Tag Archives: Sarah Vallis

Congratulations English grads 2017

It was a lovely spring day for the 2017 B.A. convocation on Friday, May 19th. Congratulations to our newest English alumni.

English grads and faculty 2017

We managed to gather almost all of the English grads for this photo, along with attending faculty. From left to right, Dr. Reina Green, Dr. Karen Macfarlane. Back row: David Wilson, Luke Hammond, Kevin Smith, Andrew Potter, Ryan Terry, Dr. Anna Smol. Front, left to right: Cassadie Day, Sarah Vallis, Allyson Roussy, Gavin Rollins, Dr. Diane Piccitto, Dr. Susan Drain.

Bachelor of Arts (Honours)

Allyson K. Roussy (with first-class honours)

Sarah K. Vallis (with first-class honours)

Bachelor of Arts (Major)

Duaa Chamsi Basha

Cassadie F. Day

Luke P. Hammond

Michael Luciano

Andrew Potter

Gavin L. Rollins

Ryan K. Terry

Bachelor of Arts (Combined Major)

Kevin Smith (English and History)

Congratulations also to Professor David Wilson, who received the MSVU Part-Time Teaching Award and to Dr. Susan Drain, who was awarded the rank of Professor Emerita.

Graduates, please keep in touch! If you haven’t already, please join the English Society Facebook group or follow us on Twitter or Instagram to keep up with our activities. Or subscribe for email notifications from this blog (scroll down on this page to find the subscription form). However you do it, let us know where your future adventures take you!

Watch this blog for more convocation pictures in the days ahead.


Our students shine at the Atlantic Undergraduate English Conference

2017 AAUEC presenters

Mount students at the AAUEC 2017

Each year, an English Department faculty committee selects among the best of our students’ work in literature and creative writing for presentation at the Annual Atlantic Undergraduate English Conference (AAUEC). This year’s conference was held at the University of PEI last weekend, March 3-5, when faculty and students from around the Atlantic region gathered to listen to and discuss various topics.

The following students were selected for the 2017 conference:

  • Katie O’Brien, “The Maternal Abject and ‘Passive Suffering’ as the Real Horror in Rosemary’s Baby
  • Kevin Smith, “A Picture Like a Poem: William Hogarth’s The Harlot’s Progress
  • Hope Tohme, “The Utter Unpredictability of Words: An Analysis of Translation and Transposition as it Pertains to Mary Stuart’s Casket Sonnets”
  • Sarah Vallis, “Polite Deference: Queen Elizabeth I’s tempering with gendered bodies and power”
  • Karlee Bustelli, “Flight”
  • Tuqqaasi Nuqingaq, “The Way the Earth Feels”

Congratulations to all of the English students who did such a great job of representing our department!


Meet our honours students 2015-2016

Our honours students have been immersed in their thesis research for months now. We’ll get to hear more about their work at the departmental honours colloquium in February, but for now, here is a glimpse of our students and what they’re working on.

Charlotte Kiddell

Charlotte Kiddell

My thesis is on representations of diasporic and familial trauma in Hiromi Goto‘s The Kappa Child and Chorus of Mushrooms. Both novels tell multigenerational stories of Japanese-Canadian families. The Kappa Child and Chorus of Mushrooms depict personal family trauma experienced by the protagonist of each novel – childhood physical and emotional abuse, maternal illness, a grandmother’s disappearance – as well as the ancestral trauma of diasporic displacement. I’m interested in how Goto tells the experience of intergenerational diasporic trauma through modes of liminality to communicate her characters’ experiences of destabilization and displacement. Goto plays with childhood perspective, adaptations of folklore and magic realism to communicate the liminality of traumatic and diasporic experience.
P.S. The protagonist of The Kappa Child exclusively wears pyjamas.  I thought I’d follow her lead for this photo!

Joseph Legere

Joseph Legere

I will be looking at the works of Nawal El Saadawi, who is an Egyptian psychiatrist. Using postcolonial and feminist theories, I will be examining the way Saadawi depicts violence and trauma in these works.

Jenny MacKinnon

Jenny MacKinnon

“So if she weighs the same as a duck…she’s made of wood…. And therefore…. She’s a witch!” (Monty Python and the Holy Grail)

There is something of an ongoing witch-hunt in Arthurian scholarship, largely arguing over the nuances in the labels “enchantress”, “sorceress”, and “witch” and why some characters can be considered magic users and others who never actually use magic are still described in this way. My research examines various Arthurian women, focusing on Morgan le Fay and Guinevere, in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur and in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Using a feminist approach to study women’s agency and power in Arthurian literature, I am also researching historical perspectives on late medieval women and witchcraft.

Jason McKenna

Jason McKenna

I am looking at stream of consciousness literature spanning from the modernist period all the way up to the 2000s (how it’s been done, consistencies, differences). The specific novels I’m focusing on are To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker, and Umbrella by Will Self.

