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Published October 17, 2018
Caroline McCracken-Flesher believes professors research and teach at the interface between what is known and what can become known; between what they do and what can be accomplished.
The University of Wyoming Department of English professor now gets the opportunity to advance both after recently being awarded the College of Arts and Sciences’ Seibold Professorship.
The annual award gives UW faculty in the social sciences, humanities and fine arts, with a demonstrated commitment to teaching, the opportunity for a year’s leave to participate in a project that benefits an aspect of their professional lives and enhances teaching. In short, the Seibold award allows a professor the ability to conduct or participate in a substantial research project that advances teaching at UW.
“The Seibold is tremendously valuable because that’s what we are supposed to do at universities,” McCracken-Flesher says. “Sometimes, in among the pressure of teaching and normal research, it can be hard to stay at the edge of a field for a whole year and pursue it. That’s really hugely valuable. The other thing is that I’m touched. It’s an honor and an important award that some really significant people on campus have had at different times.”
McCracken-Flesher will take her time to continue her study of two areas. This spring, she will transcribe and run preliminary network analysis on the Abbotsford guest books. Abbotsford is a historic country house built in the Scottish Borders by Sir Walter Scott, a well-known Scottish novelist, poet, playwright and historian in the 19th century. McCracken-Flesher has visited the grounds several times, including with the UW in Scotland program, which is a transdisciplinary course created and led by her. Now, her Seibold project will establish protocols that allow the data to be available for research and interpretation in two UW courses under development.
“Not only have people been flowing through this place for 200 years now, they have been writing their names in guest books,” McCracken-Flesher says. “There are volumes and volumes and names upon names in these guest books. I began to work on them as an indicator of the flow of people around a person and an idea. It became a really intriguing project because, from those names, you could do all sorts of studies.”
McCracken-Flesher plans to conduct the second part of her research next fall, as she becomes fully versed in posthumanism as a literary and cultural field. The emerging area of study is a concept originating in the fields of science fiction, futurology, contemporary art and philosophy that means a person or entity that exists in a state beyond being human. She plans to initiate a humanities cluster analysis project to map and track the direction of our culture’s posthuman obsessions and anxieties to ground future student research.
“This is such a new area that it remains unaddressed in our curriculum,” she says. “We have a curricular gap where the notion of the human is brought into question by shifts in the media and modes of communication. I think it is essential for our students that we meet the literary and social challenges of the posthuman head on.”
Both research projects will help McCracken-Flesher’s teaching efforts at UW, while also allowing her to continue her career by publishing future papers and books in the field. She plans to return to the classroom in spring 2020.