Archival Research in the Time of COVID
Award-winning PhD student Jiwon Min continues her work from afar.
Jiwon Min’s dissertation, which she successfully defended in mid-October, takes us into the world of nineteenth-century British fiction, where anxieties about human-induced environmental demise are rife. A recipient of both a Fischer-Reid Travel Award and an LSU Dissertation Fellowship, Jiwon writes about the ecoGothic and anthropocenic fiction, and her work is as impressive as it is timely. COVID delayed her plans to travel to The Ruskin Library in Lancaster, England, but she kept at her archival work by using online collections. Despite living as an expatriate during her childhood, Jiwon considers Seoul, Korea to be her home.
Why Victorian literature?
One of the first stories I read in English was by Edgar Allan Poe—this was the 4th grade--and I was enthralled. I quickly moved to novels by Mary Shelley and Emily Brontë. From then on, I always loved the Victorians. The fact that this period was so challenged by the rise of industrialism led me to pursue a PhD in its fiction. I wanted to read and learn more about it--and hopefully adjust our trajectory for the future.
How has COVID-19 impacted your archival research?
Most of my last chapter on John Ruskin was going to be based on archival research conducted in England at The Ruskin Library (Lancaster University). However, since travelling was not possible, I had to rely on online archives to gather images, sketches, and journals. There are limitations to this, as photos of the original work aren’t the same as the real thing. They lack intimacy, especially Ruskin’s paintings of cloudscapes. However, this obstacle allowed me to focus more on Ruskin’s texts and his rhetoric, treating his diction with more attention. If the opportunity arises, I’ll definitely visit The Ruskin to strengthen my manuscript.
In what ways did the Dissertation Fellowship help you?
It would have been really hard to make progress on my dissertation without the fellowship. I saw how time-consuming and energy-intensive Zoom teaching was for my friends, and I knew this first-hand from teaching that way for two months in Spring 2020. So the Dissertation Fellowship, which freed me from having to teach, really saved me from Zoom fatigue and the extra lesson-planning and skill-learning that online teaching would have required.
What’s your favorite thing that you’ve read recently?
The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, by Amitav Ghosh, was the most enjoyable book I’ve read lately. As a novelist Ghosh writes with a rhetorical elegance that is easy to understand and at the same time deeply felt. Ghosh finds realist fiction complicit in enhancing doubts about climate change, because it tends to assume stable climates and unlimited natural resources. The Great Derangement is a call to writers—scholarly and fictional—to write more (so that people will read more) about the violence of climate change and about the vulnerability of our current situation.