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Department of English


snow-covered sidewalks in front of Hall Of Languages, Tolley, Crouse

Syracuse University Department of English Newsletter – by students, for alumni

Introducing the New Chair of English!

Greetings, Students and Alumni of SU English:

Professor Will Scheibel here, writing to introduce myself as the new Department Chair, a role I will be performing from Spring 2024 to Spring 2026. I want to invite you to let me know how I can better support you as students and serve your interests as alumni. As a faculty member who teaches in the department’s Film and Screen Studies track, I work alongside Professor Roger Hallas (world cinema, documentary studies) and Professor Chris Hanson (emerging media, game studies), specializing in popular narrative cinema from the United States. For the next two and a half years, I will continue regularly teaching two of our large lecture courses offered at the lower-division that count as “gateway courses” to the English and Textual Studies major: ENG-154 Interpretation of Film and ENG-170 American Cinema. Outside of English, I serve on the advising faculty for the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications program in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. I hold a Ph.D. in Communication and Culture from Indiana University Bloomington, where I completed a program of study in film and media.

In my research and writing, I often focus on Hollywood cinema between the 1930s and 1960s, or the “classical” studio period, and consider how legendary figures in film history (filmmakers, stars, proprietary characters) achieve legibility as classic-film icons. The most recent example of this work is my book Gene Tierney: Star of Hollywood’s Homefront (Wayne State University Press, 2022). I am also the author and co-editor, respectively, of two books on director Nicholas Ray: American Stranger (SUNY Press, 2017) and, with Steven Rybin, Lonely Places, Dangerous Ground (SUNY Press, 2014). Other books have come out of my secondary interest in popular culture and media more generally. With Julie Grossman, I co-wrote the “TV Milestones” volume Twin Peaks (Wayne State University Press, 2020) and co-edited the collection Penny Dreadful and Adaptation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2023). I am also a staff writer for Film Obsessive.

Currently, I am beginning a new book on the canonical formation of what would be called the Universal Classic Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man, etc.). I’m not only looking at their origins in the serialized films that made Universal Pictures synonymous with the horror genre, but also their after lives, as Universal horror films circulated on television and home video, and their monsters became brand ambassadors for a media conglomerate in the franchise era. As you might be able to tell from this introduction, I’m as much a cinephile as I am a film scholar and professor, and I feel lucky to be able to do professionally what I also do for fun, which is read and think about movies (and, of course, watch them!).

One of the many things I love about working in SU’s Department of English is how “reading” (i.e., the analysis and interpretation of texts) is broadly conceived, and how “texts” are not exclusively literary. This curriculum is ideal for someone like me who is not a filmmaker or social scientist of media, but a critic and historian interested in how films are made and made meaningful. Through our English and Textual Studies curriculum, which includes novels, short stories, poems, plays, theoretical writing, films, television programs, and games, students learn how to derive meaning from texts and why those meanings are possible. Students also have the option of taking Creative Writing classes or pursuing a separate Creative Writing major within the department. The Creative Writing curriculum complements that of English and Textual Studies, as students learn how to put critical reading into creative practice and write original texts of their own.

As Chair, I look forward to helping the department continue building on the strengths of the distinct disciplines it houses, while reinforcing the interdisciplinary connections and shared goals we have as a whole.


~ Will Scheibel


The Archive Reopened: Conversations with Special Collections Exhibition Curators

This past semester I have become interested in archives as cultural, political, and epistemological institutions. I visited the Special Collections Research Center’s exhibitions on the sixth floor of Bird Library and took home brochures. I enrolled in Professor Patricia Roylance’s class on the history of the book, where we were able to interact with old books and other archival objects on a weekly basis. I even made what I consider a valiant attempt at reading Derrida. These all made me think about the points of contact between us and the items we’ve chosen to preserve from a history in which we collectively create. I was thrilled to be able to talk with Dr. Irina Savinetskaya, Early to Pre-20th Century Curator at SCRC, and Caroline Charles, SCRC Curatorial Assistant and Ph.D. candidate in English, about exhibitions they have curated using Special Collections material.

Dr. Savinetskaya’s Ways of Knowing in Early Modern Science showcases ten enlarged reproduced images from early modern European print books depicting a wide range of epistemologies across disciplines as varied as engineering, anatomy, and astronomy. There is something striking about standing in the hallway looking at the images in a larger-than-life size, as if they are hanging in a gallery as individual works of art both representative of and alienated from their original contexts. My personal favorite image is one from 1719 that depicts a rotating reading wheel designed by Nicolas Grollier de Servière to help scholars work with multiple bulky texts at once. I am sort of convinced that we should bring them back. But rather than have us get caught up in one specific item, the exhibition encourages us to consider the images in dialogue with one another—and with us, even centuries later. Dr. Savinetskaya told me over e-mail that she hopes the interdisciplinarity of the exhibition can “remind us that the sciences, humanities, and other disciplines have always been deeply interconnected in their pursuit of knowledge.” In our current technological moment, where established ideas about knowledge have been challenged in various ways by the development of large language models, she argues for a reconnection between the different sciences and humanities. “The collaboration between them is more important than ever. While modern specialization has given us depth, it also segregated various domains of knowledge over time that now need to crosspollinate to solve some of the most pressing challenges that we face.”

