Literary Studies News
Dr. David Patterson, professor of literature and history and Hillel A. Feinberg Chair in Holocaust Studies, has been appointed to the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission.
The commission was established 10 years ago to ensure that resources about the Holocaust and other genocides are available to students, educators and the public.
“The sense of urgency about awareness of what happened in the Holocaust and why it matters is growing,” Patterson said. “It’s in the interest of citizens and the culture to examine the ethical question of what makes another human being matter. That’s something we are prone to forget or ignore.”
The Texas Legislature created the commission in 2009. Since then, its staff and volunteers have worked on projects to meet the commission’s mission, including educating hundreds of Texas teachers through regional live workshops, developing an online digital library for educators, and recording the audio and visual oral histories of 19 Texans who helped liberate concentration camps.
Patterson, who previously served on the Tennessee State Holocaust Commission, is filling an incomplete term on the Texas commission, which ends in February 2021.
A happy World Book Day to bibliophiles everywhere!
As a tip of the hat to the celebration, UTD Magazine asked a handful of faculty members to share influential books in their lives.
Dr. Kenneth Brewer
School of Arts and Humanities
By George Eliot
“I first read Eliot’s massive Victorian novel as an undergraduate, and I’ve read it many times since then. As I’ve grown older, I’ve found myself interested in different characters than the ones I found fascinating the first times I read it. Initially unsympathetic characters have become sympathetic and interesting; it’s almost like reading a different book than the one I read as a young person. Eliot’s novel takes in a panorama of Victorian society, and focuses on so many issues that are relevant to our lives today. I hope to read it many more times because I always have a new experience whenever I read it again.”
The UT Dallas Center for Translation Studies, one of the oldest academic centers for literary translation in the U.S., recently marked its 40th anniversary.
The center was created in 1978 by Dr. Rainer Schulte, professor of arts and humanities and the Katherine R. Cecil Professor in Foreign Languages, with the purpose of fostering and promoting the study and practice of literary translation. It was officially named in 1980.
“Translation is a model of communication across barriers. And once you think of it that way, everything changes,” said Dr. Dennis Kratz, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities and the Ignacy and Celina Rockover Professor.
Kratz, who previously served as co-director of the center, said translation brings in everything about a culture and a writer to re-create a piece as fully and completely as possible.
“That means not taking ‘word A’ and making it ‘word B,’ but re-creating the impact of what was said in a new language. If the original made you cry, then the translation should make you cry,” he said.
Schulte described translation as a type of bridge.
“As you cross the bridge you have to leave some of your prejudices or some of your concepts behind and open yourself to new ones,” he said. “And the discovery of the new ones is frequently very exciting.”
Schulte said that at the time the center was created, translations of literary texts were primarily done in Europe. He wanted to change that.
“There were very, very few places in the United States where literary translation or translation in academia was taken seriously,” he said. “We built the center to train students, gain more respect for translation, and to support faculty members who work in literary translation.”
Faculty and students in the center also conduct research in cultural and cross-cultural communication, which, in collaboration with other literary associations and centers throughout the world, includes the development of writer and translator databases.
At about the same time the center opened, Schulte also launched the Translation Review, an academic journal that provides translators, scholars and readers a forum to dialogue about the importance of translation, to discuss the challenges in transplanting a text from a foreign culture into English, and to increase the visibility and status of the translator in the world. He also co-founded the American Literary Translators Association, a national nonprofit arts association that supports the work of literary translators and advances the art of literary translation.
Kratz said the work done by Schulte and others in the center has made a significant difference in how translation is seen by the academic community.
“He, in a very real sense, is the founder of translation studies as an academic discipline. There was a time when translation wasn’t taken seriously. But now, people get tenure for translating. Rainer in many ways singlehandedly fought this battle,” he said.
Schulte said the center is looking to the future, particularly at how digital media can help translators, researchers and readers. As an example, he said a poem could be further explored by offering links to multiple translations into English, interviews with scholars or other details that could improve understanding of the piece.
