She works on early modern literature and culture, poetry and poetics, the history and philosophy of science, and environmental humanities. She is currently working on a book titled Possible Knowledge: The Literary Forms of Early Modern Science. She joins UConn after having taught at Hendrix College, and after spending the 2016-2017 academic year at the Folger Shakespeare Library as a NEH/ Folger Shakespeare Library Long-Term Fellow.
Although you started your education in engineering, you ended up studying early modern literature. How did that shift happen?
The intellectual connections between my background in electrical engineering and my current research are only clear in retrospect. My engineering education was quite technical, practical, and instrumental. I worked on fascinating topics, but I now recognize that I was less curious about "how" things worked (the foundation of my engineering education) and more interested in the historical and conceptual issues behind these technologies: Where did scientific ideas emerge from? What are the theoretical paradigms that underlie the practical and instrumental aspects of modern engineering? What historical, social, and institutional pressures led to the emergence of modern scientific practices? Who has access to scientific and technical knowledge in a society? These were the kinds of questions that animated my intellectual interests, and these are the concerns of humanists—literary and cultural critics, historians and philosophers of science. Thus, when I had the opportunity to explore these questions in a more formal setting (as I was completing my Master’s in Electrical Engineering in UW-Madison), I embraced the opportunity and took several classes in the English department. I was fortunate to meet generous faculty in the department who not only welcomed me into their classes, but also gave me advice about what other courses to take and how to build a curriculum in English around my Master’s courses.
How do you think your background has shaped your literary scholarship?
My background has deeply influenced my current interests. I work on the history of scientific probability and experimental practice, and I write on ideas of possibility and uncertainty in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These are clearly questions related to my engineering background. Engineers are tasked with actualizing possibilities, after all, and they often develop what we might call imperfect models, as they adapt scientific theories to workable and instrumental ends. In my current research, I consider the imaginative and creative practices that often undergird such scientific work. Thus, you could say that my current research is a response to the kinds of knowledge-making that I saw in operation, but that were never discussed, in my earlier education. In both my research and teaching, I trace the changing configurations of imaginative and natural knowledge into the modern disciplines of the humanities and the sciences. However, I also stress that literary methods not only represented or enacted scientific practices, but that the lines of influence often worked in the opposite direction: imaginative techniques also shaped modern scientific theories and methods.
What appeals to you about the early modern period, and why should it be a presence in curriculum and research today?
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were periods of tremendous religious, political, and intellectual upheavals. Whether you think about the Copernican revolution in the sixteenth century that displaced both earth and man from the center of the universe, or consider the Civil War in the seventeenth century that beheaded a king and disrupted political order, early moderns were grappling with new understandings of self, society, even cosmology. It is in this atmosphere that poets, dramatists, and writers of prose fiction—from More to Spenser, from Shakespeare to Jonson, from Milton to Cavendish—used imaginative writing to grapple with the biggest political, moral, ethical, and philosophical questions of their time. And it is in this era that philosophers from Machiavelli to Galileo, from Descartes to Bacon, from Hobbes to Pascal attempted to redefine paradigms of truth, of norms, of existence. Working with such rich archives expands and complicates our own parameters of inquiry. For instance, Francis Bacon was writing utopian fiction and natural philosophy at the same time. What I find most rewarding about writing on and teaching such materials is that their capacious cross-convergence provokes us to make connections between disparate intellectual methods, disciplines, and ideas.
Ultimately, what is most exciting to me—and what I try to demonstrate to students—is that literature was a vibrant philosophical endeavor in its own right: at a moment when astronomers and natural philosophers were grappling with new accounts of the cosmos, literary writing was generating the forms of thinking that were vital to the exchange of ideas about natural and imaginary worlds. Thus, teaching and writing on early modern texts has the potential to make us rethink our own approaches as humanists: the cross-disciplinary nature of early modern thinking was made possible by stepping across the boundaries of the humanities and the sciences that we often take for granted. Recognizing the value of such interdisciplinary convergences might help us see our own institutional networks in new ways.
How do you envision your scholarly work and teaching on early modern studies to benefit from and contribute to UConn?
I am thrilled to be joining the early modern community at UConn. I am especially excited to be in conversation with faculty and graduate students in the Early Modern Studies Working Group—the varied research interests of colleagues will no doubt expand my thinking, and the interdisciplinary nature of the group seems ideal to foster discussions that expose us to new methodologies and ideas. I would be delighted to get involved in venues such as the Humanities Institute; from participations in similar collaborative networks in the past, I have realized that such conversations are invaluable in introducing us to approaches and methods with which we are unfamiliar. At the same time, our scholarship as early modernists can also advance and diversify the research goals of such forums by allowing us to track the changing contours of knowledge across a broad historical span and theorize its future institutional and disciplinary divisions.
