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The Department of English and Comparative Literature celebrates all of the phenomenal work of our graduate students, whose research, teaching, and community are integral to the department and university.

Read below about the annual awardees of the Graduate Achievement Ceremony, with awards meant to highlight the exceptional work of DOECL graduate students across fields and stages in the program.

Fred and Joan Thomson Award for outstanding work on a dissertation in 18th or 19th-century British Literature

Winner: Eric Bontempo

Advisor: Jeanne Moskal

In his dissertation, “Reverent Romanticism: Anthologizing Romantic Poetry in Victorian Devotional Literature.” Eric takes as his subject-matter the Victorian editors whose devotional anthologies blithely included the previous generation’s Romantic poets, in apparent disregard of Wordsworth’s reputation as a gooey pantheist and Byron’s famous acts of lechery. Eric accords to these editors a strong degree of agency, based on the new-historicist insight that creativity in nineteenth-century books extended beyond the allegedly “solitary” poet to include a supporting network of amanuenses, coteries, publishers, editors, and illustrators. In the best tradition of book-history scholarship, Eric demonstrates his point with meticulous scrutiny of the editors’ deft manipulation of selected Romantic poems that appeared with multiple variants, and in multiple locations, in the service of this new pan-Protestant synthesis.

Howell-Voitle Award given for outstanding work on a dissertation in the Early Modern Period

Winner: Margaret Maurer

Advisor: Mary Floyd- Wilson

Margaret’s dissertation, Everyday Alchemy, is much deserving of this departmental recognition.It is on the basis of her groundbreaking work that Margaret currently holds a prestigious dissertation fellowship at the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, as well as an Allington Fellowship at the Science History Institute’s Othmer Library of Chemical History. Deeply versed in the history of science as well as a full range of early modern English literature, Margaret’s dissertation is not only admirably interdisciplinary, but it is also changing the conversation of how both literary scholars and historians of science approach what constitutes the complex knowledge and practice of early modern “alchemy.”

Hugh Holman Award for a student with an outstanding record writing a dissertation in pre-1900 American Literature

Winner: Elisabeth Harris

Advisor: Jane Thrailkill

Elisabeth Harris’s dissertation research pushes back against received wisdom about asylum life in the late nineteenth century by asking what the on-the-ground experience of institutional living was like for the residents themselves. Drawing on disability and asylum studies, she enlists a varied archive of materials and genres to illuminate the humorous, self-reflexive, and subversive ways that patients sought to live — and to represent — life in congregate care. Her work on the Dorothea Dix asylum in North Carolina carries on the legacy of C. Hugh Holman, Professor of Southern literature at UNC-CH (and a founder of the National Humanities Center).

John R. Bittner for Outstanding Dissertation Work in Literature and Popular Media

Winner: Stephanie Kinzinger

Advisor: Matt Taylor

Stephanie’s in-progress dissertation, “Playing Reality: The Promise and Peril of Composing Reality through Play,” centers on the intersections among rhetoric and composition studies, video game studies, digital humanities, science and technology studies, Black studies, and fictional and nonfictional discourses of alternate reality from the nineteenth to the early 21st centuries in order to explore a crucial but heretofore unexamined element of the evolution of virtual reality technologies: their indebtedness in form and concept to speculative fiction’s own experiments in actually *creating* alternate realities. Citing the rise of “alternative facts,” COVID denialism, and the “Big Lie” alongside quantum possibilities and Afrofuturist imaginings of more just worlds, Stephanie persuasively tracks how a trajectory of increasing immersion in alternate or virtual realities offers the means for both consolidating and challenging the structural inequities intrinsic to our current social order. This ambitious, intricate work testifies to the innovation, originality, and community-minded spirit of Stephanie’s scholarly ethos.


Joseph Breen Award for outstanding work in Medieval Studies

Winner: Izzy Howard

Advisor: Harry Cushman

Izzy Howard has made extraordinary use of their time at Carolina, developing their already considerable skills, experience, and talent in the field of medieval studies in coursework, as an active participant in the Med-Ren Colloquium, and at professional conferences. In their time here, they have completed coursework ahead of schedule, they have produced at least two pieces of publishable work, they have acquired language experience in Latin and in French, and they have been the recipient of an external grant from the Medieval Academy of America. This summer they will attend a paleography course at the Rare Book School. They have also taken very good care of my beagle when I was in England. They are most deserving of this award.


Lee Green Award for outstanding scholarly work on the topics of race and ethnicity in literary studies

Winner: Angelique Bassard

Advisor: Kim Stern

Just in her first year of study in the program, Angelique Bassard has already made her mark as a serious scholar of race and ethnicity. One of the highlights of her work this year includes an essay pairing Charles W. Chestnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition with David Bryant Fulton’s account of the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898. The faculty have noted her astute ability to navigate the layered historical and ethical considerations of works spanning the nineteenth and twentieth centuries — we look forward to more of the same in the years to come.


