized courses (none specifically on the eighteenth-century). I recently designed a course on Gender and Literature, which fits nicely with my research interests, and teaching that class has been one of the most rewarding and uplifting moments in my career.

In the past year or so, I’ve made the decision to radically decenter male whiteness in my teaching. This does not only mean removing the canon from my reading list—it also means applying UDL in my course and assignments design and implementing multi-modal teaching methods that accommodate neurodiverse and polylingual students.


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

KA: One of the smartest things I’ve done was to prepare my book proposal. When I participated in the CUNY Faculty Fellowship Program, none of my cohorts were English scholars. I was dismayed at first—like, why would the program committee stick me in a group with historians and social science academics?—but I quickly realized that this was a good opportunity to work on the book proposal, to work on writing for a general audience outside my discipline. Now, applying for research grants has become so much easier, since I already have the material articulated clearly in the proposal.

And as a grant reader, I appreciate when applicants use direct language and adhere closely to the grant guidelines. I tell all of my students to imagine that their readers are lazy and impatient—don’t make them figure out what you are trying to say, especially when they have a stack of papers to read. I like to think of myself as a generous reader—I want everyone to have the opportunity to get funding!—but I can also tell when an application is a cut-and-paste job. Tailor applications for the specific parameters of the grant. This all seems like basic stuff to me, but I read a significant number of applications that ignore application instructions.

Lastly, I suggest asking a fellow student or professor who received the grant in the past for a copy of their application to get a good sense of what the grant committee is looking for. As far as I know (I can’t speak for everyone), most of my colleagues are willing to share their application materials.


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

KA: Stephanie, Jason, and Emily have already given great advice on this—to prepare the paper ahead, to keep to time, to manage your social schedule, to provide accessibility copies. So, I’ll talk about another important factor in attending conferences, MONEY. I advise students to do the opposite of what a senior scholar advised me when I was in grad school: DO NOT GO INTO DEBT TO ATTEND CONFERENCES. If your institution provides funding for travel, apply, and apply early before the money disappears. ASECS usually meets in March, but I apply for travel funding as early as September. Approximate the costs for your travel in the best way you can—the university funding committee won’t hold it against you if your final receipts for reimbursement aren’t exact to the last cent.

If travel funding is not available for graduate students, advocate for this. Organize a group of graduate students, ask a senior faculty member to work with you, and present your needs to the administration. Exploitation of graduate student labor is rampant and shameful, and all of us need to work towards equitable treatment.

If we use the absurd metric of scaling worth, national conferences weigh more than regional ones. Throw your financial effort on getting yourself to ASECS. If your paper didn’t get accepted at ASECS, submit your paper to the closest regional conference (NEASECS, SEASECS, etc.).

Finally, consider giving papers on pedagogy. Unfortunately, tenure-track specialized jobs are rapidly disappearing from the job list. Most job posts call for a flexible generalist, and showing interest in pedagogy in your CV provides concrete evidence for the hiring committee that you are professionally invested in, or at least open to, teaching outside the eighteenth-century. I also find pedagogy conferences invigorating, and I receive so much inspiration to modify or upgrade my approaches to teaching.


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

KA: My book, which I hope to finish by next year, is on eighteenth-century medicine and representations of women in novels of humor. My essay on Fielding and hysterical language, recently accepted by Eighteenth-Century Fiction, is drawn from one of the book’s chapters.

There are so many directions that I would like to pivot to, but I’ve become really interested in race science and how it informs contemporary notions of race. I’m excited to begin this journey, but I need to finish the damn book first!

Thank you again, Professor Alves, for this opportunity to interview you! For more, head over to her Twitter @katalves18c.


GSC Panels for ASECS 2020

All proposals must be submitted by September 15th!

  1. “I’m First”: First-Generation Graduate Students and Mentors (Roundtable) [Graduate Student Caucus] April Fuller, University of Maryland, College Park;
    A large number of graduate students are first-generation. This session seeks to cultivate a discussion about common questions, concerns, and advice for graduate students and postdocs as they navigate academia. However, this isn’t designed only for students, but it also aims to provide mentors with advice on how to better support students’ success and retention rates. This roundtable is intended to create a space in which seasoned professionals and early career scholars can share tips and ideas for first-generation graduate students, describe mentoring experiences, and foster mentorship relationships.

    To that end, roundtable participants will provide suggestions and advice for creating welcoming, supportive environments for first-generation students; different metrics for success in graduate programs; how to negotiate work and home life; and ways to foster healthy relationships between faculty and first-generation students. Participants are encouraged to tailor their proposals and advice to the ever-changing and increasingly challenging landscape of academia, addressing—though not limited to—any of the topics listed above.

  2. [De]constructing Enlightenment [Graduate Student Caucus] Megan Cole, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
    In the last few years, Medieval Studies has undergone a very public reckoning with the way its symbols, themes, and texts have been mobilized for white supremacist aims. Though less discussed, the eighteenth century has similar issues to confront, as white supremacists frequently express their allegiance to supposed Enlightenment ideals. As Paul Gilroy has argued, the Enlightenment has always been bound up with white supremacy, sexism, and imperialism. For those of us passionate about the eighteenth century, this raises significant questions: What do we mean by “Enlightenment?” What is the relationship between eighteenth-century scholarship and cultural nostalgia for what are seen as Enlightenment values? What kind of work can we do—as both scholars and teachers—to trouble accepted definitions and assumptions about the long eighteenth century? This panel works to generate discussions about how the next generation of C18 scholars can work to deconstruct normative narratives of the Enlightenment and in their place construct more nuanced, expansive, and productive understandings. We seek papers that approach this work from a variety of perspectives: papers that wrestle with the Enlightenment’s legacy, center marginalized authors (of either primary or theoretical texts), analyze eighteenth-century critiques of Enlightenment thought, offer innovative pedagogical approaches for our current climate, or otherwise trouble our understanding of Enlightenment are welcome.

Interview with Dr. Emily Friedman, Director of 18thConnect

Welcome back to our monthly interview series! This month we’re featuring Dr. Emily Friedman, associate professor at Auburn University. Emily is the author of Reading Smell in Eighteenth-Century Fiction and the Director of For more about the amazing work that she’s doing, check out her personalized website!

