Around the Quads
Five Minutes with ... Julie Crawford
Julie Crawford is an associate professor of English and comparative literature who specializes in 16th- and 17th-century English literature and culture. She has authored numerous articles as well as a book about cheap print and the Protestant Reformation, Marvelous Protestantism: Monstrous Births in Post-Reformation England. Born in Toronto, Crawford earned a B.A. from McGill and a Ph.D. from Penn. She worked at Columbia from 1999–2005 and again since 2007; in 2010, she received a Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award.
What drew you to Renaissance literature?
I took a 17th-century English poetry class toward the end of my time at McGill. The professor was amazing and the poetry was amazing [but] I looked at the syllabus — I was at the height of my feminist activism at the time — and I said, “Why are there no women?” The professor said there were no women who wrote in the Renaissance. I thought, “That can’t be true; surely the man is wrong.”
Well, of course he was wrong. I went to the library and discovered writers such as Aemelia Lanyer, who published the first collection of poetry by a woman in English, and the women who wrote on the English side of what was called the Querelle des Femmes (the Debate on Women); some were poets, but they wrote these polemical texts defending the rights of women to write, among other things, and that got me hooked. It was this connection between various types of activism I was doing and the feminist theory that I was reading and literature, which I’d always loved. It was the moment I turned from being an activist to being a scholar.
Discuss the relationship between teaching and academic scholarship.
There’s a lot that’s alienating and lonely about being a scholar; you spend a lot of time alone, in archives, working through ideas, you and your computer and your books. The classroom is not the opposite of that — it’s the logical engagement with that; it’s what helps keep it meaningful. It’s actually what makes teaching exciting — not that it’s an escape from the scholarship but rather that it’s a way of making it vivid and communicable to others. It informs your changing perception of your field and your ability to remain invigorated and excited in your field even when it largely comprises texts, in my case, that people have been studying for hundreds of years.
What do you teach?
Shakespeare, Milton, 16th- and 17th-century poetry and prose. My favorite class is a survey of 17th-century English literature in the context of political revolution. I also teach a class on the history of feminist thought to suffrage (through the Institute for Research on Women and Gender) and a class on literature and the history of sexuality.
I read that you are known for your “enthusiastic teaching style.”
[Laughs] I think the official term is “kinetic.” One of my students said to me, “I notice that whenever you try to explain a series of complicated ideas, you position your ideas with your body.” Which I do!
I like to lecture but that doesn’t mean I like to hear myself talk. A potted lecture to me is incredibly boring. So I move around partly as a way of delineating the really big points I want to make, or sometimes creating arguments between things, and eliciting engagement from the students. And part of it is pleasure and excitement — kind of an adrenaline-y, stress-y thing that surrounds this question of, how do you communicate? This is your one shot at a particular set of ideas or a particular text; how am I going to do the best possible job that I can, not as entertainment or show, but as a combination of clarity and challenge?
What are you working on?
I recently finished a book that will be published next year about women writers, readers, patrons and dedicatees, and the production of literature in early modern England. It takes seriously the idea that literature in the period was produced not on a single authorial model but instead through a range of practices, including patronage and what is sometimes called coterie writing. It’s about what one might conceive of as tidy little literary communities but which I’m instead conceiving of as activist communities in which writing played a central role. I’m alsowriting a book about Margaret Cavendish, the most prolific woman writer in the 17th century and usually,paradoxically, disdained for that.
Do you have family?
I have a partner, Liza, who teaches at John Jay College, a 7-year-old son and a 2½-year-old daughter.
If you weren’t a professor, what would you do?
Wednesday morning I would have been an early childhood educator. Monday morning, and all of last year, I would have been working on refugee rights. There is also plenty that still animates my attention around issues of domestic and sexual violence.
What are you reading right now?
It sounds pretentious beyond belief, but I’m reading Lydia Davis’ translation of Madame Bovary, which is so good. It’s like eating cake, so I only read a chapter a day.
Which character would you choose to have a conversation with?
Satan in Paradise Lost. That would be everybody’s choice, right?
Interview: Alexis Tonti ’11 Arts
Photo: Eileen Barroso