“Digital research is where the field of translation is headed, and I expect our center to be at the forefront of this movement,” Schulte said.
On the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a UT Dallas professor said the book is much more than a scary Halloween story.
According to Dr. Sabrina Starnaman, clinical assistant professor in the School of Arts and Humanities who teaches a class about the book, Frankenstein offers a thought-provoking look at science and ethics.
“While one might think that a class on Frankenstein would be all horror and shadows and gasps, I would argue it’s a class asking some of the most pivotal, pointed human questions,” said Starnaman, ”including questions about the responsibilities that creators or scientists have to their creations or their science.”
Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was 19 years old, and it was published the following year in 1818. The book tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist in search of the secret of life who creates the monstrous creature in a secret experiment.
Starnaman said the representation of the Frankenstein creature has shifted a great deal from the original monster in Shelley’s book.
“When people dress up as the Frankenstein creature, they usually dress up like the Frankenstein character from the 1931 movie, with the flat head and the bolts, which is not in any way what’s in the book. If people dressed up as characters from the book, we wouldn’t recognize them,” she said.
While dozens of movies about the creature have been made since the early 1900s, Starnaman said many people would be surprised by the original book.
“It’s an incredibly well-written book, and it seems to touch people who read it. My class has 90 students in it. There was a part of me that wondered if today’s students would read and get excited by an early 19th-century novel,” she said. “And they do. They find it beautiful.”
Starnaman said Frankenstein is thought by many to be the first science fiction novel.
“Victor Frankenstein had this great idea that his creation would thank him and would honor him and would be glorious. And when his creature came to life, he found it grotesque and monstrous and terrifying,” she said. “Mary Shelley was not just exploring the technological questions, but also the human questions.”
In her class, Starnaman uses a version of Frankenstein that is published by MIT Press. Besides the original text, the book includes annotations and essays that explain the science behind the story and explore the social and ethical aspects of scientific creativity.
In addition to studying Frankenstein, the class also explores other writings that raise similar scientific questions — such as the play R.U.R. by Karel Čapek, which involves the creation of artificial human workers that look like people, and Frankenstein in Baghdad, by Ahmed Saadawi, an Iraqi novel about a city torn apart by war and foreign occupation and the pieced-together creature that arises to avenge its citizens.
Starnaman said Frankenstein, though, is a text that is timeless, noting that there are still modern-day headlines and references that analogize the story.
“It is used to talk about any kind of scientific advancement that we worry will have unintended consequences,” she said. “The idea of creating something that ends up going beyond the intention or being more than the creator can handle — or that has social implications — is extremely familiar to us and one that is often used to question the ethical implications of advancements in science.”
The School of Arts and Humanities at UT Dallas has three new tenure-track faculty members who will teach and conduct research in their respective fields — Middle Eastern history, literature and philosophy.
“The essence of the humanities is to always encourage people to put their ideas into a larger context. We have found three scholars who not only are going to be strong participants and contributors to specific fields, but also have the ability to put their thinking and their teaching in this grander context of the humanities and values,” said Dr. Dennis Kratz, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities and Ignacy and Celina Rockover Professor. “We’re making an investment in people who will make a significant mark in their field, in the school and at the University.”
The school offers degree programs in visual and performing arts, art history, historical studies, history, history of ideas, humanities, Latin American studies, literature and philosophy, and is home to several centers of research and scholarly study. In addition, the school houses the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History — a center for innovative research and graduate education in art history with an extensive partnership with the Dallas Museum of Art.
New Tenure-Track Faculty
Dr. Rosemary Admiral, assistant professor of history
Previously: PhD candidate and graduate student instructor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Research Interests: Middle Eastern and North African history, pre-modern Moroccan history, Islamic legal studies, gender and feminism
Quote: “Women today have complex relationships with Islamic law. I wanted to see how these relationships mapped onto the past, particularly in the case of North Africa. My research found women engaging with the law in creative and strategic ways, not only through the courts but also by way of a number of less-formal community spaces that they carved out for themselves. UTD’s commitment to research in the humanities within the larger framework of science and technology provides a unique space in which to continue this research and explore the implications for modern legal contexts. I am excited and honored to be a part of this innovative and diverse community.”
