Two professors in Notre Dame’s Department of English—Sandra Gustafson and Tim Machan—recently won prestigious fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program.
“Gustafson and Machan both explore broad swaths of time and crucial questions that are significant culturally, historically, and artistically,” says Professor Valerie Sayers, chair of the Department of English. “It is a delight to see their work honored with major fellowships.”
“Culture of Conflict”
Gustafson, professor of English and concurrent professor of American Studies will use her NEH fellowship to write a book on conflict and democracy in classic American novels.
The new book will analyze major conflicts in American history, including the current “culture of conflict” in the U.S. It also will explore the quest to resolve conflicts democratically—as portrayed in the work of writers ranging from James Fenimore Cooper, who published his first frontier fiction in the 1820s, to contemporary novelist Leslie Marmon Silko.
The book will draw heavily on the fields of peace studies and conflict transformation, says Gustafson, who has been a faculty fellow at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies since 2010.
The NEH proposal originated in a course she taught in fall 2011, Conflict and Democracy in Classic American Fiction, offered by the Department of English and by peace studies. She credits Kroc faculty members David Cortright (author of Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas) and John Paul Lederach (author of The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace) as significant influences on her new project.
Gustafson is the author of several books on American literature and culture. This is her second NEH grant; the first (2002-3) was for Imagining Deliberative Democracy in the Early American Republic (Chicago, 2011).
Faculty in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters have been awarded 51 NEH fellowships between 1999 and 2014—more than any other university in the country. Gustafson was one of three Arts and Letters faculty to receive NEH fellowships for academic year 2013-14.
Machan, a professor of English who specializes in medieval language and literature, is one of two Arts and Letters professors to receive Fulbright grants this past year.
“The competition is fierce,” says Kenneth Garcia, associate director of the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts. “Fulbright awards are very prestigious fellowships and very difficult to get, so having two professors receive Fulbrights in the same year is a real honor for the University.”
While folk tales like Beowulf, timeless poetry like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, or J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings are familiar examples of English literature, most are not aware of their surprising connection with Scandinavian cultures, Machan says. Through the Fulbright Program, he traveled to Oslo, Norway to explore the roots of these English classics during the spring 2014 semester.
“Much of how 19th-century Britain imagines its medieval past is in fact borrowed from Scandinavia,” says Machan, a professor in the Department of English. “The Norwegians and Danes who actively harried and colonized England during the medieval period left lasting impacts on history, language, and cultural practices.”
While in Norway, Machan looks forward to accessing rare and non-circulating archival resources at the University of Oslo’s library, consulting with experts in the field, and improving his ability to read Norwegian.
Upon his return, he plans to use his research to write a book offering a trans-historical examination of literary contact between Scandinavia and Britain, tentatively titled A Northern Light: The Scandinavian Invention of the English Middle Ages.
Machan has taught English linguistics and medieval literature for over 25 years and written a number of works on the history of the English language. His most recent book, titled What Is English, and Why Should We Care?, was published in 2013.
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