New book from Dr. Jennifer Harris

Congratulations to UWaterloo English’s Dr. Jennifer Harris, whose second picture book, When You Were New, illustrated by Lenny Wen, received a glowing review from Kirkus, which called it an “intimate depiction of this tightknit family and their loving bonds.” When You Were New is forthcoming from HarperCollins in March, and is available for pre-order. Fun facts about picture books: 1) authors do not generally get to choose the illustrators; 2) it usually takes three years from the time the contract is signed until the book appears. Dr. Harris’s next book, The Keeper of Stars will be illustrated by UWaterloo alumna Dorothy Leung, and is forthcoming from OwlKids in 2024. For those who might want to write their own book someday–whether a science fiction novel, a memoir, a collection of poetry, or a children’s work–a reminder that, as of Fall 2023, UWaterloo English has a new major in Creative and Professional Writing.

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Dr. Vershawn Young in An Ideal Husband

If you know UWaterloo English’s Dr. Vershawn Ashanti Young, aka “Dr. Vay,” you know that he has a background in theatre performance and performance studies scholarship. Thus, it should come as no surprise that he will be appearing in the role of Sir Robert Chiltern in The Firehall Theatre’s production of Oscar Wilde’s comedy An Ideal Husband. The Firehall Theatre is located in Niagara Falls (the Canadian side!). Performances run from February 17th to March 5th, 2023. For more information, including tickets and performance times, visit the Firehall Theatre website.

Trust in Science and Technology Research Network

UWaterloo English’s Dr. Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher, Canada Research Chair in Science, Health and Technology Communication, has partnered with Dr. Donna Strickland, recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics, to establish the Trust in Science and Technology Research Network at UWaterloo. It is “the first multidisciplinary research network of its kind in Canada to tackle this important issue.” According to Waterloo News, “The Trust in Science and Technology Research Network plans to begin engagement with the public through an expert speaker series and a Citizen Science Project where Waterloo region community members can offer input and actively participate in the scientific research communication process.” You can read more about it here.

Champions of tech for good

UWaterloo English’s Dr. Marcel O’Gorman is a University of Waterloo Research Chair and founder of the Critical Media Lab—and the perfect person to address the question “how we should lead technological transformation to ensure a safe and human-centred digital future?” Recently, he was asked this question by Waterloo News. You can read his full response here.

Everything Should Be Findable

On Wednesday, January 25th at 3pm UWaterloo PhD student Toben Racicot will be 2023’s first speaker in the PRES lecture series. His talk is titled “Everything Should Be Findable: Redesigning Loot in RPGs.” Toben’s area of study is “role-playing game mechanics like character creation, loot systems and treasure tables, and player-driven design. His research disavows the concept of min-maxing, and instead suggests methods for viable play and the means to make the RPG genre more accessible and favourable towards new players.” More information is available via the event site.

Building trust for experts

Are you interested in learning how to combat disinformation? Or the process required to build trust? UWaterloo English’s Dr. Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher is the Canada Research Chair in Science, Health and Technology Communication and a leading expert on how communication practices shape how people engage with scientific and technical subject matters. Her editorial on how to build trust appears in the latest Waterloo News.

Congratulations to Dr. Monique Kampherm


Congratulations to Dr. Monique Kampherm, who on Dec. 22 successfully defended her dissertation, “Masks and Caricatures: Prosopopoeia, Ethopoeia, and the Effect of Social Media on Canadian Political Leaders’ Debates.” Dr. Kampherm’s Supervisor was Dr. Randy Harris, the internal members were Dr. Michael McDonald and Dr. Anna Esselment, the internal-external member was Dr. Robert Danisch, and the external examiner was Dr. David Beard of the University of Minnesota.

“Masks and Caricatures: Prosopopoeia, Ethopoeia, and the Effect of Social Media on Canadian Political Leaders’ Debates.”

This dissertation examines the recent effect of social media on televised political leaders’ debates through the lens of ethos. It features two case studies from two Canadian federal elections: the 2015 Maclean’s Leaders’ Debate, and the 2019 English-Language Leaders’ Debate. It opens the lens of ethos through the tools of prosopopoeia and ethopoeia, ethotic moves which respectively incorporate ethoi beyond the immediate speaker, and characterize the ethoi of others. With the emergence of participatory digital media, leadership debates are increasingly constrained and shaped to serve social media. I argue that there is an increased pressure on political parties to have their leader adopt a mask, or perform another’s ethos, through prosopopoeia, while also characterizing, or depicting another’s ethos, through ethopoeia. Both moves capitalize on the Aristotelian ethotic qualities of phronesis, arete, and eunoia.

