The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

English professor receives Humanities Teacher of the Year Award

Shalyn Claggett, associate professor of English and 2012 Humanities Teacher of the Year, may have an abundance of research under her belt but takes it all in stride with good humor and interest in the quirky and bizarre facets of her field: Victorian literature. Examples abound, including her presentation on Nov. 26: “The Animal in the Machine: Projecting and Policing Pleasure in Victorian Magic Lantern Shows.” Claggett accepted the award, chosen among the state’s postsecondary institutions by the Mississippi Humanities Council and presented her research of the magic lantern shows of Victorian England. Lantern shows, similar to a film but with static frames (like a picture book) rather than moving pictures,  drew Claggett’s interest through local and more diverse experiences.
 
“Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to experience a magic lantern show at a seminar on (Charles) Dickens’s fiction, but I re-discovered them when I ran across a magic lantern projector at the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum,” she said.
Claggett procured the projector, slated to be tossed, donated it to Mississippi State University and began collecting slides to use in her Victorian literature classes; she said part of her interest in the shows is due to their complex, strange nature.
“Who but the Victorians would watch a show about a dog named Floppy being turned into sausages after Oscar Wilde implies he’s fat?” she said.
 
The curiosities of Victorian culture, as seen in the magic lantern shows, are part of what Claggett said has drawn her to focus on the period, a fascination she discovered at a young age.
 
“I knew I wanted to be a professor when I was 14, so I decided to read all of the books in the ‘classics’ section of my town’s public library (in alphabetical order). When I got to ‘D’ (for ‘Dickens’), I knew I had found exactly what I wanted to study for the rest of my life,” she said. “I do think, however, that I am particularly drawn to subjects that are a bit bizarre.  The Victorians are a wacky bunch, and that’s why I love learning about them.”
 
Rather than a study of strictly literature, she reveals the intersection of these bizarre cultural aspects with the literature of the period. The title of one of her current book projects, “The Science of Character in Victorian Literature,” illustrates this fascination.
 
The science the book references is phrenology, a science Claggett said is rampant in Victorian fiction and focuses on claims the size of certain parts of the brain equate to different personality traits.
 
“I became interested in the intersection of phrenology and Victorian literature because of a novella by George Eliot titled ‘The Lifted Veil.’  The main character in it is forced to only study science and math because of the shape of his skull,” she said. “I researched phrenology to understand the scene, and then I started to find phrenological language everywhere in Victorian literature.”
 
The nature of her research results in absorbed audiences: Tommy Anderson, associate professor of English and director of undergraduate studies in English, said Claggett’s study of these societal aspects is part of what makes her work particularly exciting.
 
“She ties the big picture elements together with these small little details. It’s a cultural studies component to her literary analysis that makes it really fascinating,” he said.
 
As well as her research, Anderson said Claggett’s work in the classroom is exemplary and resulted in her receipt of the award.
 
“Dr. Claggett is an outstanding teacher because she pushes students to go beyond what they thought they could do and she walks them there. She’s with them each step of the way,” he said.
 
As well as Victorian literature classes, Claggett teaches critical writing and research in literature studies, a junior-level English course in literary criticism, and Anderson said Claggett’s work in the class produces stellar work from students.
“Students go in thinking they’re good writers and readers and come out incredibly better. This is her brilliance as a teacher: taking students to places they didn’t think they could go,” he said.
 
Through all the rigorous research, hard work and high standards, Claggett holds her students (and herself), to her interest and continued study of the somewhat bizarre in Victorian culture and literature illustrates her excitement as a professor and scholar. Although Claggett’s work in intersecting discources produces engaging research, Anderson said her work in the classroom reveals her worthiness of the award.
 
“She’s excited for students to learn, and she does it all with a sense of humor,” he said.

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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
English professor receives Humanities Teacher of the Year Award