Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Undergraduate Research Colloquium

Last night, the English Department held its first-ever Undergraduate Research Colloquium. This event was conceived of by our Undergraduate Student Leadership Council and arranged by Ted Underwood (our Director of Undergraduate Studies) with the help of Bob Steltman. The event featured five interesting and accomplished presentations on subjects whose diversity--in terms of canonicity, period, medium, form etc--is a pretty good reflection of the range of things that students in contemporary English departments might choose to pursue. The five presenters spoke on, respectively, The Wasteland, Lucy Larcom's An Idyl of Work, Marie de France, W.S. Merwin's translations of Dante, and Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ. There was a lively discussion afterwards, both about finer points pertaining to each student's work and also about some methodological issues they all had a stake in. And then some further conversation, fuelled by coffee, cookies and grapes, of a less formal variety. In all, a really nice event and a great kick-off for one that we plan to make into an annual tradition.

The presenters (pictured below!) were Jack Vuylsteke (who wrote on Eliot), Alanna Hickey (on Larcom), Valerie O'Brien (on Marie de France's Laustic) , Lauren Naylor (on Merwin), and Ashley Albrecht (on Gibson's film).

It was courageous of them, I thought, to step forward as presenters for this inaugural event, and they all did very, very well: presenting thoughtful, creative scholarly work well and handling themselves beautifully during the Q&A. As a faculty member--i.e., as one who has seen more than his fair share of academic presentations--it was very impressive to see this caliber of work presented by our students. More importantly (as Ted Underwood said in his comments at the conclusion of the panel), I think an event like this has the potential to shift the way we as faculty members imagine our relationship to our students, and to encourage us to see them, where appropriate, as co-producers of knowledge rather than just as recipients of what we know. Not to make too much of this, but it occurs to me too that this kind of event--if it becomes an annual tradition, as I hope--might therefore turn out to have long-term implications for the way we design assignments, the way we structure our lesson plans, the way we mentor students doing honors projects in our classes, and even the way we interact informally with students in and around the classes we teach.


Anonymous said...

This is great to see at Illinois. So many sharp kids pass through its doors that these opportunities to present scholarly work are very much needed! Looking forward to seeing more of this next year!

Curtis said...

Agreed. said...

Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

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