Skip to content

News & Awards

2015-16 HUMANITIES CENTER FELLOWS: The University of Tennessee Humanities Center will have three members of the English Department as part of its 2015-16 class of fellows. Mary Dzon will use her fellowship year to work on her current project, A Study of Mary’s Vitae within the Devotional and Scholastic Culture of the Later Middle Ages. Ph.D. student Andrew Lallier will pursue his dissertation project, “Sketches, Impressions and Romances: Literature as Experiment in De Quincey, Dickens, Eliot and MacDonald,” while John Stromski will work on his dissertation, “Breaking the Supply Chains: Ethics and Economics in Northern Literature, 1840-1900.”

Urmila Seshagiri Receives NEH Enduring Questions Grant: Urmila Seshagiri was awarded an Enduring Questions Grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities. These grants support faculty members in the preparation of new courses on fundamental concerns of human life as addressed by the humanities. In the words of the NEH, they “encourage undergraduates and teachers to join together in a deep and sustained program of reading in order to encounter influential ideas, works, and thinkers over the centuries.” Urmila’s proposed course was entitled “What Is Duty?” The course Urmila proposed was on the topic “What Is Duty?” In her words,“This course explores the intricate, often tangled paths of duty set forth by Eastern and Western philosophies, religions, and literatures. Focusing on ancient, classical, and modern texts (e.g., the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Sophocles’s Antigone, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Rob Reiner’s A Few Good Men), students will investigate how duty – an obligation based on moral belief – determines the motives and consequences of our actions. The goals for the course are to understand conceptions of duty across multiple contexts, and, in the process, to debate the value of duty as a force in our lives.”

Mary Papke To Hold Carroll Distinguished Teaching Chair: Congratulations to Mary Papke, who was elected to a two-year term as the department’s Carroll Distinguished Teaching Chair.

Russel Hirst received a Jay R. Gould Award for Excellence in Teaching Technical Communication at the annual Society for Technical Communication Conference in Columbus, Ohio this June. This award recognizes “his dedication to student success through innovative teaching, collaborative approaches to learning, inspiring mentoring, and commitment to excellence in all aspects of technical communication education.”

Lisi Schoenbach was elected last fall to the Board of Modernist Studies Association; she will serve as Program Chair until Fall of 2017.

Michelle Commander was recently awarded a Fulbright grant to spend the 2012-13 academic year in Ghana. Michelle will teach and conduct research on the subject of her current book project, which examines the complex interplay between traditional conceptualizations of the imagined homeland, Africa, and the formation of Black American diasporan identities.

Katie Burnett, a doctoral student, was awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/American Council for Learned Societies dissertation fellowship for the 2012—2013 year. Burnett is writing a dissertation entitled “The Dixie Plantation State: Antebellum Fiction and Global Capitalism.”

The department’s First-Year Composition Program and Writing Center have been awarded the Conference on College Composition and Communication’s (CCCC) Writing Program Certificate of Excellence. Among the criteria for this highly prestigious award are the following: that the program imaginatively addresses the needs and opportunities of its students, instructors, institution, and locale; that it offer exemplary ongoing professional development for faculty of all ranks, including adjunct/contingent faculty; that it uses current best practices in the field; and that it models diversity and/or serves diverse communities. For more details, watch this video.

Creative Writing Program News: Poets & Writers magazine (September/October 2011) ranked the department’s doctoral program with creative dissertation fifteenth in the nation (eighth in terms of job placement for students and fifth in funding for doctoral students).

Recent Faculty Publications:

Imagining Methodism

Imagining Methodism in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Enthusiasm, Belief, and the Borders of the Self

By Misty G. Anderson (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012)

In the Eighteenth Century, British Methodism was an object of both derision and desire. Many popular Eighteenth-Century works ridiculed Methodists, yet often the very same plays, novels, and prints that cast Methodists as primitive, irrational, or deluded also betrayed a thinly cloaked fascination with the experiences of divine presence attributed to the new evangelical movement. Anderson argues that writers, actors, and artists used Methodism as a concept to interrogate the boundaries of the self and the fluid relationships between religion and literature, between reason and enthusiasm, and between theater and belief.

Imagining Methodism situates works by Henry Fielding, John Cleland, Samuel Foote, William Hogarth, Horace Walpole, Tobias Smollett, and others alongside the contributions of John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield in order to understand how Methodism’s brand of “experimental religion” was both born of the modern world and perceived as a threat to it.

Anderson’s analysis of reactions to Methodism exposes a complicated interlocking picture of the religious and the secular—terms less transparent than they seem in current critical usage. Her argument is not about the lives of Eighteenth-Century Methodists; rather, it is about Methodism as it was imagined in the work of Eighteenth-Century British writers and artists, where it served as a sign of sexual, cognitive, and social danger. By situating satiric images of Methodists in their popular contexts, she recaptures a vigorous cultural debate over the domains of religion and literature in the modern British imagination.

Rich in cultural and literary analysis, Anderson’s argument will be of interest to students and scholars of the Eighteenth Century, religious studies, theater, and the history of gender.


