Faculty in the Department have a variety of scholarly and pedagogical interests. Eventually, we hope to profile all of our faculty here, but to begin with, we've asked four professors to talk about their research, their teaching, and the ways they interact with students.
My main scholarly interest is 19th-century American literature, especially Mark Twain. My book, Mark Twain and Metaphor (U of Missouri P, 2007), examines the way Twain used figurative language over the course of his career, focusing on style but also on the way style reveals deeper issues like humor, theme, and psychology. I am currently at work on a biography of Mark Twain focusing on one year , 1884. I was the founding editor of a journal, The Mark Twain Annual and am active nationally in Mark Twain studies. I have also published on Thoreau, as well as various topics on American humor. I am also interested in humor in popular culture, having made presentations on The Andy Griffith Show, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and other humor topics. I was a past president of the American Humor Studies Association.
I welcome the chance to work with graduate students on topics related to American literature. I am currently directing a master's thesis on Cormac McCarthy, and I have directed theses on Melville, Twain, and Vonnegut, among other topics. I have helped students transfer their work in my graduate seminars into conference presentations and article publications. As a past editor of an academic journal, I have a good sense of what it takes to move smoothly into professional publication.
My teaching of American literature, critical theory, and critical thinking fuels and informs my own scholarship, as well as helps me to mentor graduate students in professional presentations and in pursuing doctoral studies. My classes are highly collaborative, always with the goal of fostering student mastery and professionalism. I think that learning can be both rigorous and fun—I love to explore the world of literature and theory with our students, who teach me as much as I teach them. I received the Kinard Award, Winthrop's highest award for teaching, in 2005, and I am currently the director of the university's Teaching and Learning Center. As much as I enjoy my own scholarly pursuits, my main focus is always on my teaching and on my students' learning.
When I am away from school, I enjoy fly fishing and playing the mandolin, mainly bluegrass. It is not an unusual sight to see me out on the lawn on campus, jamming with students.
I'm interested in multiple areas that all revolve around and play with three spheres: adolescent literature, teaching, and popular culture, specifically, asking questions such as: What is adolescent literature? What do adolescents read? Why do they select what they read? What do(es) the text(s) "say" to them or about them? How do we, as teachers (future or current) "use" adolescent literature in our classrooms? What about the growing popularity of adolescent literature with adults? How does technology change the way adolescent literature stories get told? How does it create new types of texts and styles? So many questions, so little time.
Currently, I (with a colleague from the University of Tennessee) have a forthcoming column in The ALAN Review, dealing with multimodal texts in the 21st century secondary classroom. With Dr. Casey Cothran, I have submitted an article looking at the new adolescent literature dystopian heroine. Specifically, we investigated how this heroine is beginning to appear in more and more works as a character type – think Katniss in The Hunger Games (Have you read it? Why not? It is awesome! I hope this movie is half as good. Coming March 2012. Where's my royalty?). What am I like as a teacher? Well, it changes daily, as needed . . . but if pushed for adjectives and adverbs and other words . . . Loud, energetic, passionate, a little ADHD (while at the same time focused on the overall goals of the course . . . yes, I know, ADHD and focused – paradox – what can I write? I am a complex personality).. . seeking understanding and community in the classroom . . . technologically playful . . . as likely to analyze a music video as Shakespeare . . . interactive . . . Because of my training, focus, and interest on education , I attempt to bring the best practices of my profession into my classes, regardless of content. So, yes, we will use crayons and draw while critically thinking about a text. . . even as adults. New technologies, strategies, and techniques mixed with old, tried and true to create a cooperative learning environment where the students take responsibility and help me facilitate the class.
In my short time at Winthrop, I have been privileged enough to help mentor multiple student papers and presentations, ranging from reading and offering advice to being a Masters' thesis advisor. The work has centered on some aspect of English Education (i.e. teaching Othello or using Facebook to teach The Great Gatsby). Several presentations have been submitted to national conferences and/or presented in undergraduate research conferences. I am also putting together a panel presentation proposal for this year's National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention featuring a group of pre-service and in-service teachers discussing using adolescent literature in their classrooms. I am planning (and attempting) to get more students involved in the area of adolescent literature (it is such a fun field of study).
Fun/Funky/Unexpected aspects about me as a scholar? How about . . . this past November, I had doughnut holes thrown at me by award-winning adolescent author Laurie Halse Anderson . . . OR . . . I have presented papers on Pippi Longstocking and Harry Potter (not together – although . . . hmmmmmm) . . . OR. . . I am on a real adolescent literature dystopian kick for the past year (having co-authored a paper and successfully proposed a new course on the topic for Fall 2012) . . .
American Literature, particularly Nineteenth-Century American literature, is my primary interest. Instead of focusing only on a specific period or style, I find myself interested in seeing how different groups answer "big-picture" kinds of questions, particularly how they connect personal identity (especially as defined by gender) with spiritual definition. This emphasis on religious/spiritual questions leads me to investigate a range of writers from the Puritan to the contemporary, and I prefer that kind of comparative approach, especially as it also allows me to look at canonical and non-canonical responses. However, in recent years, I've become more and more interested in the works of Melville, and I've recently started looking at the effect of oceanic space on his work. In terms of theoretical approach, I think my work reflects feminist, New Historical, and environmental interests.
