GSAS Awarded NEH Grant to Transform Doctoral Programs

This story was published in Fordham News on August 10, 2016 and was written by Joanne Mercuri.

This story was published in Fordham News on August 10, 2016 and was written by Joanne Mercuri.

A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is placing the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences(GSAS) at the vanguard of a nationwide conversation about transforming doctoral programs in the humanities.

Fordham is one of 28 colleges and universities to win a New Generation PhD matching grant, which aims to overhaul doctoral programs in the humanities to better prepare students for 21st-century job prospects within and outside of academia.

Eva Badowska, Fordham English faculty member and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Eva Badowska, Fordham English faculty member and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

“The future of doctoral training in the humanities depends on innovative models that will deliver the competencies and skills that doctorate holders need to succeed in a variety of career pathways, in addition to traditional faculty lines,” said Eva Badowska, PhD, dean of GSAS and grant director, alongside co-director, Matthew McGowan, PhD, associate professor of classics.

“As a graduate school within a Jesuit university recognized for its strengths in the humanities, GSAS is uniquely situated to ask what it means truly to prepare our doctoral candidates for the fast-changing world of higher education and for the new knowledge economy,” Badowska said.

Historically, doctoral programs have prepared graduates solely for work in academia. However, with a 30 percent decline in academic job postings in the humanities since 2008, this singular focus is no longer realistic for students graduating from these programs.

Fordham English Professor Leonard Cassuto

Fordham English Professor Leonard Cassuto

“Thousands of professors are currently in the business of preparing thousands of graduate students for jobs that don’t exist,” Leonard Cassuto, PhD, professor of English and a collaborator on the project, said in his recent book, The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It (Harvard University Press, 2013).

The $25,000 planning grant, to be matched by an additional $25,000 from GSAS, will not only propose rethinking Fordham’s five doctoral programs in the humanities (classics, English, history, philosophy, and theology), but will also examine what a 21st-century PhD program at any institution should encompass. For instance, what advanced transferrable skills should be taught at the PhD level? Should skills such as collaborative teamwork and advanced digital proficiency be treated on a par with traditional emphases, such as mastery of field-specific knowledge and independent research skills?

In addition to Badowska and McGowan, the project includes a Core Planning Group and Constituent Advisory Group comprising GSAS faculty, current doctoral candidates, alumni, and community leaders who would benefit from hiring graduates with doctoral-level expertise.

At the end of the academic year, the group will produce a white paper detailing the proposed model.

“We want to rethink how we deliver the PhD at our University, but also make it scalable to other institutions and humanities programs,” said Melissa Labonte, PhD, associate dean of GSAS and associate professor of political science. “To do right by the students in these programs, we need to rethink the entire model. This planning grant will allow us to begin this process.”

A key part of the grant will address making doctoral programs in the humanities more inclusive of underrepresented, underserved, and marginalized communities, Labonte said. Within these groups, the percentage of students who enroll in a doctoral-level program has dropped precipitously in recent decades.

“We’re trying to find ways to counter this trend,” Labonte said. “This part of the grant falls very much in line with Fordham’s mission. If we’re going to embrace progressivism and social justice models, then we have to think about how PhD programs in the humanities will address the needs of people from underserved communities.”

The NEH announced the Next Generation PhD grants winners on Aug. 9 as part of $79 million in grants for 290 humanities projects and programs across the country, an initiative the group undertook to mark its 50th anniversary year.


Ph.D. Student Jamie Bolker on "Navigation in the Age of Robinson Crusoe"

"Since electronically assisted navigation over land and sea (and space) has become the norm," writes Fordham English Ph.D. candidate Jamie Bolker, "it is easy to forget how difficult traveling from point A to B was in centuries past." In fact, Bolker continues, "getting lost at sea was such a tremendous problem for the British Empire in the eighteenth century that navigational struggles inspired government intervention and new forms of literature." 

