Featured Projects

“Affected by the Things We Study”: Professor Marie Orton on Merging Scholarship and Service

Posted by on Feb 3, 2020 in Featured Projects, Homepage Features, Humanities Center Blog | 0 comments

“Affected by the Things We Study”: Professor Marie Orton on Merging Scholarship and Service

If you ask Professor Marie Orton for her philosophy on life, she will answer, “In my family, we say for most any experience: it’s either a good time or a good story.” She exudes a contagious fervor for her work, for mentoring, and for life in all of its complexities. And she captures this fervor in her scholarship, which focuses on the literary productions by migrants to Italy and the larger cultural implications of migratory movements. Dr. Orton herself is a labor migrant of sorts, a relative newcomer to BYU. She arrived in 2016 from Truman State, a small liberal arts college in Missouri, where she taught with her spouse, Brent, whose doctorate is in the History of Culture. “We were living the dream,” she recalls, “We had planted fruit trees!” But she and her family uprooted that life and headed west. When she interviewed at BYU, Dr. Orton felt drawn to the university in a way that she had never felt before—impressed by its well-supported language programs and committed faculty. And, while she appreciates the spiritual atmosphere, she admits, “Gospel values are ethical values; anywhere you are, everything you do, you live your values and teach your values.”  Her research interests were certainly inspired by these ethical values. During her graduate program at the University of Chicago, she served with the youth in the Hyde Park ward, many of whom were growing up amid the violence and poverty of the inner-city. She became concerned with the way these teens talked about their future—in terms of “if I grow up,” not “when I grow up”—and so she became involved with a charitable trust founded by several members in the ward in order to help the youth. The program, now called the Inner City Youth Charitable Foundation, still exists today. This experience brought Dr. Orton to the question that initially informed her research: “It was evident that violence alters an individual’s whole concept of identity. A life marked by violence doesn’t just give one a different life; it gives one a different identity.” Her dissertation examined autobiographies of those who experienced trauma and explored instantiations of violence, how people’s identity is tethered with their experiences of violence. Dr. Orton interviewed Italian Auschwitz survivors, African migrants to Italy, and former members of the Red Brigades. “My students would ask me, ‘How can you study those things and not be depressed all the time?’ And I thought—there would be something wrong with me if I weren’t. We should be affected by the things that we study.” Two of her current research projects are translating a history of Jewish women in Italy and co-editing a volume entitled Fictional and Critical Stories of Transmigration through Italy. This will be the first critical study of migration literature in Italy that includes original creative works by migrant authors alongside the scholarly articles that discuss them, mitigating the typical power differential displayed when critics talk from a position of privilege and distance about the work of minorities. “It’s a collaborative work—it shows that we’re all talking about these issues together,” Dr. Orton explains. There is certainly a kind of holism evident in her work. As she continues to research and bring attention to the cultural productions of minorities and migrants, she also practices an ethical pragmatism in the mentoring and service she performs in her capacity as a professor. One her favorite courses to teach is Italian 446, “Multicultural Italy,” and she is currently teaching a course entitled, “Women and Global Migration” (GWS 390R), with Professor Kif Augustine-Adams of BYU’s law school. She also supervises and trains...

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Beauty in Difference: Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Kelling on Loving the Work

Posted by on Nov 3, 2019 in Featured Projects, Homepage Features, Humanities Center Blog | 0 comments

Beauty in Difference: Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Kelling on Loving the Work

