Dr. Emily Baldys is the new English department hire! Read through her interview to find out what she loves about literature, what she enjoys teaching and writing about, and what the study of English means to her.
What brought you to literature and specifically your focus on disability studies?
I’ve always been a reader. When I was a kid, I used to get in trouble at school for reading during lessons, and then when I went home I would get in trouble for reading at the dinner table. I find joy and life and challenge in exploring the imaginative worlds that authors create, and so it seemed natural to me to find a career that would allow me to continue to read and learn about literature and to help others to do the same. I first encountered disability studies as a senior in college, and I was totally intrigued. A few years later, in graduate school, I had the opportunity to take a disability studies seminar, and things just clicked. I came to understand disability studies as a powerful lens for investigating literature’s treatment of crucial concepts such as difference, otherness, and the body. At the same time, I realized that literary depictions of bodily difference have helped to shape attitudes that still influence our cultural understanding and treatment of people with disabilities, and so there is an important ethical component to studying them.
What is your favorite “era” of literature and why?
I love studying literature of the Victorian era. It was a time when society was coming to grips with being “modern,” and I find it fascinating to watch authors grapple with issues like rapidly-advancing technology, urbanization, and industrialization—issues that still obsess our contemporary world. The novel, my favorite genre, was in its ascendancy in the Victorian era, and so as a scholar of this era I get to study some of the great classic novels by Dickens, the Brontës, George Eliot, and others. Finally, I like studying the Victorian era because it was a time that saw the consolidation of so many concepts—like gender roles, disability, domesticity, social class, and colonialism—that still shape how we think about identity and our place in society.
What are you coming to teach at Millersville? Are you hoping to teach specific classes or create some of your own?
In addition to composition courses, I will teach the early and later English literature surveys, as well as some upper-level courses that offer a deeper dive into Romantic, Victorian, and post-1914 British literature. I’d also love to teach courses on the English novel, and I have some ideas for new courses on disability in literature, disability theory, and the “New Women” (first-wave feminists of the late nineteenth century).
Where did you go to school for your undergrad and PhD program? What were some of your experiences there?
I earned my B.A. in English from Bryn Mawr College and my M.A. and Ph.D. (also in English) from Penn State. I loved the supportive, close-knit, and academically rigorous environment at Bryn Mawr; I also played soccer there and served as fiction editor for the literary magazine. At Penn State, I had the opportunity to work with some amazing scholars in the fields of disability studies, Romantic literature, and Victorian literature. I learned and grew so much at PSU, and I also made some dear friends there, including my husband Darrell, who is a fantastic teacher, scholar, travel partner, and kitty papa.
Are you looking forward to working at a larger university than the school you previously worked at? What kind of opportunities will a larger department bring?
While working in a small college can be quite cozy, I’m looking forward to working at a larger university and in a larger department at Millersville. A larger university provides more opportunities for dynamic campus life, and I hope to become involved in such events as the disability film series and Millersville Disability Pride day. Also, working within a larger department will allow me to specialize a bit more so that I’m teaching more of the literature courses that relate to my research areas.
Are you looking forward to living in Pennsylvania?
I am most definitely looking forward to living in Pennsylvania again! As you can probably tell from reading about my education, PA is my home state, and I’m excited to return. I grew up in central Pennsylvania (Williamsport) and still have family there, so it will be lovely to be closer to them. I’m also looking forward to getting to know the Lancaster area. It’s a beautiful part of the state, but apart from a couple of soccer games in college, I haven’t spent much time there yet. I’m looking forward to exploring the beautiful Millersville campus, checking out the Central Market and bookstores in downtown Lancaster, and finding a restaurant that serves a decent cheesesteak. There are many things I like about Ohio (where I’ve lived for the past seven years), but I must admit that their cheesesteaks are just not up to par.
What are some of your favorite past-times?
Unsurprisingly, I love to read, and I’m rarely happier than when I’m reading a good book with a cat on my lap. I also love cats, and when I’m not spoiling Penny and Percy, our two rescue kitties, I enjoy volunteering at the local animal shelter. My husband and I also love to travel together. We have a pushpin map to keep track of the places we’ve been (like France, Puerto Rico, the UK, and Bulgaria) and a LONG list of places we’d still like to go (too many to name). When I’m at home, I have a soft spot for the goofy spectacle that is minor league baseball, so I’m thrilled to be moving to a town that has a team; I can’t wait to check out the Barnstormers! Finally, I’m a relatively recent convert to world of fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, so I’m looking forward to exploring the gaming community in Lancaster.
What do you enjoy writing about?
I enjoy researching and writing about depictions of disability in literature, especially insofar as these depictions illuminate the conceptual intersections between disability and other ideological constructs such as gender, domesticity, and social class. My dissertation traces the ways in which mid-nineteenth-century novels engage with scientific and medical discourses like phrenology and lunacy reform. I’ve also published articles on the rehabilitation of “idiocy” in Wuthering Heights and on the normalizing of disabled protagonists in contemporary popular romance novels. My next article project will examine eugenic strands in fin-de-siècle and modernist feminism and their implications for evolving conceptions of bodily difference
What does it mean to study English?
I think the study of English provides us with a means to critical literacy in an information-saturated world. Through analysis of our own and others’ writing practices, we can attain an analytical perspective about the messages with which we are constantly bombarded in everyday life, and, by extension, about the cultures in which we live. Further, when we find our way into the world of a two-hundred-year-old novel or hundred-year-old poem, when we forge connections with the characters or the emotions that these texts relate, it helps us to become better citizens. These connections can inspire us to relate our personal experiences and responses to broader social histories that demonstrate the power of language and narrative. I truly believe these kinds of connections are ethically imperative in today’s world, and that empathic, reflective readers form more constructive, more culturally competent members of our communities.
Title Image: Photo of Emily on the moors above the Bronte parsonage in Haworth, England