Allie Butterfield, Plymouth State University IDS Major
This interview post by Ke Cawley involves her interviewing the English department chair, Ann McClellan. In the interview, they discuss how interdisciplinary studies affects the department of English and how Dr. McClellan teaches her courses. What’s interesting about this post is how the professor was so enthusiastic about the concept of interdisciplinary studies and how interdisciplinarity permeates her department and field. They discuss how the different disciplines within the discipline of English makes the department interdisciplinary itself.
This interview also focuses on how English uses qualitative (rather than quantitative) methodology, and on how many specific disciplines other than English are focused on more or less in classes depending on their importance to the topics of courses.
Interview with Ann McClellan, English Department Chair, Plymouth State
Ke Cawley, Plymouth State University IDS Major
For my interview, I had the great fortune of speaking with Dr. Ann McClellan, she is the English Department Chair and an enthusiastic Sherlock Holmes fan. When I first started thinking about professors to interview, I wasn’t sure who to interview because I was a previous studio art major, so therefore I didn’t know a ton of professors outside the art department. I talked with a couple of students in the Interdisciplinary Office and one of them suggested Dr. Ann McClellan because of her interest in blogging.
Her office is in the Ellen Reed House and as of that day, I had never stepped foot in the Ellen Reed House. Her office is decorated with Sherlock Holmes figurines and soft music is playing from her laptop. The first question I asked her was “what do you teach?” Ann replied with, “I teach a lot of things. My actual training and research is on 19th and 20th century British Literature. I also teach a survey course and Introduction to the English Major course. I teach a course on Global Literature, I’ve taught courses on Critical Theory, I teach classes on Digital Literature, I teach classes on film (movie adaptation). I also do research on Sherlock Holmes fan fiction.” I was impressed with the number of different classes that Ann has taught.
The second question that I asked was “what did you study in Grad School?” Ann went to grad school at the University of Cincinnati. Ann took a lot of classes in British Literature and she has a graduate certificate in women’s studies. She also took courses on feminist scholars, women writers and interdisciplinary women’s studies. Ann took graduate courses in British Culture/History, she was very interested in the relationship of British Culture/History and what literature comes out and how literature comments, critiques and shapes history.
The third question I proposed was, “what are you working on now?” Ann replied, “I just finished a draft of a book on the TV show Sherlock. Fan fiction and world building is something that gets discussed often in video game studies and fantasy literature. I’m talking about how the Sherlock TV show creates an identifiable world that’s a literary cannon for fan fiction writers and how they use different genres to comment upon the world and to challenge and reinscribe elements in the world. I’m also working on a talk right now on why Americans love TV shows and movies about British Butlers, so I’ll be doing that in April!”
The fourth question I asked was “how do you work with scholars outside of your field?” Ann told me that, often the best opportunities are through conferences. In academic conferences, she shares her work with others and she’s had great scholars/international scholars, some of who she’s found shared interests with. So then they would propose a shared panel and travel. She also does reviews for a couple of journals on fan studies and the history of intellectual culture. She describes how that gets her relationships with other editors and reviewers. She also uses the social media site, Twitter to communicate with others and let people know that she likes their work.
The fifth question I gave Ann was, “how do you work with non-academics in your professional life (non-students)?” Ann replied,” I give talks to the New Hampshire Humanities Council, I’m doing a new one about Americans and British Servants. I work with local libraries too. I’m able to talk to local people about research, conceptual ideas and popular culture, I find that amazing! I think it’s the best way to talk to people in the public about higher education. There’s a British Culture Club at the Plymouth Reginal High School that drinks tea and watches British Television. So, they’ve had me come in and talk about Sherlock Holmes.” I found this fascinating!
The sixth question I asked was about interdisciplinary work and if she did any interdisciplinary work. Ann told me that’s what all English Majors do essentially. She said that when she went to undergraduate college, she was taught traditionally by mostly examining literary text. She said that she was taught cultural history, however, not anything about the author. I was also surprised when Ann told me that English is a new major, it was created in the 1920s. When Ann got to grad school, everyone was interested in interdisciplinary studies. Ann said,” with the work I’m doing now, I have to know about media studies, how to analyze film, I have to be able to talk about television, I have to know some psychology and audience analysis. Everyone does something interdisciplinary in different ways.” I definitely agree with that statement!
The seventh question was, “what courses should students who are majoring in your department take outside of that department?” Ann replied enthusiastically, “technology courses! It would be great if students could combine their critical analysis, research skills, writing voice and speaking with technology, I really push that. Take that general education class Web Expressions, it gives a broad overview of basic web technologies. Also, any kind of art history courses because visual literacy is important. There’s a new class about communications, social media that will be beneficial to take. We’re just starting to talk about skills based classes about four to eight weeks, two credit classes based around blogging and marketing.” I hope that they have these classes in the future years.
My eight question was, “do you think that interdisciplinary programs should be offered at all colleges?” Ann’s face lit up as she said, “absolutely! I would be surprised if they wouldn’t be. Ours is unique and very intensive, I think it expects a lot out of a very young person. I think it requires a huge level of maturity, self-reflection and vision. I think it’s ideal but also challenging because you get people who like traditional curriculum. I think what this university is doing is trying to make more traditional majors have interdisciplinary aspects.” I believe that this is true because if you have a traditional major than you really don’t get that much experience with other subjects besides the general education classes that you are required to take. I also wish I knew what I was going to major in my freshman year of college, I wish I had started school at Plymouth State University (I’m a transfer student) and immediately began the interdisciplinary major. Like Ann commented, “our Interdisciplinary program is quite intensive,” especially if you are starting it senior year!
My ninth question was, “what do you think are the benefits of having an interdisciplinary major?” Ann replied with, “I think you are forced (chuckles) and encouraged to learn different things, ways to approach problems and problem solving. I think that makes you in many ways more adapt to change, more agile, better with working with clients and you’ll be able to approach things from multiple perspectives.” I definitely agree with these benefits.
My tenth question was, “what do you like most about blogging? Any website you prefer to use?” Ann has a personal Word Press Blog, however, it’s on Plymouth’s server and it’s limiting. She hasn’t migrated it off Plymouth’s server yet. She has a class blog for her British Literature II class in where they publish all their work and projects. Ann confesses that sometimes finding the time to blog can be difficult, she says that you have to have the motivation to blog. She also created a department blog which is also a Word Press Blog.
The last question I proposed was more for my personal interest, “is there any advice you’d like to share about starting a successful blog?” Ann laughed and replied, “Yes I have a lot! The challenge for you is that everyone’s blogging now, so you have to think who your audience is and why they should read your blog. My friend’s sister who is a knitter, has a blog about knitting. She’s witty, funny and snarky, that’s what people like about her. I think we often forget the important role of audience. It would be good to look at popular blogs and figure out who is the audience, what makes them stand out, successful, how do they write to audiences, who are their sponsors. The biggest thing is how do you differentiate yourself. How often do you need to blog so you don’t overwhelm people? You could also podcast too, like how do you reach people. Podcasting is more popular now because it is more portable for people.”
I believe that Dr. Ann McClellan gave me an incredible amount of information and inspiration to start a successful lifestyle blog. I really liked Ann’s views on Interdisciplinary Studies and the importance of integrating traditional college majors with interdisciplinary aspects.