- Tell us a bit about the project you are working on at UCHI.
I will finish drafting and editing my dissertation, “Fashioning American Women: Godey’s Lady’s Book, Female Consumers, and Nineteenth-Century Periodical Publishing.” The title “Lady’s Book” is misleading – it was actually a monthly magazine published in Philadelphia. At its peak popularity, it combined elements of modern media that are familiar to us, as if we crossed a literary magazine with a fashion magazine such as Vogue and a domestic tastemaker like Martha Stewart. The Lady’s Book was one of the most popular periodicals in the mid-nineteenth century, and my study combines its business history with cultural analysis.
- What drew you to this topic and what exciting developments are you anticipating?
As an undergraduate at Dickinson College, I double-majored in English and history. I took a number of courses that were cross-listed between the two departments, and I loved looking at nineteenth-century women’s literature as primary sources. I realized later that I could have been an American Studies major, but as none of my advisors saw themselves in that interdisciplinary field, I was never steered in that direction. When I came to UConn for a Master’s degree in history many years ago, I took a seminar in the history of the book that introduced me to a field in which I was already doing work without ever realizing it. ‘Book history’ is a misnomer that includes the study of the creation, dissemination, and reception/uses of all kinds of texts, not just books. My interest in book history and gender analysis led me to tackle the Lady’s Book as a dissertation topic. Scholars have been digging into the Lady’s Book since the development of women’s history in the 1970s and 1980s. But my lens is broader than that of previous studies, because I consider the material text – the form in which readers received and interacted with the magazine at home – as an important part of the magazine’s content. I argue that the advertisements in the magazine, which scholars have not analyzed, help us to understand how middle-class womanhood and consumerism were inextricably linked by mass print culture in the antebellum period.
- What are you looking forward to in regard to this year at UCHI?
As any academic will attest, I feel like having the time and space to think and write for an entire year, without teaching obligations, is the ultimate luxury. I will miss being in the classroom, because teaching my own courses in American history and talking about primary sources with students has shaped my thinking about the Lady’s Book’s historical context. But, I am looking forward to working in a community of scholars, getting to learn about their work – and commiserating over rough writing days!
- Many people wonder what value the humanities and humanities research has in today’s world. What are your thoughts on what humanities scholarship “brings to table?”
As an alum of a small liberal arts college, I think the value of the humanities is in its capaciousness: that it encompasses a range of fields. Humanities scholarship is about curiosity about the world around us, and right now there is much to be curious about. Why do people do what they do, believe what they believe? How do people solve problems – or how did they do so in the past? Thinking of higher education institutions as meant to prepare citizens very narrowly for one field that will lead to one kind of job seems to me to limit one’s curiosity and perspective. If we want to foster innovative thinking and entrepreneurship, shouldn’t we highlight, rather than downplay, the humanities?
To this end, some of the most rewarding conversations that I have had with students have been with pre-med and nursing majors who have found value in humanities courses that help them to understand how complicated human relationships are/have been. Rather than a hindrance or filler, humanities courses and scholarship can prepare us for the complexities of working with a wide range of people – useful to all kinds of majors since most people plan to have careers that include working with other humans.