Free public lecture series: Technology and the Gothic

Dr. Karen Macfarlane will be offering a series of six free public lectures on Technology and the Gothic at the Keshen Goodman branch of the Halifax Public Libraries.  Join Dr. Macfarlane every Friday afternoon from 2 to 3 p.m., starting this week on September 21. The schedule of lectures and a general description follow:

September 21: Introduction to the Gothic

September 28: Technologies of Unease

October 5: Spiritualism, Telegraphs, and Other Victorian Obsessions

October 12: Technology in Victorian Fiction

October 19: Haunting the Twentieth Century

October 26: Networked Gothic: The Twenty-First Century

This series will explore the uneasy relationship between humans and our technologies through a series of talks that will trace the use of the Gothic mode as a way of exploring cultural anxieties about the role of technology in everyday life in popular narratives (particularly literature, film, and television) from the nineteenth century to the present day.

Technology and the Gothic lecture series poster 2018

Technology and the Gothic lecture series poster 2018


In Memoriam: Renate Usmiani

The following was written by Dr. Peter Schwenger, Professor Emeritus in the Mount’s English department:


Renate Usmiani, Professor Emerita of the Mount’s English department, was a lifelong advocate of dying with dignity; and it was with dignity and grace that she chose to die on August 13 with the help of the MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) program. At 87, she had for a long time suffered from exhausting and painful ailments, with no prospect of change. So she arranged a small ceremony; and with her family and a close friend at her bedside she courageously concluded a life that was by any standard remarkable.

Born in Vienna in 1931, Renate lived through the tumultuous times following Hitler’s annexation of Austria. In 1950 her family emigrated to the United States, where she obtained her Master’s degree in Comparative Literature from Radcliffe, the women’s college at Harvard. It was there that she met and married Mirko Usmiani, moving to Halifax when he was appointed to teach Classics at Dalhousie. Renate taught in Mount Saint Vincent’s English department until her retirement in 1996, while at the same time making her mark as a scholar with numerous books and articles. As a comparatist, her awareness of European experimental and avant-garde drama allowed her to recognize and promote similar trends in Canadian theatre, with books such as Second Stage: The Alternative Theatre Movement in Canada, The Theatre of Frustration, and more than one study of the Montreal playwright Michel Tremblay, as well as a seminal monograph on Gratien Gelinas.

Renate’s passion for the stage impelled her to found the Mount Playhouse, the first dinner theatre in Halifax. This took place every summer in the Rosaria Pub, in a repertory format of three differently themed evenings. Each evening presented a short play before dinner and a longer one after, as well as cabaret-style musical entertainment. Her choices for the plays reflected her sophistication: they combined literary significance with audience appeal.

Hardly one to settle into a sedentary retirement, Renate mentored a friend in reading German and taught ESL lessons to recent immigrants. Still fit well into her 60s and 70s, she signed up at the YMCA to take a course in instructing elderobics fitness classes. During her last years living at Parkland at the Gardens she gave many helpful hints to the young fitness instructors there, attending their classes regularly well into her 80s.

Renate introduced her students to many figures in European and Canadian cultural history that she declared to be—in an expression typical of her—“enooormously important.” But it was she herself who was enormously important to all who knew her. Renate lived her life with intensity and fierce independence and she did it her way—right to the end.


The Hundred Days 1918

The middle of August sees the tide turning in World War I: the Battle of Amiens, which began August 8th, marks the beginning of the so-called “Hundred Days” before Armistice Day, November 11th.

aug 8.JPG

Those who have been following Percy’s War know that Percy Theobald, a Canadian gunner, has been on active service in France for year now, most of it on the Lens front amid the French coalfields, just north of Vimy. Now he is farther south, as Allied troops drive east, in something approaching mobile warfare after years of trenches taken, lost, and retaken across the Western Front.

Janie oval

Janie Libbey


Day-by-day we have read Percy’s few words about his experience, set in the context of his officers’ reports, accounts written just after the war and histories from the last few years, of poetry and popular song and film of the time. We know about his long-distance romance with Janie, about his reading, about the routine and the anything-but-routine of war. Illustrated with paintings from the collections of the Canadian and the Imperial War Museums, with photographs and maps and cartoons, ephemera and trivia, each entry is different, and there are nearly 900 of these creative non-fiction pieces on the web to date.

