Armstrong Browning Library Welcomes New Curator

Laura J. French, Associate Librarian and Curator, Armstrong Browning Library

We are pleased to welcome Laura J. French as associate librarian and curator of the Armstrong Browning Library. Laura joined the ABL in May, bringing with her significant experience in reference, instruction, and outreach. Before joining the ABL, she held positions as Special Collections and Digital Archives Librarian at California State University, Stanislaus; as Instruction and User Services Librarian, also at CSU, Stanislaus; and as Interim Librarian for Rare Books and Literary Manuscripts at the University of Maryland, College Park. Previously, Laura taught English and Social Sciences at the secondary level. Laura earned her BA in History with a minor in Literature from High Point University in North Carolina, and her MA in Medieval History from California State University, Sacramento. Laura completed all coursework toward an MA in Education with a concentration in Curriculum and Instruction and earned her MLS from the University of Maryland, College Park.

How did you become interested in librarianship?

I became interested in librarianship because of challenges I faced as a high school social science and English language arts teacher. I would search the internet for digital versions of primary sources that I could use in my classes. While I found many interesting digital collections, the content rarely aligned to content standards. If I could find digitized primary sources aligned to content standards, frequently the images were file sizes too small to create reproducible facsimiles and many could not be downloaded at all. So it was dissatisfaction with the then current state of many digital collections and a desire to help teachers interested in teaching with primary sources which prompted my interest in librarianship.

Describe your role at the Armstrong Browning Library and what interests you most about the position?

Dr. Sebastian Langdell's English 2301 course visited the Armstrong Browning Library in September to explore 18th Century printings of Shakespeare's play "The Tempest."

Laura French introduces students in Dr. Sebastian Langdell’s English 2301 course to the ABL’s 18th-century printings of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”

As a curator at the Armstrong Browning Library I provide access to and promote the use of the library’s nineteenth-century research materials. I offer research support to individuals with questions about Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and their circle. The part of my responsibilities which I find most engaging is the collaborative work I do with Baylor faculty designing instruction sessions utilizing the ABL’s resources to enhance student learning experiences. Attempting to increase awareness on campus, in the local community, and within scholarly circles of the ABL’s resources is the most creatively challenging aspect of my work.

Describe a project on which you are currently working and a project you hope to begin the near future?

Currently, I am working on an exhibit manual. This will be a tool for ABL employees and interns to offer guidance for individuals putting together an exhibit for the first time and reminders for those putting up their fiftieth. It will have some resources to help individuals curating an exhibit at the ABL keep track of the parts of an exhibit, locate supplies, and identify employees in other departments who have key roles in exhibit curation at Baylor Libraries.

Next, I will work on documentation for the ABL’s instruction program. I would like to be able to provide faculty with a description of the types of instruction that the ABL offers and ensure that all faculty are aware of their options when in comes to requesting instruction sessions utilizing the ABL’s research collections.

The Brownings’ Literary Network: Curator Interview

The Armstrong Browning Library & Museum’s current exhibit, “The Literary Network of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning” will be coming down on Friday, September 28th. But before it does, we asked Dr. Kristen Pond a few questions about her course on literary networks. We hope you enjoy reading Dr. Pond’s responses and take this final opportunity to drop by and see her students’ hard work while it is still on display.

Students set up artifacts for English 3351 exhibit project.

Students set up artifacts for English 3351 exhibit project.

Where did your interest in literary networks begin and how has it grown or changed?

While periodization is always something that we debate as literary students and scholars, it still organizes the way we teach our classes and the way we divide up the work of research and teaching in each period. I did not really question the notion of periods and all of those survey courses marching linearly through time that I took as an undergraduate. Until, that is, I was taking a Nineteenth Century British Literature survey course and we were looking at William Wordsworth that day. I had just been working on a project for another class on the Victorian period and what was happening in the year 1850. In the class on William Wordsworth the professor hit the highlights of his life and then mentioned he died in 1850. I remember thinking – wait, what?! He is a Romantic poet but he was alive at the height of the Victorian period. Then I looked at the publication dates of his work and noticed how many of them were in the Victorian, not the Romantic, period. This was the beginning of the tension I feel in cordoning off time periods and putting writers in boxes accordingly.

