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Examining academia in literature

Banting Fellow Emma Peacocke explores how perceptions of higher education in literature shaped the nature of universities.

Emma Peacocke (English) has been awarded a prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Currently a recipient of the Bader Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities, Dr. Peacocke’s research focuses on the image and perception around universities as institutions, as created by authors of 19th Century literature. Her research examines the representation of universities in literature, compared and contrasted with the realities of the time. By examining students’ own writing and the university presses’ publications, her work aims to separate fact from fiction, as well as determine how the mythos of the university influenced educational policy in Britain and Canada.

Dr. Emma Peacocke (English) has received a prestegious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue her research on how the romanticized depictions of academia in 19th century literature compared to reality, as well as how that image shaped the university system we know today.

“It hadn’t really struck me until I got into this what an era of dynamic change, for universities, the romantic era was,” says Dr. Peacocke. “Every once in a while, I’d come across these snippets in novels or poetry that mentioned universities that presented them in a different, almost aspirational light.”

Dr. Peacocke points to the reforms taking place in education at the time – the shift to a more dialogic teaching method, the formation of the secular University of London and changing attitudes on the role of the university – as being driven partially by the changing representations of universities in literature. She hopes her research will provide a new perspective on Canadian educational history and on the cultural artifacts that communicate this history to the wider public.

Dr. Peacocke says she was attracted to Queen’s by the collegial atmosphere within the Department of English, the university’s extensive archives and collections and its status as one of Canada’s oldest universities – inspired, in many ways, by the very universities referenced in literature from the period.

“I’ve found my early-career colleagues here have been the most stimulating immediate family and I just felt like I was immediately under the wing of really established professors here as well,” she said.

She hopes to use a portion of the Banting Fellowship funding to create a research assistantship to provide an opportunity for accelerated learning for up-and-coming literature students.

“When I was a graduate student, I was so lucky with respect to research assistantships and teaching assistantships,” Dr. Peacocke explained. “I had the opportunity to learn so many skills and work with wonderful librarians and brilliant professors. I’m really looking forward to being able to be able to pass on that opportunity here at Queen’s.

The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship program provides funding to the top postdoctoral applicants, in Canada and around the globe, who will positively contribute to the country's economic, social and research-based growth. Providing funding of $140,000 over two years, the aim of the fellowship program is to attract and retain top-tier postdoctoral talent, help develop their leadership potential and position them for future success.