SEA Scholar of the Month for January 2018: Kristina Bross
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
I was in grad school at the University of Chicago, and Janice Knight came to town. Her seminars opened my eyes to the possibilities of early American literature—its amazing combination of relevance and strangeness. I never looked back.
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
Mary Rowlandson’s Sovereignty and Goodness of God is read and taught so widely in our field that it’s almost like wallpaper now, just part of the background. But it was the first work of colonial American literature that caught my attention—both because of her intense experiences and because of the way that she used Wampanoag words without glossing them, suggesting a familiarity that startled me at the time. And I so clearly remember first reading Zabelle Derounian’s scholarship on Rowlandson—smart, clear, interesting. Rowlandson’s is a text I have returned to again and again, especially since Rowlandson scholarship began to examine critically her representation of Weetamoo and others. By turns inspiring and infuriating, her narrative works well in many of my classes. I’ll be teaching it again this spring in my introduction to English studies class, paired with Star Wars as a way to think about captivity, travel, exploration, heroism, and otherness in longue durée American literary history.
What are you currently working on?
I just published Future History: Global Fantasies in American and British Writings with Oxford UP, and I have some small pieces related to that work that I’m revising. But what I’m most excited about is a collaboration with Cassie Smith on a digital edition of Thomas Gage’s 1648 The English-American, His Travail by Sea and Land (1648). We are working with the digital humanities center at the University of Alabama and with the Newberry Library to produce a classroom-ready text, which we hope to have ready to go this summer. The innovative part is that we’re planning to roll out the editorial apparatus chapter-by-chapter over time as we recruit interested collaborators. We’ll be talking about the project at the SEA conference in St. Louis in March.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
So many things! I just finished Colson Whitehead’s novel Underground Railroad, which my department is using as a common read in the next academic year, and I’m reading Tyehimba Jess’s book of poetry Olio, which I am savoring slowly and enjoying for its archival investments. I’m also on a quest to create a bibliography of critical thinking about collaborative scholarship. It seems to me that one way we can respond to the torrent of sexual assault and harassment revelations in our profession (and beyond) is to dismantle the “star system” in academia, which too often protects abusers. If we can find new models of and rewards for collaboration, we may also be able to address the slow-boil crisis in academic publishing and the erosion of public trust in the academic enterprise. I’ve been inspired by the polymath projects, which are “massively collaborative online projects” (see the blog that launched the collaboration here: https://gowers.wordpress.com/2009/01/27/is-massively-collaborative-mathematics-possible/) and by Wai Chee Dimock’s recent editor’s column “Infrastructure Art” (PMLA 1).
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
Again, so many (one of the pleasure of the SEA is rubbing shoulders with countless excellent colleagues). I’d like to use this forum, though, to acknowledge my indebtedness (and indeed, the indebtedness of the field generally) to Laura Stevens, who combines her sharp intellect with a generosity of spirit and a passion for justice in just an extraordinary way.
Kristina Bross is Associate Professor of English and Director of College of Liberal Arts Honors at Purdue University.
Interview by Stacey Dearing, SEA social media coordinator