Dr. Katherine Davies, assistant professor of philosophy
Previously: visiting assistant professor of philosophy, Miami University
Research Interests: continental philosophy, ethics and feminist theory
Quote: “I am drawn to philosophy because of its slow, careful and critical thinking habits. I take philosophy to be a practice of figuring out how to best align our thinking with what we think about, i.e., the world and everything that makes it up. In my teaching, I work toward practicing this with my students through reading enduring texts from across the history of philosophy that invite this kind of deliberation. These historical texts often nevertheless bear upon some of the most pressing issues in our contemporary world, which we discuss in the classroom. I’ve been so impressed with the eagerness and interest I’ve seen from my students here at UTD already. I look forward to continuing to learn to be a better thinker and philosopher with them and with my impressive colleagues on the faculty.”
Dr. Erin Greer, assistant professor of literature
Previously: PhD candidate and graduate student instructor, the University of California, Berkeley
Research Interests: 20th- and 21st-century British and Anglophone fiction, ordinary language philosophy and critical theory
Quote: “Novels, and the critical acts of reading and writing about novels, provide arenas for imagining possible ways to be: ways for people to be and ways for societies to be. My current project focuses particularly on how novels (along with aesthetic, political and language philosophy) can help us reimagine political discourse — a task that seems increasingly urgent in global politics. Because my work is a dialogue between literature and philosophy, I’m thrilled to join the inherently interdisciplinary arts and humanities school at UT Dallas.”
Dr. Peter Ingrao, clinical assistant professor of literature in the School of Arts and Humanities, and Dr. Gregg Dieckmann, associate professor of chemistry in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, are recipients of the University of Texas System Board of Regents’ highest honor — the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award (ROTA). They are among 27 ROTA winners from the UT System’s 14 academic and health institutions who will be recognized at a dinner Thursday, Aug. 9, in Austin. Each honoree receives $25,000.
The Board of Regents established the award in 2008 to recognize exemplary service to students. Including the 2018 honorees, 33 UT Dallas faculty members have received the award.
“Teaching is at the heart of every university, and UT Dallas faculty and instructors are exceptional,” said Dr. Inga Musselman, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “These awards from the Board of Regents are a wonderful recognition of Gregg Dieckmann and Peter Ingrao’s superb efforts in the classroom and their willingness to go the extra mile for our students.”
Ingrao, who earned his doctorate from UT Dallas in 2004, is known for teaching classes that delve into Southern literature, particularly the identity and religion of the South.
“Most recently I have been doing work in the emerging field of the ‘undead South.’ It’s a subcategory of Southern Gothic literature,” Ingrao said. “It’s ghosts, vampires, zombies, werewolves and swamp monsters — things that go bump in the night in the South.”
Such exploration led him to teach humanities courses that focus on superheroes from both comic books and films. This fall, the class focus will be on superheroes in film, including Black Panther.
Ingrao has taught literature at UT Dallas for 10 years, and his teaching skills have been recognized with nominations for the President’s Teaching Excellence Award and his participation with the UT Dallas Center for Teaching and Learning.
Ingrao said he is motivated by a commitment to lifelong learning and curiosity, which he encourages in his students.
“I’ve given talks on everything from Southern writers to Bruce Springsteen to Batman to Godzilla. So it’s the love of knowledge itself and realizing the value that the knowledge itself has, and remaining curious about the things you come across,” he said.
Growing up in Richardson, VJ Boyd BA’02 dreamed of being a screenwriter, crafting his first screenplay at age 16.
“I did make many short films as a teenager and in college, but none of them were technically sound,” he said. “The writing was decent, but I had little skill or help in the camera and lighting departments.”
Now, after a stint in corporate sales, VJ is living the Hollywood dream, penning scripts and producing episodes for a variety of shows including the award-winning series Justified, which aired over six seasons on FX. His brother, Justin Boyd BA’06, left a university post teaching philosophy to join him in California two years ago and now writes for SyFy’s Channel Zero.