Bolker received a research fellowship at the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum for work on her dissertation. While examining the library’s copy of a large English sea atlas she found that the book’s eighteenth-century owner, a sea-captain himself, had scrawled the words "Robinson Cruso" in the back pages, and then a few pages later had signed his own name followed by “Hon. Robinson Late of Salem.” This is only one example Bolker has found in support of her hypotheses that “literary and navigational practices” were complexly “intertwined…in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world,” and that “eighteenth-century British American sailors engaged with contemporary literature” in rich and interesting ways. Her blog post on the topic, originally published on the library's website, highlights Bolker’s discoveries during her fellowship. 


At Fordham, Bolker is working on her dissertation: “Lost and Found: Wayfinding in Early American Literature.” The dissertation, building on the insights of her article, considers how getting physically lost shaped notions of individual identity from 1704-1854, a period in which selfhood was shifting from Puritan notions of wilderness as inimical toward Transcendentalist ideals of finding oneself in nature.  Each chapter centers on figures whose identities were made or unmade throughout their journeys, such as lone female travelers, shipwrecked adventurers, frontiersmen, fugitive slaves, and land surveyors. Bolker has received research fellowships from Fordham University, the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture, Phillips Library, and the Winterthur Museum and Library. In spring 2017 she will complete a residential Dissertation Fellowship at the Winterthur in Delaware. 


On Bloomsday, Some Thoughts from Keri Walsh on Translating Ulysses

James Joyce's Ulysses is set on one day: June 16, 1904. In honor of its main character, Leopold Bloom, the date is celebrated around the world as Bloomsday. Fordham English Professor Keri Walsh--editor of the Broadview Press edition of Joyce's Dubliners as well as of The Letters of Sylvia Beach--today published a piece on the Literary Hub site titled "The Horrors and Pleasures of Translating Ulysses: Finding the Polylingual Pleasures of Joyce's Prose in French Translation."  Professor Walsh's piece begins:

Bloomsday—June 16th, 1904—is the day on which James Joyce’s Ulysses is set. Among the usual annual commemorations of the date in Dublin, New York, Trieste, Sydney, and beyond, Bloomsday will also be celebrated in Paris, the city where the book first appeared. The American Library in Paris, an institution that was founded two years before Ulysses was published in 1922, will play host to the 2016 festivities.
French speakers have been able to read modernism’s magnum opus in their native tongue since its first translation in 1929. The French Ulysses, called Ulysse, was produced by a team… [read more]

Fordham UP Publishes Traditions of Eloquence

Fordham University Press has recently published Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies, a collection that discusses the past, present, and future of Jesuit rhetorical traditions. Edited by Fairfield University’s Cinthia Gannett and UMass Boston’s John Brereton, the work features a chapter entitled "The New Eloquentia Perfecta Curriculum at Fordham" by Fordham's Professor Anne Fernald and recent PhD graduate Kate Nash.

Anne Fernald and Kate Nash

Anne Fernald and Kate Nash

“This groundbreaking collection explores the important ways Jesuits have employed rhetoric, the ancient art of persuasion and the current art of communications, from the sixteenth century to the present. Much of the history of how Jesuit traditions contributed to the development of rhetorical theory and pedagogy has been lost, effaced, or dispersed. As a result, those interested in Jesuit education and higher education in the United States, as well as scholars and teachers of rhetoric, are often unaware of this living 450-year-old tradition. Written by highly regarded scholars of rhetoric, composition, education, philosophy, and history, many based at Jesuit colleges and universities, the essays in this volume explore the tradition of Jesuit rhetorical education—that is, constructing ‘a more usable past’ and a viable future for eloquentia perfecta, the Jesuits’ chief aim for the liberal arts. Intended to foster eloquence across the curriculum and into the world beyond, Jesuit rhetoric integrates intellectual rigor, broad knowledge, civic action, and spiritual discernment as the chief goals of the educational experience.”

Traditions of Eloquence can be purchased on Fordham UP’s website, on Oxford UP's website, or on Amazon.

Undergrads Dance Like Jane Austen

Fordham undergraduate students are learning to dance “like Jane Austen.”

