Category Archives: Research

Speculative Fiction & Identity

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Congratulations to UWaterloo English’s Dr. Victoria Lamont and PhD candidate Meghan Riley, who have together received a Learning Innovation and Teaching Enhancement (LITE) Grant for the project “Changing Bodies, Changing Minds: Utilizing Speculative Fiction to Teach Intersectional and Postcolonial Theories.” The project, which runs from fall 2018 through August 2019, will “investigate innovative approaches to enhancing teaching and learning” by examining students’ awareness of the interrelated aspects of identity based on race, sex, class, and gender, as well as how discrimination is often based on multiple intersecting identity markers, through science fiction, fantasy, horror, and alternate history. The intent is to “foster deep student learning” through engaging students in a consideration of how shapeshifters – human characters who can change form and assume different races and sexes – are indicative of race and gender as social constructions. Moreover, it will pair speculative fiction literature with popular speculative fiction television, appealing to students’ interests across media and increasing the likelihood that students will use course concepts to analyze speculative fiction TV.

Image credit: Deviant Art

 

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English PhD student joins GRADtalks

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Join English PhD candidate Evelyn DeShane, who will be participating in GRADtalks, an initiative of UWaterloo’s Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs. The topic is social networks, and Evelyn will be joined by Robert Gauthier, PhD Candidate, Public Health and Health Systems Faculty of Applied Health Sciences. Robert investigates how online communities are supporting sensitive topics such as addiction recovery; Evelyn studies how trans people take back narrative control through stories, films, apps, and other social networks. Evelyn’s writing has appeared in The Atlantic’s Tech Channel, Plenitude Magazine, Bitch Magazine, Briarpatch Magazine, Vitality Magazine, and The LGBTQ Policy Journal, and elsewhere. Details are below.

September 27, 2018
3:30 – talks, including question and answer
4:45 – wine and cheese
NH – Ira G. Needles Hall Room 3407 – Board and Senate Room

Registration is required.

Tips for an Academic Book Review

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It was my first week in an academic position and a colleague decided we should head to the bar for a celebratory drink. As we entered, he made an offhand remark about the scholarship of another new hire. I surprised myself by answering: “I’m tired of people slagging other people’s scholarship just because it doesn’t conform to their theoretical preoccupations.” We ordered drinks, and as my new acquaintance’s attention was claimed by undergraduates, I pondered my need to better self-edit—but also my complete lack of regret for what I had said.

Until that moment I’d never put that simmering frustration into words. But, as a principle, “don’t dismiss the work of others because it doesn’t reflect your interests” is something I’ve come to realize is fundamental to academics. It’s not just that we work in departments with those whose scholarship might be radically different from ours. Rather, as academics, we are rooted in the practices of constructively reading and reviewing the work of others, whether as supervisors, members of writing groups, peer reviewers for a journal or academic press, or book reviewers for academic journals.

After years as book review editor of an academic journal, I can attest that finding reviewers who will read books generously, thoughtfully, and with an understanding of the field can be challenging. Several editors I know have commented on the problem of the (disproportionately junior) reviewer who eviscerates a book as a means of showcasing their own critical acumen. Most often such a reviewer takes issue less with the work on its terms, than with how it doesn’t reproduce their own scholarly orientation. In the end, such a review tells you more about the reviewer than the book. In part, this is the failing of academics: we don’t always do a great job talking about producing academic book reviews. In that vein, if I had one piece of advice for new reviewers it would be: don’t dismiss the work of others because it doesn’t reflect your interests.

For those who are embarking on reviewing, think about what makes book reviews useful. At a basic level, we all want to know: what will I get from reading this book? What is it about? Following that, what is the argument, how is it constructed, what are its implications? Before picking apart a book for its weaknesses, first consider: what are the book’s strengths? I have bought books I suspected weren’t as solid, because they addressed matters or events I wanted to know more about. When you do contemplate a discussion of potential weaknesses, reflect: are they substantive or minor, and will devoting a significant portion of the review to them make you look petty?

Perversely, some people presume you have to say something explicitly negative in order for the positive things you say to be judged objective. I have a former colleague who believes this about letters of reference for undergraduate students as well as PhDs on the job market. Let me be clear: this is bad advice for writers of letters of reference and it is bad advice for writers of academic book reviews. If you think there is a glaring weakness that deserves to be addressed, do not go for the jugular or release your inner snark: depending on the concern, either state it clearly, or find a way to signal it to your reader. For instance, the statement “the author is less concerned with the scholarly revelations of the last twenty years, instead focusing on the close reading of variations between the first and second editions” can convey volumes in the right context.

