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

Friday, August 28, 2009

Robert Dale Parker, James M. Benson Professor in English

I am delighted to announce here that Robert Dale Parker has been offered and has officially accepted appointment as the department's first James M. Benson Professor in English.

Named professorships such as this one are among the highest honors available to faculty-members in any university; they are meant to recognize and support the work of scholars whose careers have been extraordinarily productive and who have also made extensive and distinctive contributions as teachers and as professional leaders. With this award, Parker joins Vicki Mahaffey, who is the Clayton and Thelma Kirkpatrick Professor in English Literature, and Brigit Pegeen Kelly, who is Harry E. Preble Professor of English, as our department's holders of named professorships. Richard Powers holds a Swanlund Chair, as does Professor Emeritus Nina Baym. Baym and Professor Emeritus Cary Nelson are both Jubilee Professors of Liberal Arts and Sciences. That's very impressive company, and inclusion on this list puts Parker's accomplishments into their proper context.

Parker's initial work--highlighted by two well-regarded boooks on Faulkner and another on the poet Elizabeth Bishop--established him as a leading scholar of American modernism and earned him recognition on campus as a University Scholar in 1990. Following up on this body of work, Parker emerged as a one of the world's foremost authorities in the field of Native American literary history, publishing The Invention of Native American Literature (Cornell University Press, 2003) and following that up with his award-winning 2007 volume The Sound The Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnson Schoolcraft (University of Pennsylvania Press). This remarkable scholarly recovery project promises to rewrite the history of Native American literature. Here is the book description issued by the press:

"Introducing a dramatic new chapter to American Indian literary history, this book brings to the public for the first time the complete writings of the first known American Indian literary writer, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (her English name) or Bamewawagezhikaquay (her Ojibwe name), Woman of the Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky (1800-1842). Beginning as early as 1815, Schoolcraft wrote poems and traditional stories while also translating songs and other Ojibwe texts into English. Her stories were published in adapted, unattributed versions by her husband, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, a founding figure in American anthropology and folklore, and they became a key source for Longfellow's sensationally popular The Song of Hiawatha.

As this volume shows, what little has been known about Schoolcraft's writing and life only scratches the surface of her legacy. Most of the works have been edited from manuscripts and appear in print here for the first time. The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky presents a collection of all Schoolcraft's extant writings along with a cultural and biographical history. Robert Dale Parker's deeply researched account places her writings in relation to American Indian and American literary history and the history of anthropology, offering the story of Schoolcraft, her world, and her fascinating family as reinterpreted through her newly uncovered writing. This book makes available a startling new episode in the history of American culture and literature."

As if this weren't enough, Parker also recently published How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies (Oxford University Press, 2008), an extremely valuable, cogent overview of critical theory designed for classroom use by graduate students and advanced undergraduates in all areas of literary and cultural study. That Parker was able to do justice to this project is testimony to his extraordinary scholarly range. And the success of How to Interpret Literature likewise has to do with Parker's commitment to pedagogy. His name has appeared on the university's List of Faculty Ranked as Excellent by their Students more than 45 times, and his has won competitive undergraduate-teaching awards at both the college and campus levels. A tireless graduate instructor, Parker has also won recognition from the Graduate College as an outstanding mentor and has served as advisor to innumerable graduate students in English. Parker is known to his colleagues (in English as well as in American Indian Studies, where he is an active affiliate) for the care and conscientiousness with which he approaches his many and varied roles in the department. There is nobody who reads a colleague's work or a job application with more care; nobody is more generous with helpful suggestions or with the drafting of documents; nobody takes the moral responsibility of membership in a department more seriously.

A career like this one clearly warrants celebration and support, and so I am also extremely grateful to James M. Benson for making this appointment possible. Private funding for humanities professorships makes it possible not only to reward extraordinary scholars but also to ensure that they will have the support required in order to do their best and most ambitious work. I am grateful to Mr. Benson for his recognition of the importance of humanities scholarship, and I am very pleased that his gift will be used to support the future work of such an obviously exemplary scholar and teacher.

1 comment:

metaspencer said...

Nice post, Curtis! :)

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