By: Artemis Harris
As students, we tend to not think about the things that happen outside of ourselves or our own personal friendships. It is easy for us to overlook the fact that our professors lead full and fascinating lives outside of their office hours or the podiums in the classroom. We see them as these monolithic figures towering over us with their degrees and high standards, but really, they are just people like we are. They have families, personal and private struggles, and believe it or not, a lot of them are doing research and writing papers similarly to you and me.
One such professor is Dr. Jill Craven, who was nice enough to allow me to interview her for an update on her sabbatical. This article will give us not only some information on the sabbatical, but also a little information about her to current (or new) students who may not know who she is, since her sabbatical is coming to an end and she will be joining us again in the Fall. This is a great opportunity to get to know a wonderful professor and what she is doing/has done for the English and World Languages Department.
Dr. Craven started her career at Millersville University in 1999. Her doctoral degree from UNC-Chapel Hill is in Comparative Literature, with a focus on 20th century European and American narratives (both in literature and in film). Dr. Craven was originally hired to teach film at Millersville, and one of her focal areas of study was film; however, it is her hope to teach World Literature before she retires. Dr. Craven has had an illustrious career here at Millersville as she has served 6 years as Chair of the English department and 22 years as its film studies scholar.
I asked Dr. Craven what she liked to do in her spare time beyond Millersville and was surprised to hear that although Millersville doesn’t offer her a lot of free time, she has been quite busy with the work she is able to do. According to Dr. Craven, given the current situation in the United States, she is fairly addicted to political news and finds herself involved in various social justice concerns. For instance, Dr. Craven’s daughter is dyslexic, and one of her passions is to advocate for better education for students with dyslexia. In fact, one of the projects she has worked on during her sabbatical is writing and advocating for better dyslexia education with 3 new bills that she hopes the PA House will take up.
Over her sabbatical Dr. Craven also got trained as one of Millersville’s Diversity Education and Inclusion (DEI) Champions and conducted sessions with a team at the local synagogue. Using this immense passion for social justice, she then prepared a presentation for Millersville’s Board of Trustees in December to advocate for fair treatment of all Millersville students when harassment occurs on campus.
According to Dr. Craven, her original project involved researching CIA records for a Cold War spy. 10 years ago, she went to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for research, but because records are continually declassified (some as recent as the Biden administration), she needed to update that research. Due to Covid, however, NARA’s reading rooms have closed, and now, due to the variants, they are open, but on a limited basis, and by appointment only after screening.
One of my biggest questions that I wanted answered was about the usage of digital archives and how useful they were, and Dr. Craven answered this masterfully. She explained that while some records that she needed were digitized, many had not been. In the online archive that she had access to, the order of the records (done by the Record Identification Form [RIF] numbers) can be altered, and the documents can also be poorly scanned.
For her to be able to do the process efficiently, she needed the original documents in their original order. Dr. Craven also required an iPad, which the department did not have funding for. She did submit two FOIA requests directly to the CIA but is awaiting a response. Since they prioritize “mission critical” items, and communicate by mail, the process could take some time. Unfortunately, Covid has caused an unprecedented change to the landscape of what we consider “normal”, and this requires a lot of revision and changes to be made to our plans.
In the interim, Dr. Craven has taken on additional projects to enhance her teaching. She has been developing her knowledge of old films through the Criterion Channel. Due to not having access to many older movies before streaming services became widespread, she had only been able to read about many historic films, but now, she has been able to experience films like Les Vampires (1915-16), one of the first serial films and predecessors to television shows. She is also filling in subject areas like disability studies with films like The Snake Pit (1948) and 3 Faces of Eve (1957). Dr. Craven has also been studying directors like Joseph Mankiewicz, Ernst Lubitsch, and Elia Kazan to explore patterns in their works and aspects of the studio system while also adding new content by female directors, LGBTQ+ directors, people of color, and non-European artists.
Dr. Craven shared something with me that I really connected with on a personal level. As she explained, while she was reflecting on the trauma so many have gone through over the last 5 years, she decided to engage with a film called Margaret (2011) that deals with the experiences of trauma. Although the film isn’t a terrific film according to her, it is, “fascinating in its flaws and undercurrents.” Dr. Craven mentioned that she was struggling to write an article about this film as there was so much to say about it.
Thinking about this film has influenced her teaching pedagogy, and she is looking forward to using what she has learned in her future experiences in the classroom. Moving forward, Dr. Craven wants students to understand not only the texts that they experience in her classes, but also how those texts resonate in their individual presents and futures. To her, it’s not enough for students to understand how a text works or the potential meanings of a narrative; teachers need to explicitly develop why these works are important to individual students and how they can use them to work toward self-actualization, which is important to the role of the humanities. Although this has been a part of Dr. Craven’s pedagogy in the past, she wishes to be much more direct about its application in the future.
I asked Dr. Craven if there was anything we should be on the lookout for, given her imminent return to Millersville in the Fall. Dr. Craven hopes to develop the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies minor as well as teach a graduate course on film in the Fall. She also hopes to have the opportunity to teach World Literature II in the future, which she has missed out on teaching for the last two decades. This semester is rather special for Dr. Craven because it will be the first semester (due to various scheduling reasons) she will teach a graduate-only class. She is looking forward to the Film and Theory graduate-only class in the Fall specifically because “Films/videos are all around us, and engaging with them on an analytic level can be amazingly rewarding, especially to explore aspects of life and society with others.” She can’t wait to share insights with the graduate students and to hear their perspectives.
One additional update that Dr. Craven shared with me after the interview had concluded was that in October of 2021, she had gotten a puppy named Gracie, who she affectionately calls AoC (Agent of Chaos). It is her hope that AoC will be trained well enough to be able to come visit us in the Fall.
The English and World Languages Department is excited to hear the wonderful developments happening with Dr. Craven’s sabbatical. I am very grateful that she was kind enough to allow me this interview, and we are all looking forward to her return in the Fall.