New to CLASS: Devin Garofalo | College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences

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August 1, 2019

New to CLASS: Devin Garofalo

We are excited to have Devin Garofalo joining our CLASS faculty in the Department of English for Fall 2019! Make sure to give her a warm UNT welcome when you see her.

Why did you decide to teach at UNT?

UNT draws together some of my most deeply held commitments as an educator and scholar. First, it's a public university dedicated to shaping an informed, perceptive, and thoughtful citizenry. At present, public universities are some of the most--if not the most--formative (and, not coincidentally, besieged) of institutions. Since the day I started kindergarten, I've reaped the benefits of a public education. As a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (a public university), I learned firsthand the import of--and consequences for systematically devaluing--an education like the one I've received. I am excited to join UNT because it is on the frontlines of an ongoing fight for an inclusive, accessible, and affordable higher education in the United States. UNT is somewhat unique in its approach to this fight, which brings me to my second point. Whereas many public universities are responding (some voluntarily, some involuntarily) to increasing cultural, financial, and political pressures by defunding the humanities and social sciences--not to mention encouraging students to envision higher education as a consumer-driven product designed to ensure employability--UNT is defined by its investments in the fine arts and the cultural worth of aesthetic, conceptual, imaginative work. As someone who has dedicated my life in and outside of the classroom to the study of literature, I find these investments incredibly exciting. Higher education at its best is as much about ideas as jobs--about big and pressing questions, about the art forms through which we come to know the world as it is and to think it anew. Those of us working in the humanities know this and live by it. I am thrilled to be teaching at a university that holds dear aesthetic production and humanistic inquiry. Last, but not least, I am so excited about the university community! It's exciting to be at a majority-minority institution whose faculty and students bring with them a wealth of knowledges and experiences. I'm looking forward not only to teaching UNT's students but also learning alongside and from them.

What are you most excited to teach your students?

My fields of expertise include nineteenth-century British literature, the history of science and environmental humanities, empire, and gender and sexuality. I'm looking forward to teaching a graduate seminar this fall called "Romantic Lyric Inhumanism," which explores the categories of human and nonhuman as they take shape (and often fall apart) in that most Romantic of genres, the lyric poem. I'm just as excited to explore what it means to profess Romanticism here and now with students at the undergraduate level--a project that is, I think, especially pressing for those of us who teach British literatures at majority-minority institutions like UNT. Over my years of teaching, I've become increasingly concerned about how many students do not feel the English major is for them insofar as it is often organized around the British and American literary canons (which, not coincidentally, took formal shape during the historical period in which I specialize: the nineteenth century). Per this framework, "other" (which is to say "othered") literatures are cordoned off into separate subdisciplines. In other words, the curriculum can communicate to some students that British Romantic literature is not multicultural literature; that such literature is not here for students who care about empire or race or ethnicity; that students must go elsewhere or over there to think about such things. With this in mind, I'm excited to teach my students how the literature I teach is indeed for them--how it affords powerful and crucial ways of imagining and thinking through difference. So, for example, we'll explore the difficulty of coming to grips with a poem like William Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," which is on the one hand steeped in ecological modes of thought that complicate the boundaries between human and nonhuman, but on the other hand quite literally erases the homeless community living in and around the abbey in order to think these thoughts. How do we make sense of such poems, which at once radically destabilize and at the same time normativize who or what counts as a person, not to mention who or what is worth counting in the first place? These are the kinds of questions I am excited to explore with my students.

What are you bringing to UNT that is new and different?

Though I specialize in long nineteenth-century British literature, I was hired first and foremost for my expertise in British Romanticism. The Romantic period is a fascinating historical and cultural moment. Some call it the Age of Revolutions (including the American, French, Haitian, and Latin American, among others). Much of my teaching and research foregrounds the categories of human, subhuman, and nonhuman as they are shaped and interrogated in and across these different but related revolutionary contexts. I also bring with me an extensive background in the history of science and science studies. Romanticism is especially interesting to me in this context because geology emerges as a field of scientific inquiry in this period and astronomers like Sir William Herschel reveal a cosmos more complex and dynamic than that previously mapped by Sir Isaac Newton. And, of course, I bring with me a deep knowledge of Romantic literature (poetry, in particular). Reading conventionally literary texts (like "Tintern Abbey") alongside ostensibly non-literary texts (like Alexander von Humboldt's Cosmos) allows students to explore what makes a text a text, what counts as literary production, and how different methods of reading and analysis inform the answers to these questions.

