Faculty member receives bibliography fellowship

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 14:18

DENTON (UNT), Texas — Dahlia Porter, assistant professor of English at the University of North Texas, is one of 20 junior faculty and doctoral and postdoctoral students in the U.S. to receive an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography.

The fellowship program was created after the Rare Book School, a not-for-profit educational organization affiliated with the University of Virginia, received an $896,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The foundation is endowed with wealth accumulated by Andrew W. Mellon, who served as U.S. Treasury Secretary from 1921 to 1932 and was a banker, industrialist, philanthropist and art collector.

Porter is the only Mellon Fellow from a Texas college or university. During her three-year fellowship, she and the other fellows will attend three summer courses at Rare Book School, which are intended for those who study the history of books, manuscripts and related objects. The first course will be held this summer.

With an interest in how works by scientific and literary authors intersected during the 18th and 19th centuries, Porter plans to publish a book with chapters about scientific catalogs of plants, animals, the human body and medical conditions and other areas.

She explained that the expeditions of explorers during the 18th century introduced a flood of new and exotic artifacts that contributed to an information expansion and increase in collecting objects among educated Europeans and Americans, which led to large-scale cataloging projects and new scientific classifications.

“Authors of these catalogs worked closely with artists who created true-to-life drawings of specimens, but who also focused on the aesthetic qualities,” she said. “Both the scientists and artists were interested in capturing the vitality of nature, an issue that poets were also exploring at the time.”

In addition to taking the courses at Rare Book School, Porter and the other fellows will attend seminars on bibliography and its possible place in humanities teaching and research and attend three-day field schools — visits to special bibliographical collections in Boston, Chicago, New York City and other metropolitan areas. Each fellow will also receive $2,000 to host at least one academic symposium at his or her university, inviting distinguished scholars of bibliography, book history and related fields. Fellows may choose to host a second symposium, which will be supported by additional funding.

The Mellon Fellows may also receive up to $1,500 to collaborate with other fellows on additional visits to collections for research.   

A UNT faculty member since August 2012, Porter currently teaches courses on 18th-century and Romantic Era literature, but she is designing a course on plagues — from the Black Death of the Middle Ages and cholera outbreaks to AIDS epidemics — and cultural implications of the disease, including government reactions like quarantines.

Porter has also received a Research Initiation Grant from UNT to go to London this summer after completing the first course at the Rare Book School. She plans to study the collections at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, which displays the work of 18th-century surgeon and anatomist John Hunter. The collections include human and animal anatomy and pathology specimens, wax teaching models and surgical and dental instruments as well as paintings, drawings and sculpture.   

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