For those embarking on their first academic book review—or even those squeezing in a review and needing to organize their ideas—here are a list of questions to consider. A good book review need not address all of these or even the majority; but the attentive reading required to produce a decent review does mean that the reviewer should have a handle on them. Remember: in the end, a good academic review in a scholarly journal doesn’t summarize, it considers; it doesn’t eviscerate, it responds. If you have doubts about your approach—even if you don’t—consult a few issues of the journal you are writing for, and ensure you are matching their goals.

  • What is the book about? Does it cover an area that has been neglected?
  • What is the author’s theoretical and/or methodological framework?
  • Does the author introduce a new framework or perspective?
  • How does the author engage previous scholarship? Is the book indebted to particular authors, works, or trends?
  • Is the research and approach suitable given the subject?
  • Does the author mine neglected or underutilized sources?
  • Is scholarship or insight produced by other disciplines utilized? If so, how, and is it successful?
  • Is the research current?
  • What does the book add to the existing scholarly conversation?
  • Is it successful? Does it do what it sets out to do?
  • Are there potentially controversial moves? Is it provocative?
  • Is this work timely in relation to the field and/or current events?
  • Does it lay the groundwork for future scholarship? How?
  • Is there something in the book that brought you joy? Or that you wanted to emulate in your own scholarship? Or made you see something differently?
  • Is the structure logical? Stylistically, does it flow? Is the language appropriate?
  • Are there useful appendices, images, or visual aids?
  • Who would be interested in the scholarship or find it useful? Disciplinary specialists? Armchair scholars? Local history societies? Literary groups? Fan communities?
  • Is it teachable? Are there portions that would be useful readings in courses? Would graduate students benefit from reading it?
  • Does it feel as if it will stand up?
  • Can you think of one thing that might have substantially strengthened the work?

Image credit: Ten Academic Books that Changed the World

Welcoming Dr. Heather Love to English

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Welcoming yet another new colleague makes me feel as if UWaterloo English is basking in an embarrassment of riches. Except–and I looked this up, because I am in English after all–the phrase “embarrassment of riches” also implies that we have more than we know what to do with, and nothing can be further from the truth. We are excited to welcome Dr. Heather Love precisely because we can’t wait to draw on her exciting scholarship, breadth of experience, and far-reaching knowledge, and have already anticipated any number of ways her presence will enrich our program. Read the Words in Place interview with Dr. Love below to find out more.

JLH: Welcome to UWaterloo. This will be a return to Canada for you–what are you most looking forward to?
HL: I am absolutely delighted to be back in Canada! As for the things I’m looking forward to, a whole bucket list comes to mind: from universal health care to being able to look into my wallet and tell my bills apart at a glance, and from the 12- (rather than 15-) week semesters to the fact that I won’t face blank stares from students when I pronounce words like “advertisement” and “process” the Canadian way. After three years on the wind-swept plains of South Dakota—which certainly have a beauty all their own—it’s been great to start exploring canoeing, hiking, and camping available around Waterloo. And I’m very excited to be part of a department that boasts such a diverse range of approaches to English through its three “streams” of study and its co-op opportunities.

I confess that I am also happy to be back in the land of hockey – I’ve played in recreational leagues since I was 12, and coached kids’ teams for the past 10 years or so, and while I was fortunate to find some really wonderful communities at the small hockey programs that were available in South Dakota and Indiana, it was certainly not the “#1 sport” in those areas that it is in Canada. As a Vancouver Canucks fan, I expect to be in the minority here; however, after a decade of standing out in my maple leaf gear in rooms full of die-hard “stars and stripes” fans during various world championship and Olympics match-ups, I think I can handle the heckling.

JLH: You were hired for a position in Science, Culture, and Literature. Can you tell us about your research in this area?
HL: Certainly. My research is grounded in the analysis of experimental early twentieth-century modernist literature, and I like to bring that literature into dialogue with ideas from fields like science and technology studies. My current book, for instance, works across these disciplinary lines by inviting readers to consider a network of concerns about and approaches to information that developed during the first half of the twentieth century. As the project has come together, I’ve been charting a variety of ways in which modernist authors became part of a broader historical phenomenon: the emergence of what I label “cybernetic thinking,” which was taking shape in the decades leading up to World War II.

