Four Augustana researchers awarded federal grants

Projects range from acquaintance rape narratives in young adult literature to forgotten histories and what they say about us, but each seeks to solve a complex issue that faces society today.

Tia Lalani - 20 November 2019

Professor Roxanne Harde's bookshelf heavy with young adult novels that feature acquaintance rape, a trend that she noticed and was compelled to study in a project that was recently awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant.

Four researchers from Augustana won grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), a prestigious federal granting agency, this year. These insight grants are awarded to beginning-stage projects that seek to address complex issues that face society. From acquaintance rape narratives in young adult literature to forgotten histories and what they say about us, these projects are as wide-ranging as they are impactful.

What does it mean when we don't talk about things?

The idea for Daniel Sims' research project didn't begin with a dense academic article or classroom discussion, but rather, with a story from his grandfather, who, on a journey up the river, spotted a huge steam tractor wheel on the side of the Ingenika River in British Columbia-an area most think of as untouched wilderness.

"There really had been no agriculture in the area, no highway in. Someone went through a lot of effort to bring a tractor to this area, and then ended up just leaving it to rust," said Sims, which led him to the question of not only why this particular wheel was left in this particular area and then forgotten, but of how and why and what people choose to and choose not to forget more generally.

Further research led Sims to discover that the Finlay-Parsnip Watershed of Northern British Columbia is rife with these forgettings: numerous developments were proposed and then abandoned, including mining projects, railways and even highways. In fact, there was even a push that the Alaskan Highway go through this area at one point in time. Yet, Northern BC remains a place of wilderness in the minds of many.

Sims' project will seek to understand what these failed projects reveal about the history of the area. He will work in consultation with Indigenous peoples who have lived there for thousands of years and haven't forgotten the hidden history that many others seem to have. Broadly, his project will look at the concept of collective memory, and how and why we remember things as a species, while also questioning concepts of wilderness more generally.

"The past is what happened. History is what we remember," says Sims. "I'm interested in figuring out what it means when we don't talk about things."

"Sexuality as the culture defines it"

"The same issues were picking and picking at me," said Roxanne Harde of her SSHRC-funded research project entitled "Sexuality as the culture defines it": acquaintance rape in recent young adult novels.

Harde could perhaps attribute the picking to the sheer amount of texts that she found on the topic-100 novels in the last eight years-and knew that the proliferation of the issue, along with the fact that social campaigns on a similar topic-like the #metoo movement-were gaining momentum, meant she needed to take a closer look.

Harde has been busy gathering material and already writing and presenting papers on these novels. She hopes the funding will lead to a book on the topic that is as vast as it is difficult. When asked about the tough subject matter, Harde didn't skip a beat. "Maybe it's because I hit sixty [years old] and said 'Look, I'm tough, and I can do this.' It's a job that should happen," she says.

In the next while, Harde will focus her efforts on the concept of shame: how these characters deal with the shame that comes from not only rape, but things indicative of a larger sexist society, like slut-shaming. She is reading the act of telling in these novels as an entirely feminist issue, entwining both the personal and the political as these female characters grapple with how to disclose their truth, and navigating the pressures put on them to disclose and to not disclose.

"The equation goes something like this," Harde explained. "Something bad was done to my body, so therefore my body is bad. I am bad. That's where shame comes in."

Although a harrowing subject, Harde is hopeful. "I think we're beginning a new wave of feminism where girls and women are standing up as activists and saying enough."

Generating Indigenous knowledge

Francois Bastien's research project has some lofty goals that aren't as esoteric as the title or topic of rhetorical history might suggest. Bastien is interested in shedding a light on the way that organizations-and in this case different Indigenous communities-use their history strategically. Another one of his goals is to represent the differences that exist among Indigenous communities.

"Oftentimes we see Indigenous communities as being the same," he explained. "We use the term 'indigenization' as if there is one way to indigenize things. But different people, communities and tribes are in different socioeconomic positions and have different relationships with their history. Some still speak their language but don't hunt or fish anymore; some hunt, fish and trap but don't speak their language anymore; some are really embedded in how they used to do things; some are not. So, then, what does it mean to be Indigenous?"

Bastien is walking the talk with his research project by including Indigenous people from the communities he visits in every step of the process, from drafting a research question to bringing information back to make sure it's useful to them.

"The goal is to generate Indigenous knowledge from Indigenous people," Bastien says. "Some communities attract more resources than others, not necessarily because they need them, but because they are more persuasive. I don't want these communities to be handcuffed by how they see themselves in the past."

Along with these practical goals, Bastien hopes that generating knowledge on the various types of Indigenous communities will aid in reconciliation in ways that symbolic attempts, like ribbon cuttings and statue dedications, cannot.

"There's nothing wrong with reconciliation efforts based on symbolism-we need that-but we also need to look at what's actually happening and address it. Westerners have built a system of resource dependency so that it's difficult for Indigenous communities to strive financially, economically and socially. If we can come up with recommendations for both government and communities going forward, and seek to understand their dynamics better, it's easier to suggest new avenues to recraft that system."

Correcting and creating

Alongside his work as Dean of Augustana, Demetres Tryphonopoulos is conducting research for a project also awarded a SSHRC insight grant, on modernist writer Hilda Doolittle (H.D.).

Working with two doctoral students, Matte Robinson and Sara Dunton, Tryphonopoulos seeks to produce a complete series of scholarly editions of H.D.'s long poems in the same manner that her male contemporaries like T.S. Eliot's, Ezra Pound's and James Joyce's texts are available.

"H.D. experienced and wrote about both world wars in London, participated in the theorizing of cinema, initiated a feminist revision of poetry, developed a theory of art's role in the pursuit of peace and was analyzed by (and wrote on) Freud," Tryphonopoulos explained. "Scholars and readers interested in poetry, war, trauma, cinema, psychoanalysis, theories of gender and sexuality and other poetic and cultural issues see her as a major modernist figure…but her major work is relatively inaccessible."

To correct that, Tryphonopoulos, Robinson and Dunton will pour over H.D.'s long poems in notebooks, drafts and published texts alongside her late prose to re-evaluate her under-acknowledged contributions to the genre. They also hope to dissect H.D.'s poetry through various critical literary and psychological theories, all the while engaging with history, nationality, war, trauma and public figures including writers, artists, actors, intellectuals, billionaires, spies and war heroes.

The project will result in a three-volume annotated publication of H.D.'s long poems, a companion volume of essays and a suite of digital applications for the H.D. Society website.

"We want to ensure that the work produced is definitive and lasts for generations," Tryphonopoulos says.