Colton Sherman

Colton Sherman

With a central focus on urban spaces, my thesis explores the intricacies of content and form featured in psychogeographic texts—narratives in which the protagonist explores and engages with the city, such as Iain Sinclair’s Lights Out for the Territory and Paul Auster’s City of Glass. Cities are inherently textual spaces capable of being read (as well as written in) and it is this metaphor of the city as text which centers my analysis. Furthermore, I postulate that this metaphor is reversible, with the texts themselves exhibiting structures—forms—that mirror the urban landscape.

Hailey Stapleton

Hailey Stapleton

I am writing about feminist poetic adaptations of Helen of Troy from the modern to contemporary period. I will be working with H.D.’s “Helen,” Anne Carson’s “Helen,” and Margaret Atwood’s “Helen of Troy Does Counter Top Dancing.”

Sarah Vallis

Sarah Vallis

My thesis explores the racial politics of the Harry Potter novels. I will be looking at four major categories: Rowling’s questioning/problematizing of authority and institutions (Hogwarts, the Daily Prophet, and the Ministry of Magic); the sentient creatures of the novels, such as the house-elves, the goblins, and the centaurs, and their identity; the politics of the “real-world” races and ethnicities present in the novel; and the pure-blood politics and Voldemort’s rise to power through the already-existing systems of authority.

English honours students at the Mount take a full-year credit course in which they do independent research under the supervision of a faculty member and write a substantial thesis on a topic of their choice. You can find more information about our honours program here.


Humphry Clinker Cup 2014

David Wilson sends in this report from his 18th-Century Novel class:

Here is the winning team for this year’s Humphry Clinker Cup competition in English 3365: The 18th-Century Novel:  Sarah Vallis, Courtney MacFarlane, Ashley Muise, and Christina Kempster.

from left to right: Sarah Vallis, Courtney MacFarlane, Ashley Muise, Christina Kempster

from left to right: Sarah Vallis, Courtney MacFarlane, Ashley Muise, Christina Kempster

Four teams vied for the coveted cup filled with chocolate, not to mention bragging rights for the term.

The winning group showed their knowledge of the novel by correctly answering the most skill-testing questions. For example:

  • Name the pleasure gardens in London that the characters visit and write about.
  • When Lt. Lishmahago meets the travellers, what literary character does Jery use to describe the officer?
  • What is the humourous name of the laxative that Aunt Tabitha uses on her dog Chowder?

Congratulations to these four students!

Betty Peterson’s Protest Buttons: an ENGL 2242 project

Terms of Engagement: Teaching & Learning in the English Department by Anna Smol

Peterson Protest Buttons postersIf you’ve walked along the fifth floor of Seton or through the tunnel linking Evaristus and Rosaria, you might have noticed a series of posters called “Pieces of Activist History: Betty Peterson Protest Buttons.” Produced by students in English 2242 (Themes in Women’s Writing), these posters are the result of a collaborative process in which students in this Winter 2014 course learned something about a remarkable Nova Scotian activist while practising their research and communication skills.

Betty Peterson, from Women Social Activists of Atlantic Canada site

Betty Peterson (photo from Women Social Activists of Atlantic Canada website)

Frankly, I did not know what to expect when I assigned this group project. The theme of our course was “protest and polemics” and some of the reading material, such as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, focused our attention on Second Wave feminism. I knew that the Mount Library had received a donation of protest buttons from Betty Peterson, a well-known activist who has been involved in feminist, peace, civil rights and aboriginal rights issues from the time she lived in the States in the 1950s to her years of residence in Nova Scotia from 1975 to the present. Because the buttons represented many of the issues that we would be reading about, I took a chance that we as a class could find a meeting point between our texts and Betty’s buttons. At the very least I was certain that the example of Betty Peterson’s activities and achievements would demonstrate the movement of women into activism in the Second Wave and the intersections of gender, class, and race in the issues that many feminists espoused.

It’s quite likely that most of my students were also wondering how this project would connect to the more conventional English literature syllabus that they were used to. Sarah Vallis remembers that at first,  “The idea of the buttons serving as a catalyst for research…seemed so abstract to me; I’ve become very accustomed to researching for essays based on questions provided either by myself or a professor. This project seemed to have a lot of room for both creativity and error. “ I have to admit that the same thoughts were running through my head.

Betty Peterson protest button collection (photo by Jessie Lawrence)So, with none of us really knowing what to expect, early in the term we went to the library to look at the protest buttons. Roger Gillis, the Mount archivist, laid out most of this large, fascinating collection for us to browse through. I asked students to pick two or three buttons that they found interesting because of their slogans and/or their designs and to note down which ones they’d chosen. Cell phones were soon pulled out as people clicked pictures of their favorite buttons. After a brief research workshop with a librarian, students were asked to spend the next few weeks finding out whatever they could about what their buttons represented. To help answer their questions about Betty Peterson and how she could have amassed all these buttons, students were given links to an article about Betty Peterson on the Women Social Activists of Atlantic Canada website and to an interview on the Nova Scotia Voice of Women site. I also provided a link to Jo Freeman’s website, which has a section on protest buttons and specifically, feminist buttons.