20170424, Emily Friedman, College of Liberal Arts, English

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

EF: As a prospective undergraduate student, I attended a class session on DeFoe taught by Peter Briggs.  In that hour I both met the faculty member who would guide my initial introduction to eighteenth-century studies (and teach me how to pronounce “ASECS”) and a friend I would admire for the rest of my life: Greta LaFleur.  Neither of us in that moment would have called ourselves eighteenth-centuryists (and I suspect Greta on most days still wouldn’t!) but … well, here we are.

I am super weird and absolutely atypical of eighteenth-centuryists of my generation, I think.  While I thought at first I would be a Russian major, or specialize in Gerard Manly Hopkins, I realized quickly that I hated the Russian faculty and I have a tin ear when it comes to sprung rhythm.  But I adored the eighteenth-century – and at the time, for reasons that now make me cringe.  I fell hook line and sinker for the notion that the eighteenth-century was a place of reason before the bullshit of the Romantics (and the further bullshit of the Victorianists).  I mean, Undergrad Me was right about the bullshit, but not about the rationality.  I just really really loved didacticism, which probably marks me as a very particular kind of Old Millennial.

I was lucky to have an undergraduate research fellowship sponsored by Mellon that allowed me to start working on my undergrad thesis in my junior year, so I immersed myself in Richardson studies, and read Pamela and all of the “media event” materials.  I inhaled Clarissa that summer (remember this is before broadband Internet, and I did not have a TV), and all of the Spectator.  This was before ECCO transformed what was available online, even behind a paywall, so I was also glued to Jack Lynch’s omnibus site and the C18-L email listserv to figure out what an eighteenth-centuryist was.  The latter is where I read an email from George Justice arguing that the then-popular reality TV show Joe Millionaire was more Richardsonian than Fieldingesque, which is how I found out about the institution where I would earn my doctorate.  This may explain a lot to some people.


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

EF: The eighteenth-century I was “brought up” in as an undergraduate and in my MA was comprised of uniformly White, generally genteel sets of authors (and thinkers).  I am enormously grateful that this is not the case – or at least, the enormous Whiteness of our field is being challenged by smart, passionate, awesome collectives.  I put my own work and teaching now to the litmus test of #BIPOC18 and #Bigger6 – if I am not engaging with their goals, disseminating them, or providing support for them, I try to pivot.

The turn to an analysis of the body and what it can know – be it through disability studies, affect studies, sensory studies, environmental studies, or history of science – has exploded as well.  My first book participates a little in that conversation, which was a detour I didn’t really expect.

The digital turn is, of course, one that I am very closely allied to: ECCO started its rollout when I was a student, and aggregation/peer review sites like the one I now direct came into being while I was an ECR. But I was a digital practitioner more or less sub rosa for much of my career.  Megan Peiser was the one to break down barriers at Missouri for digital work to receive credit and support (work still incomplete), years after I graduated.  My first dean told me no amount of grant money would be worth investing in grant writing assistance, which is why I turned away from the digital work that I believed would be necessary for my dissertation to become a book, and wrote about something completely different.  I am very glad that the climate around digital work is changing, if slowly.


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

EF: No one, absolutely no one, prepares you for that transition.  The biggest adjustment is moving from a culture where everyone around you aligns success with you going somewhere else, to one where your employer sees success as you staying for a long time.  Depending on the job you land, you may or may not do that, or want to, but you will almost surely feel that as one of the many claims upon you.

Moving “without a buddy” (as one of my students once put it) can be challenging. I was lucky to be hired along with a cohort of people in my department and in my college and university, and was able to make a lot of friends across campus.  But I’m also in a deeply conservative area, where a lot of communities outside the university are often formed around church membership.  Even being a member of a church wasn’t enough for me to fit in, because “small group” communities are built in the South along strict lines of age, gender, and marital status. For those of us who don’t fit the mold of cis, straight, or at least partnered (preferably with children), this means a lot of extra labor to find one’s people.

Some of my cohort have left. Some live hours away because of family, partner, or community needs.  Others have managed to pair off and assimilate into the community, or came with a partner or family.  My own strategy is cyclical: investing in my local community and home while I’m teaching, and aggressively maintaining my connections to my family and friends elsewhere.  This means I budget a fair amount on travel, and luckily I’m within driving distance of a major airport.

I often say that in academia, everyone has a “button” – the thing that might propel them to leave.  For some, it’s marked “status” or “money” or “geography” – others “family” or “community.”  And many people don’t know what their button is until it’s pushed.  Part of working in this business, especially in an “undesirable” area of the country, is the reality that some people will stay forever, and some may stay for only a short time.  And you really can’t know who is who just from looking.  So you learn to take a page from Blake and “kiss the joy as it flies” – revel in wonderful colleagues, support them as best you can, and stay connected to them even as life takes you all in different directions.

Which is why I often say to folks that the best thing anyone can do is to maintain a wide and diverse network: on-campus, in your field, and in your community. None of us stand alone, but none of us can entirely rely on one thing to sustain us.  Jobs do not love you.  Books will not hug you.  But also partners can get sick. Friends move away.  Having a network is like having a safety net of ties that can carry you even if one cord snaps or goes slack.


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

EF: I am an ambivert: I require contact with humans, but also solitude, in order to keep myself in balance.  I try to build structures into my life, usually semester by semester, that allow me to do what I need to do for that space of time.

While dissertating, that meant writing during the morning in my department building, in an area no one went to. Then I went downstairs to the grad lounge for lunch and did less mentally-taxing work among my classmates during the afternoon.

Now, I don’t have big chunks of time as often, nor a lounge to hang out in.  So now I go to the gym with a friend in the morning (I’m fond of powerlifting), shower, meet with my writing accountability group, have lunch, prep for class, teach, have office hours and other meetings, run errands, and go home. I try not to work on weekends unless it’s crunch time.  I attend as many of the community cultural events as I can, along with our poetry series and theatre season.  I also play D&D biweekly, among other get-togethers.  I also try to get to Atlanta at least once a month, to touch base with the amazing eighteenth-century community there.

