SEA Scholar of the Month, September 2021: Ralph Bauer
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
I would have to credit my mentors at Michigan State University, where I did my Graduate work in American Studies in the 1990s, after having arrived there from Germany on a fellowship granted by the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) and after having completed two years of study at the University of Erlangen triple-majoring in English, German, and Spanish on the teaching track (Lehramt). Within my “English” studies, I focused primarily on modern multi-ethnic American literatures, including Native American, African American, and LatinX literature under the direction of Dr. Wolfgang Binder and Dr. Helmbrecht Breinig. During my first year at MSU, I was working mostly on C-19 literature under the direction of Dr. Michael Lopez. After getting the MA in American Studies after the first year, however, I started working with Dr. Stephen Arch on early American literature. The PhD program in American Studies at MSU required training in American literature, American history, and a third field of choice. As I had a background in Spanish, I did coursework and a comprehensive exam in colonial Latin American literature under the direction of Dr. Aníbal González Pérez (then at MSU), in addition to coursework and comprehensive exams in colonial American literature (with Steve Arch) and history (with Dr. Christine Daniels), with the idea of approaching the early Americas comparatively. Dr. Ned Watts (at MSU) and Dr. Early Fitz (at the time at Penn State) also joined my dissertation committee and were wonderfully resourceful mentors. As it turns out, it was fortuitous timing, as I finished my dissertation at a time (1997) when (early) American literary scholarship increasingly embraced comparative, transnational, and hemispheric perspectives.
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
That’s a difficult question. I’m not sure that I have a favorite writer or text, but there are certainly writers and texts that I find very interesting and enjoy teaching. I’ve always enjoyed reading and teaching Native American literature and, in the context of the early Americas, was intrigued by early modern historical writings about South and Meso-America’s indigenous cultures, such as those of the Inca Garcilaso de Vega (who was a mestizo) and Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala. I find it fascinating how their texts fuse European and Native Andean histories, concepts, and languages.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently in my third year of learning Quechua in preparation for a larger comparative project on early Native American writings, on which I hope to embark in a more sustained manner after stepping down from my current full-time administrative position as associate dean. I’ve completed some pieces of it, including a recent publication on the _Popol Vuh_ (the Maya Book of Counsel), but progress has been slow.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
I’m excited to be starting to work on the Huarochirí Manuscript, which is a text in Classical Quechua from the late 16th century, describing Andean myths, religious nations and traditions.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
Yes, there are many, of course. For example, I’ve always been a great admirer of Dr. Rolena Adorno for her scholarly rigor; of Dr. Gordon Brotherston for his scholarly charisma; and of Dr. David Shields for his scholarly capaciousness.
Ralph Bauer is Professor of English and Comparative Literature and serves as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Maryland. He is the current President of the Society of Early Americanists.