After several weeks of research time, students presented to the class what they had discovered about one or two of their selections, along with an annotated bibliography of their sources. We learned a few things at that time, such as how many registered midwives were practicing in Nova Scotia; who was the Mi’kmaq activist Anna Mae Aquash; what percentage of Canadian women hold policy-making positions today; and where did our “take back the night” marches originate.

(Click on the posters for a slightly clearer view.)

Poster by Jacqueline Duggan and Sarah Vallis

Poster by Jacqueline Duggan and Sarah Vallis

Poster by Cassadie Day

Poster by Cassadie Day

Poster by Kaitlyn Bowdridge

Poster by Kaitlyn Bowdridge

Poster by Jessie Lawrence

Poster by Jessie Lawrence

Our next task was to decide how to communicate some of this to the Mount community. I suggested some possibilities: create a brochure, design a poster, develop a learning kit. The class, which was quite small, quickly came to a consensus that they would all design a series of posters. Originally, we wanted to create and provide a link to a webpage, possibly on Pinterest, but we had to cut back on this plan as time was tight (students were also working on a major research essay during the same period and we were falling behind in our syllabus). Instead, Roger Gillis provided some information on the Betty Peterson Protest Button Collection page.

To give students some guidance on visual design principles, I directed them to the Purdue Online Writing Lab’s section on visual rhetoric. Using a portion of class time and in some discussions outside of class, students designed rough drafts of their posters and then presented them. We discussed the strong points in each unique poster draft, putting into practice some of the visual design principles we had looked at. Although some of the drafts were very professional looking, we needed one template that each group or individual could use, so we created a collaborative design, selecting strong elements from each draft such as the poster logo, the title, the font choices, and the coloured bands.

Poster by Duaa Chamsi Basha and Amanda Thurber

Poster by Duaa Chamsi Basha and Amanda Thurber

Button selection by Jessie Lawrence and Andrew Potter

Button selection by Jessie Lawrence and Andrew Potter

Button selection by Bonita LeBlanc

Button selection by Bonita Le Blanc

In the end, some of the buttons research connected explicitly with our readings; for example, research on reproductive rights, midwifery, and “take back the night” protests found its way into discussions of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. But even if the button choices did not specifically relate to our readings or essay topics, some students were able to see a more general applicability. For example, Kaitlyn Bowdridge pointed out, “While my paper does not have to do explicitly with my protest button … it does deal with the agency of women, which was ultimately the underlying goal of the button” while Sarah Vallis identified “empowerment through knowledge” as another theme and commented that the “question authority” button was widely applicable to our readings.

The class was certainly impressed by the collection and the collector. Cassadie Day wrote, “I had no idea we had such a fascinating piece of history tucked away in our library.” Most of the class felt that they had learned a lot about the specific issues that they had researched. More generally, Jacqueline Duggan found the activism of Betty Peterson inspirational for her future career goals, and Cassadie Day said that after doing her buttons research and learning about Betty Peterson, she realized “There are so many possibilities as to what I can choose to do, or that women in general can do.” Amanda Thurber expressed the sentiments of the class when she wrote that Betty Peterson “is truly a remarkable woman.”

I wasn’t sure how my students would react to a public project, but they seemed to enjoy the idea of showing their work to others. As Sarah Vallis put it, “Perhaps what I like most about this project is the fact that it has a practical application outside of class. The posters will be seen by MSVU students, unlike essays, which are usually only read by professors. It is rewarding to work towards something in class that will actually be seen by other people.” A few students, such as Duaa Chamsi Basha, commented on how they enjoyed the creativity and the teamwork that the project called for. As one student in the class put it:  “With the buttons project, I have begun to think more creatively again, and to express myself more confidently.”

This is the first time the buttons collection has been used in a class project, although a few years ago, then-English-student Laura de Palma did some work helping to document the collection and studying some of the issues it raised. I believe the collection has great potential for student projects in many disciplines. Roger Gillis, who was a great help in our project through all of its stages, would be happy to talk to faculty, students, and other researchers about their ideas for working with the collection.

Finally, our class would like to thank Betty Peterson for her valuable donation to the Mount Archives and for her personal example of courage and commitment to issues of social justice. We are pleased to note that in 2000 the Mount awarded her an honorary doctorate, one of the  well-deserved awards she has garnered in her lifetime. She is truly an inspirational example to all of us.

For further reading:

Betty Peterson, a.k.a. Kukuminash.” Women Social Activists of Atlantic Canada: Profiles of Wisdom.

Betty Peterson Protest Button Collection.  Mount Saint Vincent University Archives.

Nova Scotia Voice of Women: A Walk Down Memory Lane. An Interview with Muriel Duckworth and Betty Peterson.”  Linda MacDonald and Jeanne Sarson.  3 July 2008. [pdf]

For a general account of the Voice of Women in Nova Scotia, you can read Sarah Morgan’s M.A. thesis (in Women & Gender Studies) on “How women take up political space: Through the eyes of the women in the peace movement.” Mount Saint Vincent e-Commons.