I am eager to offer graduate courses that are conceptual and theoretical in scope—on science and philosophy, on environmental humanities, and on poetry and poetics—which will be of interest both to specialists and non-specialists, as well as classes on Renaissance women writers and on genres such as romance and epic that will be of particular interest to early modernists. At Avery Point, I am looking forward to tapping into the campus’s strong maritime tradition when I teach courses on Shakespeare—many of whose plays feature sea voyages and shipwrecks—or Early Modern Travel and Utopia: I expect a lot of our classes will ruminate on the relations between land and sea, between coast and shore, as we look out on the beautiful Long Island Sound every week.
The UCONN Collaborative to Advance Equity Through Research on Women and Girls of Color (“The Collaborative”) is a part of the national Collaborative, comprising over 50 institutions and universities, with Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry and the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University, serving at its helm. These institutions and universities are signatories to a national commitment to support research on women and girls of color. UCONN committed to this effort as early as November 2015, and 2016-2017 served as the inaugural year of full programming dedicated to promoting research and campus and community engagement of research and discourses on women and girls of color.
Part of UCONN’s commitment included funding two post-doctoral fellowships and several research projects on women and girls of color, related to environment and public health and STEM and pipeline issues. (See the research abstracts, here). In an effort for The Collaborative to build a brain trust committed to sorting through research topics, discourses, and contemporary issues affecting women of color, as they relate to the two themes, it co-sponsored research workshops with the Humanities Institute.
The Collaborative also joined with UCHI in co-sponsorship of its research workshops to promote The Collaborative’s Brain Trust(s) for its Post-Doctoral Fellows, Research Fellows, and contributing scholars at the University of Connecticut. The Humanities Institute has contributed to these Research Workshops by hosting a welcoming, supportive, and enriching intellectual space to flesh out ideas and refine multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research on women of color.
UCHI looks forward to continued work with the Collaborative to Advance Equity Through Research on Women and Girls of Color!
Self-Evident Truths: Contesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War
How did Americans in the generations following the Declaration of Independence translate its lofty ideals into practice? In this broadly synthetic work, distinguished historian Richard Brown shows that despite its founding statement that “all men are created equal,” the early Republic struggled with every form of social inequality. While people paid homage to the ideal of equal rights, this ideal came up against entrenched social and political practices and beliefs.Brown illustrates how the ideal was tested in struggles over race and ethnicity, religious freedom, gender and social class, voting rights and citizenship. He shows how high principles fared in criminal trials and divorce cases when minorities, women, and people from different social classes faced judgment. This book offers a much-needed exploration of the ways revolutionary political ideas penetrated popular thinking and everyday practice.
Richard D. Brown is Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of History, Emeritus, and the Founding Director of the Humanities Institute at the University of Connecticut. His previous books include Knowledge Is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700–1865;The Strength of a People: The Idea of an Informed Citizenry in Early America, 1650-1870; and the coauthored microhistory The Hanging of Ephraim Wheeler: A Story of Rape, Incest, and Justice in Early America.
Frederick Biggs Professor of English, Co-Director of Medieval Studies, received a CLAS book fund award.
"I have been involved for most of my career in a vast, collaborative project called SASLC, the Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture. As the name suggests, we have set out to survey all of the classical and medieval works that allowed creative minds in England before the Norman Conquest (1066) to compose works such as Beowulf that have endured through the centuries because they continue to teach us. But times do change, as the image opposite from a Bible produced in England under the direction of Bede (d. 735) may remind us: all knowledge no longer fits in a single bookcase. Jumping over that minor invention of 1451, printing, we are now in an age when books based on big data must be supported electronically,
and for the good of scholarship, in open-access form. One part is a wiki that we can run for free (https://saslc.wikispaces.com). But another is the construction of a database robust enough to handle many kinds of information, allowing all to be search in multiple ways. In collaboration with the University of Amsterdam Press and thanks to the support of the CLAS book fund, the volumes on Bede that George Hardin Brown and I have completed as part of the larger project will receive that support."
Bede. Part 1, Faxcles 1-4. George Hardin Brown and Frederick M. Biggs. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2017.
Bede. Part 2, Faxcles 1-4. George Hardin Brown and Frederick M. Biggs. Forthcoming. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018.