I develop this argument by analyzing political parties’ and political leaders’ debate-related social media posts from Canada’s 2015 and Canada’s 2019 federal elections. I examine political parties’ and political leaders’ debate-related posts on three social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, from the 2015 and the 2019 election campaign timeframes. In examining the parties’ and leaders’ top shared Facebook posts, top retweeted Twitter posts, and top liked Instagram posts, I identify six major debate-related themes for 2015, and six major debate-related themes for 2019. Examining the posts within these themes reveals how ethos is refracted in social media, moderately in 2015, and vigorously in 2019, and how the rhetorical moves prosopopoeia and ethopoeia infiltrate the political parties’ and leaders’ social media accounts. A significant finding of this study is political debates are changing because of social media in a way that foregrounds issues of ethos. In 2015, it was more prominent for debate content to move out onto social media, whereas in 2019, debate content is being shaped for social media. In both cases, but more so in 2019, the forces of social media fostered prosopopoeia and ethopoeia.

This research contributes to the fields of rhetoric, social media, and political communication by demonstrating how debates, and democracy, are being (re)shaped by social media, and brings precision to the rhetorical figures prosopopoeia and ethopoeia as figures of argumentation. This critical investigation into the effect of social media on political leaders’ debates reveals the rhetorical influence social media has on political parties, political leaders, and ultimately voters

Remembering Dr. Y-Dang Troeung, 1980-2022

Members of the department of English at UWaterloo were saddened to hear of the passing of alumna Dr. Y-Dang Troeung in late November. She was a valued student during her time here, and continued to maintain strong ties with various members of our department. Collectively, we’d like to extend our condolences to Y-Dang’s partner, child, and family.

Here, some of those who knew her share treasured memories.

Dr. Veronica Austen
Y-Dang was a calm yet bright light during our grad school days. My Ph.D. and her M.A. just barely overlapped, but I got to audit a course that she was in, and her potential for great scholarly work was clear. She too stood out for her kindness and genuine interest in the ideas of others. As we had the opportunity to catch up at various conferences throughout the years, that curiosity remained a constant. She’d ask such great questions about what I was up to and the like. I’m thankful for having had the opportunity to know her, regretful that I hadn’t been in touch since before the pandemic, and in awe of the amazing work that she was able to accomplish in such a short time. 

Dr. Fraser Easton
I first met Y-Dang in when she was a second-year undergraduate student in a practical criticism course I was teaching, and later on she took a course in eighteenth-century fiction with me.  She was a bright, successful student whose interests at that time were in the areas of rhetoric and professional writing.  I did not really get to know Y-Dang as a scholar, thinker, and communicator, however, until she started work for me as a research assistant during, and then immediately after she completed, her MA in English at UW.

Y-Dang started her research with me by reading whole years of the Times of London on microfilm from the late eighteenth century, searching for reports of cross-dressing.  In the course of this tedious work, Y-Dang discovered that the Times had just been digitized. In response, she worked with me to develop a recursive methodology for creating a search set that would find these records. We drew keywords from known records, tested them, noted which records were successfully captured, tried new terms for the ones which were not found, and sought to control for false hits. After numerous passes and the addition of wildcards, we landed on a search set comprised of a total of 24 search phrases. Y-Dang herself used the search set to locate cross-dressing records in Times Digital Archive for the years from 1785 to 1832.  The work Y-Dang did on this project, now known as the Waterloo Cross-Dressing Archive, was outstanding, and it forms a part of the open access database currently under development. It was never any surprise to me that she would thrive in an academic career, but it delighted me to watch her do so. I am deeply saddened to learn how tragically short her work and life were cut, and my heart goes out to her partner and young child.

Dr. Randy Harris
I remember Y-Dang with great fondness. She was a brilliant young woman when I knew her best and it is tragic she was taken away from the world and her family with so much more she would have added to both. 

I had her in one undergraduate class, and also briefly as a colleague, when I hired her to work on the production of my Rhetoric and Incommensurability. She was a highly diligent fact checker and indexer, and just charming to work with. 

But my strongest memories are from the class, in which she was a vibrant presence, making a huge impression on all of us. She was active in every discussion, probing the central issues without ever dominating. I still remember her complex, but succinct and sharply angled, essay on Descartes and Nietzsche and their divergent philosophies of language and rhetoric (Nietzsche wins!); she blew away the final exam. 

She was very liberal with her compelling personal story in the class, letting us into her family life in ways that made us feel privileged to know her. She was the daughter of “a lucky one,” a survivor of the brutal Cambodian genocide of the 1970s. I was so taken with her engaging and moving accounts, and her talent for storytelling, that I had the opportunity to spark something remarkable. There was a CBC radio programme, Outfront, in those days (the twenty-aughts—just writing out those dates of her, an undergraduate a little better than ten years ago, makes the loss all the more acute). The tagline for the show was “real people telling real stories about real life” and they encouraged “anyone with a story” to pitch them. If they felt something was there, they would match them with a production team. I told Y-Dang about the programme and strongly encouraged her to contact them with a pitch. She did. It became “The Lucky One Returns,” in which she goes back to Cambodia with her mother to examine the personal impact of social trauma. It is a moving account, both intimate and universal. The experience of making the documentary also became, I later discovered, one of the prime motivations of Y-Dang’s dissertation. With the rise of podcasts I have searched without success for a digital version. If anyone reading this knows how to find it, please add a comment. 

