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Photograph of Lucas Hollister
Photograph of Lucas Hollister

In this week's edition, we speak with Lucas C. Hollister, Assistant Professor of French and Italian Languages and Literatures. In his most recent book 'Beyond Return Genre and Cultural Politics in Contemporary French Fiction', he proposes new perspectives on the cultural politics of fictions. Examining adventure novels, radical noir, postmodernist mysteries, war novels, and dystopian fictions, Hollister shows how authors like Jean Echenoz, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Jean Rouaud, and Antoine Volodine develop radically dissimilar notions of the aesthetics of 'return', and thus redraw in different manners the boundaries of the contemporary, the French, and the literary.

What is your book about?

How popular fictional forms are politicized in France, and about how these cultural forms are used to define the “contemporary.”

Where did you get your idea(s) for this book?

While I was reading literary histories and criticism, I was struck by how many of the dominant accounts of the present or “contemporary” relied on a narrative about a “return to the story” after the decline of the postwar avant-gardes in France. As an avid reader of genre fiction (of both the low and high varieties) and of French modernist literature, I found the topic fascinating. I was also skeptical of what I saw as the anti-modernist and anti-intellectual undercurrents of this argument. I started to study this topic, in short, because I wanted to orient myself in the cultural field and I wanted to think about how literature was politicized today. Eventually, this led me to take a deeper dive into the novels of a few authors—notably Jean-Patrick Manchette, Jean Echenoz, and Antoine Volodine— whom I felt represented particularly ingenious ways of working with crime fiction, mystery, war fiction, and dystopian fiction.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

I read as much as I can. Working with contemporary authors and texts means that I don’t get to do a lot of the fun archival digging that scholars from earlier periods do, but I take occasional research trips to libraries and archives in France. The spaces my work cannot do without are the spaces I find to read, the space of the classroom where I work out ideas with students, and the space of French literary culture.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

An indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries. The arrangement of the galleries is always the same: Twenty bookshelves, five to each side, line four of the hexagon’s six sides; the height of the bookshelves, floor to ceiling, is hardly greater than the height of a normal librarian. One of the hexagon’s free sides opens onto a narrow sort of vestibule, which in turn opens onto another gallery, identical to the first—identical in fact to all. A spiral staircase winds upward and downward into the remotest distance. In the vestibule there is a mirror, which faithfully reduplicates appearances. Light is provided by certain spherical fruits that bear the name “bulbs.” There are two of these bulbs in each hexagon, set crosswise. The light they give is insufficient, and unceasing. Pessimistically, one might also imagine it as a screen whose real function is to read us.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

To read and write a lot. To work hard to improve how you read and write. To seek out your blind spots and deficiencies. To cultivate a network of people who can read your work critically. To be generous with yourself, trust your own intellect and follow your interests wherever they lead you.

And finally, what do you read for fun? 

I have the defect of thinking that almost everything I study and teach is fun. That said, I would love to read more Sebald, to read the pockets of Borges I haven’t yet read, and to reread Tolstoy, Flaubert, Joyce, Kafka, Woolf. I have a book project right now called Bad Natures, for which I am currently reading a lot of climate fiction and eco-horror. Recently I enjoyed reading Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream and Mouthful of Birds.

 

Photograph of Petra McGillen
Photograph of Petra McGillen

In this week's edition, we speak with Petra S. McGillen, Assistant Professor of German Studies. In her book 'The Fontane Workshop: Manufacturing Realism in the Industrial Age of Print', McGillen analyzes a wealth of unexplored archival evidence, including a collection of the Theodor Fontane's 67 extant notebooks, along with an array of other 'paper tools,' such as cardboard boxes, envelopes, and slips.  With this evidence, McGillen demonstrates how Fontane compiled his realist prose works.

What is your book about?

Question: How was nineteenth-century realist literature created? Answer: with a stack of newspapers, a pair of scissors, a pot of paste, and a small army of helpers! At least, this is how Theodor Fontane, Germany’s best-known novelist in the realist vein, did it. The book reconstructs his creative process, showing how he “remixed” his writings from newspapers and other popular-cultural sources under conditions of early mass media.

Where did you get your idea(s) for this book?

