You are here

Cross Country Research

Doctoral students report on 2016 projects supported by the Graduate Research Partnership Program
November 9, 2016

Doctoral candidate Katie McCarthy looking at book

Doctoral candidate Katie McCarthy looking at book
Doctoral candidate Katie McCarthy taking notes at the Beinecke Library, in New Haven, Connecticut

The University’s GRPP program provides $4000 summer awards for selected English graduate students, who are advised by a faculty member. Below, three of this year’s recipients describe their projects.

To California with Jennifer Jodell

Cover of Amazing Stories pulp magazine
Cover of 1928 pulp sf magazine

My dissertation research explores the ways in which early science fiction represents the body as a medium for cultural, technological, and intersubjective exchanges. Due to its proximity to the 19th-century themes of the ether, mesmerism, and spiritual possession and the 20th-century themes of radiation, vibration, radio, and visual media, early genre sf offers a unique confluence of "mediating bodies" that make visible material and discursive "forces" that seemed to move, mutate, and possess bodies, if not literally speak through them. 

My goal at the J. Lloyd Eaton Collection at the University of California, Riverside, was to read and scan a number of pre-identified texts in which "mediating bodies" appear, as well as to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the tenor and ephemera surrounding these texts in their original context. I began with a small number of 19th-century short stories by Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, Charles Howard Hinton, Robert Duncan Milne, William Henry Bishop, Emma Frances Dawson, and others. The overall picture this group of texts provides is one of a world in which bodies are constructed or modified to become better attuned to their environments, occasionally with disastrous consequences.  

The second phase of my research centered on Amazing Stories in the 30s. In addition to tracking the tropes of the constructed, idealized, and commodified woman (actress, singer), I found sf texts which further developed the 19th-century tropes of the "mediating woman" and the woman as spiritual medium.

Finally, given that the Hugo Gernsback-era pulps (Amazing and Wonder Stories) are so widely associated with technophilia, progress, and optimism, I sought to gain a better sense of how the average, "modern" body was depicted. At the same time, I sought to test Everett Bleiler's claim in The Gernsback Years that "[b]eneath the surface, the Gernsback-era science-fiction is really a literature of catastrophism and despair.” Bleiler's claim is bolstered by my review of early issues of Amazing, as they contain a remarkable number of near future and biology-themed narratives that depict the average body in crisis, as one that is vulnerable, inadequate, or unresponsive when subjected to pressure. Concomitant with this theme of the inadequate body is one of the inadequate mind, in which the failure to properly absorb the lessons of science or develop one's capacities results in madness, financial ruin, or the death of oneself or a loved one. This motif is also evident in the materials surrounding the narratives, for example, advertisements. This refrain of "must do" rather than "can do" suggests to the reader that body and mind modification is neither a fantasy nor an option but rather a necessity for financial, social, and even physical survival. 

Examining and photographing covers, advertisements, editorials, headnotes, and the narratives themselves took much more time than I expected. I intend to apply for various travel grants so that I might return later in the year. (Faculty advisor: Siobhan Craig)

To Connecticut and California with Katelyn McCarthy

This project was designed to allow me to complete crucial research related to my first dissertation chapter, “(Un)Chastity and Contentious Wifehood: Biblical Precedent and Women’s Autonomy in Elizabeth Cary’s The Tragedy of Mariam.” In June, I traveled to New Haven, CT, in order to utilize the resources of the Beinecke Library at Yale University, including Thomas Lodge’s translation of Josephus’ Antiquities. This text is largely believed to be one of Elizabeth Cary’s most substantial source texts; thus, a careful examination of the passages concerning Mariamne and Herod allowed me to both understand what Cary was building from or deliberately deviating from in Mariam.

I was also able to read Cary’s translation of “The reply of the most illvstriovs Cardinall of Perron, to the ansvveare of the most excellent King of Great Britaine.” For my project, one of the most important contributions of this text was Cary’s handwritten dedication to Queen Henrietta Maria. Dedicating (by hand) a religious polemical text to the queen associates religious authority with women’s authority. This is crucial in the context of my project, which is concerned with the religious authority and autonomy of women in Mariam.

In July, I traveled to Los Angeles, CA, in order to research at the Huntington Library. The primary text that I used was The Monument of Matrones (1582), Thomas Bentley’s compilation of women’s devotional writing, biblical excerpts, and his own writing concerning the conduct of women and the biographies of biblical women. The Monument’s detailing of women’s domestic roles (especially as virgin, wife, and widow) were particularly relevant to my research, as well as Bentley’s retelling of the lives of biblical women (many of whom are invoked in Mariam). In addition, the Huntington had a copy of Thomas Heywood’s “The exemplary lives and memorable acts of nine the most worth women of the vvorld: three Iewes, three Gentiles, Three Christians” (1640). This text included portraits and biographies of biblical women such as Judith, Deborah, and Esther, as well as a biography of Elizabeth I of England—which was helpful in terms of gaining an even deeper understanding of the cultural significance of these biblical figures, as well as the manner in which Elizabeth I was contextualized with a biblical tradition. (Faculty advisor: John Watkins)

To New Jersey (and online) with Jeffrey Squires

My project requires me to read many sermons, clerical-advice books, and theological treatises. A vast portion of these sources are available online. I was able to spend extensive time examining them, thanks to my summer funding, and to include an in-depth synthesis of clerical voices in my dissertation chapter, “The Self-Incriminating Despair of John Milton.”

I used part of the money from the GRRP—in combination with a grant I received elsewhere—to travel to Rutger’s University in New Brunswick, NJ, home of the fifth largest collection of Milton material and several significant theological books, including Richard Baxter’s Christian Directory and Edward Leigh’s A Body or System of Divinity. Isolated in the rare book room for about a week, I was able to peruse marginal comments, original illustrations, and interesting material aspects of sources I had only read digitally. In conversation with the rare-book staff, I also discovered the library owned an excellent edition of Daniel DaFoe’s Political History of the Devil (1726): it was a surprising find and offered insight into Milton’s 18th-century impact. This visit expanded the breadth of research within my Milton chapter.

By the end of August, I had completed around 65 pages of polished writing, including the lengthy synthesis section discussed above and original argumentation on Milton’s use of self-incriminating despair. Milton depicts Satan’s despair as a good temptation, a vehicle through which man is tested back onto the path to salvation. While this argument has been observed, I qualify it by differentiating Milton’s views from other theologians at the time, as well as engaging with Milton’s specific uses of despair as a double-bind, a situation in which Satan is both told he may be redeemed while paradoxically damned. (Faculty advisor: Nabil Matar)