I’m a big fan of writing accountability groups. I’m a member of an online support group and a local “let’s get together and write” group that meets multiple times a week. Making commitments to other people makes it stick for me.  I am also dreaming/scheming to create a true writing retreat with some of my friends – we will see.

Practically speaking, I save everything in Dropbox, have all of my notes in EverNote, and am dabbling in Tropy.  But Scrivener is what changed my whole writing life, and really lowered the anxiety bar for me around getting started with writing projects.  Being able to write in “chunks” that I could reorganize was a revelation – so much so that I teach my students how to write starting with such chunks.


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?

EF: I sometimes say I subscribe to the Phillip Larkin School of Mentoring, inspired by “This Be the Verse” (“They fuck you up, your mum and dad./They may not mean to, but they do.”)  This is mostly tongue-in-cheek, as I was (and am) enormously lucky in my mentors, from Peter Briggs at Bryn Mawr, to Jane Moody and Kate Davies at York, and George Justice and Devoney Looser.  I did the “wrong” thing and selected the “lowest” ranked doctoral program I was accepted into, because it was the right fit in terms of advising.

I tell my own students that researching potential advisors is the most important research they may ever do.  The first pass is about research methodology and focus: read the most recent work of the scholars you might want to work with! Do you want to learn to write or think like that? (Not necessarily exactly like them, but in a complementary way?) Do they seem to care about the same issues, approaches, methods that you do?  Are they still working on That Thing You Care About or have they moved on to something totally different?

The next pass is about personality/fit, and you may not be able to even begin to do this until you’re accepted and visiting a program.  I try to give information out long before that first meeting, myself. It is, unfortunately, the responsibility of grad students to try to suss out fit, perhaps in a meeting or informal talk with fellow grads.  There are interpersonal things you can tell fairly quickly: how do they respond to an initial email of interest from a prospective student?  When you meet them, how do they talk about your work?  How do they talk about their former students?

Let’s be honest: there are enormously talented, brilliant, noteworthy scholars who are absolute garbage at mentoring.  It’s not a skill anyone teaches you. It’s not something that is valued adequately when done well nor punished at all when done poorly. (Most mentoring awards are won by the small subset of scholars who manage to “reproduce” most voluminously, often in part by virtue of being at stellar research institutions.) It’s time-consuming, and excellent mentors must balance the labor of mentoring their students with maintaining a productive research agenda that gives them the power/clout to help those students. And “poor” mentoring is a spectrum: there’s benign neglect (which is survivable as long as the mentor meets deadlines) but there is also gaslighting, harassment, or exploitation.

Ideally, there are multiple people in your department who could work with you, so that if you take a seminar with Professor Awesome and discover they are Professor Awesome… For Someone Else, you can pivot. Remember, you’re building a team to help you succeed and learn!

Oh, and honestly? There is a point in nearly every graduate students’ life where their advisors represent everything anxiety-producing in the whole world. In most cases, this too shall pass.  This is where having a network really helps.


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

EF: Set aside some time each year of grad studies to think about what you are learning, what you are most excited about, and what questions you want to pursue.  Interrogate those questions and themes in every class you can!  Some of the most useful courses for my career were ones taught by master textual editors, or scholars whose theoretical approaches were applied to very different texts than I focused on. If you’re very lucky, you may even be able to use some seminar papers to try out different ways of writing and analyzing things you might want to work on.  This means thinking capaciously about your interests even as you focus them – which is good when you later have to convince people outside your field to care about what you do.

Once you’re at the prospectus stage, I would advise that less is more: the prospectus is a work of fiction about something you haven’t written!  Best to do a reasonable job efficiently, and then get to the real work of the dissertation, which will almost surely look enormously different once you’ve written the first chapter and had that experience.


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

EF: I was told very early in my career that teaching would sustain me, and I am exceptionally fortunate to find that to be true.  It helps that I have breathing space to enjoy course development and teaching: I teach at an R1 land grant state university in the Deep South, with a very low teaching load.

My “service” course is a large format (125+) student course on British Literature after 1789, taught with 4 MA GTAs.  I lead class for all the students on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the GTAs lead two sections of no more than 12 on Fridays.  Since Brexit I have leaned heavily into the notion of national identity formation in the readings I assign for the course, trying very hard to implode the idea that Britain was ever homogeneous, especially in the period under consideration. It’s a challenging experience, because you’re sometimes at a remove from students, as well as coaching brand-new teachers, but enormously rewarding.

We only admit a handful of doctoral students each year. Our grad program often serves as a “finishing school” for students from excellent regional undergrads to hone in on what they want to do.  This means I’m teaching lots of different kinds of students in a single graduate seminar (which I do every other year), so I try really hard to make sure I’m thinking about eighteenth-century studies in concert with ways of reading and researching that can serve the creative writers, the technical writers, the medievalists, etc.  This takes many forms: most recently this was a class about the history of authorship and copyright, which I think worked very well.


In terms of evolution: my graduate training included a specialization in book history, but I wasn’t hired as a book historian.  But about five years ago my colleague Derek Ross and I got the idea to start a book history course.  I’d been working with our Special Collections librarian Greg Schmidt since I’d started, so the three of us put together a small grant application so we could all go to Rare Book School to prepare for this new class.  We have now taught that class twice, got another internal grant to buy bookmaking materials, and are in the process of making the course a permanent part of our curriculum.  This has become a major part of my scholarly and pedagogical identity, which delights me endlessly.


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

EF: Small money leads to bigger money – start with internal awards, even if they don’t cover the full cost of whatever you’re trying to do.  That shows external funders that your institution believes in you. Look at the CVs of people who have won your dream big fellowships or awards: you’ll see years of small grants before the big one lands, usually.

Also, be prepared that this is a continual process across your career, and you will apply for some things many many times before you get it.  I watched my own mentor, who is now covered in glory (and a Guggenheim) during the years when she was applying for far more things than she was awarded. Now that I’m at the same career stage she was then, I am forever grateful to have seen those years of hard work.

Funding institutions want to know what you’ve already done as much as what you want to do – it’s far more convincing to say you’ll write three chapters in a year if funded if last year you wrote a chapter while doing teaching/coursework/etc. Granting agencies like to be the funder on a project that they know will be finished, so paradoxically you may actually finish the project and start a new one during that the funded time – be prepared for that.

