2018–19 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 2018–19 cohort of RBS-UVA Fellows includes:

  • Sophie Abramowitz – Ph.D. student, Department of English
  • Neal Curtis – Ph.D. student, Department of English
    **Recipient of the 2018–19 Betsy and Stuart Houston Prize – click here to see Neal’s project**
  • Erik Harrington – Ph.D. student, McIntire Department of Art
  • Andrew Hill – Ph.D. student, Department of French
  • Micaela Kowalski – Ph.D. student, Department of History
    **2018–19 RBS-UVA Fellowship Project Honorable Mention**
  • Loreto Romero Martínez-Eiroa – Ph.D. student, Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese
    **2018–19 RBS-UVA Fellowship Project Honorable Mention**
  • Madeline Zehnder – Ph.D. student, Department of English

Sophie Abramowitz
Ph.D. student, Department of English
“Criticized when written by Francis La Flesche”: Drama, Ethnography, and Helen Kane’s “Indian Plays” (Dissertation chapter)

Thanks to the RBS-UVA Fellowship, in the summer of 2018 I had the opportunity to take Michael Kelly and Kiara Vigil’s course A History of Native American Books & Indigenous Sovereignty. Taking place in Amherst College’s Archives & Special Collections and drawing primarily from their extensive collection of Native-authored books, the course offered a long and deeply engaged history of the ways that Native and Indigenous peoples created a network of sovereignty through print culture.

This course has been completely invaluable to the content, frame, and methodology of my third dissertation chapter, “‘Criticized when written by Francis La Flesche’: Drama, Ethnography, and Helen Kane’s ‘Indian Plays.’” With new knowledge of the physical features of the printed book and the ways that non-Native authored books “performed” the imagined features of Indian-ness, I’ve been able to approach the plays of Helen P. Kane—a white woman of means who volunteered for the Daughters of the American Revolution and wrote “Indian Stories” for the Hampton Institute’s Southern Workman, parlor dramas, and “Indian Plays”—as a key to a longer history of what Philip Deloria calls “playing Indian,” specifically in the genre of “Indian” drama. With the help of a research grant from UVA’s Centro de las Américas, I was able to return to Amherst’s Archives this fall to trace the publication and distribution history of Kane’s “Indian plays.” There, I found a direct link to Native ethnographer Francis La Flesche, who not only helped to collect the songs that Kane printed in her plays, but also seems to have reviewed each play himself.

The plays tell a story of white imagination of Native life and Native extinction: the same logic that was foundational to the physical and paper genocide of Native peoples. They also tell a story of Native people who insist on publishing and writing and revising their own histories. Mike, Kiara, and my brilliant classmates taught me how to ethically approach the material history of Native and Indigenous culture, introduced me to a robust history of Indigenous Intellectuals and Native “survivance,” and gave me the language with which to approach these materials. I’m so grateful for this course!


Neal Curtis
Recipient of the 2018–19 Betsy and Stuart Houston Prize
Ph.D. student, Department of English
Forgery and the Rise of Bibliographical Techniques of Detection

Nick Wilding’s RBS course Forgeries, Facsimiles, and Sophisticated Copies revealed to me what natural bedfellows forgery and bibliography make. My dissertation examines how the methods used to expose forgeries can tell us a great deal about the eighteenth century’s understanding of the materiality of manuscript and print. The chapter I’m currently working on, and which most benefited from Professor Wilding’s course, distributes its focus between Thomas Chatterton’s forgeries, the methods of detection his critics used to uncover his literary misdeeds, and the ways these methods were influenced by the forgery trials that inundated the Old Bailey across the eighteenth century. I argue that forgeries deploy non-linguistic visual features—what Jerome McGann calls “bibliographical codes”—with a degree of intentionality that other categories of literature don’t, and that they therefore present us with a unique opportunity to interrogate, in D.F. McKenzie’s words, “the book as an expressive form.” Just as the exposure of literary forgeries brought the material embodiment of literary texts into relief, forged indentures and promissory notes forced counselors at the Old Bailey to develop bibliographical skills, from interpreting provenance evidence to reconstructing the means of production for paper instruments. The training I received in Professor Wilding’s course equipped me with the tools necessary for evaluating the techniques of detection these lawyers used, and put me in a position to situate those techniques within the longer history of the field of bibliography.


Erik Harrington
Ph.D. student, McIntire Department of Art
Visual Representations of Winter in the Seventeenth-century Netherlands

My dissertation accounts for the popularity of visual representations of winter in the seventeenth-century Netherlands by locating these images in their cultural context. As my research relies on connections between art and literature, book history appeals to me as a link between images and texts. My RBS course showed me that books bridge this connection in much stronger ways than I previously thought. While the incorporation of physical books into the instruction of the course The Printed Book in the West to 1800 taught me how to employ books as visual evidence, it also showed me how a book can be analyzed and combed through just like a piece of art. I discovered that printers and artists shared the visual and social values detectable in their creations. Studying with Rare Book School encouraged me to adopt the idea that understanding readership practices informs those of viewing visual art. My research on printed seventeenth-century Dutch books that describe winter activities contributed to a dissertation chapter that identifies the people who engaged with these texts and how they did so. I then apply this to illustrations of winter to determine how these images were appreciated by their contemporaries. My study with RBS shifted my focus from how books serve as a means of spreading ideas to how they instigate social rituals bringing people together, particularly through games and courtship. I apply these leisurely experiences of reading about the details represented in the winter scene to the interpretation of the images themselves, as well as how the images, like the books, present winter activities as ways in which the Dutch can understand ancient Roman ideas on their own terms.