During these years, an influx of media across multiple platforms—print culture, sound reproduction and transmission, cinema, and more—in tandem with a quickly evolving field of communication-technology capabilities made it necessary for people to confront and devise tactics for navigating larger quantities of information than ever before; they were required, we can say in retrospect, to think cybernetically. The field of cybernetics is most often associated with mid-twentieth-century technologies that mobilize data for statistical prediction, and with folks like the MIT mathematician Norbert Wiener, Bell Laboratories engineer Claude Shannon, and psychiatrist W. Ross Ashby. I’m proposing that modernists like James Joyce, Sophie Treadwell, Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf also engaged with and contributed to this emerging way of thinking—and that they did so through the experimental aesthetic strategies they developed in response to their increasingly data-saturated world.

With the completion of this book on the horizon, I have also started thinking about a new project that continues my interest in this interdisciplinary “triad,” but shifts slightly to focus on modernist literature’s engagements with twentieth-century medical technology. I am particularly interested in the ways that authors incorporate references to medical innovation in order to show how these scientific discourses are implicated in hierarchies of race, gender, and ability. Hopefully that offers a bit of a glimpse into the ways that I approach the intersecting, overlapping space of “Science, Culture, and Literature” as a researcher!

JLH: You have an interesting relationship with IEEE (Institute of Electric and Electronics Engineers). How did that come about?
HL: Yes – unusual as it may seem for a scholar of literature, I serve on the Board of Governors for the IEEE’s Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT), and I’ve volunteered with the organization for several years in various capacities that include producing a monthly newsletter for members, organizing and presenting at conferences, and editing special issues of the IEEE Technology and Society Magazine (T&S).

My affiliation with this group came about through a conference on “Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century” (21CW) back in June 2014, which the SSIT was hosting in Boston. The organizers decided to convene a group of academics and professionals for discussions, panels, and plenary talks focused on the various ways Wiener’s legacy continues in the present. I was working at the time on a chapter focused on Ezra Pound and cybernetic feedback loops, and part of the argument was that we might learn new ways of navigating our present-day world of information and data if we looked back at the cultural prehistory to Wiener’s cybernetics work. I didn’t know anything about the SSIT or the IEEE, but I thought, “why not apply?” The paper was accepted for inclusion in the conference program, so off I went to Boston.

At the event, I was delighted to meet a welcoming group of folks who hailed from a range of engineering programs and professional careers, or who had disciplinary homes in mathematics and the social sciences. They were excited to hear that a person from the humanities was interested in Wiener’s work and cybernetics’ ongoing cultural influence, and I was happy to see how much they were focused on the ethical and social dimensions of technological development. After the conference, I contacted the SSIT president to express an interest in future 21CW events, and was invited to join a team of guest editors to oversee a special issue of T&S based on the Boston presentations, and to help organize a 2016 follow-up conference on Wiener’s legacy. I’ve been involved with the organization ever since, and I look forward to mobilizing that connection to the engineering world in ways that can benefit my students here at U Waterloo.

JLH: What kinds of texts might students expect to study in your classes?
HL: The balance between different types of reading will vary, of course, depending on the focus of a particular class. In general, though, my commitment to interdisciplinarity filters into my courses through their mixture of (a) literary texts that draw from both canonical and lesser-known authors, and (b) texts that come from complementary disciplines (e.g. cybernetics theory by Norbert Wiener and Ross Ashby in a course on “Literature and Information Management”; explanations of narrative medicine by Rita Charon and New York Times articles on “Living with Cancer” by Susan Gubar in a course on “Literature and Medicine”). In addition, students in my graduate seminars can expect to encounter and work closely with a range of scholarly texts that include articles and monograph chapters; I find that these types of readings not only offer various interpretations of and approaches to the literature we’re studying, but also provide jumping-off points for discussions about models of academic writing that students can strive to emulate (or avoid at all costs!) as they cultivate their own voices within the critical conversations that are happening in their chosen fields of study.

JLH: Finally–because I often ask–what are you reading for fun?
HL: It’s been an interesting summer for me, in terms of reading. I’m usually a “one book at a time” kind of person, but during these past few months of moving and road tripping and settling into a new home, community, and job, I seem to perpetually have three or four books on the go on any given day…

For slightly work-related purposes, I’ve been making my way through several popular press books on the history of cybernetics, computers, and information culture – these include George Dyson’s extremely detailed account of the development of computer technology, Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe (2012); Tessa Dunlop’s more anecdotal “collective memoir,” The Bletchley Girls: War, Secrecy, Love and Loss: The Women of Bletchley Park Tell their Story (2015); Pedro Domingos’s rather techno-utopic tour through various approaches to machine learning, The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World (2015), and Thomas Rid’s Rise of the Machines: The Lost History of Cybernetics (2016).