For library-based fellowships (which is most of what I’ve won), the more specifics you can give about what you need to see there, the better. You want to ensure that you have more than enough to fill the time you’re asking for.  I heard this directly from one library that has month-long fellowships: if you don’t have a significant list of items to consult that could last a month or more, even if they know there’s more for you to look at in their holdings, they’ll pass over you.

Also, if you’re applying to one, you might as well apply broadly to every other similar fellowship with the same requirements (in terms of research statement, etc).  I applied to one library and thought it was a lock, but applied to another library at the same time as a kind of “well, I mean, I have the paperwork ready” – guess which one I got?

And honestly, “having the paperwork ready” in a file folder on your desktop (updated CV, statement of current research) is half the labor of many applications.  You can’t win what you don’t apply for.


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

EF: Do it! Start close to home, as inexpensively as you can, and milk the experience for everything it’s worth.  You will gain nothing, and spend a ton of money, if you merely present your paper and bop out immediately after. Better one conference that allows you to find your people, experienced as fully as your schedule and budget allow, than a bunch that you almost forget you went to until you update your CV.

In order to do this, as Stephanie said, you have got to write your paper before you travel (this also allows for you to print off some accessibility copies, which is an ASECS requirement and should be required everywhere). It will never, ever, ever, be perfect, but at least it will be rehearsed and on time, which is more important than perfect. Early on you’re getting practice for speaking in public and honing your ideas, and later you are testing out new ideas for publication, or even showing off your work to folks who might want to collaborate!

Travel costs can often be brought down by going with fellow grads but try not to let your existing squad prevent you from meeting new people.  Check the conference program for people whose work you admire, and don’t be afraid to email and ask if they might be available for coffee during the conference: even academics (like me) who don’t actually drink coffee are usually game for a chat with someone interested in their work. Worst case, they don’t have time.

At a large conference like ASECS, I go to as many panels as I can, which in physical practical terms means that I have to bow out of usually 1 session a day or I will crater.  Your capacity will absolutely vary, so respect your brain and body’s needs.  I tend to highlight the program while I’m at home, or copy/paste things into my electronic calendar.  I note things I absolutely don’t want to miss, the things I will go to if I have energy, and the sessions where I am most likely to need to rest/take longer lunch/nap/meet up with that student who asked me to coffee.

At a smaller conference, I try to attend every session, because they tend to create community and momentum that way. They’re also usually set up more humanely in terms of breaks and length of the day. I am enormously grateful for the smaller conferences I attended as a graduate student — and still attend today.  The biennial meetings of the Aphra Behn Society and the Frances Burney Society became a true community for me and were friendly faces when I went to my first ASECS (2007, Atlanta).


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

EF: My current book project is titled (today, check back in a week, or a month) Unprinted: A Literary History of Alternative Circulation.  This comes out of my larger digital project, Manuscript Fiction in the Age of Print, which I’ve been working on off and on since I graduated over a decade (gulp) ago.

This book is inspired by my work on the unpublished manuscript fiction I’ve been collecting but ties those works of fiction to later developments in noncommercial circulation: fanfiction and zines most particularly.  I am fascinated by the idea that some authors don’t want their work to widely circulate, but instead reach very specific people or groups in very specific ways. Digitization threatens to blow this all sky high, leading to things like the Zine Archivists’ Code of Ethics, which created a set of suggestions for how to acquire, describe, and make available physical zines, whose authors are often still living and who have a variety of different relationships to their past work.

If you’d told me this project would lead me to become the Director of, require me to read deeply in Critical Race Theory and Archival Studies, and measure dozens upon dozens of blank notebooks, I’m not sure I would have taken it on.  But tenure is a glorious thing, allowing for the space to take on a project that is a strange synthesis of so many things I value: archives, the possibilities of the digital, my youth growing up in the first generation of internet fandom, all of them are contributing to what I’m able to write.

It also is an enormously humbling space: I can’t justify my next book from the pragmatism of “needing a book” for tenure, and thanks especially to Eugenia Zuroski and Manu Chander, I absolutely must, as a moral imperative, address what I’ve been calling the unbearable whiteness of the archives and collections I work in. Moreover, my work must pass Bridget Whearty’s Caswell Test, and acknowledge the work that archival studies (and archival professionals) have done already to engage with these issues.

I expect to be working on the Manuscript Fiction project in some way or another for the foreseeable future, in part because I can’t make my transcriptions public according to copyright law until 2040. That means I’ve had to think about the public part of the digital project in phases, bounded not only by my capacity or by funding, but by these other factors as well. It also means that a lot of my forthcoming publications are about the way that I work, or the structures that influence my work, as much as what I’ve analyzed or read.  In many ways this has been some of the easiest writing of my life, because I feel in control of what I know but also what I don’t know, and why I don’t know it.

Emily 3.jpg


We are so pleased to feature Emily this month! Take a look at some of the work that she is doing in book lab at Auburn on Instagram:

You can also see images of her research materials on Instagram:

Along with her Undergrad Researchers:

For more, go over to her Twitter @friede and her Instagram @manuscriptfiction.

Interview with Dr. Stephanie Hershinow, Author of ‘Born Yesterday: Inexperience and the Early Realist Novel’

Many thanks to Dr. Stephanie Hershinow for taking the time to interview with us! She is an Assistant Professor of English at Baruch College, City University of New York; she specializes in eighteenth-century British literature, the history of the novel, experimental literature, and literary theory. Her book, Born Yesterday: Inexperience and the Early Realist Novel, has just been published with Johns Hopkins University Press.


Born Yesterday is 40% off with free shipping through 7/15 with the code HHOL. To purchase, follow this link. If you’re reading this after 7/15, don’t fear; keep reading for the 20% discount code. 

How did you become interested in eighteenth-century studies?

