Miami’s English Department is home to several Literature PhD students who are making strides in the world of academia, but often go unrecognized and unnoticed. Today I’d like to introduce you to Cynthia Smith, a Literature PhD student at Miami, who was awarded the Up and Coming Scholar Award by the Harriet Beecher Stowe Society (HBSS). Cynthia shared with me some details of her research, her career plans for the future, and her advice for current English students.
Members of the HBSS focus their work on, and travel to conferences and events that feature – who else – Harriet Beecher Stowe. The organization annually sponsors the Up and Coming Scholar Award, granting one graduate student in the US the opportunity to sit on a panel with HBSS scholars and present a lecture at the American Literature Association’s yearly meeting. Smith submitted an excerpt of her dissertation chapter on Stowe, which she will now have the opportunity to present as a conference paper.
Smith specializes in antebellum sea narratives, though this certainly wasn’t always the plan. As a nineteenth-century Americanist, she began with a subspecialty in Asian American Literature before switching it to Maritime literature. Her original dissertation was going to be about female pirates, but during the research process, she noticed a tradition of sentimental maritime literary in antebellum literature. While taking her oral comprehensive exam, Smith dug into her extensive research knowledge and casually mentioned Uncle Tom as a “sentimental sailor” as an example in response to a more difficult question, not at all expecting one of the committee professors to stop her and say, “Yes! You have to write about that!”
Smith discovered that American literature often used the role of “sailor” to give more privileges to African Americans, providing means of mobility, wages, and enormous opportunity to learn reading and math skills. Stowe’s Uncle Tom can be read as a metaphorical sailor, a mechanism for demonstrating the capabilities of African Americans and creating awareness for the slave trade’s global nature. With her committee’s encouragement, she pursued the “sentimental sailor” all the way into her dissertation.
“I was just trying to pass [her exam]…” Smith recalled. “But apparently it was a good idea.”
Smith’s long-term goals are as ambitious as her present successes. She is working toward a position as a tenure track literature professor, though she noted that there is currently only one open position in her specific field of literature in the entire country. Smith is confident, though, that the Miami English Graduate program has prepared her well, crediting her success to the mentorship of Professors Andrew Hebard, Michelle Navakas, and others, as well as Miami’s well-designed program and the opportunity to start teaching right away (which is not easy to find in programs).
Before even graduating, Cynthia Smith has achieved the kind of success that most English students can only hope for. We extend our proud congratulations to her for receiving the Harriet Beecher Stowe Society’s Up and Coming Scholar Award, and we look forward to seeing (and of course reading) all of her future successes!
English Literature and Creative Writing major
Literature program apprentice