The two frequently see movies or meet at coffee shops and write together, whether on their new comic book, “Night Moves,” or on separate projects. While Justin is prepping for future installments of Channel Zero, VJ is working as a co-executive producer on CBS’ S.W.A.T., a remake of the 1970s TV show of the same name. (Their sister, April, is a current UT Dallas student.)
“I imagined both of us working out here, but I didn’t know if it was a realistic idea. It was one of those things you think, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be awesome?’” Justin said. “It really wasn’t until shortly before I made the decision to also come out here that I thought, ‘Oh, wow. This is actually a possibility. We both loved film and television growing up — wouldn’t it be cool to create that stuff?’”
Chasing the Dream(s)
That’s when he took a fiction-writing workshop and a scriptwriting course with then-School of Arts and Humanities lecturer Tony Daniel, a Hugo Award finalist for his short story “Life on the Moon.”
It was Daniel who planted the seed in VJ’s — and later Justin’s — mind about pursuing a career as a TV writer. The process isn’t complicated: move to LA; join a TV show as a writing staff assistant — “that is, a coffee-getter and note-taker,” Daniel clarified — and write. Then write some more. Followed by more writing.
“From there, you work your way up,” Daniel said. “VJ followed my advice to a ‘T.’ It didn’t hurt that he is incredibly hardworking, proactive and generally a nice guy, of course.”
VJ relocated to Los Angeles in May 2008, and within a month got an assistant job on the series The Beast, one of the final projects of actor Patrick Swayze, who died in 2009.
After working as an assistant on several shows, VJ landed a gig on Justified, a Western-type saga with a modern spin that aired from 2010 to 2015. His break had arrived. Hired as a writer for the show’s second season, he moved to producing duties by the series’ end.
As an admirer of classic crime noir and science fiction films, VJ dreams of one day writing in one of those genres. It just so happens that’s exactly what Justin does on Channel Zero, a sci-fi/horror anthology series. “I’m jealous sometimes that he gets to make up all this crazy stuff,” VJ said. “He can pitch giant flies in his episodes.”
When he was an undergraduate at UTD, Justin almost racked up more hours playing pool in the Student Union than in class. His passion for pool would later pay dividends.
“The script that got me hired by Channel Zero was about the pool scene in Texas,” said Justin, who earned an economics degree in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences.
While working full time, he took evening graduate classes at UT Dallas including a screenwriting class with Daniel and courses with Dr. Clay Reynolds, director of creative writing in the School of Arts and Humanities.
“I knew I could do it (screenwriting) and I enjoyed doing it, but I wasn’t sure I was good enough to do it professionally,” Justin recalled. “I was also committed to being an academic.”
Justin eventually moved to Chicago, ending his hiatus from studies to earn a master’s degree from DePaul University in 2012. During a stint teaching philosophy at DePaul while working on a doctorate, Justin got the itch to try his hand at TV writing like his brother. So, in May 2016, he moved out West.
He got a job as a writer’s production assistant — “the lowest rung in the writers’ room” — on the FX show Snowfall the month he arrived. That job lasted until the end of the year when his script about the Texas pool scene landed into the hands of Nick Antosca, showrunner for Channel Zero.
“I always tell Justin, ‘Man, don’t tell anyone you got lucky enough to write on a show as soon as you came out here,’” VJ said. “He’s only been out here a year or so, but thus far it’s been great. We haven’t lived in the same city in a decade.”
Dr. Peter Jay Ingrao is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the School of Arts and Humanities and specializes in Southern Literature, Twentieth-Century American Literature, Appalachian Literature, trope of monstrosity in literature and film, heroic archetypes. For the 10th year in a row, the University of Texas System Board of Regents has honored the best of the best.
Twenty-seven faculty members from UT’s 14 academic and health institutions were named recipients of the 2018 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award. They each received $25,000 in recognition of their commitment to student success.Over the last decade, Regents have awarded more than $19 million to 700 UT educators for delivering the highest quality of instruction in the classroom, lab, field and online.
