Interest in modernists motivates well-traveled professor
Posted on April 11, 2013
Assistant Professor of English Dr. Amanda Sigler, who joined the Erskine College faculty in the fall, is among the contributors to the current issue of Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature (TSWL), a publication of the University of Tulsa.
In “Expanding Woolf’s Gift Economy: Consumer Activity Meets Artistic Production in The Dial,” Sigler explores a story by Virginia Woolf in which a character considers purchasing a copy of a novel, written by a woman, as a gift. Woolf’s story first appeared in a magazine called The Dial, which encouraged its readers to purchase subscriptions as “a gift of distinction for people of discrimination.”
The young professor’s most recent publication is not her first. Her work has also appeared in a number of literary journals, including the James Joyce Quarterly, the Joyce Studies Annual, Papers on Joyce, and the Henry James Review.
Sigler’s dissertation for the Ph.D. at the University of Virginia focused on four modernist authors, devoting a chapter each to Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf, and looking at the transition from Victorianism to Modernism.
But her interest in modernist authors was developing during her undergraduate days at the University of Tulsa. When she needed to develop a senior research project, she went to the library there, and was delighted with what she found.
“The University of Tulsa library has some hidden treasures,” Sigler said, “including the papers of James Joyce’s biographer, Richard Ellmann.”
Some of the material on Ellman was untouched, and Sigler learned that the story of Ellmann’s life and of how he wrote the Joyce biography could be reconstructed from the papers.
“For my honors thesis, I did a biography of the biographer,” she said.
Sigler revisited that senior project several years later, condensing it for publication. Meanwhile, she kept busy attending conferences and writing conference reports. “That’s how I got started,” she says, when asked about her long and impressive list of publications, invited lectures, conference papers, and reviews.
Journeys with Joyce and others
Sigler has taken trips to Switzerland, home of the Zürich James Joyce Foundation, where she received a Friends of the Zürich James Joyce Foundation Scholarship in 2007; and to Ireland, where she has spoken at the Dublin James Joyce Summer School and in other venues. She has also spent time in Washington, D.C., as an intern with the National Endowment for the Humanities.
An experienced lecturer, Sigler has been invited to speak at the University of Basel, the Dublin James Joyce Centre, the Zürich James Joyce Foundation, the Phi Kappa Phi Triennial Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and in other venues.
“Most recently I was invited to give a podcast, which I did here at Erskine,” she said. The Information Technology Department at Erskine was a great help to her, she said. The lecture was recorded in February and is available online here: http://web.uvic.ca/~mvp1922/category/lectures/
Sigler’s invitation to do the podcast came from the Modernist Versions Project as part of its effort to “make various versions of Joyce available,” she said. For example, the Modernist Versions Project has made the first edition of Joyce’s Ulysses available online.
Landing in Due West
Since coming to Erskine in the fall, Sigler has taught a course on the British novel for advanced majors, a sophomore survey course on modern drama, and a freshman course in composition and literature. This spring, she is teaching freshman composition and literature once again, conducting a seminar for advanced majors on comparative literature, and offering a sophomore survey of world literature.
Her combination of travel, research, conference, and publication experience serves her well in her current role.
“I think it enables me to bring a more international perspective to the classroom,” she said. “I’m aware of the latest interpretations, including those presented at conferences but not yet published.”
Some of Sigler’s research—her examination of magazine illustrations, for example—“has enabled me to come up with visual images which have been helpful to show the students,” she said.
She was able to use such images in one of her classes last semester, when she assigned Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim, set in late 19th-century India, then under British rule. She introduced her Erskine students to illustrations that accompanied the serial version of the novel.
“The interesting thing about these illustrations is that there were three different illustrators with slightly different interpretations of what Rudyard Kipling was trying to say,” she said.
Sigler noted that the first of the three illustrators, H.R. Miller, “was keen to emphasize Kipling’s British identity” while the second, Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling, used “bas-reliefs that were photographed, so that eradicated the differences in skin color.”
Kipling’s father portrayed Kim as “kneeling down next to native people in India,” but Miller “depicted the British standing tall in the center, with natives as small, marginalized figures in the background.”
The third illustrator, E.L. Weeks, took a sort of anthropological approach, Sigler said. He might portray an Indian bazaar, for example, something that would have fascinated readers at that time.
Go ahead, take a chance
Sigler, whose accomplishments so early in her career are noteworthy, has some advice for English majors who hope for similarly substantial accomplishments.
“I would say seize whatever opportunities come your way,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid to step beyond the bounds of what you know. There’s a much bigger national and international community out there.”