We fell out of touch because Y-Dang unaccountably left rhetoric behind for the dark side, literary studies, but I cheered on her career from afar and was stricken, as were all who knew her, when I heard of her shocking death. My deep condolences to her family, her colleagues, and all those who knew her.

Dr. Shelley Hulan
Y-Dang was a member of a large, tight-knit graduate class I taught on mostly contemporary Canadian literature. Many of the students would hang out together after class and stayed in touch with each other after graduation. That kind of closeness is not as common as we in the academy would like it to be, and it often depends on a few personalities who spark the friendships that then shape students’ scholarly growth. I remember the fun things Y-Dang used to do, like betting with another student about which party food would disappear first at the Christmas party. Note per Y-Dang: sausages in pastry always go first. She brought them, and she won the bet. I also remember her unfailing generosity in seminars and class discussions, where long before it became the done thing, she embedded opportunities for her classmates to take up the strands of her presentation and to weigh in on her arguments. She was always interested, curious, and deeply committed to her research. My heartfelt condolences to her family.

Dr. Victoria Lamont
I had the good fortune to teach Y-Dang as an undergraduate student. She was brilliant, generous, and kind. I remember one class she was getting ready to give a presentation and the technology wasn’t cooperating and it was making her nervous. She gave her presentation and it was absolutely astounding. She had no idea how talented she was; she was just a student doing her job. I knew other colleagues who taught her, and we used to compare notes about how gifted she was as a scholar but also how wonderful she was as a person.

Dr. Kate Lawson
Y-Dang Troeung was a stellar student whom I was fortunate enough to teach in my graduate seminar on Victorian literature in 2004. She is memorable for the breadth of interests and the breadth of scholarly work that informed her performance in the class. She was a generous participant in class discussion, always working to build productively on the comments and questions of other students. Her final research paper is probably the best I have ever received in a graduate course. 

I was then doubly fortunate to be able to hire Y-Dang as a research assistant for a project I was just beginning. She was a true collaborator, suggesting scholarly material which I should consult in order both to contextualise the project and to focus future inquiry. 

Her intellectual energy and excitement, her drive to extend her knowledge were indeed inspiring. I followed her later academic career with great interest, and now with a deep sense of loss. She will be missed.

Dr. Heather Smyth
My memory of her is that she was in the first graduate course I taught when I joined the department in 2003. I believe she was an MA student then, but her scholarly poise and analytical skills were really exceptional. I often heard about her or saw her work over the years after that as she completed her PhD and took up a position at the City University of Hong Kong. I rarely ran into her, but her name was always circulating: colleagues and friends would speak of her, noting how hard she was working, how high the quality of her work was, how kind and generous she was with her friendships and scholarship, how rich a life she was building with her partner and child. She clearly touched many lives and will leave a huge gap behind.

Dr. Linda Warley
A specific memory that stands out to me is when Y-Dang was a student in my Canadian Life Writing graduate course. As an exercise in getting students to think about how life writers make specific choices when telling their personal stories I asked them to write the first page of their own autobiographies. Y-Dang began with her name. She explained that she was born in a refugee camp and that her parents had named her after the camp. I don’t think I knew that she was originally from Cambodia. I certainly didn’t know that her life had begun in Khao I-Dang. Her family had survived bombings, the overthrow of the Khymer Rouge regime and the genocide that followed. I later learned that the Catholic Church that sponsored the family’s immigration to Canada changed her name to Sarah, a Christian name. Y-Dang refused to be called Sarah.

UWaterloo English in the news: reindeer, drag, and engineers

It almost sounds like the opening of a joke, doesn’t it? But in fact, these are just some of the things our UWaterloo English people have been talking about in the news.

Recent PhD alumnus Dr. Tommy Mayberry appears in The Bookseller, as his collection RuPedagogies of Realness: Essays on Teaching and Learning with RuPaul’s Drag Race won the 2022 Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year. The article is a masterclass in humour. Congratulations!

Dr, Marcel O’Gorman‘s piece on recent critiques of the colonial history of engineering’s “iron ring” ceremony appeared in The Conversation.

Dr. Aimée Morrison was interviewed on CBC about the recent upheaval at Twitter.

Dr. Jennifer Harris was interviewed about the origins of the names of Santa’s reindeer, and managed to sneak in references to early nineteenth-century New York literary and political culture.

Looking for a course? What about ENGL 293: Intro to Digital Media Studies

If you’re looking for a winter course, there are still spots in ENGL 293: Intro to Digital Media Studies. This course aims to introduce students to the ways in which new media of all types is examined and studied in the humanities. The connecting theme in this class is “media changing culture and culture changing media.” Most of our discussions will revolve around how people and their culture(s) change technology by using it, and by portraying it in art, and how technology has then changed the way we live and the way we make art. By focusing on this reciprocal relationships between art, culture, and technology, we will be able to see the connections between how technology is created, adopted, and made obsolete and how we portray and use that technology in our lives and art.