Knowledge—where and whom it comes from, and why it matters—tends to run as an undercurrent across SCRC exhibitions, sometimes in a very self-reflexive way. Caroline Charles and Jessica Terry-Elliott’s exhibition A Love Supreme: Black Cultural Expression and Political Activism of the 1960s and 1970s showcases materials and reproductions from the Black Arts and Black Power Movements. The exhibition deliberately challenges and expands narratives about Black Arts by elevating the contributions of figures and voices who have been missing from dominant narratives of the movement—such as Black women and children, and men imprisoned in Attica—in an assertion of their importance to the Black Arts Movement and to our narratives about it. These questions of representation and ways of knowing were central to not only the final exhibition but also to the process of curation, and to the continual process of examining the archive and the histories it contains or leaves out. I asked Ms. Charles during our conversation what materials stood out most to her and Ms. Terry-Elliott as central pieces to include from the very beginning, and immediately she pointed me to the print of Jacob Lawrence’s The Library, a colorful painting of part of a library’s interior as a space of Black learning and community. In the foreground, a Black librarian is pushing a cart full of books from right to left. “This setting of the library as this meeting place for African Americans to read, and read together, really spoke to the things we wanted to say about the importance of publishing during the period, but also to our own process in the archives,” she told me. “When we’re doing tours, Jessica often says, ‘that’s us, back there in the stacks, going through books and archives in pursuit of this knowledge that we want to share with everyone else.’”

The SCRC exhibition of A Love Supreme ended back in August and was then transferred with adjustments to the Community Folk Art Center, where it was displayed in a gallery space until the end of December. CFAC was itself established out of the Black Power Movement in 1972 as a unit of Syracuse University’s Department of African American Studies, and A Love Supreme’s months-long residence is another powerful connection between the archive and the public community. Both within and outside the building of Bird Library, the Special Collections exhibitions reflect an effort to reconnect people to the archive by bringing its contents out into the public space in expansive, interactive ways. Earlier in the semester Dr. Savinetskaya and her colleagues organized a “pop-up exhibition” where members of the public were able to interact with the early modern materials themselves and talk with her and her colleagues about the exhibition.

Of course, archives have been historically exclusionary institutions both toward Black researchers and in terms of what is deemed worthy of archiving. Still, Ms. Charles says, archives are a crucial way in which we narrativize and bear witness to our histories, and they have the potential to move us toward social justice. Working on A Love Supreme has also caused her to think differently about the institutional archive. Reflecting on hers and Ms. Terry-Elliott’s work, she says she has been thinking more about how her own work can change archives themselves, that she is interested in “rethinking what archives can look like, and the kind of work we do in curating history in a different way.”

Many thanks to Irina Savinetskaya and Caroline Charles for their time and invaluable insights.

~ Roslyn Lydick


Notes on Toni Morrison’s Time and Work in Syracuse

Every single one of Toni Morrison’s biographies mentions that she lived in Syracuse. However, the mention is merely a footnote. Most of these biographies note that she studied at Cornell, worked at Random House Publishing, and then migrated to New York City where her writing career would begin to blossom. However, while living in Syracuse, raising her two sons alone, she would witness the destructive effects of revisionist history.

Between her studies and her stint as the first Black woman Senior Editor at Random House, she worked for a textbook company subsidiary called L.W Singer. She hypothesized the hire was due to a culture shift. The Civil Rights Movement was still fresh, and L.W Singer recognized that American history textbooks taught in school did not represent minorities. L.W Singer wanted their textbooks to be more inclusive and hired Morrison to oversee the process. Morrison discovered, however, that what the textbook company really wanted was a big purchase order from Detroit Public Schools and the profit that such a sale would entail. Singer was still revising history in public school textbooks for most other states at the time, however. For example, “We still had to say ‘war between the states’ instead of Civil War,” when writing texts sold to Texas, commented Gayle Freeman, a coworker of Morrison’s at that time. Likewise, certain specific lines from beloved authors “were never printed,” to avoid political, religious, or sexual controversy, and that there were other “restrictions to which editors had to submit,” leading Morrison to comment that “textbooks are a time bomb in every country.”

Toni Morrison started writing The Bluest Eye in Syracuse, urging her co-workers to not tell any of her superiors she was writing the book. She would sneak down to meet with designers about the textbooks, skirting the rules that demanded textbooks cater history to specific audiences. Despite publishing being “a boys club,” Morrison pushed to record history factually, and went on to publish an anthology of Black authors.

One of her greatest accomplishments came when she publicly defied her bosses. At this time, Morrison was working at Random House, also based in Syracuse. Random House allowed Morrison to publish whatever she wanted, however, what she wanted to publish did not always fit with the interests of the company. She was not being paid a living wage, resorting to teaching at various colleges to make ends meet. When she was editing The Black Book, a collection of documents and images detailing the Black experience in America since slavery, certain departments did not back her, and the publishing company was indifferent to the book when releasing it, marketing it very little. Regardless, the book became a massive hit, providing a rare depiction of Black American history from a Black perspective.

