By Hannah Montgomery, Graduate Writer and Social Media Manager

PhD students Anne Fertig and Sarah Schaefer Walton earned Humanities Professional Pathway Fellowships, which award $5,000 in summer support, from the College of Arts & Sciences, the Humanities for the Public Good Initiative, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Walton plans to use her Humanities Professional Pathway Fellowship to produce an NEH Digital Advancement Grant application in hopes of being awarded start-up funding for a digital humanities project she calls “Jane Austen’s Desk.” “Jane Austen’s Desk” would be a public-facing website providing a window into Austen’s world and a space for fans and scholars around the world to connect, collaborate, and learn. Riffing on J.K. Rowling’s personal website, which mimics the surface of her desk as the backdrop, “Jane Austen’s Desk” would use Austen’s writing desk, located at the Jane Austen House Museum in Hampshire, as an interactive conceit for hosting historical and literary material. Walton plans to work with the Jane Austen Summer Program (JASP), an award-winning local nonprofit organization which hosts an annual symposium for Austen scholars and enthusiasts, in order to produce the website.

Walton wants to extend the work JASP is doing to a more global audience, saying that “whereas much of Austen-related media or experience is cost prohibitive or geographically specific … a website offers no such restrictions.” On her excitement about this project, Walton remarks, “As a member of the JASP tea​m, I hope that ‘Jane Austen’s Desk’ will dramatically expand JASP’s community mission and secure its position as one of the leading Austen scholarly organizations. As a Janeite, I simply love the idea of sharing a piece of Austen’s world.”

Fertig, another Austen scholar, is using her Humanities Professional Pathway Fellowship to start Austen and Company, a free public book series on female authors contemporaneous with Austen, in partnership with Durham County Library and JASP. “The idea,” Fertig states, “is to encourage the public to read other historical women writers,” such as Maria Edgeworth, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Phillis Wheatley. Each event in the series will feature a short talk by a UNC graduate student before breaking into public discussion and activities. Rather than lectures, these events will be reading groups designed to give people an opportunity to discuss these novels.

Fertig hopes to increase awareness of women writers and public engagement with historical literature. “Many of these writers,” she remarks, “have historical and critical significance, but they are rarely read outside of the academy. We hope to encourage our community not just to read these authors but to engage in discourse about their works.”

Austen and Company has already hosted one event, “Games and Play in Austen’s England,” at the South Regional Library in Durham. Participants discussed the importance of gaming in Austen’s novels and learned how to play whist, spillikins, and other historical games. Fertig reports, “Our feedback showed that people were extremely interested in both the historical and literary angles — and they wanted to learn more about the literary side of the topic!” According to Austen and Company’s facebook page, the next event will take place in October.

Walton and Fertig are delighted to be able to use these awards to broaden and deepen public access to new dimensions of historical women’s writing.

UNC PhD Students Anne Fertig and Sarah Schaefer Walton
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