Grad Studies: Everyday Britain Through Modern Lit

Inspired by the Brexit debate, PhD candidate Bomi Jeon is writing an award-winning dissertation
Photo of PhD candidate Bomi Jeon (head and shoulders) in front of castle, turrets, and statue of man riding horse

The Brexit referendum debate in the United Kingdom fascinated PhD candidate Bomi Jeon, "particularly the way the rhetoric of each party exposed differences between people and places within the UK, changing political moods, and various forms of belonging." Jeon began to think about the relationship between modern British literature and "identifiers of national identity in the cultural imagination." The dissertation topic that grew out of those thoughts, "From the Margins of History: Everyday Life and Narrating the Nation in British Fiction and Cinema After 1940," won a competitive University-wide Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship for 2020-21 from the Graduate School. We interviewed Jeon about the project.

Did certain professors significantly nurture the project?

While a number of professors helped me shape this project, my advisor Siobhan Craig has been particularly supportive. She has been reading my drafts with critical insight and has provided intellectual guidance to make theoretical connections between everyday life and national identity, which has been one of the essential challenges to my project.

The courses I took with Professors Timothy Brennan and Josephine Lee also inspired me greatly to develop my current project. Brennan's courses on political economy and the role of the critic in world literature have challenged my thinking by helping me question assumptions and view issues from multiple perspectives. Lee provided me with excellent feedback and professional advice, encouraging me to submit my work to conferences. I also significantly benefited from the primary and secondary sources they suggested during my exam stages.

"I have finished
drafting my last chapter,
on Mike Leigh's films
and their cinematic
representation of
working-class youth in
Thatcherian Britain."

What work are you planning to accomplish on the dissertation during your fellowship year?

I have finished drafting my last chapter, on Mike Leigh's films and their cinematic representation of working-class youth in Thatcherian Britain, which I presented at the NeMLA conference this March. Although the research trip to London I originally planned for last summer was canceled due to Covid-19, I was able to gather some useful documents through our library and have redirected my focus to a more theory and text-oriented analysis. I have focused on writing my introduction and revising other chapters for a defense this spring.

The Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship allows a year off from teaching responsibilities. But you've taught multiple classes during your studies here. What do you enjoy most about teaching, and how has being a teacher enhanced your scholarship?

One of the amazing things about our program is that graduate students get many opportunities to teach and design their own courses. When I taught "Modern Fiction," for instance, I really enjoyed choosing and organizing our topics, and it was so fun to see students engage with them. Having students debate topics is exciting. And I learn so much from my students through discussion.

If you are not from Minnesota, what has been your favorite discovery, living here?

I am from Busan, South Korea. Before I came here, I thought the British were the most obsessed with the weather. And now I have a personal theory that Minnesota's long, cold winter might have contributed to its great infrastructure of art and culture, by keeping people inside. Until last spring, one of my favorite rituals was to visit art museums and galleries such as MIA and Walker Art Center or to go to the diverse local theaters. I hope those days come back soon.

What have you appreciated most about your studies here at the U?

The best thing about being a part of the PhD program at the U is that I'm surrounded by so many creative, intelligent people who understand the power of discourse and language. I am grateful to have an amazing group of individuals as my cohort, and the resources available to grad students, in terms of funding, experience, and faculty, are also incredible to me. There is a flexibility to explore a variety of academic interests in our program and much of this is possible thanks to the support and encouragement from the professors.

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