When I need a break from the non-fiction, I’ve been turning to Young Adult fantasy and speculative fiction. Most recently, I’ve picked up Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series, and earlier in the summer, in honour of my upcoming return to Canada, I read Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves (a 2018 “Canada Reads” selection), which I highly recommend.

 

And finally, since I’ll be having a baby in about a month (!), I’ve been combing through various pregnancy and parenting books. I’m pretty sure that no amount of reading can fully prepare a person for this new kind of adventure, but I figure it can’t hurt either.

Welcoming new faculty, Dr. Lai-Tze Fan!

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It is hard to not get excited about welcoming new faculty. It’s even harder to restrain one’s enthusiasm when the new faculty are so fantastically interesting. This is definitely the case with Dr. Lai-Tze Fan, who joins us this fall. In advance of arriving, Dr. Fan was gracious enough to chat with me about itchy academic projects, guilty pleasures, and Game of Thrones trivia. Read on to find out more…

JLH: Firstly, welcome to UWaterloo! You’ve lived in Waterloo before, but it wasn’t a straightforward path to our department–more circuitous, than anything. Can you tell us a bit about that?
LF: I did indeed previously live in Waterloo—I did my Master’s in English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier, which is just down the street. While that Program allowed me to dapple in media studies, my interest in digital media in the context of literary studies led me to apply to be an OVGS (Ontario Visiting Graduate Student), so that I could take a graduate course at U Waterloo. I took “New Media Genres,” which was my first exposure to many scholars in digital media studies, as well as the first time I’d been challenged to think critically about everyday online texts and spaces including blogs, digitized texts, or Twitter. I have fond memories of being a graduate student in Kitchener-Waterloo: getting together with friends at the Duke (of Wellington) pub, catching up on my readings at Café 1842, and going to Oktoberfest! Waterloo has changed so much in the time I’ve been away. For starters: I hardly remember any buildings higher than three floors! Now the food options, transit growth, and cultural fabric have all expanded and I’m delighted to be back to experience it.

It was quite the circuitous path after my MA. The short version is that I did my PhD in Toronto, moved to Germany while I finished my PhD, completed a Postdoc in Montréal, and was then lucky enough to have a tenure-track job at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, where my father was born. The travels have been exciting, but I am grateful to be coming home to Canada and to be back in the KW. (:

JLH: I was on the hiring committee, so I do know what you’re up to, but for others, could you share a bit about your current research project?
LF: My research combines literary studies (primarily narratology and contemporary literature), media studies (including digital humanities and media archaeology), and cultural studies. I’ve written and published in all of these areas, but right now I’m focusing on two major projects. The first is called Unseen Hands: A Material History of Women and Technology in 20th/21st Writing Machines. This project traces an alternate literary history in which the material labour of women–the secretaries, muses, and wives of important literary figures—is represented as having been as invisible as the labour and production of material technologies. The second project is called Open (Re)source, a research-creation project that focuses on mediating key issues of material sustainability by building an interactive narrative platform. The project aims to allow everyday users to be reflexive about the different roles of materiality in digital infrastructure—from minerals to processors, from interfaces to open source.

JLH: I’ve been telling graduate students to pay attention to what itches, meaning those things that have potential, but you don’t know what to do with them yet. Still, they keep insistently making themselves known. Do you find that being sited in different locations has created more of these insistent “itches”?
LF: My itch is circuitous and involves a lifelong pull towards being an artist. There was a time I abandoned painting for words, but ultimately I’m a visual thinker and I itch to make pictures.

Actually, this is how I became interested in research-creation, as during my time in art and start-up heavy Montréal, I combined my training as a youth in fine arts and crafts (I sew and cross-stitch. A lot.) with some of my research interests, including, for example, the history and labour of textiles and clothing in global contexts. While this is often gendered work, what is more important to me is that this is often invisible work, unseen work—only the consumed product is encountered with. I itch towards making again, combining maker culture as a technological trend full of ethical and environmental issues with the work of making with one’s hands. Another visual itch: I’m interested in writing and directing a film or two in the future.