When I walk into Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Kelling’s office, he’s diligently working at his computer. “Have a seat,” he says kindly, “and help yourself to any of these treats.” On his desk is a pear, a bowl of M&Ms, and a bag of grapes. He jokes that he always keeps snacks at his desk so students will like him, though it became obvious over the course of our conversation that Dr. Kelling needs no help from the candy spread—his warm demeanor, genuine interest in others, and infectious energy for research are more than enough to make students feel at home. He has worked in academia for nearly 60 years, past average retirement age—and yet, while many senior academics find it difficult to keep up the same vigor and enthusiasm for research and publishing in their later years, Dr. Kelling maintains an insatiable drive to continue his work. “I love young people, I love my students, I love my colleagues. People are important to me, and that’s why I’m in this profession. I see the progress that students make, and it’s very satisfying to me.” For those who are just starting out in academic research fields, he advises, “The most important thing is choosing something that you love—something you’re really involved with—and then check in on yourself and make sure it still makes you happy.” Dr. Kelling, who started out studying chemical sciences, but has since pursued research projects in German linguistics, culture, and literature, has done exactly that. Right now, he’s working his way through over three thousand transcripts and documents of embassies in the latter nineteenth century, specifically Russian, French, German, English, and American embassies and the ways in which they communicated with each other to form alliances and keep other countries out of the impending French and Prussian war. Dr. Kelling also shows me a massive tome entitled The History of the Arab Peoples on his desk, which he explains he is reading on the side, “not because it has anything to do with my research—just because it’s interesting!” It’s clear that his hunger for information knows no boundaries or borders. He also has a particular interest in the way meaning is deepened by studies in translation. “You learn your own language when you study a foreign language; you discover the equivalences and differences,” he explained. Whether that be different perspectives, different languages, or different religions, he finds that his understanding of a given concept is always enhanced when difference—and dissonance—comes into play. “Young people have a distinct perspective on things—they bring vigor and enthusiasm for the research. But the same is true of Americans and women. Each brings a new point of view and deepens the research: it’s a symbiosis.” For this reason, Dr. Kelling continues to use students as research assistants and mentor undergraduates in their own research projects. This belief is perhaps a product of Dr. Kelling’s upbringing in Germany at the end of World War II. “I come from a culture that was very intolerant, so I had to unlearn what I was taught. That’s an important insight into scholarship, I think: you have to be courageous enough to admit that you’re wrong.” He says that after the war, it was as though he woke up—and now he revels in this ability to admit mistakes and move in a new direction. Dr. Kelling finds that his scholarship strengthens his faith as well: “I see the Lord’s gift to these people. I hear God in Beethoven’s symphony, which affirms my belief in God. I see this in literature as well. I don’t have the gift...

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Eternal Poe, Global Poe

Posted by on Sep 29, 2019 in Featured Projects, Homepage Features, Humanities Center Blog | 0 comments

Eternal Poe, Global Poe

As academic publishing becomes increasingly complex, many believe that single-author journals are on the decline. As newly appointed editor of Poe Studies: History, Theory, Interpretation, though, Professor Emron Esplin isn’t worried because “not every author is Poe; he is just that influential on world writing.” As a poet, fiction writer, critic, and inventor of the detective genre, Poe needs no defense or justification. In my interview with Dr. Esplin this week, he mentioned that Poe is highly relevant  for the current moment because “he’s a writer of horror and terror, and we live in a time of terror. Post-9/11, we live in a state of constant paranoia.” And it’s hard to disagree: entertainment today is full of detective stories (Sherlock, Law & Order, CIA), horror (it seems that a new scary movie lands in theaters every week), and explorations of criminal “madness” (Criminal Minds, Mindhunter). The footprint left by Poe’s work is undeniable, and that’s without even acknowledging the international effects wrought by this touchstone author. Dr. Esplin had Poe’s worldwide reputations in mind when he was deciding whether to accept the editorial position: “I thought, if I do this it’s because there are certain things that I want to see happening in Poe Studies. One of those things that is already happening, and that I would like to see more, is an analysis of Poe as a globally influential writer.” In his own work in translation studies, Dr. Esplin found that although Poe was and is a major figure in a multiplicity of literary traditions, most Poe scholars don’t have access to a majority of “foreign” Poe scholarship because it has only been published in the source languages of these scholars. To help more scholars read Poe in a global context, Dr. Esplin is introducing a new recurring feature to the journal called “Newly Translated Poe Scholarship,” which will contain one or more influential articles about Poe that have not previously been translated into English. The first articles featured will come from Dr. Esplin’s research, which has explored Jorge Luis Borges’s writings about Poe, but future translations will include articles from France, Romania, Japan, Spain, and any other literary traditions from which he receives submissions. As editor, Dr. Esplin has adopted a method that’s different from most academic journals. Rather than sending out a simple rejection when an article is not of a high enough quality to go out to readers, he provides specific editorial feedback to the author. “We use a mentoring model; it’s not required, but it’s something that the previous editor did that I like because it serves as actual peer review and feedback, even if the piece isn’t really ready to be sent out to readers.” Dr. Esplin’s mentoring methods don’t end with journal submissions, though. To help him take on the work of managing the journal, he hired master’s student Chelsea Lee to work as the journal’s editorial associate. Lee enthusiastically expressed, “Working for the journal has allowed me to be exposed to the intricacies of a side of academia that is not easily simulated in a typical classroom environment. It almost feels like I get front row access to some of the newest and most interesting ideas and theoretical approaches before they are even published.” Some of Lee’s duties include close citation checks, copy editing, and selecting book reviews and scholars to write those reviews. In this position, not only is Lee adding an impressive line to her CV, she is participating in exactly the type of work she plans to do in the future as a prospective academic. As Dr. Esplin emphasized, “This...