For the past four years, Dr. Vlasta Vranjes has taken students from her Texts & Contexts: Afterlife of Austen classes and from her Nineteenth-Century Novel of Manners class for lessons in English country dancing. The lessons familiarize students with the dances that appear in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century novels.

“Scenes that involve dancing are an important structural feature in Austen,” said Vranjes. “They also provide insight into characters and social relations.”

The English country dance is a social dance intended for several couples. The couples perform this type of dance in one of three formations: circularly, longways (double-file line with men on one side and women on the other), or “geometrically” (square or triangular configurations). Members of these dances execute a series of varied patterns of figures, which are sometimes quite complex.

Vranjes’s group learns its steps with Country Dance*New York, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization in the Village that hosts contra dancing and English country dancing events. This year the students learned basic steps in a beginners’ workshop led by Susan and Tom Amessé, the former of whom is a Fordham alumna.

Performing the dances helps the students understand the complex social dynamics in Austen’s world. According to Vranjes, students come to learn why, for instance, dancing masters used to be in demand, and why the character Emma Woodhouse grows upset that she must “stand second” to Mrs. Elton, her rival of sorts. Students are also surprised, Vranjes remarked, to discover that men and women usually dance the same steps.

“One also gets a sense of how easy or how difficult it was to carry on a conversation during a dance and what a large amount of eye contact but a small amount of physical contact meant for courtship,” said Vranjes.

And most of all, it is a fun way for students to bring to life the dances they have only read about or seen in movie adaptations.

“Every trip has been a wonderful experience,” said Vranjes.

Rankine Featured at Reid Writers of Color Reading Series

On Friday, April 15 the Fordham English department hosted the 2016 Reid Family Writers of Color Reading Series. The 2016 Reid Writer was award-winning author of Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine.

The series featured a number of events at Fordham Law School including an invitation-only workshop with the author, a writing workshop for local high school students taught by Fordham creative writing concentrators, and readings by Rankine and the 2016 Reid Prize winner, Kat Sommers.

The day began with the Racial Imaginary workshop. Rankine asked participating undergrads, graduate students, and professors to freewrite about a micro-aggression that they had either experienced themselves or witnessed first-hand. The participants shared their experiences and Rankine guided the conversation, encouraging others to respond and think deeply about the implications of everyday micro-aggressions.

At the same time, two creative writing concentrators led a workshop for local high school students. With Citizen as inspiration, the high schoolers wrote about their own experiences with race.

The two groups had the opportunity to mingle and continue discussion with a reception following the workshops.

When it came time for the day's main event, the Bateman Room was filled to capacity with students, professors, and fans who came to hear Rankine's reading. 

In between reading and discussing passages from Citizen, Rankine elaborated on the artwork in the book, her own everyday experiences with racism, and the conditions that perpetuate racism in the United States. She concluded her presentation with a short film about the mistreatment of people of color during interactions with police officers.

When the event was over, Rankine generously answered questions from the audience and signed attendees' copies of Citizen.

The Reid Family Writers of Color Reading Series is made possible through the generosity of Kenneth and Frances K. Reid and the sponsorship of the Graduate Student Association, and the English department and Creative Writing Program. 


CURA Launches Issue No. 17 with Harlem Speakeasy

CURA: A Literary Magazine of Art & Action celebrated the launch of Issue No. 17 "Breaking Stone" with a Harlem Renaissance themed speakeasy last Thursday. The Spring 2016 issue features poetry by Pulitzer Prize winner, Tracy K. Smith, an experimental short film by Ruth Ellen Kocher and more. 

The event featured poetry readings by Quincy Scott Jones, Laura Swearingen-Steadwell, and the winner of the 2016 Reid Prize Kat Sommers. Guests enjoyed a chocolate fountain and artisanal chocolate tasting and toasted to "Breaking Stone" with an open wine bar. Fordham students Marla Louissaint and the Fordham Jazz Collective set the speakeasy mood with their musical performances.

To learn more about CURA and the 2015 - 2016 issues dedicated to Black Lives Matter, visit