2016–17 RBS-UVA Fellows

The RBS-UVA Fellowship provides undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Virginia with scholarships to attend RBS courses that substantially inform year-long projects (viz., a Distinguished Major’s thesis, an article, a dissertation chapter, an exhibition) that they submit to RBS upon completion. The 2016–17 cohort of RBS-UVA Fellows includes:

  • DeVan Ard – Ph.D. student, Department of English
  • Thomas Berenato – Ph.D. student, Department of English
  • Evan Cheney – Ph.D. student, Department of English
  • Ashleigh Elser – Ph.D. student, Department of Religious Studies
  • Mary Gilbert – Ph.D. student, Department of Classics
  • Samantha Wallace – Ph.D. student, Department of English
    **Recipient of the 2016–17 Betsy and Stuart Houston Prize – click here to see Samantha’s project**
  • Chloe Wells – Ph.D. student, McIntire Department of Art
    **2016–17 RBS-UVA Fellowship Project Honorable Mention**

DeVan Ard
Ph.D. student, Department of English
The Liturgical Poetry of William Dunbar

Barbara Shailor’s Advanced Seminar in Medieval Manuscript Studies taught me how to think about the critical issues that are implicit in the production of a medieval book. I practiced this thinking by assembling a presentation on a fifteenth-century book of hours, focusing on the book’s decoration to determine both its place of origin and intended user. I also practiced this thinking by studying a wide variety of manuscripts, which improved by facility with the manuscripts I would later work on in archives in the UK. My submission is from the final part of a recently-completed dissertation chapter, which explores the liturgical poetry of William Dunbar (1470–1513?). Though Dunbar manuscripts are quite plain when compared to the decoration of Latin liturgical books, I deployed the critical skills I gained in the seminar to make an argument about his poetry’s relation to other poems in a specific manuscript, British Library Arundel MS 285. This manuscript is an important anthology of Middle Scots devotional material, and it includes a Good Friday poem written by Dunbar, “Ane Ballat of the Passioun.” In Professor Shailor’s course, I was trained to read such a poem not just as an isolated text but also as the product of material relations, which I would determine by examining the hand in which a poem was written; the quire in which it was gathered; and the quality of the parchment. Because liturgy, the subject of my dissertation, was a highly material, embodied experience for medieval people, the seminar on medieval manuscripts has given me the vocabulary to ask and answer the questions that shed light on that experience.


Thomas Berenato
Ph.D. student, Department of English
A “re-cognition” in “the exact sense of that word”: An Annotated Transcription of David Jones’s Unfinished Essay on Gerard Manley Hopkins

Johanna Drucker’s RBS course Modern Art of the Book taught me how to look at a piece of writing as the crystallization of a compositional process, namely the process by which an artist produces an artifact of the sort that W. J. T. Mitchell, discussing William Blake, calls a “composite” document. The writer under study in the present project, David Jones (1895–1974), trained as a painter and engraver, and it is in the full glare of his visual artist’s eye that I have endeavored to present a reading edition of his unfinished draft of an essay on the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889), his most important influence after Blake. The transcription, its annotations, and the accompanying interpretive essay all emphasize the almost sculptural handling of verbal matter that Jones applies to his self-ordained task of “making a shape in words.” The long process of editing Jones’s poetry—much of which takes the form of prose—is only now getting underway, and I intend this presentation of a fragmentary prose-project of his final decade to prepare the ground for a “composite” editorial approach to this essayist and artist who thought of himself simply as a poeta, in that word’s modest etymological sense of “maker.” My experience at Rare Book School has transformed my understanding of this manuscript, an annotated edition of which I am contributing to a volume of Jones’s uncollected prose out from Bloomsbury Academic later this year, a book for which I have written the general introduction.


Evan Cheney
Ph.D. student, Department of English
“Though thou didst produce / My very character:” Forged Handwriting and Counterfeit Impersonation in Shakespeare’s King Lear

My RBS-UVA Fellowship project considers the importance of handwritten “character” to identity and security during the early modern period. Since the fourth century, “character” has expanded from signifying a written mark to its modern associations with the nature of an individual. The handwritten form, then, has long stood as a witness for distinct individual identities. The works of Shakespeare often associate handwritten letters with truth and identity, but “character” is also the source of duplicity and confusion. For example, in King Lear, Edmund uses a letter ostensibly in Edgar’s “character” to slander his half-brother’s otherwise unimpeachable virtue (1.2.58-63). I argue that Edmund’s forging of Edgar’s “character” becomes an occasion for Shakespeare to examine moral and ethical character more broadly. By predicating this larger discussion on a graphological—even forensic—question, Shakespeare dramatizes cultural anxieties surrounding the absenting of the writer from his or her writing.

Heather Wolfe’s RBS course The Handwriting & Culture of Early Modern English Manuscripts was invaluable for learning the basics of English Secretary Hand, and will prove an essential foundation for ongoing work for my dissertation project this summer in which I aim to continue this research. The course covered learning the diverse formation of individual characters, practicing handwriting with quill pens, and considering the material forms of different types of documents. All of these experiences gave me a deeper appreciation for how difficult an individual’s handwriting may be to decipher and reliably identify on purely paleographical grounds without further methods of verification.


Ashleigh Elser
Ph.D. student, Department of English
The Politics and Polemics of Modern Literary Bibles

My RBS-UVA Fellowship project takes up a text featured prominently in my dissertation: Richard Green Moulton’s The Modern Reader’s Bible. Before my time at RBS, my attention was largely focused on the argument Moulton lays out in the introduction to this text about the need for a distinctly literary Bible as an alternative to the overcrowded Bible of modern printing conventions or the overly fragmented Bible of modern biblical scholarship.