JLH: Do you see UWaterloo as offering certain advantages in terms of your work?
LF: Absolutely! The ways in which my work can be situated in UWaterloo is something I tried to emphasize during my interview, especially in the English Department. I know that UW is renowned for its science/engineering, and in English, that kind of practical application can take the form of praxis of critical ideas. For instance, UWaterloo’s co-op program aims to situate students in real-life scenarios towards educational/experiential growth, and that’s the kind of integrated and engaged work I seek to perform myself as well as to teach. And of course, Kitchener-Waterloo is a true tech hub of Canada and pulls in international attention all the time. I remember how exciting it was in 2010 when Stephen Hawking had visited the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

JLH: Book recommendations are always welcome: what have you been reading for fun in the past year?
LF: As a theorist of media, maybe I’ll offer a few varieties: books, films, and online “texts.” Print books I’ve been reading are Jussi Parikka’s A Geology of Media and Zadie Smith’s NW. I also really like biographies, and have been re-reading Stacy Scriff’s Véra (about Véra Nabokov) and Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette. Recently I’ve been watching Stanley Kubrick and Louis Malle films, and re-watching the Harry Potter series. Online, I spend an unhealthy amount of time watching badly acted historical documentaries on Netflix and YouTube. Look up “Britain’s Bloody Crown” on YouTube, on the War of the Roses. Trashy goodness. Trivia fact: the family rivalries between the Starks and the Lannisters in Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire is based on the War of the Roses’ rivalry between the Yorks and the Lancasters. 😉

Welcoming Dr. Carter Neal

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Once again, I want to welcome one of our newest department members, Dr. Carter Neal. He brings professional expertise in developing and administering composition programs, as well as academic expertise in nineteenth-century American literature. But what many may find most intriguing is his current work on the ethics and aesthetics of the “spoiler alert,” which he considers in relation to contemporary television and technology, as well as paper production and nineteenth-century big books. Read on to find out more.

JLH: Welcome to UWaterloo. While you are a Canadian resident, this is your first time teaching in a Canadian institution. What interests you about the transition?
CN: Obviously it is an interesting time to make such a move, and I’m learning to adjust to things like the lack of pennies, slightly different accents and vocal inflections, and I’m developing a host of humorous answers to the curious questions about American politics. In many ways, however, Waterloo feels familiar. While I still claim the American South (Tennessee and Virginia) as “home,” I have spent most of my life living in the Midwest and near the Great Lakes, so much of the topography blends together easily.

At the moment, what interests me most is one of the differences that demands more than a moment of reflection: the reality of and attitudes towards diversity, immigration, and multiculturalism. I recently read a piece by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic that tries to think through the politics of populism and immigration in Canada. Thompson’s short piece necessarily overlooks many things (he glosses over the role of imperialism, he gives short shrift to continuing issues of settler colonialism, and he doesn’t fully engage with the internal differences of the United States and Canada), but I think his larger point that diversity looks and functions differently seems correct and points me towards something I need to learn. Thompson’s piece of “cansplaining” (J. J. McCollough’s term for explaining Canada’s uniqueness to the world) isn’t by any means a final word on this subject, and I look forward to experiencing these differences in the classroom, where I will be more the student than my students.

JLH: You bring a wealth of experience in writing communication and administration: can you tell us a bit about that?
CN: Before I returned to teaching and graduate studies, I was a professional editor and writer in Washington, D.C., working on large-scale grant and government contracting applications. Since then, I’ve taught in a variety of programs and departments from English departments to business schools, public administration to Honor’s programs, and courses in high schools and graduate schools. In the not-so-deep past, I helped to administer Indiana University’s first-year composition program as an Assistant Director of Composition, where I collaborated to develop curricula, implement programs, and to mentor graduate student instructors. While my research is in nineteenth-century American literature, these experiences have let me dabble enough in rhetoric and the scholarship of teaching and learning to know that I can’t answer most of the questions without asking for some help myself.

Necessarily, then, my teaching and my own work is informed by an appreciation for how things get done in different contexts, which is often the same way: collaboratively.