The blog is a labour of love for Professor Emerita Susan Drain, who was entrusted with an archive of materials by Percy’s family several years ago: the blog began in 2016 when Percy enlisted (January 1916), and has steadily attracted attention from readers of all kinds. Amateur —obsessive— historians of World War I share documents, lessons in map-reading, and

Sargent painting of horse lines IWM

John Singer Sargent, Horse Lines. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 1619)

fact-checking services, all gratefully received. Professional historians  read and comment: “terrific research” said Tim Cook recently. Tim Cook is the pre-eminent historian of Canada’s role in World War I. One reader “likes” every post that has a painting in it; another, every post that refers to the horses that played so important a role; still others are moved by the human-interest details, the poignant and the funny.

You can see for yourself by subscribing to the blog to get each day’s entry delivered to your mailbox. It’s a five-minute immersion in another life, an individual perspective on the maelstrom of the Great War.







Congratulations to English Graduates! May 2018

Congratulations to the students who graduated last week!

English students and faculty at Convocation may 2018

English faculty and students at Spring Convocation 2018. Back, l to r: Dr. Graham Fraser, Dr. Diane Piccitto, Dr. Nathaniel Street, Nicole Martina, Megan Bruce, Alexandra Rudderham, Brittany George, Dr. Reina Green, Dr. Karen Macfarlane. Front, l to r: Katie O’Brien, Hope Tohme


Megan Bruce
Brittany George
Nicole Martina

Combined Major English and History

Micaela Singer


Katie O’Brien
with first-class honours and highest aggregate

Alexandra Rudderham
with first-class honours

Hope Tohme
with first-class honours



Essay deadlines? Need help? English & History Writing Workshop open until April 5

by Samantha Van Norden, English Department Media Assistant

The Writing Workshop is a free service for English and History students looking for help with essay writing. Our peer tutors will help with issues such as essay structure and planning, thesis statements, and comprehension. The Workshop will be open until the end of term, April 5th.

Come and see Hope or Elise if you need any help.


Writing workshop times:
Monday/Wednesday. Seton 532. 3:00-4:00
Tuesday/Thursday. Seton 533A. 3:00-4:00

The English Pro-Co: what is it and how can it benefit you?

by Samantha Van Norden, English Department Media Assistant,
in conversation with Dr. Reina Green, English Department Chair

Some of you may have heard about the English Professionalization Co-Curricular Record, part of the Mount’s Co-Curricular Record Program (or the CCRP), and wondered what it is and how it would benefit you as an English student. The “English Pro-Co” (for short) is a relatively new feature that English students can take advantage of to prepare for future careers. I sat down with English Department Chair, Dr. Reina Green, to ask her some questions that I thought might be useful in helping to explain the English Pro-Co.

In what way will the CCR shape a student’s preparation for their futures?

The CCRP recognizes students’ extracurricular activities and gives future employers knowledge of students’ involvement in events that may provide experiential learning and prepare them for future studies or a future career. Upon graduation, students can request their CCRP to show employers and others that they were involved in these extracurricular activities. The English Pro-Co recognizes the participation of students in our programs in designated activities in which they have engaged with the arts or scholarly community beyond the classroom.

How does the English Department decide what events count toward the English Pro-Co?

Each year faculty meet to identify and organize departmental and English Society events that can go toward the English Pro-Co. We include events that focus on scholarship and further learning such as attending the Honours Colloquium, or a presentation by a faculty member or guest speaker, as well as information sessions on our Honours program, graduate school, or possible careers. In addition, we include some English Society events and trips—attending a theatre production, for example.

Does a student need to be part of the English Society–to have a “role” within the group–in order to receive a credit on the English Pro-Co Record?

Students receive recognition through the CCRP for any executive position they hold within the English Society, but that is separate to the English Pro-Co. The only requirement to begin an English Pro-Co record is that students have declared an English Major.

 How does the CCR show on a transcript?

Students can access their Co-Curricular Record via MyMount.

 Who is going to look for the English Pro-Co: future employers, graduate school programs, or both?

Both future employers and graduate school programs are interested in what students do beyond the classroom to prepare for their future. The English Pro-Co documents that aspect of student experience.