It all started with a lucky find in graduate school. Randomly, I stumbled upon a footnote that mentioned Theodor Fontane’s notebooks. In Germany, Fontane is as well-known as Goethe or Kafka, and I was stunned that I had never heard about his notebooks before. I followed up and realized that not much had been published about these intriguing little media of writing (in part because they were held at an archive in former East Germany and had not been freely available to scholars until the German Reunification). As soon as I could, I traveled to Germany to explore the notebooks for real—and was hooked. They were difficult to read but also extremely fascinating because they provided access to Fontane’s paper cosmos and all aspects of his authorship, containing both traces of the drafting process and of the business side of being a freelance writer. From there, the topic quickly mushroomed—I discovered more and more “paper tools” that Fontane used, such as strange, homemade envelopes with which he loosely organized his manuscripts, and began to wonder what the relationship of these tools was to the media-historical setting in which Fontane and his peers worked. Once I understood that he worked in a media landscape that in some ways resembles our own, and that he became creative by means of copying (or cutting) and pasting, it clicked with me that I had to portray him as a remix artist, because that is the most appropriate way of capturing what his creative process was all about.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

My research involves heavy-duty archival work, so one element I could not live without are manuscripts, notebooks, drafts, and other such sources! Doing archival research always reminds me of doing a puzzle: at first, what’s in the box looks like a total jumble, but as you turn the pieces over and scrutinize each one more closely, you begin to figure out how they connect, and slowly but surely, the full picture emerges. It requires a lot of stamina, or what Germans call Sitzfleisch (literally, “flesh to sit on”, but it's meant more in the sense of perseverance and the ability to sit still on one's backside for a long time), but the feeling of discovery when you begin to make those connections is thrilling.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

With more and more books, journals, and archival sources getting digitized, the library of the future will for sure shrink in physical space but expand drastically in the number of titles and items that can be accessed. On the one hand, I find this push toward digitization exciting because it will yield a whole range of new opportunities. On the other hand, I think this development will come at a cost. Libraries have never just been spaces for the storage of books; they have always also been sites where readers interact (with texts and with each other), where one can breathe and smell books, where one might meet one’s future spouse, and where one might make the unexpected, serendipitous finds that are such a vital part of research. All of this would be lost if we reduced ourselves to “digital only” models. I’m therefore hoping that the library of the future will leave room for both—the opportunities that the library as a virtual hub affords and the opportunities that arise from bringing people and books into the same place. Also, stepping into an expansive reading room that is filled to the ceiling with books feels inspiring; it takes my breath away every time. By comparison, entering an online portal feels “meh” at best.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Figure out what your most productive hours of the day are and be protective of them. Turn off your email. Spread a bucket of glue on your chair, sit down, and do not get up until you have written at least two pages.

And finally, what do you read for fun? 

The last novel that I read for fun was Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann. It’s a wild and creative take on the genre of the historical novel and tells the life of Till Eulenspiegel, a German prankster who is the protagonist of a famous early sixteenth-century chapbook. In Kehlmann's version, he makes the decision never to die, which makes for a fabulous and very entertaining narrative. Recently, I started plowing through Brian Merchant’s The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone. So far, I’ve been enjoying it tremendously. Merchant is great at disentangling the many strands that came together to make the iPhone possible and completely busts the lone-inventor myth that to this day surrounds Steve Jobs. I actually meant to read it for fun, but I find myself taking notes all the time because I really want to teach a media history class on this topic.

Photograph of James E. Dobson
Photograph of James E. Dobson

In this week's edition, we speak with James E. Dobson, Senior Lecturer, Department of English and Creative Writing and Director, Institute for Writing and Rhetoric. In his most recent book 'Critical Digital Humanities: The Search for a Methodology (University of Illinois Press, 2019' he explores the opportunities and complications faced by humanists in this new era.

What is your book about?

Critical Digital Humanities interrogates the use of computation methods for studying culture from the bottom up—from object selection to the history of popular algorithms.

Where did you get your idea(s) for this book?

I simultaneously worked in literary studies and in computational science for many years—my first career was in the tech industry—and treated these interests as separate. The increasing number of humanists making use of computational methods (via what many call the “digital humanities”) pushed me to write a critical account of what I perceived to be the problems with these early methods and the prospects for a more scientific and a more humanist way of using computation to study culture. The issues raised by the computational turn in literary studies are fundamental to literary studies itself and in many ways it provokes a similar set of questions to other turning points within the history of my major field. I wanted to understand this. I wrote this book for both my colleagues and for my students. We used in the 19F term in my ENGL 64.05 “Cultural Analytics” course.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