“We are indebted to these educators who exemplify great teaching on every level,” Board of Regents Chairman Sara Martinez Tucker said. “These are educators, researchers and health care professionals who – no matter how long they’ve been teaching – never stop thinking about new and innovative ways to enhance the learning experience.”
Peter Ingrao and other recipients of the 2018 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards have been recognized at a reception held on August 9th, 2018 in conjunction with the Board of Regents meeting in Austin.
The award, established in 1958 to recognize outstanding college professors across Texas, is given annually to 10 educators to honor their dedication to the teaching profession and for their outstanding academic, scientific and scholarly achievement.
Each Piper Professor receives a certificate of merit, a gold pin and a $5,000 honorarium. Selection is made on the basis of nominations from two- and four-year colleges and universities.
“Theresa is such a gifted professor who combines intellectual rigor and high expectations with absolute charisma and the ability to make learning joyful,” said Dr. Dennis Kratz, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities and the Ignacy and Celina Rockover Professor of Humanities. “She is one of the most compelling and gifted teachers of undergraduates I have ever had the pleasure to know.”
Towner, a noted researcher of American author William Faulkner, said she encourages her students to think.
“I tell students that in life there are really only two questions: ‘What is…?’ and ‘What if…?’ You’ve got to know the world and how it works, but you’ve also got to be able to see how to change it. And in both efforts, your imagination is the best tool you have,” she said.
After earning her doctorate from the University of Virginia, Towner began her career at UT Dallas as a lecturer, advancing to the position of professor of literary studies in 2006. Earlier this year, she became the Ashbel Smith Professor of literary studies.
Towner was awarded the Chancellor’s Council Outstanding Teaching Award for the 2001-02 academic year and, in 2010, The University of Texas System named Towner a Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award winner.
“Every single minute in the classroom is different,” she said. “You never know what students are going to say, the subject matter is always different, and every single time you pick up something to read, you experience it differently than the last time you read it. There’s always something new to find out.”
Towner has written dozens of books and articles about Faulkner including her most recent, “Faulkner’s Mississippi-Writing,” in an anthology of Mississippi writers. She is associate director of a project called Digital Yoknapatawpha. Yoknapatawpha is a mythical county in Mississippi where Faulkner set many of his stories. The project breaks down the characters, places and events of Faulkner’s books into a searchable database.
Faulkner is often known for being difficult to understand, but Towner said the author wrote wonderful, thoughtful stories. And she is pleased she can help students enjoy Faulkner.
“I tend to do two types of teaching — one is with texts that students know are very difficult, inaccessible and complicated, ones they’re afraid to tackle. And the other is the kind of texts that students think they know really, really well, but then they are surprised that they can learn so much more,” she said.
Towner said her job is to give students the skills they need to be successful in her class and beyond.
“Rather than tell them to write an essay answer, I show them the kinds of questions that, answered, will produce a successful essay. I ask factual questions, in class and on exams, because I think that inspiration depends upon information. I encourage informed speculation in discussion, and I applaud students’ efforts to ‘make sense’ because I believe that’s what we are all trying to do every day, regardless of status or profession,” she said. “We are trying to read the story of ourselves and the world, and I plan to keep trying to help.”
Newly invested as an Ashbel Smith Professor, Dr. Theresa Towner took a moment to reflect on her path as a Comet.
“With the endowment of this chair, I have held every academic rank at The University of Texas at Dallas that is possible to hold, from part-time senior lecturer to full professor, and now, a named chair,” said Towner, literary studies professor in the School of Arts and Humanities. “It is a long, long way from the one-bedroom apartment I shared with my husband while writing my dissertation.”
Towner was among 20 faculty members to receive new appointments during the 2018 University Investiture Ceremony, where they were recognized before their families, colleagues, mentors and students.
UT Dallas has more than 120 chairs and professorships that recognize the scholarship and research of senior faculty members.The honorees were each recognized briefly by a student speaker they selected. They then received a medallion from University President Richard C. Benson and their respective deans.