Research travel beckons scholars to return post-pandemic - Kendall College of Arts and Sciences

Research travel beckons scholars to return post-pandemic

Even in the era of Big Data and digital archives, travel remains an integral part of research in literature. Many projects were paused during the shutdown phase of the pandemic, but during the past year, some professors and students began a cautious return to research travel, venturing to other states and continents to access rare and fragile materials crucial to their projects. Here in the Department of English and Creative Writing, three of our faculty have made the most of such trying times, connecting with other universities and academic professionals to develop their work!

Dennis Denisoff, Ph.D.

In spring 2022, after two years of delay due to COVID-19, Denisoff was finally able to fulfill his term as Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Queen Mary University of London. While there, he ran a graduate workshop on the field of queer ecology studies and gave lectures related to his monograph – published by Cambridge University Press a few months before his arrival – titled Decadent Ecology in British Literature and Art, 1860-1910: Decay, Desire, and the Pagan Revival. He also conducted research at Queen Mary and the British Library in preparation for a new work on radical environmentalism in the Victorian and Modernist periods, which he will further investigate in spring 2023 in the archives of the Harold Acton Library at the British Institute of Florence.

Don James McLaughlin, Ph.D.

In summer 2021, McLaughlin participated in a two-month fellowship at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, where he took up residence at the Fiering House for July and August. Last summer, McLaughlin also concluded a research fellowship at the Houghton Library at Harvard University. He was asked to curate an exhibition on author Sarah Orne Jewett and her manuscript for the novel A Marsh Island, which was to be displayed in the rotunda where visitors are welcomed.

McLaughlin shared that research during the pandemic has been challenging, but he is grateful to the Houghton Library and Massachusetts Historical Society for their remote assistance while their reading rooms were closed to researchers. He was able to request digital scans of materials from Houghton, including the manuscript for the Jewett novel. He has spoken with friends at various research institutions, concluding, “The pandemic has reminded us how important it is to be able to do research with material texts in person, in the company of scholars, archivists, and other curators. We hope that donors will continue to invest in fellowship programs that host public events and make relationships cultivated through in-person research possible and sustainable.”

Laura Stevens, Ph.D.

Stevens spent June 2022 in Oxford, U.K., on a fellowship from the Centre for Methodism and Church History at Oxford Brookes University, a venture also supported with a faculty research grant from TU. She split her time between the Centre’s Library and the Bodleian Library of Oxford University, especially its Weston Library, which houses the Bodleian’s special collections.

“It was exciting to be back in Oxford for research, especially after such a long time when libraries were locked down and travel was almost impossible. I was disappointed to lose a week to research when I caught COVID there, but I was lucky to have a minor case,” Stevens noted.

Despite this initial obstacle, she was able to take on a multitude of research errands, including several details to nail down the final revisions of her book manuscript, Friday’s Tribe: Eighteenth-Century English Missionary Fantasies. The Bodleian’s Weston Library houses the papers of a missionary society that Stevens has been studying since graduate school: The Church of England’s Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. She spent time digging into their meeting minutes, correspondence and financial records to learn about a few of their projects, including the funding of a school for enslaved African youths in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1740s and the production of a new translation of the Book of Common Prayer into the Mohawk (Kanien’kéha) language in 1787.

At the Centre for Methodism and Church History, Stevens studied early Methodist missions to the Caribbean, especially Jamaica. Her research opened many exciting windows into the time. “Because Wesleyan Methodists opposed slavery and allowed racial integration in their meetings and church services, their missions to the Caribbean were deeply threatening to the slave owning establishment there, and the early mission histories are filled with accounts of imprisonments, riots and so forth. I was especially interested to find a letter of 1823 from Richard Watson, who oversaw global Methodist missions from London, replying to a request from two white British missionaries in Jamaica to marry two free ‘women of colour,’” she said. Given the potentially incendiary responses these marriages would have received in Jamaica, Stevens is eager to learn more about how this story ended.