  1. “Imagining Methodism in Eighteenth-Century Britain is well researched and will make a significant contribution to our understanding of Methodism, and to the tensions between reason and religion, in eighteenth-century studies.”—Laura Rosenthal, University of Maryland
  2. “Redefining the relationship among word, flesh, and spirit in the Enlightenment by demonstrating Methodism’s expressive urgency in a variety of putatively secular entertainments—drama, music, and erotic fiction—Misty Anderson’s book must be read by anyone who wants to keep up with the best work in the field of eighteenth century studies.”—Joseph Roach, Yale University

perpThe Passion of Perpetua and Felicity (Oxford UP, 2012)

By Thomas J. Heffernan

One of the most widely read and studied texts composed in Late Antiquity is the prison diary of Vibia Perpetua, a young woman of the elite classes who was martyred in March 202 or 203 C.E. in Carthage, as part of a civic celebration honoring Caesar Geta. She was well-married and had recently become the mother of a baby son, but despite her advantages, she refused to recant her faith when she was arrested with other recent converts to Christianity. Imprisoned with her was her pregnant slave Felicity. Perpetua’s steadfastness in her belief led to her martyrdom in the amphitheater. A description of the heroic deaths of both women, and the autobiography of one of the leaders of the Christian community, Saturus, is woven into Perpetua’s diary by an anonymous editor, who tells us that, as they died, Perpetua, Felicity, and the other condemned Christians bid farewell with a kiss of peace.

This unique and precious text survives in one Greek and in nine Latin manuscript versions. Heffernan’s new study contains much that has never been done before, including a prosopography of all the individuals mentioned in the Passion, a new English translation, and the first detailed historical commentary in English on the entire narrative of the Passion. It also includes a newly edited version of the Latin text based on all the extant manuscripts and—rarer still—the Greek text. He concludes the book with a complete codicological description of all of the known manuscripts and thorough scholarly indices of the text itself. Perpetua’s prison diary is a revered text of early Christianity, and Heffernan’s new translation and commentary brings unprecedented scholarly resources to the much-loved Passion.


  1.  “Heffernan’s comprehensive and critical treatment of the Passion of Perpetua and Felicity offers specialists and other students of early Christianity the most thorough exposition to date of the Passion’s textual, rhetorical, textual, and interpretive complexity. We all owe Thomas Heffernan a debt for lending his scholarly precision and intellectual generosity to this task. Heffernan’s text, translation, and commentary will most certainly be the standard edition of this text on which scholars and students will rely in future generations.”?—Elizabeth Castelli, professor and chair of the Department of Religion, Barnard College
  2. “This edition, translation, and comprehensive commentary will remain the definitive resource for scholars who study this influential text. Furthermore, Heffernan’s elegant translation perfectly captures the voice of this early Christian woman, whose diary has captivated readers for almost 2000 years.” ?—Joyce E. Salisbury, author of Perpetua’s Passion: Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman.
  3. “At last here is a detailed edition and commentary that provides a close and much-needed analysis of the ancient texts in which this remarkable narrative is preserved. Heffernan’s careful discussion of the historical context of Perpetua’s martyrology shows how a woman of Perpetua’s social class was able to write such a vivid account of her own experiences; it also explains how and why her story was preserved, and became an inspiration to Christians throughout the ancient world.” ?—Mary Lefkowitz, Andrew W. Mellon professor in the Humanities emerita, Wellesley College

americanwomanSeeing the American Woman, 1880-1920 The Social Impact of the Visual Media Explosion (McFarland Press, 2012)

By Katherine H. Adams, Michael L. Keene and Jennifer C. Koella

From 1880 to 1920, the first truly national visual culture developed in the United States as a result of the completion of the Pacific Railroad. Women, especially young and beautiful ones, found new lives shaped by their participation in that visual culture. This rapidly evolving age left behind the “cult of domesticity” that reigned in the Nineteenth Century to give rise to new “types” of women based on a single feature—a type of hair, skin, dress, or prop—including the Gibson Girl, the sob sister, the stunt girl, the hoochy-coochy dancer, and the bearded lady. Exploring both high and low culture, from the circus and film, to newspapers and magazines, this work examines depictions of women at the dawn of “mass media;” depictions that would remain influential throughout the Twentieth Century.

georgeThe Life of George Eliot: A Critical Biography (Wiley-Blackwell Press, 2012)

By Nancy Henry

The life story of the Victorian novelist George Eliot is as dramatic and complex as her best plots. Henry’s new assessment of her life and work combines recent biographical research with penetrating literary criticism, resulting in revealing new interpretations of her literary work. A fresh look at George Eliot’s captivating life story includes original new analysis of her writing, employs the latest biographical research, and combines literary criticism with biographical narrative to offer a rounded perspective.


  1. “Henry provides a useful reminder that that old-fashioned pejorative, adulteress, might have been applied to Eliot as well as to Agnes, and she provides a sensitive analysis of the novels in the light of that insight.” The New Yorker, 6 August 2012.
  2. “Driven neither by hero-worship nor spite, Henry’s “critical biography” demonstrates what treasure there is still to be found in even the most worked-over subjects. The trick is to ask the questions that everyone else assumed had been answered years ago.” The Guardian, 2 June 2012.
  3. “Such insights fill this book, which shows penetrating intelligence from first to last. Nancy Henry has managed, seamlessly but always with needed distinctions, to unite, in exacting interrelation and with edges sharp, George Eliot’s lived experience and imaginative experience.” George Eliot-G.H. Lewes Studies, 1 September 2012.
  4. “Nancy Henry’s new biography of George Eliot is truly a new biography of George Eliot. Henry writes with all thirty-seven of her predecessors in mind as she carefully selects the material that needs repeating, discarding, or modifying. Her massive bibliography results from her thorough research, something difficult to achieve with a figure like George Eliot about whom so much is written, but for which she has gained a reputation as a most conscientious–I would say the most conscientious–of George Eliot scholars.” Kathleen McCormack, Florida International University.

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.