Past Members of the Month
Member of the Month Profile: Miriam Wallace
Interview by Nicole Mansfield Wright
Interview by Nicole Mansfield Wright
1. How did you become interested in eighteenth-century studies?
It was really an accident. I started out intending to focus on modern/postmodern and formally
innovative fiction, with particular interest in Virginia Woolf, French feminism, African
American writers, and the British, French, and Latin American novel. Helene Moglen taught a 2-
quarter class on eighteenth-century literature, and among other works, we read Tristram
Shandy—which the rest of the class mostly hated for its misogyny. And I kept
thinking—feminist theory must have something more interesting to say about this novel beyond
that—and I sort of fell into the eighteenth century from there. These were the days when
“theory” was just starting to creep into eighteenth-century studies with a lot of backlash
(remember the keynote that blamed Foucault and feminism for ruining the field?). It was the Women’s Caucus and also a few panels I presented on that were doing queer approaches (this was pre-Lesbian and Gay Caucus) where I started to feel as though I could belong here.
2. What are you working on right now?
I’m a big believer in happy accidents! I’m on my first research leave in ten years right now,
hoping to finish off a book on how common folk came to public political and legal speech in the
period. While on fellowship at the Lewis Walpole Library exploring satirical prints of public
speakers, I stumbled on an image I couldn’t make sense of (the accident). Eventually it took me
to the Garrat elections, which were a rowdy, comic spoof on the London mayoral elections
complete with boozing, costumes, and absurd candidates, including the ‘anomalous’ bodied “Sir”
Jeffry Dunstan, aka Mayor of Garrat. I’m delighted that my first essay on Dunstan is out in
Making Stars: Biography and Celebrity in Eighteenth-Century Britain, thanks to Kristina Straub
and Nora Nachumi. And Dunstan has led me into disability studies and health humanities, so
3. What's one example of the role played by the Women's Caucus in your professional
Mentorship: When I was figuring this profession out, there was a lot of talk about
mentorship—what a mentor looks like, who had one and who didn’t, etc. What I’ve learned since
is that mentorship comes in many different forms—and the Women’s Caucus was where I found
mentors not just in senior colleagues who talked to me at lunch, included me on panels, and most
importantly, agreed to serve as tenure reviewers—but also lateral mentorship in colleagues at the
same stage, at other small teaching colleges, the ones you could ask those embarrassing
questions that you thought you should know the answer to, but didn’t. And I also want to point to
the invitation to mentorship the Caucus represents—I’ve really valued the conversations with
graduate students or rising colleagues, from whom I learn so much. It’s been a real pleasure to
find I sometimes have helpful experience to share or can help promote the great work of
someone else—and since I don’t have graduate students, these are important conversations that
help me stay in tune with new directions I might not know about otherwise.
Professional panels: They have helped me so much—and really been the first and for a while the
only place where I could get actual help with that whole iceberg that is our profession—beyond
the teaching or the scholarship. One of the best pointers I ever got was to build time for myself
into my day and rather than apologizing or explaining: “Oh, that’s my X time, but I suppose I
can reschedule” to just say: “That doesn’t work for me; let’s find another time.” No apology; no
excuse; no putting my life second.
4. You have served on the Women’s Caucus Executive Board. What's one aspect of
Women's Caucus governance, prizes, or procedures that has changed over the years?
When I was co-chair with Kate Jensen, as she cycled out, I took all the documents that we were
passing from one chair to the next and created a big binder that I shared with the next
chair—with sections on history, prize committees and processes, notes from business meetings
and reports. It made for a heavy suitcase the year I passed it on, but it did feel good to pass such
a material ‘baton.’ How very old school and analog!
Back in the day, we tried to stagger co-chair terms (as we do now, I think), but we also had a rule
that co-chairs needed to be from different fields. This tended in practice to mean English and
French, but it also meant sometimes we had Art Historians or Historians. Although it’s
sometimes been difficult to find a chair, and we know there are other important perspectives
beyond disciplinary training, I do think for an inter- and multidisciplinary organization, it’s
worth thinking about why we might want to consider a range of expertise.
5. What is one recent book, article, or other media selection that gets your creative and/or
analytic side going? Why?
I’m got a huge stack of ‘to read’ books right now, but meaning to get back to Alice Kuzniar’s
The Birth of Homeopathy Out of the Spirit of Romanticism. I tend to keep it secret, but I was
raised as a 4th generation homeopath, so the principles she traces (law of similars, minimal dose,
etc.) are super familiar, but the connection to late eighteenth century thought about human
nature, physiology and spirituality, and a kind of “One health” connectedness between the
human and non-human world is resonating with a lot of things I want to think through. What’s
great about the book is how easily she moves across English and German language and culture,
and that it’s more a kind of intellectual history than a book that seeks to prove for or against
homeopathy as a medical practice and tradition.
6. What more can we do to support women in academia? In ASECS?
Well, the obvious thing to point to is that the pandemic as well as efforts to really reckon with
historic and systemic racism have highlighted a lot of pain points even for those of us with stable
positions. As someone who is childless by choice, I’ve watched colleagues with children really
struggle, particularly when we went fully online. I guess I’m an optimist—and although I know a
lot of “women’s leadership” discourse can be a bit off-putting, I do think that the more of us--
“women-people”—particularly those who are under-represented or first-in-family, take on a
variety of leadership roles, the better. I’ve just finished six years as Division Chair of Humanities
at my institution, and though I’m glad to be done right now (Florida!), I was surprised at how fulfilling
it was some days—because you really can make things better for a colleague, a student,
an office staff person. Sometimes it’s just that you hear them, but sometimes you can get
someone what they need—money, time, a good match for a promotion review, flexible work