“Meet your Professor Monday” is a weekly feature on the SBU English blog. This week, we talked to Ph.D. candidate Nicole Garret, who is teaching EGL 310: Neoclassical Literature in English, “Restoration and 18th–Century Drama” this summer.
I was an English major in college, but I took a sort of winding road to advanced English studies. I chose the major because I was advised that it was the best pre-law major. My interests changed in college from law and public service to arts and humanities, probably because of my English major and immersion in the liberal arts. I transferred all of my enthusiasm to art history, my minor, because the courses tended to contextualize aesthetic and intellectual movements in ways that appealed to me the most. I worked at the Metropolitan Museum while I was in college. I was surrounded by art and I always had at my workspace a book I had mined the library shelves for in an effort to become more cultured. I was also a creative writer from childhood and I got my MA in creative writing right after college and then taught all manner of writing courses as an adjunct for five years before starting the program at Stony Brook. During those five years I was researching and writing– “for fun” –almost obsessively until it became clear that this work is what I should be doing.
Where are you in your studies? On what are you writing your dissertation?
I have been studying on Long Island for my whole student life. I went to Adelphi, then to Hofstra for the MA and now I am a PhD candidate in English here at Stony Brook. My dissertation is on motherhood and secularism in the eighteenth-century novel. I am exploring the ways that novels mediate between secular and spiritual discourses on maternity, which I discuss as a state of spiritual crisis that is produced by conflicts between ancient and emergent values and codes of conduct. It is essentially about the role of religion and spirituality in the “mommy wars” of the eighteenth century.
How long have you been teaching at Stony Brook?
I have been teaching here for about five years.
What courses do you teach?
I teach courses in Restoration and Eighteenth-century British literature, introductory courses on drama and poetry, and courses in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric.
How do you use technology in the classroom, and what effect has the integration of technology had on your teaching?
I find that history and the visual arts help to bring the period to life, so I do a lot of presentations with Powerpoint and I also bring in film clips. I have a collection of antique books that I bring in so that we can talk about the materiality of books and the methods of production from the period we are studying. We make use of old and new technology. I have also found that having texts on the overhead projector facilitates conversation; everyone is looking at the same thing at the same time and that kind of collective concentration has had good results for me in class discussion.
How do you endeavor to make your students’ learning experiences meaningful?
I don’t think you can find meaning in anything, especially not a work of literature, for someone else. If you can communicate passion and open up a subject or period or work, show its depth and complexities, and the problems it might be trying to sort through, people will find their own meanings. So, my courses are about revealing possibilities rather than foreclosing them with a single theory of the work. As I indicated, I tend to think about things in terms of social and intellectual history, so I try to bring that context into my courses as an English instructor now; it is what keeps me passionate and what makes me feel I have something worthwhile to say when I am talking, and something to listen for when I am listening. Dealing in a historical period which, let’s face it, is not the most popular field of English studies, I do think it helps to do a lot of introducing. The Enlightenment period engages with many of the same questions we think about today, but answers them in very different ways; it’s the origin of paradigms and contests that we are still entrenched in. But to me it’s not enough to say “this is what they were thinking back then that is relevant to your life in our century” but also to look at books as creative spaces that make certain kinds of thought possible.
Of which achievement in your career are you most proud?
I am proud of all of them. I had a child in graduate school, so every little achievement is a victory. I am proud of my published work, which wouldn’t have been possible without the confidence, collaboration, and guidance of my professors. I am proud of the store of knowledge I have built up and especially proud every time I find a new way to communicate that and make it relevant or useful. It was also a great honor to be able to represent Stony Brook at international conferences in Britain.
Are you working on any projects at the moment?
Yes, I am working on proofs for an edition of Frances Sheridan’s novel, Conclusion of the Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph, which I edited with Professor Hutner. It has been out of print since 1767 and I think that by making it available we will make a contribution to the scholarly conversations about parenthood, domesticity and the education of children in the eighteenth century. I am also working on my dissertation, and an article on Defoe’s Roxana.
What are your interests outside of academic life?
There are things outside of academic life? It is kind of an enveloping business we are in here. I have a husband and a son. They take up a good deal of time. I also tend to have fleeting obsessions with historical periods and persons, so I do a lot of reading outside of my area. My husband and I like to travel, and lately I take a great interest in politics, especially issues of women’s rights.