I should add that I feel lucky to join a department in which there is room for not only my individual contributions but also opportunities for shared inquiry. All of my work, whether as a teacher or scholar, is in some way collective. For instance, teaching is at its best an inherently collaborative endeavor (which is why every course I teach is discussion-based). I bring expertise to the classroom and will occasionally lecture, but I spend most of the semester working alongside and with students to explore aloud the texts I teach and to together discover ever new answers to the questions those texts provoke us to ask. Likewise, the most excellent scholarly work is that which benefits from collaboration with others. Quite serendipitously, I "met" one of my UNT colleagues--Dr. Anna Hinton--virtually while co-writing an essay with her and two other women scholars earlier this year. UNT's English Department possesses incredible strengths in numerous fields, among them British literary studies, poetry and poetics, the environmental humanities, and postcolonial studies. I am excited to join forces with the rest of my new and incredible colleagues in and beyond English beginning this fall.

What do you tell students or parents of students who are concerned about finding a career after graduation?

I am very sympathetic and attuned to concerns like these. Though (as stated above) I believe that a university education affords a formalized and increasingly rare opportunity to ask big questions and explore pressing ideas, to read for the sake of reading and learn for the sake of learning, I also understand all too well the potentially dire consequences of graduating with a college degree and a pile of student loan debt but no job. There are many ways to address these anxieties. One way is to speak in terms of market forces. (I do not find this sort of response to be the most compelling for a range of reasons, but I also understand the particular sort of consolation it affords.) As it turns out, humanities majors--and English majors, in particular--are in high demand. Degrees in English are versatile, equipping students for careers in advertising, communications, education, marketing, public relations, sales, technical writing--the list goes on. To quote the opening lines of a recent CBS News article: "The liberal arts have become the Rodney Dangerfield of college degrees, getting no respect from many parents and politicians. Yet the joke may be on the naysayers, with a new study finding that English majors and other liberal arts students have a higher chance of finding a good job than more occupational majors such as business or biology." Just like an individual word whose various meanings point toward a multiplicity of interpretations, a degree in English is uniquely flexible while at the same time promising a range of literacies and a wide-ranging communicational skillset.

Now, for the second and, at least to me, more compelling response. No degree comes with the guarantee of a job. Markets change quickly--often so quickly that what might have looked like a lucrative field in the years leading up to your undergraduate career no longer looks so promising in the years following your graduation. I am also a proponent of doing what you're good at and what you love whenever possible. Between the ages of 5 and 17, I planned to be a marine biologist. In elementary school, I wrote to the senators of landlocked Nebraska to advocate for whale conservation and I continued to develop this passion over the decade that followed. And then I took courses in animal physiology and organic chemistry, wherein I realized we had a problem: I wasn't so great at science. I would later develop a fascination with the history of science--the history of scientific practice and ideas. But science? Not so much. As an undergraduate, I majored initially in secondary education, but switched my major to English in the first semester of my junior year. It was then that I realized what I wanted to do in an ideal world, if given the opportunity: to work as a teacher and scholar at a university. I also knew that in the event this particular plan did not work out, I would have at my fingertips a degree that would lead me down a wide range of career paths. I rehearse this personal history because I think it illustrates why it's so crucial for students to investigate a wide range of intellectual interests and career possibilities. Universities confer degrees, but just as importantly they afford unique exploratory opportunities--often surprising ones. I frequently think about what might have happened had I not taken that particular course in British Romanticism with that particular English professor in the spring of my sophomore year of college. Likely, I would have chosen an entirely different career path and would never have joined UNT--let alone earned my PhD--in the first place.