I think of myself as an intellectual historian. I read widely and love bibliographic work, especially tracing lines of influence and missed connections. In every project I tend to think about larger frames that enable me to think about the history, forms of power, ideology, and cultural forces informing my objects and figures of interest. With this book, I wanted to have practical objects that could motivate the theoretical accounts that I wanted to produce. I reconstructed workflows from other researchers and produced my own using Python and a sharable, executable document called a Jupyter notebook. These notebooks combine code, data, visualizations, and most importantly, space for critical reflection on what is taking place within the code.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

In many ways I hope it resembles the library of yesterday and today. In my teaching and research I make use of several campus libraries. I love working in Rauner and exploring archival material—especially the discovery that can take place in a box of material. I also greatly appreciate Dartmouth’s digital library and depend upon access to scholarly journals and cataloged access to open access resources. I hope that in the future we’ll continue to have a great collection of books and archived materials along with new digital archives and databases as well as methods to preserve and share our research workflows and their products.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Read widely but make sure to have a regular return to those objects that excite you and provide inspiration in terms of their form, argument, and ambitions. Any aspiring writer might turn to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” for motivation.

And finally, what do you read for fun? 

As I teach and write on many different topics almost anything can quickly turn from fun to work (which isn’t to say that work can’t be fun). This past spring I wanted to build a small boat and picked up John Gardner’s Building Classic Small Craft: Complete Plans and Instructions for 47 Boats. Gardner includes a surprising amount of narrative in this large collection of plans and essays on small boat building. As I read, I quickly noticed a shared antimodern sensibility between the late-nineteenth century sources that informed Gardner and his own moment and it takes some restraint not to write an essay about the nostalgic return of oar-powered boats in the 1970s and most certainly my own desires in my present moment.

Photograph of Zahra Ayubi
Photograph of Zahra Ayubi

In this week's edition, we speak with Zahra Ayubi Assistant Professor of the Department of Religion. She has recently received a grant from the Greenwall Foundation’s Faculty Scholars Program in Bioethics to continue her research on the intersections of bioethics, gender, and religion within the context of Islam.  Her most recent book 'Gendered Morality: Classical Islamic Ethics of the Self, Family, and Society' offers a textual-critical examination of gender in Islamic metaphysics and virtue ethics.

 

What is your book about?

This book is about the perennial concerns of how to live a moral life when so much of philosophical ethics is gendered and exclusive.

Where did you get your idea(s) for this book?

I always knew that I wanted to research concepts of gender in Islam and produce feminist work that advocates for justice. Then in graduate school I developed an interest in studying Islamic philosophical ethics as a genre. Hence, the idea for this book came together.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

My research looks like this: me sitting reclined in my office with my feet up on an ottoman. My laptop perched on a lap-desk and my browser connected to several library websites, a million tabs and files are open, and a stack of books and article printouts sit next to me with one book open on a book stand. Although I don’t have to be in this space or position to write, I usually do need to work in a warm place or need the heat to be turned way up.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

The library of the future SHOULD contain hard copy books as it does today, but I realize that housing books in limited space will not always be feasible and shipping heavy voluminous books may not be environmentally friendly. On the other hand, because libraries loan books that are to be read by multiple patrons over and over, they provide a more environmentally friendly way to get books into the hands of people than if each individual had to purchase/ship their own copies. That said, libraries of the future will probably succumb to budget cuts and stop purchasing hard copies of books, and instead expand their electronic offerings and electronic platforms of reading—it might not destroy the concept of the book, but it might cause a decline in reading habits overall.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Cultivate a daily writing practice, much like other daily rituals, and don’t worry about the initial quality of your writing. You can always revise a first draft, but if you don’t have a draft there is nothing to revise.

And finally, what do you read for fun?

If I had more time, I would read everything by G. Willow Wilson, Mohja Kahf, Laury Silvers, and other Muslim women fiction authors. I would also read the YA novels by Henna Khan, Sabaa Tahir, Alexis York Lumbard and Ausma Zehanat Khan in the secret hopes that they move to writing novels for adults. This would be both to support this community of authors, but also find representation of myself and stories familiar to me in literature.

Photograph of William Cheng
Photograph of William Cheng

In this week's edition, we speak with William Cheng, Associate Professor of Music.  His most recent book Loving Music Till it Hurts is a capacious exploration of how people's head-over-heels attachments to music can variously align or conflict with agendas of social justice.

What is your book about?

How people's loving attachments to music can variously align or conflict with agendas of social justice.

Where did you get your idea(s) for this book?