 What sort of “edge” will a completed English Pro-Co record give a student applying for grad school?

The English Pro-Co gives students an advantage as it shows how they have engaged in the arts and academic life beyond the classroom. Attending these events is purely voluntary and the English Pro-Co demonstrates that students who have participated are willing to do more—on their own time—to further their learning.

How do students sign up for the English Pro-Co and how can they make sure that events they attend will count?

The Chair keeps a record of the students who have participated in each event and at a student’s request, can check on whether that student has qualified for the English Pro-Co which requires students to participate in at least six different kinds of activities with attendance at a minimum of one every year they are in the program. There are also checklists available so students can keep track of their own activities. You can download the checklist here.

 What do you want students to know about the English Pro-Co?

We want students to know that the English Pro-Co exists and that participating in activities organized by the department and English Society can make a difference. Students who do attend these events should also make sure that they sign in at each event so that their participation can be recognized.

We look forward to giving future graduates their English Professionalization Co-Curricular records. This May, we expect some students to be the first to receive it.

English Pro-Co checklist [pdf]







AAUEC 2018 at the Mount

LAAUEC 2018 Annual Atlantic Undergraduate English Conferenceast weekend, the English Department at Mount Saint Vincent University welcomed students and faculty from eleven universities across the east coast for the Annual Atlantic Undergraduate English Conference (AAUEC), which showcases the academic papers and creative works of the region’s top English students. Founded here in 1981, this was the sixth time that the Mount has hosted the conference. Co-organized by Dr. Reina Green and Dr. Diane Piccitto along with conference assistants Katie O’Brien, Hope Tohme, and Sam VanNorden, the AAUEC 2018 was a resounding success!

Mount students at AAUEC welcome reception

Mount students at the welcome reception: Hope Tohme, Katie O’Brien, Rebecca Foster, and Courtney Francis

The conference began on Friday, March 2, in Seton Academic Centre with a Welcome Reception, where attendees participated in a lively round of icebreaker bingo – facilitated by English Society co-presidents Katie O’Brien and Hope Tohme – and heard a presentation by Formac Publishing to announce “Write to Win!” – a writing competition aimed at Atlantic Canadians 18-30 years old.

The afternoon included the first panel of the conference and was followed by ArtFest, held in the MSVU Art Gallery. Emceed by Alexia Major and Sam VanNordon (co-editors, with other MSVU students, of the Speakman Press), ArtFest featured short stories and poetry of participants and the work of special guests El Jones (MSVU’s Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies and poet and activist) and Chantelle Rideout (writer and MSVU English alumna), as well as a welcome address by Dr. Elizabeth Church (MSVU’s Vice-President Academic and Provost).

Day 2 – Saturday, March 3, was held in the Margaret Norrie McCain Centre, giving visitors a chance to spend time in the only building at a Canadian university to celebrate the achievements of women, highlighted in the Women’s Wall of Honour. The second day included four panels, covering topics such as ethics, bodies, politics, and trauma, and even involved one presenter from the Mount, Michelle Russell, Skyping in from Florida where she is training with the Canadian paddling team.

The afternoon ended in the Atrium with the Bad Poetry Reading, which was first begun by Dr. Chris Ferns (Professor Emeritus) in his days as an undergraduate and then initiated at the Mount in the 1980s, having since become an institution in the English Department. Dr. Ferns selected among the very worst poems written by published authors and emceed the event, charming the audience with his entertaining commentary over the course of the hour. Readers included past and current MSVU English students,  faculty members such as Professors Emeritus Dr. Susan Drain and Dr. Peter Schwenger, who performed memorable renditions of “Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight” and “The Tay Bridge Disaster,” respectively. Afterward, participants and volunteers celebrated the two-day conference with a closing-night banquet and dance party – with DJ extraordinaire Dr. Steven Bruhm (former MSVU English student and professor) in Rosaria’s Multi-Purpose Room.

Mount students at AAUEC 2018

Some of the Mount student volunteers. Front, left to right: Katie O’Brien, Nicole Martina, Alex Rudderham, Sidney Warren.  Back, left to right: Sarah Vallis, Darcy Eisan, Sam VanNorden, Megan Bruce, Hope Tohme

The conference was marked by a wonderful energy from beginning to end, creating a stimulating inter-university intellectual community for English students and faculty. See our earlier post here for a list of Mount presenters.