My time in Peter Shillingsburg’s course Printed Books since 1800: Description & Analysis helped me to find a language for book design, enabling me to look beyond citations of the author’s express intention for his or her text. In particular, this course taught me the value of seeing and studying texts as material objects: learning to count gatherings, identify illustration types, and compare various editions of a given text in order to see how a book’s design might change and evolve over time. One class assignment introduced me to the first printing of The Modern Reader’s Bible: a set of small, cloth-bound volumes that I found sitting on a shelf in the archives of the UVA Library. These volumes differed in several significant respects to the edition of the text I had been studying for my dissertation, and helped add another layer to my research.

In my essay, I compare the design of Moulton’s nineteenth-century Modern Reader’s Bible to modern campaigns for a redesigned “literary” Bible. This comparison draws attention to literary Bibles more broadly as significant and understudied material sites for intellectual history that speak to the aesthetics of their time and position themselves in relationship to conventions and controversies in the world of biblical interpretation.


Mary Gilbert
Ph.D. student, Department of Classics
Jean Racine’s Greek and Roman Library

My dissertation, “Jean Racine Reads the Ancients: The Ancient Poetics of Andromaque, Britannicus, and Phèdre et Hippolyte,” is a study of Jean Racine as an avid reader of Latin and Greek dramatists in which I aim to unravel the rich fabric of his intertextual allusions to Euripides, Seneca, and others. I pair a theoretically informed philological analysis of the French plays with an examination of the marginalia Racine wrote in his personal copies of ancient texts to move beyond the lexical analyses of static ‘borrowings’ and offer a new way of reading Racine’s plays that illustrates his dynamic incorporation of themes, language, and poetic techniques familiar to him from antiquity.

As a 2016–17 RBS-UVA Fellow, I participated in two courses: The Printed Book in the West to 1800 and Book Production and Social Practice in Early Modern Europe and America. These courses have helped me develop methodological tools to describe how and when Racine acquired his collection of classical texts. I have been able to answer questions like where he might have bought his books, what he might have paid for them, and whether particular volumes served as school texts during his early days among the Jansenists of Port-Royal or represent purchases he made after he had begun to write for the stage. Learning about Renaissance reading and note-taking practices has also helped me situate Racine’s annotations into the larger picture of sixteenth and seventeenth century European readers. An expanded version of my RBS project will be included in the introduction to my dissertation.


Samantha Wallace
Recipient of the 2016–17 Betsy and Stuart Houston Prize
Ph.D. student, Department of English
Artifact, Assemblage, and the Composite Work

My RBS-UVA Fellowship project began as an accident: I stumbled into a textual blunder while working on a paper on As I Lay Dying, in which I predicated a spatial reading of Addie’s horizontal philosophy on life on a preposition. This preposition, I learned after visiting the manuscript in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library and much to my then horror, does not appear in the manuscript. Since falling from lexical grace and into the material, I have been fascinated by the variables and versions that hide behind the clean paperback copy we often (only) study as scholars of literature.

As a result, I argue in my essay, “Artifact, Assemblage, and the Composite Work,” that we have yet to acknowledge the hybrid and the heterogeneous in genre as a genre in its own right, but that the composite work, as I call it, is a multi-medial, multi-generic, and self-consciously material beast. Through its assemblage, it requires that we, as scholars, pay attention to these very components. Furthermore, by formally representing the process of composition, composite works behoove us to study the effects of print culture on the making of these objects. Interdisciplinary in their interests, the composite work requires us to be so as well.

My ability to research composite works in this way over the last year would not have been possible without the gracious tutelage of Peter Shillingsburg in the RBS course Printed Books since 1800: Description & Analysis, who reinforced the dramatically social and changeable nature of texts.


Chloe Wells
2016–17 RBS-UVA Fellowship Project Honorable Mention
Ph.D. student, McIntire Department of Art
The Duc de Luynes’s Modern Vision of Antiquity: Sculpture, Polychromy, and Photography in Nineteenth-Century France

This project focuses on the largely dispersed and unstudied photographic collection of Honoré Théodore Paul Joseph d’Albert, duc de Luynes (1802–1867), a celebrated collector and scholar of antiquities and patron of the arts in nineteenth-century France. My paper investigates how his interest in photography informs a deeply individualized and innovative view of antiquity and fine art in the mid-nineteenth-century. Examining Luynes’s controversial commission and experiments in antique polychrome sculpture for the first time alongside his photographic pursuits, this paper critically resituates these endeavors within the broader and increasingly unstable discourses surrounding antique sculpture, polychromy, and photography in the nineteenth century.

The Rare Book School course Identifying Photographic Print Processes with James Reilly and Ryan Boatright was central to my analysis of this figure’s involvement in advancing photographic printing technologies, the examples that remain from his collection, and the effects of different photographic techniques on antique subjects. While his approach to antiquity has been considered as predominantly scientific, this study resists the habitual separation of art and science. My research reveals Luynes’s unique use of science to inform antique aesthetic ideals by disrupting sculptural archetypes with polychromy and by valuing the new and questionable photographic medium as both scientific tool and aesthetic object. By reclaiming the significance of his relationship to photography, this paper demonstrates how the photograph provided Luynes a new way of seeing antiquity at mid-century: one that could transform idealized subjects into “real” representations.

This RBS course was foundational for my work as a photo historian. It provided me with the training to identify all types of photographic prints as well as fundamental knowledge of photographic processes. These tools are invaluable as I continue to explore how the technical qualities and artistic choices involved in photographic production can inform a larger art historical discourse across media.