This is the book I've always wanted to write ever since I began studying music. I've sought to understand why and how people judge music, and how these judgments soak and color our societal fabrics.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

It's difficult. As I research and write, I'm easily distracted by emails, pop-up windows, videos, and video games. The "oh crap!" awareness of a deadline is what usually pulls me back into a diligent headspace.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

The library of the future should strive for maximum accessibility. Beyond digitization and remote access, our books, articles, and musical scores should ideally be adapted/adaptable to accommodate all learners.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Be kind when appraising the writing of others.

And finally, what do you read for fun? 

If I had more time to read for fun these days (and I say this knowing I could always work harder to make more time for this), I would reread the full Dragon Ball (Z) manga by Akira Toriyama. Also, Eliot's Middlemarch--I've had it on my Kindle for years; about once a year, I ritualistically start the book, then get distracted by work stuff. Maybe 2020 will be the year.

Photograph of Philip J. Kinsler
Photograph of Philip J. Kinsler

In this week's edition, we speak with Philip J. Kinsler, a clinical associate professor from the psychiatry department. In his most recent book Complex Psychological Trauma : The Centrality of Relationship, he explores subjects such as Psychic trauma-- treatment, traumatic psychoses, and psychotherapy.

What is your book about?

It is about everything I learned doing psychotherapy for severe abuse survivors for more than 40 years. A broad theoretical view of the diagnostic process and a healing relationship form of treatment.

Where did you get your idea(s) for this book?

Performing therapy, teaching apprentice therapists and psychiatry residents, reading voraciously, attending conferences focusing on finding brilliant people to learn from regardless of what they said they were going to speak about.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

I could not have written this book, with no support staff to help, without the research tools from the American Psychological Association, particularly the PSYCinfo database and the PSYCarticles being on-line accessible.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

I fear everything may go online for cost savings, thus losing spaces to think in, serendipitous findings of interesting work, expert guidance about where research and clinical information ‘"lives."

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Find people you will love to learn from, apprentice to them, take it all in but eventually make it your own. Gather important experience before writing. Historians for example laugh at people who “read ten books then wrote one.” Do your homework in original sources.

And finally, what do you read for fun?

Ron Chernow’s biographies of Grant, Hamilton, Washington, are invaluable psychological studies of major figures in American History and of the development of “character,” so crucial to our times. Jane Sherron DeHart’s biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg gives important information about the legal fight for women’s equality and the frustrating rise of the conservative right. To understand people, read history and biography as well as psychology and psychiatry. Real lives teach us a lot.

Txetxu Aguado

In this week's edition, we speak with Txetxu Aguado, Associate Professor of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.  He is the author of two recently published books: Sexualidades disidentes: un acercamiento fílmico desde la prostitución y la pornografía, Dykinson, 2019; and  Representaciones artísticas y sociales del envejecimiento, Dykinson, 2018. In his book, Representaciones Artísticas y Sociales del Envejecimiento, he represents the process of ageing in art, culture and society.

 

What is your book about?

It is about ageing.

Where did you get your idea(s) for this book?

In cooperation with other colleagues, we were trying to define new roles for old folks different from grandparenthood.

What does research look like for you? What element of research  could you not live without?

My research makes it easier to understand what is going on around us.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

An archive where access to old publications, records, visual materials would be easier.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Keep on going, do not let criticism take you away from your research and writing.

And finally, what do you read for fun? 

Tokarczuk, Olga. "Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead" Stojka, Ceija. "Une artiste rom dans le siecle" McEwan, Ian. "Machines like me".

Jennifer Miller

In this week's edition, we speak with Jennifer Miller, Assistant Professor in the Department of History.  In her most recent book, Cold war Democracy: The United States and Japan, Miller examines the evolution of ideas about democracy during the Cold War by charting the development of the alliance between the United States and Japan from the postwar occupation into the 1960s.

What is your book about?

My book examines the U.S.-Japanese relationship after World War II to consider how a concept that we associate with freedom and liberation—democracy—can simultaneously facilitate liberatory and anti-liberatory outcomes.

Where did you get your idea(s) for this book?

This book was produced over a very long period of time—it started as my masters thesis at the University of Wisconsin, where I earned a MA and PhD in the history of U.S. Foreign Relations. It’s therefore gone through many iterations. The original idea to write about postwar U.S.-Japanese relations came from reading John Dower’s Embracing Defeat about the U.S. occupation of Japan; I wanted to know what happened next and was dissatisfied with the existing literature. But as I did more research and reading, my question changed—I became interested in mid-century understandings of democracy, especially the widespread belief that democracy was a psychological system dependent on a specific “state of mind.” In doing my research in the United States, Japan, and Great Britain, I noticed how often policymakers—both American and Japanese—defined democracy in such terms and I became curious about the consequences; what policy outcomes did this enable and what did it prevent?