JLH: When you teach writing and communication, what are the things you most want students to learn?
CN: Even though I take Thoreau’s most famous piece of advice seriously (“Simplify, simplify.”), I still find that my list of each semester’s course goals seems to get longer and longer. So, let me take that advice and limit myself to the two things that I think are among the most important—the writer and their audience, and not necessarily in that order. Some will spot the rhetorical situation lurking behind this answer, but that way leads to complexity. So, we can say that communication is (often) all about the audience. I find myself frequently turning student questions (“should I do X or Y?” “How do I start?”) back with this simple question: “Who is your audience?” Secondly, I want students to see themselves as agents of change and to see their communication as the source of real-world transformations—in what others think, in what they do, in what they think possible to do.

We could simplify these two things together within Paulo Freire’s concept of the praxis, which combines reflection and action together, but then we run back into the complexity that is the fact that what the praxis means is manifold. For instance, reflection on one’s audience involves deep ethical considerations and transforms even simple, every-day messages into complicated interpersonal acts of relationship. And orienting writing towards change forces writers to consider the value of those changes. This is something that Thoreau knew full well, and the joke of his “advice” is really good: nothing is simple.

JLH: Can you tell us a bit about your current research? Is it what you anticipated doing when you started your PhD?
CN: I don’t even think the dissertation I wrote is what I anticipated writing when I started, much less the work I’m doing now. That said, what I’ve been working on figuring out the last 2 years is directly related to my graduate studies—but in a way I didn’t expect. I wrote my dissertation on the “splendid failures” of nineteenth-century friendship, particularly as theorized by Emerson, Fuller, and their friends. What interested me about friendship was that it is a relationship of choice conditioned almost only on the constant decision to make that choice over and over again. This means that it has the power to transgress social boundaries like race, gender, ability, and kinship. So, I wrote about a cross-gender friendship, about the development of adoption agencies, and I offered a new way to think about Emersonian friendship as a theory.

I borrowed part of my title and conceptual framework (“splendid failures”) from W.E.B. Du Bois, who used it to refer to the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War because I was interested in how friendship (as practiced, theorized, and implemented) never seemed to achieve all that they promised. Particularly in terms of social impact—the dreams some had for friendship—for relationships of choice—in antebellum America seemed to always fail.

Forgive the elevator speech, but I defended that dissertation in May of 2016, and then something—maybe you can remember—happened in the early November of 2016 that sent me off to ask more questions about failure, but this time with an explicit focus on the politics of separation or division, not inclusion. Last year, I helped to organize a reading group on the work of Jacques Rancière, specifically because it seemed to us a good time to consider his agonistic theories of democracy and aesthetics. That reading group has sent me off to think more about the splendidness of failure, as opposed to narratives of progress and regress. In a second thread, I’ve found helpful Joseph R. Winter’s recent book (2016) Hope Draped in Black: Race, Melancholy, and the Agony of Progress, which charts a tradition of melancholic thinking about race back to Du Bois. Concretely, these two threads have sent me back to the crisis of the 1850s, when Emerson wrote one of his least optimistic books, The Conduct of Life (published 1860, but the essays developed from as early as 1851), and back just a bit further to Margaret Fuller’s (1845) Woman in the Nineteenth Century. At the moment, I am unsure what the deliverable—what the form of production—will be for this line of research, but I think these are necessary questions to ask, and I am enjoying returning to Emerson and Fuller with a different set of lenses.

On a lighter note, I’ve also been collaborating on a series of panels and some writing on the ethics and aesthetics of the “spoiler alert.” That work in progress continues an interest in ethics and aesthetics, wondering about the obligations we have to others and their reading experiences, but also trying to trouble the way that spoiler alerts function to privilege a certain kind of aesthetic experience—and a certain manner of control over content within capitalism. Of course, there’s a nineteenth-century connection here, as the bingeable television of today’s streaming technology parallels the bingeable novels, which were made possible then by the new technology of wood-pulp paper, but this project emerged more from sprightly arguments about new television adaptations of older books than from anything else.

JLH: Finally, I generally close on a book question: what was your favorite novel of the last year?
CN: Like many, I was struck by George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo. I still feel like I haven’t made up my mind about the book, particularly the second half, but I found myself thinking about it more than I expected. On the non-fiction side, I will plug Elizabeth Catte’s short-but-dense treatise, What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia, which interjects a much-needed corrective to the dismissive and accusative conversations that so many are having about the Southern Highlands today.

Welcoming (back) Dr. Brad Mehlenbacher

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As many know, UWaterloo English hired several new faculty this year. Oddly, the people who assessed the needs of the department and proposed this particular position were unaware of Dr. Brad Mehlenbacher, his close ties to the institution, and his motivation to return to the region
. Read on for more–including his comments on when Fed Hall. was “the largest dance hall on any university campus in Canada.” Welcome Dr. Brad Mehlenbacher!

