“My favorite historical couple is Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning and I plan on retracing their steps through Italy one day.”
It is perhaps no surprise that Victorian scholar and Guttman Assistant Professor of English Dr. Laura Clarke named both of her children after literary figures. “I love books!” she exclaims with pride. Her own research focuses on the intersections between literature, philosophy, and the visual arts during the Victorian period. She is currently writing a book on the Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, who “took up photography when it was a relatively new medium and engaged in epistemological debates about what constituted art.” Dr. Clarke’s work in progress explores how Cameron’s “illustrations embody conversations with other literary works and how they represent her wider photographic theory.” More broadly, she has contributed articles to Victorian Poetry, Religion and Literature and Cleo: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History, as well as a book chapter to the edited collection Carlyle and the Idea.
As she writes, Dr. Clarke is practicing what she teaches: “writing is a life-long process. As teachers and scholars, we are always working on ways to engage our audiences more effectively… I hope that students leave my composition classes feeling confident in their ability to express themselves and to participate in academic communities.”
Dr. Clarke reveals that Guttman’s unique cohort model for the First Year Experience “has really changed the quality of my teaching.” She considers it “a privilege to teach students starting from their first Reading and Writing class” in college, required for all incoming students, “through the [mandatory] Composition sequence, and to have some of the same students in my second-year Topics in Literature class. Knowing the students so well, and having the opportunity to witness their individual development, I’m more invested in their success, and I have a detailed sense of what each student needs from me, which enables me to support them to the best of my ability.”
To create the optimal “mixture of familiarity and rigor” in her classroom, Dr. Clarke sets high expectations for academic work and emphasizes planning and outlining as essential to successful essays. Once “students feel supported” in identifying significant ideas in texts and understanding academic content, they challenge themselves and their own understanding in the literary analyses they create.
For a project on slave spirituals in Dr. Clarke’s elective course, the Bible and Literature, “we watched different performances of these songs to see how they have influenced later musical traditions.” Through such connections between modern and historical art forms, Dr. Clarke imparts “that literature is grounded in the conceptual ideas of a particular time and place, and that each work has an underlying mythic structure and symbolic language that expresses enduring human values.” Furthermore, “in a climate that questions the relevance of the humanities in education,” students in Dr. Clarke’s classes see the significance of delving deeply into literary works to truly appreciate their relevance to the present day.