From the Introduction:
In any account of the literary culture of Anglo-Saxon England, Bede must loom large. While only one of many distinctive voices for whom we have a written record, Bede stands out as the author who turned a lifetime of study into the widest-ranging corpus of writings, many of which continued to influence later generations. Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury, and Hadrian, abbot of St Peter’s Canterbury, may have been better educated and more able teachers. Aldhelm, the Beowulf-poet, and, to choose one more example from among many, Cynewulf may have written better verse. Boniface, archbishop and martyr, may have changed more lives through his mission. Alcuin, abbot of Tours, may have carried English scholarship more effectively to the Continent. Alfred the Great’s support of education may have occurred at a more crucial moment in English history. Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury, Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester, and Oswald, bishop of Worcester and archbishop of York, may have instituted a more significant reform. Ælfric, abbot of Eynsham, and Wulfstan, archbishop of York, may have preached better sermons. Bede, however, left writings that demonstrate his skills and influence in all these areas, ones that those who followed him, as these entries and the ones that will complete this survey in the next volume of SASLC show, would almost certainly have known.
Evaluating Bede’s place in this literary culture is sometimes complicated because, as these works demonstrate, his own reading, which was both wide and deep, appears often in his writing. When in the well-known autobiographical passage at the end of the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (V.xxiv) he spoke of having been sent at the age of seven by his kinsmen to enter the monastery of Monkwearmouth.
Michael Lynch Director of the Humanities Institute.
Humility means seeing your worldview as open to improvement by the evidence & experience of others.
The more we read and watch online, the harder it becomes to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s fake. It’s as if we know more but understand less, says philosopher Michael Patrick Lynch. In this talk, he dares us to take active steps to burst our filter bubbles and participate in the common reality that actually underpins everything.
‘The Sale of Parga in the Nationalist Imaginary of 19th Century Italy:1819-1858’
Italian Literature and Cultural Studies
A lecture given by Professor Dorothy Roberts on Wednesday April 26, 2017 at the Student Union Theater that had over 100 people in attendance. It was the final event in an active year for The University of Connecticut Collaborative to Advance Equity Through Research on Women and Girls of Color. Photos are from the lecture at the Student Union and UCHI was proud to lend support for the research, outreach, and activism from the Women and Girls of Color program.
- Peter Carruthers (Philosophy, Maryland)
- Katherine Cronin (Lincoln Park Zoo)
- Hans-Johann Glock (Philosophy, Zurich)
- Lori Gruen (Philosophy, Wesleyan)
- William Hopkins (Psychology, Emory & Georgia State)
- Kristin Leimgruber (Psychology, Harvard)
- Darcia Narvaez (Psychology, Notre Dame)
- Gary Comstock & William Bauer (Philosophy, NC State)
- Nicolas Delon & Duncan Purves (Environmental Studies, NYU)
- Kelsey Gipe (Philosophy, Maryland)
2:00-3:00PM Registration & Welcome
2:15-2:30PM Opening Remarks
2:30-3:45PM Lori Gruen - "Empathy in Mind"
4:00-5:00PM Kelsey Gipe - "Empathy and the Problem of Altruism"
5:15-6:30PM Kristin Leimgruber - "Sensitivity to Social Rewards and the Evolution of Uniquely Human Prosocial Behavior: Evolution from Young Children and Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus apella)"
9:30-10:00AM Breakfast - Coffee & Bagels
10:00-11:15AM Peter Carruthers - "Basic Questions"
11:30-12:30PM Gary Comstock* - "Psychological Unity in First-Order Accounts of Metacognitive Behavior in Animals"
12:30-1:30PM Lunch! (sandwiches, etc. provided)
1:30-2:45PM Hans-Johann Glock - "Determinacy of Content -- The Hard Problem about Animal Thinking"
3:00-4:00PM Nicolas Delon & Duncan Purves - "Meaning in the Lives of Humans and Other Animals"
4:15-5:30PM Darcia Narvaez - "Humanity's Evolved Nest and its Co-Construction of Human Nature and Morality"
6:30PM Workshop Dinner at Chang's Garden
Saturday May 13th:
9:30-10:00AM Breakfast - Coffee & Bagels
10:00-11:15AM William Hopkins - "Cognitive Neuroscience Research with Chimpanzees and Other Great Apes: Benefiting Human Health and Improving Animal Welfare"
11:30-12:45PM Katherine A. Cronin - "Advancing Primate Welfare Through Science at a Modern Zoo"
12:45-2:00PM Lunch! (sandwiches, etc. provided)
2:00-3:30PM Panel Discussion
* Joint work with William Bauer.