We would like to thank the more than 50 presenters who shared their work at the AAUEC 2018 and the faculty who accompanied students as well as our emcees, guest speakers, and DJ. Thank you also to the President’s Office and the Dean of Arts and Science for their very necessary financial support and to MSVU staff (Catering, Conference Services, Art Gallery, IT Services, Facilities, Communications, Marketing, and Recruitment, Research Office, Book Store, Print Shop, and Security). Finally, a very special thank you to our conference assistants, all of our volunteers, Tracy McDonald (English Department Administrative Assistant), as well as the entire English Department for their instrumental involvement and support over the last several months.

AAUEC dance

AAUEC dance

AAUEC 2018 starts today

Today the Mount welcomes English students from the Atlantic region for the Annual Atlantic Undergraduate English Conference. Students will be reading their academic papers and their creative work today and tomorrow and will be able to enjoy other events, such as the Friday ArtFest (with special guests El Jones and Mount alumna Chantelle Rideout) and Saturday’s always-comical Bad Poetry Reading and closing banquet and dance. The full program is available on the AAUEC website.

The University has published a story about the conference and a couple of the student presenters and volunteers, Samantha VanNorden and Alexia Major, which you can read here.

AAUEC 2018.

Samantha VanNorden and Alexia Major (from

MSVU students presenting at the conference:

Rebecca Foster, “Howling for Love: Romance and Eroticism in Poetry by Allen Ginsberg”

Katie O’Brien, “‘It makes a goblin of the sun’: Fallen Women and the Male Gaze in Dante Gabriel’s ‘Jenny’ and Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’”

Michelle Russell,  “Cross-Cultural Dressing: Clothing and Trauma in Fatty Legs and A Stranger at Home

Kenya Thompson,  “capturing slipping memories”

Hope Tohme, “Sasha Jensen’s Self-Objectification: A Refusal of the Male Gaze in Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight

Sam VanNorden,  “hanging red”

In addition, a team of student volunteers, including some alumnae, will help to make this event a great weekend for all.

Meet our 2017-18 honours students

As a small undergraduate department, we have an opportunity to give our Honours students an intensive research experience in which they spend a year working as apprentice scholars in our ENGL 4499 Honours Thesis course. Under the supervision of a faculty member, each Honours student develops a research topic, presents her findings to students and faculty in an Honours colloquium, and writes up her findings in an undergraduate thesis of approximately 50 pages.

Read about this year’s Honours students and what they’re working on:

Katelyn O’Brien

Katelyn O'BrienMy thesis focuses on the characteristics of an emerging genre of literature called “Sartorial Memoir” (to borrow Emily Spivack’s term). “Sartorial Memoir” is a genre that concerns itself with people, clothing, and most importantly, people’s relationship to and with their clothing. I will be exploring how specific conventions of this genre, such as photography, ‘worn-ness’ and collective narrative all contribute to shape the genre and emphasize sentimentality/memory. The three texts I will examine are Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton, Worn Stories by Emily Spivack, and Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton.

Hope Tohme

Hope TohmeHope Tohme’s research consists of human statues, hunger artists, and museum exhibits. Her readings of Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist”, Edward Carey’s Observatory Mansions, and Beckett’s Catastrophe emphasize the “thingness” of the human body, particularly during the absurd performances presented in these texts. Bill Brown’s Thing Theory serves as a basis for her argument that the human body can be reduced to, not only an object, but a thing – an object with an indeterminate use; an object that no longer fulfills the purpose it was meant to.

If you’re a Mount English student and think you might be interested in an Honours degree, speak to your faculty advisor or the Department Chair. You can find some information about our Honours program on our Course Guide webpage.

Dramatic reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The English Department is hosting a reading of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Wednesday, November 15th at 4:30 in Seton 404. All students, staff, and faculty are welcome. If you’re interested in reading a role, small or large, contact Dr. Diane Piccitto, or just come to listen. Refreshments will be served.

Oberon, Titania and Puk with Fairies Dancing by William Blake

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing c.1786 William Blake