It’s Thursday afternoon, and I’m sitting at my desk reading. Prospectus work apparently never ends. The screen saver on my computer intermittently flashes geometrically altered photos from my iPhone’s photo stream. In between pictures of family members, my cat, and random book covers, which serve as reminders of books I should one day buy, and perhaps, unfortunately, might never read, are my pictures of Savannah: my incredible hotel room at the Andaz, the view from my balcony overlooking the pool, a ship carrying cargo containers gliding, surprisingly gracefully, down the Savannah River. And I take a moment to reflect on my time there.
This was my first time at an SEA conference, and I had an absolutely fantastic experience. Between meeting graduate students from Auburn, Purdue, CUNY Graduate Center, the University of Central Florida, the University of Kentucky, and Towson University, watching fireworks from a rooftop bar, eating spoonbread (my mother’s favorite Sunday dinner side dish, by the way), and listening to David Shields and Glenn Roberts discuss lowcountry heritage farming, I was kept in near constant awe by the current work being done in early American Studies by panelists whose projects ranged from patriotic self-fashioning during prolonged captivity, the transmigration of Indur, the life writings of Katherine Brown and Elizabeth Drinker, a candid discussion of international approaches to teaching early American Studies with a call to action for American recognition of the work done by Europeans and Canadians, and the use of microhistory as a tool for finding ways to give inarticulate women a voice in their own history, even when that history was not recorded by their own hand or no longer survives.
But there is one very specific aspect of the conference that continues to resonate with me: Dr. Laura Stevens and Dr. Kristina Bross’s call to action for graduate students to organize—a call they made during the Graduate Student breakfast Friday morning. Taking their cue from the highly organized ASECS Graduate Caucus, Laura and Kristina asked that, as graduate students, we find a way to increase and coalesce our presence online and within SEA. This suggestion was nicely complemented by the presentation made just a few minutes later by graduate students Jay Jay Stroup from TCU and L. Blake Vives, Lesley Kamphaus, and Lindsay Anderson, from the University of Central Florida, entitled “Embracing Collaboration: Incorporating Writing Groups in Graduate Research.” Though the discussion that morning on collaboration suffered a bit from a small graduate turnout and perhaps the early morning hour during which it occurred, it nonetheless provided me an opportunity to reflect on the scarcity of student collaboration and its real importance in graduate departments. As a student of early American Literature in a small department, there are only two others in my cohort specializing in the same period. Of those two, one is currently in the Middle East, completing yet another tour of duty for the Army. What this means for me is that I have a very small support group, and opportunities for collaboration are slim.
I considered the significance of this, however, only after talking with other graduate students at that morning’s breakfast. Writing groups, reading groups, group seminars, mock conference presentations are just some of the examples of collaboration that other graduate students experience with their departmental colleagues. My discussion of this, though, is in no way an attempt to disparage the goings-on at the University of Tulsa (TU). I am part of a wonderfully supportive department, both in regards to faculty and other graduate students. TU also has the exceptional English Graduate Student Association (EGSA), which organizes social gatherings and professional workshops throughout the year. But, nonetheless, many graduate students in my department specialize in Victorian Studies, Contemporary American or British Literatures, Nineteenth-Century American Studies, or Modernism. In my four years at TU, I have often relied on the support and constructive criticism of my fellow grad students, and I have never been disappointed. But a caucus comprised of other grad students in early American Studies, even if only found online, would wonderfully complement the support I receive at TU. I can’t help but imagine that there are many other schools with small departments and limited student collaboration focused on early American Studies.
My reason for blogging, then, isn’t simply to reflect on my experiences in Savannah, but to second Laura and Kristina’s call for an SEA graduate student caucus. I think this could be organized quickly and smoothly, beginning, perhaps, with a listserv, a Facebook page, and a directory of SEA graduate student members, our affiliations, areas of expertise, and contact information. I hope others of you share my interest in such a possibility. If so, feel free to contact me, or set something up on your own. But, whatever you do, please count me in!