I'm a big believer in classrooms being conversational spaces. Students often have very little idea of how much difference they make in terms of the classroom experience. As I tell my classes, "I'm pretty much the same show" no matter what I'm teaching, but it's really the quality of the classroom discussion that creates an excellent class for me. I see my role as doing things to help set up that conversation: selecting relevant material, explaining key concepts and terms through short lectures, providing a sense of the larger framework and connections, and creating challenging assignments, but I also see my role as helping students develop their individual skills by giving them multiple writing and speaking opportunities. For example, a common thing I will do in an upper-level literature class is to provide a few opening discussion questions on the board that people will use to write a short response to. For example, if we were covering the first part of The Scarlet Letter in class, I may have discussion questions on the board focusing on the question of punishment, the role of spectacle, the technique of starting the novel in that way; students then choose one to write about for 5-10 minutes, and we use those questions as a foundation for the discussion. We can choose to stay with them, or connect with other ideas if needed. Then, after a few classes, I ask students to sign up for a day to bring in questions for the class. I mention this specific activity because it's a good example of how I like for everyone to be involved in the class.
In terms of whether my scholarship carries over, it doesn't always directly because many of the courses we offer are more historically-based or genre-based than my specific thematic interests. I like that, though, because it helps me to keep the big picture of American Literature in mind. However, this summer, I'm going to be doing a special topics course focused on Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers. I'm looking forward to that.
I really enjoy working with student writing. I've worked with several students over the years, but most recently, I've worked with students writing about utopian literature (master's theses), prefatory material (Honors Thesis), and I'm currently serving as a reader for two master's theses, one focused on Cormac McCarthy and one focused on William Faulkner. I also try to encourage undergraduate and graduate students to submit to conferences or to develop their projects. I'm interested in working with students who want to develop their craft as writers and thinkers of literature as well as meet their professional goals. And yes, I know an incredibly odd amount of information about Buffy/Angel and Joss Whedon and am a huge film fan.
The consistent thread that runs through all of my scholarship is sensitivity to the material culture of nineteenth-century literature. I focus on detailed research in original sources, in close study of literature in its context, and in uncovering the surprising generic complexity of the novel as a vehicle for representing nineteenth-century British culture.
My latest project is a book manuscript titled, "Finding Hannah Crafts: The True Story of The Bondwoman's Narrative" In 2001 the celebrated Harvard scholar, Henry Louis Gates Jr., "discovered" what is reported to be the first novel written by an African American woman and an escaped slave, The Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts. When Gates published the novel in 2002, it became an instant New York Times bestseller, and it has since become a lightning rod for debates about slave life, plantation culture, and the generic possibilities of both slave narratives and the novel. Since 2003, I have been researching The Bondwoman's Narrative and the mystery surrounding the identity of the work's author. ("Crafts" is thought to be a pseudonym). The original research I have gather promises to identify "Crafts" and to explain why she modeled her autobiographical tale, not primarily on the abolition literature of the 1850s, but on popular British novels, especially Charles Dickens's Bleak House (1852)."Finding Hannah Crafts: The True Story of The Bondwoman's Narrative" builds on work I completed for a "We the People" Grant, which I received in 2004 from the National Endowment for the Humanities. With this grant and a second grant from The North Caroliniana Society, I did the original source work to develop my hypothesis regarding the identity of "Hannah Crafts." By combining a set of methodological approaches – historical research, forensic evidence, statistical and literary analyses – I continue to test and evaluate the two best candidates my previous research has discovered as the likely author of the manuscript. My work on the project is well known and anticipated by leading African American scholars. My work on this project has the potential to contribute significantly to the study of slave narratives and nineteenth-century transatlantic studies.
I design my courses to underscore the role of my students as intellectual collaborators. My goal is the same for every class: to make the classroom a laboratory where, together, we realize the thrill of discovery and the joy of creating new knowledge. Since 2007, under my direction, undergraduate and graduate students have assisted me in gathering nineteenth-century word puzzles from archival sources, in producing two student-friendly Reader's Guides, and in tracing the genealogy of slaves on local plantations. I strive to reach both specialized and broader audiences with my research. In this fashion, I attempt to bring to bear on the page the democratic and inclusive principles that I practice in the classroom and as an administrator.
By engaging students with source materials and by drawing them into interaction with scholars working on a shared subject, not only do I attempt to broaden our study, but I also try to enlarge the pool of original sources available for student scholarship. For instance, in November 2010 while on a research trip, I discovered a letter in the Kate Wheeler Cooper Papers that suggests the influence of Caroline Lee Henz's work on Hannah Crafts, a wholly original discovery and a topic that one of the graduate students in my course pursued with my assistance. The result was a brilliant essay which she presented at the 6th Annual English Department Undergraduate/ Graduate Research Conference at Winthrop University in March 2011 and used as one of her writing samples for her successful application to the PhD program at the University of Kentucky. The project assisted her in winning a prestigious fellowship in the program. The project is now the source of a new direction for her research and a promising candidate for her first major publication.
Away from campus, I enjoy running and spending time with my family.