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“Beauty is Almost Too Common”: Professor David Laraway and Outsider Art

Posted by on Mar 25, 2019 in Featured Projects, Homepage Features, Humanities Center Blog | 0 comments

“Beauty is Almost Too Common”: Professor David Laraway and Outsider Art

During the summer of 2012, shortly after Professor David Laraway had begun his doctoral coursework in Philosophy at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, he came across popular press reports featuring a botched attempt to restore a religious fresco in Spain. A well-meaning parishioner, Cecilia Giménez, had attempted to restore the painting in a village church. It had not gone well. The new painting—according to Dr. Laraway’s newest book, American Idiots: Outsider Music, Outsider Art, and the Philosophy of Incompetence—“was noteworthy precisely because of its stunning incompetence” (1). Rather than dwelling in ironic relish over the fresco’s failure, however, Dr. Laraway began to consider the philosophical implications of the fresco’s fame. What does our reaction to incompetence—especially “stunning incompetence”—suggest about our collective relation to defective or “failed” creative works? Why are we drawn to art that falls so completely short of its aspirations? In short, what happens when art goes wrong? In my interview with Dr. Laraway this past week, he was quick to clarify that the art he addresses in American Idiots “is not just poorly executed [art], but in some works, there is something going on that is of philosophical importance.” The difference between incompetent art and interestingly incompetent art, then, is that in the latter, “artists and musicians are totally faithful to their own muse even if they’re the only one that can hear the voice of that muse.” A focus on these artists and musicians can therefore help to answer a deeply philosophical problem: what can bad art teach us, in terms of ethics as well as aesthetics, about the gap we experience between a call that appears to us as infinite in its demands as the paucity of the resources that we can offer in response to that call? The book’s first chapter attempts to provide a philosophical basis for the study of incompetence in the realms of music and art. Dr. Laraway notes that philosophers have increasingly begun to devote attention to the structure of not just propositional knowledge but to embodied, practical forms of knowledge as well: that is, not just “knowing that” but also “knowing how.” Contributing to this discussion, his book explores the significance of those occasions when an artist or musician inadvertently displays a stunning lack of “know-how.” While some philosophers have recently focused on describing our most primordial relationship to the world as one of “skillful coping,” Dr. Laraway is interested in the converse: the artist or musician whose works provide evidence of a total inability to cope skillfully with what the world appears to demand of them. And he claims that that inability actually demonstrates a deep philosophical puzzle, one that becomes visible in the context of bad art. The artists that Dr. Laraway chooses to engage in his book are consequently multi-layered, from the hermit-type epic-writer Henry Darger, to indie rock darling Daniel Johnston, to the Louisiana-born artist/prophet Royal Robertson, to the New Hampshirite sixties band “The Shaggs” (if you haven’t before, you need to listen to the Shaggs). Each of these artists exemplifies the disparity between what they seem to experience as an infinite call to create and the insufficiencies of their art to respond to that call appropriately. Consideration of these artists is especially important because, according to Dr. Laraway, “artists who are more competent than they are often able to conceal, through their skillfulness and talent, the infinite demand of the call to which their work is a response. But the artists I study leave us nowhere to hide.” American Idiots, then, directs our attention to the infinite demand which somehow shines through the material product,...

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The Art of Archive: Interns at the IEB

Posted by on Feb 25, 2019 in Featured Projects, Homepage Features, Humanities Center Blog | 0 comments