Andrew Hill
Ph.D. student, Department of French
Reading a Compassionate Sequence in a French Book of Hours: Charlottesville MS 382

Barbara Shailor’s RBS course Advanced Seminar in Medieval Manuscript Studies in June 2018 offered me the opportunity to explore many eye-catching images of Saint Margaret of Antioch in manuscripts from throughout medieval Europe. Known as the patron saint of childbirth, St. Margaret enjoyed wide popularity in medieval France. Some of the material evidence for her popularity in France includes several medieval manuscripts housed in Yale University’s Beinecke Library (Beinecke MS 390, MS 435, MS 436, MS 425, and MS 314). The images of Saint Margaret I studied demonstrate practices of medieval book culture, including reading habits and liturgical indulgences.

In terms of my dissertation research, I was able to compile several more medieval manuscripts into my bibliographical list of French Books of Hours in U.S. collections that contain textual and/or visual representations of Saint Margaret. Of equal importance, I discovered another version of the “Prayer of the Seven Requests” in Beinecke MS 17, which is a key devotional text for the arguments in my first dissertation chapter entitled “Reading a Compassionate Sequence: Saint Margaret in French Books of Hours.” The paleographical skills I acquired from the hands-on approach in the seminar enabled me to transcribe and translate accurately the “Prayer of the Seven Requests” from Old French to modern English for inclusion as an appendix to my dissertation. Finally, the course provided a paleographical framework from which I can interpret and better understand the cultural practices associated with the French Books of Hours at the heart of my research.


Micaela Kowalski
2018–19 RBS-UVA Fellowship Project Honorable Mention
Ph.D. student, Department of History
Images of Religious and Racial Difference in Early Modern Travel Narratives

My project examines the visual elements of early modern travel narratives, focusing on Flemish printer Theodor de Bry’s Grand Voyages series on the American encounter and later Italian missionary Antonio Cavazzi’s Missione evangelica on his travels in West Central Africa. In examining the printed images in these accounts, I find that both narratives employed traditional tropes of the demonic to depict indigenous religion and culture. I argue that this visual association of the devil with non-Europeans was no coincidence, rather it was an intentional marker of difference that would have been understood by European audiences, especially in the context of the Reformation on the continent. In thinking about these projections of religious difference in visual form, I examine these images not as innocuous or incidental, but rather as meaningful and material sites of negotiating boundaries between Europeans and the “other.”

The RBS course, Textual Mobilities: Works, Books & Reading Across Early Modern Europe which I took last summer at the University of Pennsylvania has greatly informed and shaped this project. In the course we focused on the material and ideological “mobilities” of printed works, examining how physical texts not only reached varied and wide audiences, but also how, by nature of their materiality, they were active in the construction and contestation of knowledge. This course helped me to think of images in travel narratives not merely as illustrations, but rather as materials that transgressed regional and ideological boundaries and stimulated attempts to understand and categorize new peoples and spaces.


Loreto Romero Martínez-Eiroa
2018–19 RBS-UVA Fellowship Project Honorable Mention
Ph.D. student, Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese
The Gaze of Celestina: Celestina’s Anamorphosis and the Sixteenth-Century Reader

Attending RBS course H-120, Textual Mobilities: Works, Books & Reading Across Early Modern Europe enlightened my research on the production and reception of early modern widely consumed literature, such as Don Quijote and Il Cortegiano. Roger Chartier’s lectures broadened my understanding of the ways in which a cultural history of books informs encounters between texts and readers. Furthermore, the display of books and maps assembled and discussed by John Pollack helped me visualize the relationship between ideas, discourses and printed works in the changing ideological background and cultural market of early modernity. As we studied the complex histories of sixteenth and seventeenth-century written works, maps and images, I began ask why some books held a lasting attraction in early modernity from a sociohistorical and material perspective.

My project, entitled “The Gaze of Celestina: Celestina’s Anamorphosis and the Sixteenth-Century Reader,” explores the relation between Fernando de Rojas’ Celestina and the society that received and appropriated it. The aim of my project is to illuminate the experience of reading Celestina in the sixteenth century. In order to do so, I move from textual analysis and theoretical considerations into the physical medium, in which this experience is embedded. Textual Mobilities allows me to reconsider the various ways in which meaning is produced in connection to the protean material and visual support of the text. Therefore, my project foregrounds the role of printers, editors and illustrators in creating a market of readers for Celestina, whose appeal they envisioned and concretized.


Madeline Zehnder
Ph.D. student, Department of English
Writing “Portable” Texts in the Early Republic: A Pocket-Sized Literary History

I entered James N. Green and Michael Winship’s RBS course, The History of the Book in Antebellum America, thinking that it would provide useful, but ultimately supplementary context for the nineteenth-century literature I planned to discuss in my first dissertation chapter. I left the course with a different chapter altogether—one alive to the sheer variety of early American print genres, as well as to the physical realities and economic intricacies of nineteenth-century print culture. In addition to providing me with a new vocabulary for discussing methods of print production and circulation, the class helped me put literary texts in conversation with material practices such as excerpting and reprinting, grounding my literary readings with analyses of actual reading communities.

My RBS project is a conference paper that previews sections of my first chapter, which explores early American engagement with the term “portable.” In this talk, I read Washington Irving’s The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon (1819–20) alongside pocket anthologies, commonplace books, and related archival materials, arguing that for Irving and others, “portability” encodes a text’s literary and social significance as well as its ability to circulate. Although portability is often dismissed as a matter of convenience, I demonstrate that portability was also an aesthetic concern for members of the early republic—especially for those unmoved by large-scale productions such as Joel Barlow’s infamously turgid epic The Columbiad (1807), a text that I first encountered during my RBS course.