SH: Very late! I thought of myself as a modernist throughout college and even did an MA in Modern Literature and Culture at the University of York in the UK. I avoided the eighteenth century at every turn. (Writing this, I realize I also grew up basically in Colonial Williamsburg, so it may be more accurate to say that the eighteenth century was too present for me, just a given.) In college, I refused to take a class with a fantastic professor because he encouraged students to read Clarissa over the summer. (Who would possibly want to do that? Oh, it turns out…me.) And York has a fantastic eighteenth-century studies program—even stronger now. It was really the novel that brought me to the eighteenth century. My favorite classes in college were a history and theory of the novel class and a class on theories of representation; both introduced me to the weirdness of the early novel. This is when I got my now-bundled-together-with-several-rubberbands copy of Ian Watt’s Rise of the Novel. (Watt is wrong about everything, but that book is still amazing.) I also took a few classes in political theory in college, and eighteenth-century thought loomed large. When I decided to pursue a Ph.D., I had what I now think of as a pretty key breakthrough: I needed to work on what was confusing for me, not necessarily what I loved reading. My love for the eighteenth century has grown, but it became my field of study because it raised tough questions for me. At Hopkins, I worked with Frances Ferguson, whose way of thinking and writing electrified me. Though her most influential work is arguably as a Romanticist, her work in eighteenth-century studies is audacious and bracing. It’s still very much a model for me.

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

SH: When I showed up as a prospective student at the graduate school I ended up attending, one of the professors said to me “Ah, you’re the formalist, so you probably won’t be working with me.” I had no idea what he meant! Was I the formalist? What was a formalist? I thought of myself as pretty laid back! Part of my bewilderment can be chalked up to my considerable naivete (I’m a first-generation college student), but I do think conversations (and knock-down-drag-out-fights) about formalism and its discontents—conversations about method in general—have multiplied in the time since I’ve been in this field. I tend to think this is healthy, and I have an abiding interest in critical/disciplinary history that leads me into the fray from time to time. A couple of years ago, I took part in a roundtable at ASECS organized by Eugenia Zuroski and Kasia Bartozynska about the V21 collective in Victorian studies and how the energy behind that initiative might catalyze developments in our field as well. It was a somewhat heated discussion! But I think one point of agreement was that V21 has enabled some exciting new fora for (especially early-career) scholars to share new ideas and work. (I was just musing with some colleagues that we should put together a reading group series á la V21 for eighteenth-century studies.)

Apart from those areas, I think the field has benefitted from deep, hard, committed advocacy work centering empire, enslavement, disability, sexuality, and other subfields that elevate marginalized statuses and persons. (Jason spoke about this so eloquently in his interview that I have little to add but my enthusiastic seconding.) That work has been ongoing, and it certainly started well before I showed up on the scene, but I hope it’s starting to come to fruition and that my colleagues working centrally in those areas are being more and more supported, valued, read, and cited.

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

SH: First, be gentle with yourself. The job market is brutal, and you likely had a long road to where you find yourself now. Be sure to prioritize what keeps you healthy and confident. (When I started my job, I half-joked with a friend that this might mean the gym or therapy or watching Scandal, depending on your needs.) Find senior colleagues you trust, not only in your department. And develop relationships in the field outside of your institution. I’m the only faculty member in my field in my department, so I’ve been really lucky to find a community of scholars in my city. When I showed up in New York (a city I never in a million years thought I’d live in), I was intimidated by the sheer scale of the city and unused to an institutional culture where everyone just scattered at the end of the work day. I found my grounding in an eighteenth-century studies talk series hosted at Columbia, which, to my relief, was welcoming, smart, and fun. I now co-chair that series with Kathleen Lubey, and I’m eager to return the favor by maintaining that hospitable environment. If you know me, you know I’m also an unabashed defender of academic social media. Twitter can be a hellscape, but it’s also been really wonderful for me as an early career researcher and new faculty member. My closest friends in New York are still people I reached out to from Twitter, begging them to be friends with me in real life.

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

SH: I’m not a write every day person, though I’ve always longed to be. (This is especially true now that I have a toddler. I’ll decide to squeeze in some writing time after he goes to bed only to end up snoring at 8pm.) Only recently have I started to cut myself some slack for not meeting what are, let’s face it, often arbitrary measures of productivity. I think the most important thing is finding what works for you and using that knowledge to set reasonable goals for yourself. I also write short (ahem, “economically”), so word counts aren’t usually that useful for me. I know I’m doing okay when I’m liking my sentences (however few). To get there, I often find that I have to read good writing—not necessarily in my field, not even necessarily academic writing. While it’s important to notice when your reading is getting in the way of your writing (are you just putting things off by reading “one more article”?), I do believe in getting the rhythms of good prose ringing in my head.


While a lot of writing advice doesn’t work for me, I perversely love reading it, and I’m a big fan of style guides. I can’t recommend Eric Hayot’s Elements of Academic Style enough, and I’m looking forward to checking out the new edition of Wendy Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks. (The first edition is outstanding.) In general, my best advice is to share work earlier than you think you should. As I tell my students often: trust the process. To that end, cultivate friends and colleagues who will read your work (and make sure you reciprocate!), then think about who gives the best advice at which stage (the one who helps you gather your thoughts, the one who will give you tough criticism, the one who will say “just submit it already!”, the one who will help you parse reports from anonymous readers).

 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?

SH: I don’t have graduate students of my own (and it’s worth remembering that most academic jobs out there—even the elusive t-t ones—do not entail graduate teaching). However, I’ve been lucky to get to know some brilliant graduate students in our field, especially those at the CUNY Grad Center. I hope they feel supported by me. I think they’re brilliant! I think my most important role there is to be frank about my own experiences so that they can measure just how helpful my advice even is for them. Coming into academia as a first-gen college student, so much was just bewildering to me, so I’ve always valued people who will pull back the curtain.

When it comes to choosing a mentor, I’ve had success with looking for scholars who think or write the way you’d like to think or write, even if your research interests diverge somewhat. This may be a result of my cattywompus intellectual trajectory or the fact that I attended a famously tiny Ph.D. program (where it was expected that you’d take the majority of your courses outside of your area of study), but I’m pretty committed to trans-period, trans-historical thinking. Of course, not every program supports this kind of faculty guidance, but you can seek those relationships out extracurricularly as well.

 What advice do you have on selecting topics? What advice do you have for graduate students writing a dissertation prospectus?

