English Prof. Recieves Award

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Professor of English Wendy Moffat has recently been recognized by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) for the work she has done researching her upcoming second book.  “The news came as a big surprise,” said Moffat. “The process is competitive, so it feels great in an unexpected way.”

Having applied for the fellowship in September, Moffat recently received notification in March.  “I completed a five-page proposal, had four recommenders, and a bibliography to assess the research I had done so far.”  Commenting on this process, Moffat said, “It was onerous conforming to their guidelines because you have to learn how to say what you’re up to in a prospective way.”

According to Moffat, the ACLS is an umbrella organization of learned societies that promotes scholarship.  The various scholarly organizations, such as the American Historical Society and Phi Beta Kappa, advance work in a variety of fields, she said.  As she mentioned, “The other winners come from a wide range of diverse departments, but very few are from a liberal arts background.”

What Moffat most looks forward to is “having time to sit and sort out my writing, since uninterrupted time is hard to come by,” she said.  The project she is currently working on is, as she stated, “a joint biography and cultural history book project about America in World War I, and particularly about the mental health of soldiers and veterans.”  Her focus will be on the lives of Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant and Dr. Thomas Salmon.  A good amount of her work will be archival: “I will do a bit more travel to visit collections; some of what I am researching is in private hands,” she commented.  Among other plans, she intends to visit the records and administrative pictures at the National Archives, and to travel to the Weill archival center at Cornell to view the documents located in their psychiatric hospital.

The main goal for Moffat is to find a broad audience.  She mentioned, “I am hoping to write a book of new history, one with a different cast of modernism, and which will be accessible to readers.  I want it to be scholarly but broadly readable, since it is such an amazing story.”  She added, “I have put in mind who is my audience, and used various kinds of evidence in the project, from letters to medical records to non-fiction works to photos to family

papers.  I want to contextualize the story in social history.”

To help herself prepare for the project, Moffat made part of her plan to teach courses on related subjects.  She said, “I thought a lot about what I needed to learn and framed my syllabi to help me learn a bit before the students.”  In one of her courses, “How the Great War made America Modern,” she looked at the political history of how the United States got involved in the First World War.  Commenting on this experience, she said, “You have to know what you don’t know and also what you need to know.”

Along the way, Moffat has received help from several students.  Tess Harrington ’16, “helped organize archival images, which were mostly textual.  I had about 7,000 images, most of which were photos of letters,” said Moffat.  Michelle Martire ’17 also played a crucial role, by looking over Sergeant’s unpublished novel about the war, according to Moffat.  Alumna Holly Bowers ’12 was likewise fundamental in “building a chronology for Sergeant,” Moffat said.

One experience which ultimately transformed her research was a trip to France she took with her husband two summers ago.  “We followed the geography of these two people’s experiences on the front, which was incredible because they were not part of any famous battles.”  She added, “That is just what my book is: the story of two extraordinary ordinary people.”