Syracuse was the backdrop for Toni Morrison’s first acts of resistance. This city was Morrison’s home as she went head on against revisionist history. Looking at Syracuse today, that fight against rewriting history needs to stay strong. Former infrastructure has been or is currently being torn down to accommodate a growing influx of students and tech employees. The preservation of Syracuse’s history is secondary to gentrification and modernization. A respect for history is paramount if stories like Morrison’s are to withstand time and change to Syracuse’s infrastructure. I would tell you to get inspired by visiting the publishing house where Morrison defied the erasure of Black history, but it’s a parking lot now.

~ Sam Baylow



Faculty Spotlight: Professor Chris Forster’s Brilliant Mind

I have had the pleasure of taking several classes with Professor Chris Forster, and I am always impressed by how well he can engage a group of students. As an integral part of the SU community since the fall of 2012, Professor Forster brings with him a wealth of knowledge and a passion for exploring the intersections of literature, censorship, and digital humanities. He got his BA in English at Providence College, and then went on to pursue a PhD in English at the University of Virginia. I recall Professor Forster telling students in his class that he used to want to explore computer science but was naturally drawn to English instead. In his words, “The digital humanities combine the traditional objects and concerns of the humanities with digital technology. This includes both the use of computationally driven methods to study literature and culture (which is my current research focus), and critique and reflection on those technologies (which is key concern of some of my classes).”

Professor Forster uses his knowledge of computers in ways I’ve never seen before to illuminate new ways of thinking about a text, and he is even open to discussions about the use of AI in writing. Specifically, he has recently been exploring computer text mining to uncover the ways Victorian three-volume novels shaped the conventions of English fiction.

Professor Forster’s dedication to his research is evident in the time and effort he invested in his two major publications: Filthy Material: Modernism and the Media of Obscenity (2018) and Modernism and its Media (2021). His primary areas of research lie in 20th-century literature, particularly the first half of the century, within the movement commonly referred to as “modernism.” His keen interest in the ways digital technology influences the study of literature and culture showcases his commitment to exploring the evolving relationship between literature and technology. His publications shed light on the intricate connections between modernism, censorship, and the evolving media landscape of the early 20th century.

I almost laughed at myself when I asked Professor Forster what his favorite banned book is. Of course, it’s James Joyce’s Ulysses. Anyone who has taken any one of Forster’s classes can tell you that. He is so incredibly passionate about this text and its implications in the history of censorship. Last Spring, Professor Forster taught a course entitled “Literature and its Censorship.” This quickly became my favorite class that I have taken at SU, and it is what prompted me to ask him to be featured in this faculty spotlight. I asked him where his interest in censorship spawned from and here is what he had to say:

My interest in censorship emerges from a line in Judge John Woolsey’s 1933 decision in the case of United States v. One Book Called “Ulysses.” Woolsey, in finding Joyce’s 1922 novel as not obscene, notes that it is nowhere “dirt for dirt’s sake.” This phrase echoes “art for art’s sake,” and in so doing raises questions about the value and justification of literature. It was this correspondence that first drew me to questions of literature and censorship.

Professor Forster wants to make one thing very clear: “Book censorship today is not the same as the book censorship at the center of modernism.” He goes on to explain how the censorship of older works such as James Joyce’s Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence were much more concerned with whether a novel can legally be published if it has “obscene” material in it. Eventually, Forster explains that these works were deemed not obscene, and makes the following point: “Obscenity law insisted that there is crucial, public value to modes of even transgressive aesthetic expression. Literature was at stake, and by the mid-20th century, an appeal to literary value was meaningful enough to excuse even apparently obscenity.”

He highlights a distinct difference from modern-day censorship: books that are banned today are usually targeted less for their aesthetic qualities and more for their potential to “corrupt” young minds with explicit content. Most commonly, memoirs with LGBTQIA+ material, such as George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, are banned in schools and libraries.

I had the opportunity to speak with one of Professor Forster’s current Literature and Its Media (ENG 305) students, and this is what she had to say about him: “I love how obvious it is that Forster truly enjoys both the topics he’s teaching, and the act of teaching itself. There’s never a dull moment in his classroom.” Professor Forster makes his mark as an excellent professor within the department of English in a few ways right off the bat: making sure everyone in the class knows each other’s names, letting student-generated discussion questions guide the class conversation, and being supportive and understanding of students.

In a time when higher education is increasingly focused on career trajectories, Professor Forster underscores the enduring value of liberal arts majors. He believes that a broad training in liberal arts, coupled with specialization in a technical field, offers not only intellectual fulfillment but also a wise professional choice, especially given the shifting landscape of many careers. Celebrating the contributions of Professor Chris Forster, the Department of English can look forward to the continued impact of his research, teaching, and dedication to the exploration of literature, censorship, and the ever-evolving digital humanities.

~ Rachel Simpson

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