SH: As I mentioned earlier, I think it’s important to cultivate your curiosity so that you can follow the questions that nag you, even if you’re not sure where they lead. My dissertation (now my book) arose out of a dissatisfaction with the way eighteenth-century character tended to be written about, and I wasn’t really sure where the project was going for quite some time. One of the (many!) unfortunate consequences of the current jobs crisis in academia is that graduate students feel all the more pressure to concretize their ideas very early. While this pressure is real, try to maintain an openness to change. Let the ideas pull you in new directions.

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

SH: I teach at a public, urban, commuter school that’s part of a big university system. (Shout out to the City University of New York, which mainstreamed accessible education for all! More of that, please.) I also teach at a college within that system that’s best known as a business school. This means I really teach a variety of courses, from first-year writing to upper-division seminars. I genuinely love it all. We have a required world literature course that lets me indulge my closet generalist sensibilities. I love teaching the British Literature survey—as a c18 person, I end up teaching both halves. Lately, though, I’ve been teaching some upper-division courses designed to feed my thinking about a possible next book. One is a law and literature course that I’ll teach this upcoming fall. We’ll go from Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year to Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive (about our current migration crisis).

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

SH: Attending panels is just as often more exciting and fulfilling than sharing work, so be sure to build that time in. At first, just go to anything that might interest you. In time, you might understand that some kinds of panels are asking questions in a way that doesn’t quite rhyme with your approach, and you can adjust your conference schedule accordingly. Conferences are a great place to find those friends who will read your work and with whom you can create new possibilities for the field, so be open to a work hard/play hard approach.

Write your paper before you get to the conference! (Do as I say, not as I sometimes do.) Try to find the balance between presenting new work (you want to be open to advice and suggestions) without presenting something so unformed that your audience can’t engage.

Lastly: Keep to time. Keep to time. Keep to time.

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

My first book just came out this month! So I’m in an exciting but, frankly, kind of scary place where I’m feeling out the next project. I have a couple of stand-alone essays coming out: one in a special issue of EC:TI edited by Kathy Lubey and Rebecca Tierney-Hines on the topic of “The Novel as Theory” (basically catnip for me) and another in an edited collection called The New Samuel Richardson, edited by James A. Smith and Rebecca Ann Barr. It’s been fun to work out contained ideas that aren’t (for now, at least) a part of something bigger. The next book is starting to look like it’s about eighteenth-century ways of conceiving of personhood and impersonality (legally, philosophically, aesthetically). Most people in the eighteenth century weren’t (legally) persons, so why is fiction so drawn to these non- or sub- or im-persons? I have no idea! But I’m going to try to figure it out.



Thank you, Stephanie, for this great advice! Some additional links and information:
Monograph: Born Yesterday and if you purchase this book on the JHUP site, you can get a 20% discount with the code HTWN!
Twitter: @S_Insley_H

Interview with Dr. Jason Farr, Author of ‘Novel Bodies: Disability and Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century British Literature’

We’ve started the monthly interview blog series, and we are kicking it off with the brilliant Dr. Jason Farr. He is an assistant professor of English at Marquette University. His book, Novel Bodies: Disability and Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century British Literature, has just been published with Bucknell University Press. (Keep reading for the discount code!) His work regularly appears in venues such as Eighteenth-Century FictionJournal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, and The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation. He is working with colleagues at Marquette to establish a health humanities minor and serves on the board of Marquette’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Studies.


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

JF: As an undergraduate at Utah, I enrolled in an upper-division British Restoration and early eighteenth-century course taught by Corrinne Harol (who is now at the University of Alberta). Going in, I really didn’t know what to expect because I had little experience with the literature from this period, and I was only taking the class because it was a prerequisite to study abroad in London. But Corrinne turned out to be a magnificent teacher. The material that she taught us had such an impact on my intellectual formation. We read Aphra Behn, John Bunyan, Earl of Rochester, Margaret Cavendish, and George Etherege. I became smitten with the unusual worlds that these authors created in their fiction. For the final paper of that class, I wrote an essay that applied queer theory to Pilgrim’s Progress, Part 2. Years later, as a graduate student at UC San Diego, I was able to take independent studies and seminars with George Haggerty and Kathryn Shevelow on early British gothic literature, women writers, the queer eighteenth century, and Restoration theatre. Like Corrinne, George and Kathryn were so knowledgeable and encouraging. Truly, they are all masterful teachers and I was lucky to study under them. So, my arrival to the eighteenth century was due in large part to outstanding mentors.

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

JF: So many critical transformations have happened in the years since I joined ASECS. My first ASECS was Vancouver 2011 and that is the same year that I attended my first disability studies panel. Paul Kelleher, Chris Mounsey, and Madeline Sutherland-Meier were all there (among others). It felt like the start of something truly exciting. In the coming years, we established a Disability Studies caucus, which has allowed for the sustaining of critical conversations. But other caucuses have emerged since 2011, like the Race and Empire Caucus and the Digital Humanities Caucus, which have also been transformational for eighteenth-century studies. The Women’s caucus and Gay and Lesbian caucus have been around for longer but continue to challenge us to think more expansively about women, gender, and sexuality. I have also been struck by the call to read and teach Indigenous literatures and authors of color. At the intersectionality panel at ASECS Denver this past March, Laura Stevens and Jennie Stockle made moving land acknowledgments and talked about how Indigenous voices can be centered in the classroom. On that note, Robbie Richardson’s book (The Savage and Modern Self) and forthcoming special issue for Eighteenth-Century Fiction are groundbreaking and exciting. I think, as a whole, the field has benefitted from the call to include writers of color in our teaching and research. Eugenia Zuroski‘s #BIPOC18 and Manu Samriti Chander‘s @Bigger6Romantix presence on Twitter have helped us rethink race and racism, and to decenter whiteness. Personally, I’m reflecting upon my positionality as a white man in a profession that has traditionally been dominated by white men, even as I seek to queer and crip the field in ways that are informed by intersectional feminism. Collectively, we must address the pressing question, how can we make ASECS a more inclusive place? We need to continue to work on this.