Linda Wagner-Martin Award for outstanding record writing a dissertation in post-1900 American Literature

Winner: John Albrite

Advisor: Florence Dore

During what is widely understood as “the information era,” John argues, social codes change, and manners are neutralized. What happens to the novel, John asks, in an era during which manners, which structure the novel, come under scrutiny as the middle-class gains access to domains formerly reserved for an elite few? What strikes me about John is the complexity and breadth, even at this early moment, of his thinking. The basic questions motivating his dissertation are brilliant, and I predict that they will generate both a brilliant dissertation and, eventually, an influential monograph.


Robert Bain Award for excellence achieved by a second-year student in pre-1900 American Literature or in Southern Literature

Winner: Amy Chan

Advisor: Eliza Richards

Amy is an astounding student in all regards: there seems to be consensus about this among the faculty who have worked with her. She is tenacious, voraciously curious in her intellectual pursuits, and ferociously intelligent, all with a sense of humor and profound sense of camaraderie with her peers. I most admire her willingness to respectfully grapple and challenge anyone’s arguments, including my own, about the nineteenth century US poets she is most passionately engaged with. She is my hero in that regard.


Ruth Rose Richardson Award in recognition of outstanding performance in the first year of graduate study

Winner: Krista Telford

“Krista Telford means business. It is rare and inspiring to encounter a student so determined to get everything they can out of their graduate education. She has done stellar work this past year, making very rapid progress through coursework, producing several excellent seminar papers, working as the social media manager in the DLC, and even learning to appreciate some theory. She has become a regular participant of the Med- Ren Colloquium, where it is already easy to envision her giving a paper of her own. I have consistently been impressed with the care that Krista takes in her written work and in her presentations; she is a consummate professional even at this early stage of the career. Krista’s best work is yet to come, but she is off to an exceptional start. We can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.”— Prof. Harry Cushman


Eugene H. Falk Award for Best dissertation in Comparative Literature this academic year

Winner: Marcy Pedzwater

Advisor: Maria DeGuzman

Marcy Pedzwater’s dissertation, Patriarchival Violence: Patriarchy, Archives, and Violence in Post-Dictatorship Latin American and Latina Women’s Writing, offers a rigorously scholarly and unique contribution to LatinX Studies, Latin American Studies, and Hemispheric Americas Studies. It examines post-dictatorship literature by both Latin American and US-based Latina women writers published after the 1973 coup d’état in Chile. Patriarchival Violence “not only investigates the role that archives play in post-dictatorship literature, but it also builds its own feminist, interdisciplinary archive.” It “posits that post-dictatorship women’s writing not only calls attention” to these dictatorial regimes across the Americas (including the USA) but, furthermore, “works to create a critical readership capable of decoding the violence embedded in the language and symbols used both within and beyond dictatorships.”


Eugene H. Falk Award for Best dissertation in Comparative Literature this academic year

Winner: Kristján Hannesson

Advisor: Jessica Wolfe

Kristjan Hannesson, a scholar of comparative Renaissance literature with particular expertise in Italian and Latin humanism, has produced groundbreaking interdisciplinary work in his PhD dissertation and in related articles, one of which is forthcoming in the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. His dissertation examines the fragmentary and the non-finito (or unfinished) as an aesthetic and hermeneutic strategy across literary, humanistic, and art historical texts of the European Renaissance, and he successfully defended his dissertation in April 2023, titled “The Unfinished Renaissance: Staging Rupture in Early Modern Literature, Art, and Architecture”.


William Dougald MacMillan for best Dissertation in English this academic year

Winner: Benjamin Murphy

Ben’s dissertation, “Provisional Beings”: Crowds, Race, & the Biopolitics of Lynching in American Literature, 1890-1915, identifies a pervasive dynamic in which crowds became the Janus-faced index of both the hopes and fears regarding a modern, multi-racial U.S. It calls special attention to an important inflection point in this dynamic’s development: the moment when crowds came to be championed, abhorred, and above all policed as legible aggregations of racial essences no longer necessarily visible or secure after the collapse of the plantation regime and the consolidation of one-drop genealogies. Ben demonstrates that both Black and White authors plumbed the affective and demographic potency of mass affiliation to celebrate some crowds as evolutionary advances and to demonize others as dangers in need of elimination, with lynch mobs serving as the quintessential example of both kinds of evaluation. What makes the project all the more exciting is Ben’s demonstration that the literature of the period not only represented and interrogated these tensions but also attempted to transform them through specifically formal or literary devices.

Congratulations, all!

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