The Art of Archive: Interns at the IEB

This week we are delighted to feature the experience of a number of students who have fulfilled internships at the Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros (IEB), a research institute connected to the Universidade de São Paulo. BYU has a significant relationship to the IEB thanks to the coordinating efforts of Professor James Krause and others. Students who have helped out at the IEB through this partnership have stories to tell not only of their own edification, but also the enlightenment of scholars past and future as well as the Brazilian public. Two weeks ago on February 13th, 2019, Elisabete Ribas visited our beautiful (and cold) campus. Over the past five years, Elisabete—a dedicated and essential figure at the IEB—has helped to facilitate dozens of student internships from BYU. Interns have described her as going “above and beyond” in everything that she does, and as “one of the most selfless people” that they have ever met. Together, students, professors, and Elisabete met together to reminisce about their experiences of the IEB and how to sustain their work going forward. Perhaps one of the most impressive elements of the IEB internship is that Elisabete makes sure that each student is given a project that aligns with his or her own personal interests. For example, while she was an intern at the IEB, Dalila Sanabria (one of our Humanities Center undergraduate fellows this year and a Visual Arts double major) was assigned to organize an archive of documents and objects surrounding Waldisa Rússio—a prominent museologist who facilitated museum programs throughout Brazil. Along the way, Dalila gathered first hand exposure to documentation, archive methodologies, and preservation techniques for future study. She referred to this experience as an “intimate way to get to know these people and see what they cared about.” Courtney Walker, a Public Health major, similarly helped to organize the archive of Maria Lúcia Mott, a feminist activist and health reformist idol who wrote about the representation of women (as well as the lack thereof) in literature. In addition to being hand-picked for each student, these projects are also significant in their novelty. In fact, Mott passed away so recently that as part of the archive process, Courtney was able to talk to people whom Mott knew—professors who collaborated with her about literature. Courtney related that through “getting to know this person through the various versions of her work, I got to see how she evolved and developed; you can kind of piece together her work with how she interacted with others and how that changed her work, how she developed as a person.” Christina Newell’s experience was a bit different than Dalila’s or Courtney’s, in that she was given the opportunity to focus on a literary genre instead of a specific person. Literatura de Cordel refers to a kind of folk literature passed down as spoken as well as written texts in a semi-poetic format, typically sold as booklets closepinned to strings in markets (where it receives its name). She was able to gather information about cordel literatures and disseminate that information through digital and other means. Now working on a Master’s Degree in Portuguese, Christina has even used her work at the IEB in an academic setting to compare variations of a well-known story in different cordel texts. BYU’s partnership with the IEB has allowed these students to meaningfully connect with their respective projects both inside and outside the Institute, and both personally and professionally. During her stay, Dalila accompanied student interns from the University of São Paulo to a conference of curators and museologists. She detailed how much “seeing so many...

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It’s a Long Story: Victorian Short Fiction Project

Posted by on Nov 6, 2017 in Featured Projects, Homepage Features, Humanities Center Blog | 0 comments

It’s a Long Story: Victorian Short Fiction Project

This blog post features the work of Leslee Thorne-Murphy, Department of English This week, the Humanities Center is pleased to feature the work of Leslee Thorne-Murphy. Over the last decade, Dr. Thorne-Murphy’s work on Victorian short fiction has become an invaluable resource to scholars interested in Victorian literature and those interested more broadly in short fiction. The project is called the “Victorian Short Fiction Project,” and it has attracted the attention of scholars worldwide and has recently been accredited by NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship)–a major step for any nineteenth-century online project. This project began as a way to get students involved in academic research and give them exposure to campus library resources. The project began in 2004 as Dr. Thorne-Murphy asked her Victorian literature students to take advantage of the impressive collection of Victorian-era periodicals housed in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library and comb through them to find interesting pieces of short fiction to share with class members and to analyze in a research paper. Students would transcribe their findings and do a write-up that they would share with the class. Dr. Thorne-Murphy quickly realized that this project had a lot of potential, and rather than risking redundancy in the students’ projects, she began to have the students compile their findings in what became a website known as the Viki Wiki. This way, students’ work of the previous semesters would be available to students in the future and the collection would grow rather than recycle. One of the most interesting patterns, Dr. Thorne-Murphy says, is that on top of finding pieces by household names like Mary Shelley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling and Charles Dickens, her students have uncovered a vast archive of anonymous pieces of short fiction. According to Dr. Thorne-Murphy, unaccredited pieces of short fiction have not yet been given adequate scholarly attention in Victorian scholarship. The work on the Viki Wiki is helping to bring this important archive of short fiction to light. Students have responded well to the project over the years. One student said: “Overall, this project was one of [the most], if not the most[,] influential educational activities I’ve taken part in as a student here at BYU. I was able to research lesser known material which contributed to the sense of accomplishment I felt. I had the sense that I was actually contributing to the discourse within literary studies and not simply churning out another banal paper or project and at the same time I also feel that the knowledge I gained from the project is valuable because it is not a topic that the whole of literary studies is familiar with, and I can therefore feel a sense of ownership for what I’ve done and feel pleased with the effort I put into it.” Collaboration around campus has been crucial as the project has picked up steam. Working closely with Maggie Kopp in Special Collections, Mike Johnson from the Center for Teaching and Learning, and Jeremy Browne in Digital Humanities, this project has taken on multiple lives–going from the HBLL’s periodicals to the classroom to the web. Students also continue to be an important part of the project. From the beginning, this was a classroom project, and there is still a lot of student-led energy behind the growing archive as Dr. Thorne-Murphy’s students have been able to be on the front lines of distinguished Victorian scholarship. Dr. Thorne-Murphy has a large vision for the project as it continues to mature. She says, “We envision compiling critical editions of those texts that were re-published, so that we can show authorial and editorial emendations.” The project, which began as a...

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