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Amy Smith

smithIn a way, coming to Kalamazoo College this fall (2002) is like coming full circle for me. In 1989 I graduated summa cum laude from Allegheny College, a small liberal arts college on a hill. While I was there I participated in their burgeoning study abroad program, spending my junior year at the University of Sheffield in England. So when I was given the opportunity to return as an assistant professor to a college that valued teacher-student interaction, a liberal arts education, and study abroad, it felt like coming home. I teach Shakespeare, Discoveries: British Literature 1550-1750, Reading Drama, and Women Writers: The Historical Tradition.

It was, in fact, my own memories of vibrant undergraduate teaching that eventually drew me to graduate school. After a few years of skirting around teaching by working as a counselor and tutor, I headed back to school. I earned my MA (1997) and PhD (2000) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign with a specialization in Shakespeare and Renaissance literature and a minor in Women’s Studies. I knew from my undergraduate work as an English major that I was passionate about the Renaissance—a time of discovery, of rethinking what it meant to be human, of questioning assumptions about the role of literature in people’s lives. But it wasn’t until I went to graduate school that I began to see that different people experienced this ‘rebirth and renewal’ differently. Joan Kelly once asked, “Did women have a Renaissance?” and I guess that question and others like it (Did the lower classes? Did anyone of color? Did non-Christians?) have been a driving force behind my work. My dissertation, “Performing Marriage in Early Modern England,” investigates how the performance of courtship rituals and marriage ceremonies on and off the Renaissance stage challenges class, gender, and national hierarchies. My arguments make way for the agency of individual actors in an institution often assumed to be powerfully conservative. Articles that grew from that work are forthcoming in Studies in English Literature and Comparative Drama.

My friends and family always jokes that I had to be a teacher because I just couldn’t bear not to be in school; after years of arguing with them, I’ve come to see the truth in their claims. In fact, once I figured out that being a teacher was a lot like being student, it felt like a natural move to me. After all, teaching and being a student both involve being willing to express your ideas, respond to challenges, and ask new questions. I strive to create a learning environment that mixes nurture and rigor in a way that encourages everyone in the classroom, myself included, to take intellectual risks.