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

JF: I made this transition myself not long ago, in 2014. I realize that this is a platitude, but you really have to take things one day at a time because so much is thrown at you at once. You undergo so much stress when you make the transition to assistant professor: you have been on the job market, you finished and defended your dissertation, maybe you have been adjuncting or hopping around from one VAP position to the next, you have undergone campus visits (which are exhausting at best, traumatic at worst), you have to make peace with leaving a place you’ve spent at least five years in (but probably more), and you have to say goodbye to beloved friends and family. Whew: it’s a lot when you think about it. In my case, I ended a long-term relationship and moved from a place (San Diego) where I had lived for 11 years. Moving from San Diego to Corpus Christi (where my first job was before moving to my current position at Marquette) was in many ways devastating. I knew how lucky I was to secure a tenure-track position, but I had to leave behind so many loved ones to take a position in a remote place that I knew nothing about. As a gay, disabled man, I experienced so much anxiety about the move.

Though I often felt overwhelmed, I took time out for me. I did the things that I needed to stay healthy and happy. I went out for drinks and meals with new colleagues. A group of other assistant professors and I started a writing group together. Honestly, I don’t know how I would have made it through those first couple of years without the support of colleagues like Kathryn Vomero Santos, Kelly Bezio, and Dale Pattison. I also began to look for mentors who could show me the ropes at my new institution. But my department had few senior faculty, and the ones that were there weren’t particularly supportive (fortunately that is not the case at Marquette, where I work now). While in Corpus, I met Sandrine Sanos in History who became my most important mentor. She wasn’t set up as my official mentor, but I met her and we became fast friends. She has written letters for me and has been one of my biggest supporters. What I quickly discovered in Texas was, you can’t expect the institution to create your ideal situation. You really have to “feather your own nest,” as an old friend of mine used to say. I’d add that you can’t know everything all at once. Set short-term and long-term goals that are achievable. Get to know your students, what their lives and struggles are like. Ask a lot of questions of colleagues. Seek out positive, ambitious people who are trying to make a better world and who see the best in you. Limit exposure to exhausting mansplainers and those who make you feel bad about yourself. And lastly, avoid department politics and drama for as long as you can! Try not to get sucked into longstanding feuds.

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

JF: A steady, daily approach to writing has served me well. I set aside at least an hour every morning to write. I don’t look at email or Twitter or lesson plans until I have that hour (or more) done. If it’s a day that I’m not teaching, I try to have an hour-and-a-half writing session followed by a break and another hour-long session. Sometimes I set a goal of writing 500 new words per day. This approach enabled me to write a book while at a job that isn’t a “research” job (it was, in fact, a job in which teaching and service took up a lot of time). I didn’t have the benefit of pre-tenure leave either, which some institutions offer. In other words, I wrote my book and articles in a non-research oriented job by chipping away at them. I find that waiting for the perfect moment– summer vacation, spring break or whatever–is unrealistic for me. I much prefer to spend time on projects every day. This assuages the anxiety that I can feel when thinking about all the work I have to do. I really can’t gain momentum on a project until I’ve got words up on the screen, and I can’t do that until I make a daily commitment to be consistent with my writing. Oh, and I usually take weekends off! It’s important to have time away.

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?

JF: In large part, we learn how to mentor from those who mentor us, and in this, I have been fortunate. One thing that always struck me about my dissertation co-advisors (George Haggerty and Kathryn Shevelow) was how they treated me like a colleague rather than as a student. I try to do the same with the graduate students with whom I work. I respect their expertise. I respect their experiences. I try to build lateral relationships with them rather than hierarchical ones. It is important that graduate students see themselves as active shapers of the field because they absolutely are. They bring new perspectives that rejuvenate our conversations. It is the responsibility of a mentor to help students learn the field, find their voice, and build their confidence.

The most obvious thing in choosing a mentor is selecting someone who has expertise in the field that you want to join. This person can introduce you to the people and ideas that structure the field. But equally important is finding mentors who are invested in students and who have a generosity of spirit and intellect. You can discover who these people are by talking with current or former graduate students who have worked with the mentor in question. And also realize that you can never get everything you need from one mentor. In my case, I worked under two eighteenth centuryists, a Modernist who was a specialist in disability studies and who helped me with disability theory, and a Victorianist who specialized in poetry (and who taught me how to read formally). Finally, I know this isn’t always possible, but try to have at least one committee member that you like as a person, that you get along with well. Realize that your mentors are, in the end, human beings just like you. Resist the urge to put them on a pedestal even as you learn to work professionally with them. And if you find that you’re being subject to abuse, please reach out for help. I hate having to say this, but as good as mentorship can be, it can be equally as bad and traumatizing. The unequal power dynamic between mentor and mentee means that abuse of various kinds is always a possibility.

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

JF: Try to settle on a topic that you feel passionate about. As one of my former dissertation committee members said to me once, you should select a topic that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning and get to work. I have found that some students feel like they have to create an entirely unforeseen and original project, but they do so at the expense of participating in ongoing conversations. “Originality” in academic research comes through creative synthesis. By bringing together a range of sources and theoretical frameworks, you can find gaps in knowledge and stumble upon generative research questions that illuminate new ways forward. Also, by reading widely, you can begin to see yourself as part of a larger conversation. As Kristina Straub said in a grad caucus panel that I attended at my first ASECS, you should “find your tribe” in the profession. For me, I didn’t know that I could write a dissertation on disability until I attended my first ASECS and met other people who were just starting to think about that. The only way you can know what is going on in your field is by attending conferences and talks and reading recent journal issues. Academic Twitter can also be hugely helpful here. One last thing, and this is important: you should also choose a topic that you can build classes around. Sometimes graduate students choose topics that are narrow. Try to find ways to tie your project to larger conversations and institutional trends so that you have an actual classroom space in which to share your research and specializations. If your project is tied in clear ways to multiple fields, this will help you when it comes time for you to go on the academic job market (if you indeed go that route).

The format of dissertation prospectuses vary from institution to institution, so you should ensure that you have a very clear idea about what your particular program expects of you. But beyond that, again, be sure to ground your prospectus in the field. Your coursework and qualifying exams will hopefully have allowed you to read widely. After your prospectus is accepted and you begin to work on your dissertation, try to give yourself flexibility as you make new discoveries. My dissertation ended up going in totally different directions from my prospectus, but that’s how it often goes.