This interest has changed in focus slightly from the issue of dating to the issue of networks itself. These authors did not write alone or in isolation, but they had important networks of friends, family, and peers that had a vital influence on the kind of works they produced. I discovered most of these networks through my interest in minor writers, usually female, that get left out of the canon. Once you start exploring these women you begin to realize just how connected they are to the “major” male writers that tend to make it on course syllabi. Dorothy Wordsworth is perhaps the most famous example, and she is in fact often included in anthologies now (though clearly as the minor counterpart to her brother William). Thinking about the Brownings or the Shelleys as couples who formed literary networks is fun, and of course there are lots of groups who were well known enough to have earned names, such as the Lake School, the Cockney School, and the Bloomsbury group.

What do you enjoy most as you teach students about authors’ literary networks?

I most enjoy teaching my literature survey courses as networks because students begin to see these authors as human beings. For some reason, I think this creates a different comfort level where students feel able to respond and critique their work. A poem no longer becomes this perfect historical artifact preserved for its perfection, but a work in progress created out of joy and pain in the company (and through the critique) of others. I also enjoy the confusion that emerges from the messiness of trying to learn in a pattern that is not linear but circular and recursive. It is a productive chaos J.

Students in Dr. Pond's English 3351 course view their exhibit.

Students in Dr. Pond’s English 3351 course view their exhibit.

How have students responded to the literary networks exhibit assignment?

Students in general seem to really enjoy a different approach to a literary time period. They always have some new insight they learn specifically from the design set-up, an insight that they would not have gleaned from a traditional march through time looking at writers in isolation. Students also gain a lot from working with the library archives and collections. I have had numerous students go on to graduate school for library science because they realized their passion for working with those kinds of materials.

Armstrong Browning Library Welcomes Three-Month Research Fellow

By Meagan Anthony, ABL Graduate Research Assistant and PhD candidate, Department of English

Professor Clare Simmons, ABL Three-Month Research Fellow for 2018

On Friday, September 7, the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) welcomed Professor Clare Simmons to Baylor with a reception held in the ABL’s Cox Reception Hall where she was introduced by Dr. Joshua King, Margarett Root Browning Chair in Robert Browning and Victorian Studies, and Jennifer Borderud, Director of the ABL. Professor Simmons is the ABL’s Three-Month Research Fellow for the fall of 2018. The library offers this research fellowship every year to established and recognized scholars of nineteenth-century studies from outside Baylor. This fellowship is offered as a means to support in-residence research for scholars to advance a major project using ABL’s unparalleled resources connected to the Brownings and other influential authors from the nineteenth-century.

Professor Clare Simmons with faculty from Baylor’s English Department

Professor Simmons is one of the foremost scholars of nineteenth-century medievalism. Her extensive publications include books as well as scholarly articles and demonstrate her dedication to the use of archival materials. Professor Simmons’s past publications contribute to our understanding of how nineteenth-century Britain used conception of the medieval period in their texts, and she illuminates how the British people conceptualized their own history and national identity. Additionally, as the director of undergraduate studies for the Ohio State English Department, she has shared her passion for literature with the next generation of scholars through interactive workshops and engaging presentations.

In her three-month residency at the ABL, Professor Simmons will be conducting research to complete a book on “festive medievalism” in nineteenth-century literature and culture. As well as researching, Professor Simmons will be interacting with Baylor students and faculty through presentations and workshops. Consequently, on Friday, September 21, Professor Simmons will be presenting a workshop titled “Publishing Your First Article and Submitting to Conferences.” This presentation will be from 3:30-4:30 pm in the Armstrong Browning Library’s Seminar Room. Toward the end of her residency, on November 16, Professor Simmons will give a talk encapsulating the results of her research during her fellowship at the Armstrong Browning Library. The focus of this talk will center on the festivities of the Christmas season.

Learn more about Professor Clare Simmons here. Learn more about the ABL’s Three-Month Research Fellowship here.