26 April 2008

Research interests, or What gets me excited.

I'm not going to try to spell them out in great detail here--just give you a sense of where I think I'm heading. I've changed my primary field several times over the years (those of you who know about my undergrad career and its six or seven changes of major won't be surprised). But necessity has demanded a decision. Which led me to review what kinds of papers I'd written in my several years in grad school. What I finally determined was that although I love 20th century fiction, I find myself returning over and over to 19th century fiction. That I write regularly about issues having to do with gender formation and definition. And that I more often than not write about community in some form. So my first definition of what I wanted to study for my quals, and ultimately my dissertation, was: Victorian literature (I've usually tended towards British, more than American); women's lit/women's studies (which I envisioned including both British and American women from a long 19th century); and theories of community (to which I quickly added theories of the novel).

As I discussed these topics with faculty members and began doing my reading, I realized that I was seriously limiting myself on my secondary list (women's lit/women's studies) by not allowing myself to consider how male gender roles are formed and perceived as well as not considering more fully how male authors write gender. So the first significant change I made was to make my secondary list an American list from 1830 to 1900. Doing so will let me more fully engage with not only the literature, but also with the questions of how various communities conceive of themselves and of gender within their boundaries.

I also decided that rather than constantly fearing my own ignorance when it came to criticism in the field, I'd try to use my lists and prepping for my quals as an opportunity to become more conversant in that criticism. So my third list has shifted away from being a theoretical list towards being a criticism list. I'll still read some basic texts on community, genre, and gender, but I'll also read major works of criticism on 19th century British and American literature. I think the most important thing this allows is reading the literature in order to discover what's there, rather than bringing a preconceived theoretical approach to the literature. In keeping with that, I'm exploring various options for approaching genre, gender, and community at a slant rather than head on. I'm interested in them as systems of classification--how do we conceive of classes of people? How do we define communities? How do we acknowledge and allow (or ignore and disallow) difference inside classes and communities, which are by definition groups of like things? I've thought about using science as a means of approaching these issues, but I'd love to hear any additional suggestions you may have.

So those are my interests. Briefly. And here they are even more briefly:
  • Victorian literature, with a particular emphasis on the novel and prose non-fiction.
  • The Novel as Genre with an interest in how the novel has shaped conceptions of community and classification.
  • Criticism in those two fields of literary studies.
  • Theories of genre, gender, and community; or how humans make sense of themselves through classification.

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