Sean Moore, Monica Chiu, and Rachel Trubowitz
Gift funds studies in English literature
It’s been a long time since the study of English literature could be characterized, even glibly, as “Beowulf to Virginia Woolf.” A life devoted to scholarship is still demanding, but today its purview is endless, interdisciplinary, and as diverse as the people who devote their lives to it. Studying English literature is a calling that UNH is well prepared to meet—and does meet with a faculty who encourage and mentor promising students.
Our inspiration for this article is the late alumna Mary Petrella ’G57. Her gift has funded a scholarship for UNH students in the English literature major. A respected teacher herself, Petrella taught high school English for 30 years in Warwick, R.I. (see Tribute) In honor of her memory, College Letter spoke with three literary scholars from the English department about their own journeys of discovery and how they work with students who just might be their future colleagues.
A passion to know
When Associate Professor Rachel Trubowitz talks about studying the seventeenth-century British author John Milton, she instantly recalls becoming “hooked on Milton” as an undergraduate at Barnard College. “I studied with a great teacher, Edward W. Tayler,” she recalls. “With Milton you have to challenge basic assumptions. And for some reason, I just got it. I went onto graduate school and continued to study with Tayler at Columbia.”
Trubowitz considered going on to become a concert pianist, but chose, instead, to pursue graduate study, which she likens to an “apprenticeship” to a craft. The former apprentice-turned-master recently published an award-winning essay on Milton titled “‘The people of Asia and with them the Jews’: Israel, Asia, and England in Milton’s Writings.”
“Milton is especially important to Americans, because he’s a republican, not a monarchist,” avers Trubowitz. Many of America’s founding fathers read Milton. Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, even knew him personally. Trubowitz, whose forthcoming book is Nation and Nurture in Seventeenth-Century English Literature, says that by the eighteenth century, fundamental ideas about democracy were more fully formed. “But in Milton’s time, they were still just coming to the surface. To understand this period, is to learn the early history of ‘now.’”
To the Swift . . .
Assistant Professor Sean Moore came to English literature via the eighteenth-century satirist Jonathan Swift. As an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts, Moore came to know history professor Joe Hernon. “He would meet with a group of us about once a month to talk about politics, religion, and money—all of the things that you’re not supposed to talk about!” notes Moore. “Without Hernon—a person whose position as a tenured professor afforded him the freedom of speech necessary to make students really think—I would not be here.”
Later, as a Congressional staffer in Washington, D.C., Moore worked on the social fallout—unemployment and loss of housing—related to the banking crisis and bailout of financial firms in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
This experience focused his graduate research at Duke University on the effects on Ireland of the bailout of British companies following the South Sea Bubble of 1720. “This was a huge financial disaster to hit the British Isles,” he says. Not surprisingly, few Irishmen were bailed out of their lost investments because they weren’t connected to the center of power in London. “I was able to connect this history to Jonathan Swift’s satires about how corporate greed and the unrealistic economic expectations of everyone else led to financial collapse.”
The working title for Moore’s forthcoming book is Swift, the Book, and the Financial Revolution: Satire and Sovereignty in Colonial Ireland.
The desire to teach
Associate Professor Monica Chiu credits her parents with launching her academic interests. Her father, a philosophy professor, was from Taiwan, and her mother, a learning disabilities teacher, was from Germany. Chiu grew up in a home filled with books. Between them, her parents spoke eight languages. Early on, she knew that literature would be her work. While she was still in high school, her father gave her the Oxford English Dictionary (compact edition), a gift that suggested he knew his daughter’s interests very well.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English and French, Chiu traveled to Tokyo where she taught English as a Second Language for two and half years. There, her interests in film and literature continued to develop. For a while, she thought she might write fiction, but she also knew that she wanted to teach. “That clinched my decision to get a Ph.D.,” says Chiu, who earned her degree from Emory University.
Chiu, director of the University Honors Program, specializes in Asian American literature. She is the author of Filthy Fictions: Asian American Literature by Women, which examines, through discussions about racial construction and sexual differences, how culture naturalizes metaphors of dirt and filth. Chiu’s edited collection, Asian Americans in New England, was published just last year. The book is dedicated “To all Asian Americans in New England, those arrived and those still arriving.”
Chiu often shares her own research with her classes. Her current interest involves Asian American literature and surveillance, inspired by her foray into ethnic detective fiction. One of the novels included in Chiu’s research is Canadian author Kerri Sakamoto’s The Electrical Field, whose murder at the narrative’s core is less important than the crime of the Japanese Canadian internment and the continuing anguish of those who were forced to live through it. As part of her research, Chiu analyzed archival photographs of WWII Japanese Canadian internment camps in Vancouver and Ottawa and shared that work with her students.
One first-year student, Jacqueline Cordell ’12, expressed an interest in doing archival research on nineteenth-century New England, female millworkers. Chiu nominated her for a Research Experience and Apprenticeship Program grant.
Moore engages students with group projects that range from skits to PowerPoints to short video presentations. “These short assignments bond students together,” says Moore, who also keeps an eye out for particular students with high potential. “I look for a student who is introverted enough to survive the solitary work of research, and extroverted enough to communicate his or her findings with others.”
One such introvert-extrovert, Kristen Harris ’05, wrote a thesis combining psychoanalytic and economic theory to discuss William Hogarth’s etching, from The Rake’s Progress, of the figure of “the mad stockjobber,” a stockbroker who has developed mental illness due to his losses and consequent poverty. “On the strength of that essay she was admitted to graduate school—with a fellowship,” says Moore.
Likewise, a student of Trubowitz’s, Adam McKeown ’90, ’G91, earned both his B.A. and his M.A. at UNH. Trubowitz directed McKeown’s master’s degree thesis on Milton’s Samson Agonistes. After a stint in the Marines, McKeown earned his doctorate and now teaches at Tulane University. Last year, he published his first book, English Mercuries: Soldier Poets in the Age of Shakespeare.
Sometimes scholarly works can themselves become “popular,” as did a book by Tilar Mazzeo ’92, who now teaches British romantic poetry, travel writing, and literary theory at Colby College. Her second book, The Widow Clicquot, published in 2008, is the story of the young French widow who developed Champagne in the early nineteenth century. It became a New York Times best-selling biography. Mazzeo is just one of many fine English undergraduate alumni who've gone onto graduate school and academic careers.
Chiu, Monica. Asian Americans in New England. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England/University of New Hampshire Press, 2009.
———. Filthy Fictions: Asian American Literature by Women. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2004.
Mazzeo, Tilar. The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It. New York, N.Y.: HarperCollins, 2008.
McKeown, Adam. English Mercuries: Soldier Poets in the Age of Shakespeare. Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, 2009.
Moore, Sean. “Devouring Posterity: a Modest Proposal, Empire, and Ireland’s ‘Debt of the Nation.’” PMLA Modern Language Association 122, no. 3. (May 2007): 679-95.
———. Swift, the Book, and the Financial Revolution: Satire and Sovereignty in Colonial Ireland. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming fall 2010.
Trubowitz, Rachel. “Body Politics in Paradise Lost.” PMLA Modern Language Association 121, no. 2. (March 2006): 388-44.
———. Nation and Nurture in Seventeenth-Century English Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2011.
———. “‘The people of Asia and with them the Jews’: Israel, Asia, and England in Milton’s Writings.” In Milton and the Jews, edited by Douglas A. Brooks, 151-77. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
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