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

JF: My favorite classes have been a gothic literature and film class, in which I pair early British gothic novels with recent films (like Frankenstein and Get Out). I also have had a lot of fun teaching Restoration and eighteenth-century comedy, eighteenth-century novels, LGBTQ Literature, and disability studies. I like helping students to think in new ways about the world, and I’ve found that students are especially prone to do this in disability studies classes. Generally speaking, our consciousness is deeply structured by ableism, but this is often invisible to us. I like giving students the tools to critique ableism, to conceive of disability as not just an individual embodied condition, but as the product of social forces. In these classes, students learn about how narrative produces disability, and also about how narratives and theory can help us reimagine disability. Students, in turn, learn about themselves and loved ones. It’s so wonderful to be part of these conversations.

My teaching has evolved in many ways. But two things that stick out: 1) I have included more authors of color in my syllabuses; and 2) as a practitioner of disability studies, and as someone who is disabled, I have become more attuned to accessibility. I like to think about accessibility as something that we have to be open to. We must listen to our students. We must improvise. I tend to be skeptical of the institutionalization of access. I want access to be something that can take shape in the classroom in spontaneous ways. This takes trust and open dialogue.

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

JF: When writing grant proposals, whether for internal grants, library fellowships, or external grants, I try to do a few things. First of all, I seek a proposal from a friend or colleague who was successful in securing funding for said grant. I’ve even received email requests from strangers asking me if I’d be willing to share a successful grant proposal with them (which I am always happy to do). I use the funded proposal as a model for my own proposal. Second, I try to be specific as possible with the project that I plan to undertake. What intervention does my project make? What sources would I examine? What would I achieve during my time as a fellow? Next, because I realize that the committee making decisions about the grant is likely composed of non-specialists, I try to avoid using specialized vocabulary. This can be a challenge, but I find that it’s helpful to think outside of my field even if I’m rejected in the end (as I have been many times!). Also, I try to be realistic about the goals I set forth in my proposal. For a two-month fellowship at a library, for instance, I can’t write an entire book. But I can access the sources necessary for the drafting of a chapter that will be part of a book. Finally, I always ask a trusted colleague to read my proposal and offer feedback.

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

JF: Conferences are so important in this profession. It can be a nerve-racking experience to attend ASECS or MLA. But just know that if, like me, you feel imposter syndrome at intervals, most people at the conference also feel it to one degree or another. Of course, if the feeling of not belonging overwhelms you, you should talk with someone. But in many ways, it’s perfectly ordinary to feel this way. Folks who have never felt imposter syndrome, as Emily Friedman once told me, are probably assholes. Just know that everyone feels some degree of anxiety at conferences and that you’re not alone. When I’m at a conference, I go to the panels that are relevant to my research, but I also try to attend panels that are outside of my wheelhouse. In turn, I’m opened up to new ideas and think in new ways about my own research. Outside of panels, I’d say use the time there to connect with other graduate students. Have fun. Go to meals or coffee with colleagues. If you go to ASECS, go to the karaoke that Eugenia Zuroski organizes. It’s so much fun! Revel in the joy of being around other people who are as committed to the eighteenth century (or whatever field) as you are. As you build these relationships with peers around your career mark, also be cognizant of building relationships with people who are ahead of you in their careers. Try to connect with people from across the career spectrum: senior faculty, junior and adjunct faculty, grad students. Go to “The Doctor Is In” at ASECS and talk with the absolutely lovely mentors who volunteer their time.

In presenting, I like to rehearse my talk ahead of time to get a sense of time restraints. If anything, I try to end a minute or two ahead of the time limit. People always appreciate this. I aim to leave them wanting more, rather than making them exasperated because I’ve gone over my time (which is also hugely disrespectful to fellow panelists). Remember that even though we often call presentations papers they are in fact talks. If you rehearse and can kind of perform your talk (looking up from your paper, making eye contact, even making a joke if and when appropriate) your audience will appreciate that. Also, please remember accessibility! I have created a worksheet for this which you can find here.

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

JF: I just published a book titled Novel Bodies: Disability and Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century British Literature with Bucknell University Press. In the book, I argue that a range of Enlightenment novelists represent disability and sexuality in capacious ways to reimagine the political and social landscapes of eighteenth-century Britain. I feature the fiction of Horace Walpole, Eliza Haywood, Sarah Scott, Samuel Richardson, Tobias Smollett, Frances Burney, and Maria Edgeworth. Ultimately, I am interested in examining how the literary history of sexuality is informed by physical disability, chronic disease, and deafness. My book engages disability and queer theory, archival materials, and close readings of the novels themselves. I just received actual copies of the book! It is so surreal and exciting. I have been celebrating this milestone with my husband this weekend. One thing I’ve learned in this profession is that you have to celebrate every accomplishment, big or small. There are so many challenges and rejections that we face, so it’s important to acknowledge the wins.

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At the moment, I am writing an essay on accessibility and wellbeing in the classroom and another essay that explores the emergence of deaf education in Edinburgh in the later eighteenth century. The latter of these may end up being part of a larger project on what I’m thinking of as the nonverbal eighteenth century. I am interested in how central speech is to subject formation in the Enlightenment and what it meant for nonverbal people to live during that time. The legacies of standardized speech from the later eighteenth century (which Jared Richman has written about recently) persist in our current moment. What was life like for prelingually deaf people who were not taught how to vocalize, or for people who we would today consider autistic who were nonverbal? How do gestures, signed language, and other forms of nonverbal expression challenge the primacy of vocal exchange? These are some of the questions that I am interested in exploring. I am also trying to write in public-facing ways. I am considering how to have influence outside of the academy. It feels so politically expedient these days.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts with you, and I hope that you have found this helpful! Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions. I’m always happy to meet new people and build relationships. It’s one of the joys of this profession.


Thank you, Jason, for agreeing to this interview! Some additional information and links:
Twitter: @farr_jason
Book link: Novel Bodies
(Bonus: If you purchase his book on the Rutgers site, in the link above, you can get a 30% discount by including the code 02AAAA17. It comes out to $25 for the paperback version!)