In the coming semester, graduate students in the English Department will aim to bring the most unique and innovative researchers in the discipline to Yale.
Each of the 63 graduate English students aligns him or herself with one of the department’s six colloquia, which cover the sub-fields of Medieval, Early Modern, 18th and 19th Century, 20th and 21st Century, Theory and Media Studies, and Americanist Study. For each colloquium, an academic chosen by Yale graduate students and professors in that field comes to Yale to share unpublished research in a small, group setting with students and faculty.
In addition to these principal groups, the English Department is also affiliated with five interdisciplinary colloquia across the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Students and professors interviewed said that the colloquia are essential to fostering academic discourse in part because of the isolating nature of professional academic work in the humanities.
“In the sciences, in a lab, you’re working with other people on a daily basis,” said Dean of Strategic Initiatives for Yale College, the Graduate School and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Pamela Schirmeister. “Bouncing ideas off other people, hearing what other people have to say — particularly if it’s not entirely in line with your own thoughts — produces much, much more creative work.”
Angus Ledingham GRD ’18, the co-organizer for the 18th and 19th Century Colloquium, said that the visiting academics featured in colloquia often present novel material, adding that they grant attendees direct access to research that is currently trending in the discipline at large.
Ian Cornelius, an English professor and a faculty organizer for the Medieval Colloquium, said colloquia allow academics to talk about the direction of literary criticism in their fields and also help to prepare graduate students for professional life by giving them more familiarity with the “semiformal modes of give and take at conferences.”
Although many of Yale’s graduate departments host colloquia, the English Department is unique in the frequency of its events, which take place roughly once per week. Several professors and students interviewed attributed the number of events to the relatively large size of the English graduate department.
Palmer Rampell GRD ’17, a co-organizer for the Americanist Colloquium, added that the English Department’s propensity towards hosting multiple colloquia might also be due in part to shifts in the field over recent years. He explained that the field was more “monolithic” in the past, adding that the types of methodologies scholars employ in studying literature are more diverse than they have ever been.
Ledingham, Cornelius and Rampell all pointed to the Race, Gender and Sexuality Studies Colloquium, currently in its first year and co-founded by Anusha Alles GRD ’18 and Julia Chan GRD ’18, as a marker of another trend in the changing landscape of literary study. Cornelius said that this colloquium came together because a group of graduate students felt that specific issues of race, gender and sexuality needed to be explored in a way that transcended the “geographic and chronological boundaries within the existing structure.”
Students and faculty interviewed said that the colloquia often collaborate to co-sponsor events, which allows those who present work at these seminars to receive feedback from experts in their specific area of research as well as from scholars in other fields. For example, Cornelius hosted an event on Jan. 15 entitled “Gower’s Ethics: Interior, Exterior, Outside” through the Theory and Media Studies Colloquium. He noted that discussing his specific, medieval-era topic with non-medievalists ultimately influenced the final edits he has made to his forthcoming paper on the subject.
Schirmeister highlighted that these events are essential to fostering an intellectual community of graduate students, which she says undergraduates at Yale have more access to through classes and programs such as master’s teas.
“I’m not sure that students at the outset necessarily understand how important it is to go to these things, and you also need faculty support,” she said.
The next event co-sponsored by an English Department colloquium will take place next Wednesday and will feature the medievalist David McCann from the University of Oxford, St. Anne’s.