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

The core of my research involves reading large amounts of historical documents. For my book, I read thousands upon thousands of pages of government and non-government documents at various archives and pieced them together to formulate a larger historical narrative and argument. While historians used to take notes or make copies at the archives, now our research is more digital; we take photographs of the documents and time at the archives is often a mad dash to gather as much material as possible. I then convert the photographs to PDF’s, read them and take notes—this is the most generative portion of my research process and it’s where I get my main ideas and develop my arguments. I have a very set system for how I do my writing. I read through my notes and compose a massive outline (often over 100 pages) for each book chapter that includes every piece of evidence or quote that I plan to use. For my first draft, I write up the outline—I find a blank page very intimidating and knowing that I have the outline to work from is extremely helpful for me—and then I edit, edit, edit, and edit more. So I suppose a camera is perhaps the most useful tool, though my archival trips are also fueled by a prodigious amount of coffee and I rely heavily on my cats’ company while writing.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

I hope the library of the future doesn’t look that different from the library of the present! To me, an ideal library has lots of books, open and accessible stacks, excellent and helpful librarians, exciting educational and scholarly programming, and access to coffee. While digital resources can offer unprecedented access to new scholarship and historical materials and are thus important investments for all libraries, I always check out the physical book when I can. So books…lots of books!

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Develop your own system and stick to it. There is all sorts of advice out there about how to write and how to produce. What’s important, I think, is to identify your big writing obstacles and then find ways to make them surmountable. Read widely, and read outside your area of expertise, because sometimes that is where the best ideas come from. Remember that your reader is not inside your head, so your goal as a writer is the make your assumptions clear on the page. The hardest part of writing, for me, is remembering what is not obvious to my reader when I’ve been working on a topic for years.

And finally, what do you read for fun? 

In the past few years, I’ve recommitted myself to reading fiction in the service of my own mental health and creativity, and I try to get in some non-work reading every day. There are so many good books coming out – a few I’ve enjoyed recently are Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, which is a marvelous and compelling multigenerational story; Lydia Kiesling’s The Golden State, which is so wonderful on the dynamics of academia and the mundane joys and difficulties of parenting; Kate Atkinson’s Transcription, which took an unexpected and surprising turn at the end; and Weike Wang’s Chemistry: A Novel, which has an amazing sense of pattern and voice. I also love mysteries and detective stories, so I have read all of Tana French’s work. My favorite book, however, is probably Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and I reread it almost every year. I don’t have a systematic way that I pick what I read; because I often take my children to Hanover’s Howe Library, I always make a point of perusing their excellent new books section and grab whatever looks interesting. Next on my list is finishing Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries.

Derrick E. White, Visiting Associate Professor of History

In this week's edition, we speak with Derrick E. White, a visiting associate professor of African and African American Studies and History at Dartmouth College. White’s research focuses on modern black history and sports history. In his most recent book, Blood, Sweat, & Tears : Jake Gaither, Florida A&M, and the History of Black College Football he explores the legacy of black college football, taking as its central figure one of the most successful coaches in its history, Jake Gaither.

 

What is your book about?

History & African and African American Studies

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

My book is about the development and greatness of football programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

My research consists primarily archival research and the examination of historical newspapers. I could not live without the digitization of black newspapers.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

The core of my research involves reading large amounts of historical documents. For my book, I read thousands upon thousands of pages of government and non-government documents at various archives and pieced them together to formulate a larger historical narrative and argument. While historians used to take notes or make copies at the archives, now our research is more digital; we take photographs of the documents and time at the archives is often a mad dash to gather as much material as possible. I then convert the photographs to PDF’s, read them and take notes—this is the most generative portion of my research process and it’s where I get my main ideas and develop my arguments. I have a very set system for how I do my writing. I read through my notes and compose a massive outline (often over 100 pages) for each book chapter that includes every piece of evidence or quote that I plan to use. For my first draft, I write up the outline—I find a blank page very intimidating and knowing that I have the outline to work from is extremely helpful for me—and then I edit, edit, edit, and edit more. So I suppose a camera is perhaps the most useful tool, though my archival trips are also fueled by a prodigious amount of coffee and I rely heavily on my cats’ company while writing.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Every writer must have a soundtrack.

And finally, what do you read for fun? 

I read mysteries for fun. Books by Harlan Coben, David Baldacci, and Barry Eisler provide a respite from my research areas in African American and sports history. These authors are masters at setting scenes, character development, and pace.