JLH: Welcome to UWaterloo—we know you have a history with the institution. Can you tell us a bit about that, and how it feels to be returning?
BM: I’m absolutely thrilled to be returning to UWaterloo after many years away from what’s always felt like my educational home. Being Canadian and growing up in Southwestern Ontario, I spent the bulk of my childhood in Stratford and in and around Toronto, Ontario. During my visits home, I’ve watched Kitchener-Waterloo grow from a small university town to what feels like a futuristic high-tech hub and cultural centre. I completed my BA and MA in English Co-Op at UWaterloo, and then moved to the United States to earn my PhD in Rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University, before taking a position as an Assistant Professor of English at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. After receiving tenure, I moved from the humanities to the College of Education at NC State.

In 2015, my wife, Dr. Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher, took a tenure-track position in the Department of English Language & Literature at UWaterloo, and we’ve been enjoying re-acquainting ourselves with the university, city, and region ever since. During my last few years traveling back-and-forth between Raleigh, North Carolina, and Waterloo, Ontario, I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to join the department and to give back to the Canadian research and teaching context what’s been so generously given during my university years. It’s wonderful to be home again.

JLH: What do you see as the biggest change at UWaterloo since you graduated?
BM: The 1980s and 2018 feel dramatically different, particularly in terms of campus resources and architecture (and my lack of familiarity with it!). For example, when I attended UWaterloo, Fed Hall, “the largest dance hall on any university campus in Canada,” was lined up at the door every night of the week. It hosted the likes of Billy Bragg and The Indigo Girls, students danced till 1 AM, and in those days you could smoke inside. The University Club was an unknown to me, and the Bombshelter played “Leave it to Beaver” re-runs every Friday afternoon. Thankfully, they appear to have upgraded the furniture we routinely slept on in what was then called the Campus Centre. I recall there being less food available on campus and many of the spaces between buildings are now filled with new buildings. Fed Hall, the Bombshelter, and the Grad House were where most students ate, studied, and built life-long friendships, or at least that’s my happy memory of the time. I also have vivid memories of Hagey Hall, where I spent the majority of my time and shared an office with three other MA students.

JLH: You’ll be teaching English across faculties: what do you see as the most rewarding part of teaching non-English majors?
BM: I’ve been teaching non-English majors for most of my career, a lucky byproduct of being an English major interested in computers in the 1980s. Working with Dr. Paul Beam on computational analyses of Alexander Pope and Thomas Hardy, and with Dr. Phillip Smith as a TA for Introduction to Computing Technology for Arts majors, I had unique experiences that led me to teach courses enrolled by students across disciplines. Later, at North Carolina State University, I taught engineering communication, science communication, and business communication. And even later I taught training and development and education majors at the graduate level. Personally, I’ve also learned a lot from hearing my eldest daughter talk about her own experiences as a Computer Science major at Duke University, and now, working in the high-tech industry. I have also enjoyed working on numerous grants and dissertation committees that involved non-majors. I haven’t taught first-year students since I was at Carnegie Mellon University, so I’m looking very forward to reacquainting myself students new to their disciplines and to University of Waterloo in general. It’s an exciting time for me to begin teaching first-year students again, as my youngest daughter is just beginning her first year in college this August at UNC-Asheville.

JLH: Can you share a bit about your current research projects?
BM: I am currently working on a book-length manuscript, tentatively entitled “Learner,” an exploration of the rhetoricity of learning across the life span. Drawing on research from education and contemporary rhetoric, I explore the movement from behavioural to cognitive to social theories of learning.

I’ve also been collaborating with Ashley Mehlenbacher on a chapter where we discuss how online genres are used to communicate climate change information. This is part of work I’ve been conducting related to rhetorical studies of science and technology, a field I’ve only been reacquainting myself with over the last few years, last having worked in the area as a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University while completing a dissertation on proposals in biochemical research.

JLH: Finally—because I often ask—what are you reading for fun?
BM: I’m currently reading Timothy Findley’s final novel, Spadework, a book that I picked up in a used bookstore in Stratford, Ontario, and coincidentally, a murder mystery set in Stratford, Ontario, where Findley lived. The inside cover has a map of Stratford which, happily, I haven’t had to rely upon in my reading!