English professor Dr. Rosanne Denhard has a keen interest in providing research opportunities for her students. Last spring, a gifted group of five students in her "Medieval and Renaissance British Drama" class - as well as a fine and performing arts major working on an independent study project on historical costume design - participated in a collaborative research project that focused on how to teach the work of 17th century British writer Margaret Cavendish.
Inspired by her fall sabbatical research and trip to Paris, and by the knowledge that the International Margaret Cavendish Society's theme for the 2011 Biennial International Conference would be "The Cavendishes and Anglo-European Cultural Exchange: Seventeenth-Century Dutch, Flemish and French Influences," Denhard challenged the students to explore the concept of exile in Margaret Cavendish's life and writing.
"We are fortunate in our department to have these 'special topic' courses that afford faculty and students opportunities to work together at a very high level in small groups," Denhard explained. "These students know me and my work and I know them and their work. I designed a sophisticated 'problem' for them to solve through their close reading of mostly primary sources by Margaret Cavendish, as well as some other key texts."
The students' results, which they presented at MCLA's annual undergraduate research conference in April, she said, were "extraordinary." In July, Denhard (pictured above) shared their work at the International Margaret Cavendish Society's Biennial Conference in Belgium.
Although the students themselves were not present, their work spoke eloquently through the DVD version of their collaboration, Denhard said.
"It was impressive to see how these young scholars were able to get the pulse of the field and follow through so well. The students' interests and concerns for Cavendish research were absolutely right on target with what established scholars in the field are doing. It was especially gratifying to hear the positive comments of my fellow scholars as they discussed our work at MCLA."
Teaching and learning issues in the study of Early Modern (also known as Renaissance) British literary studies are a major area of interest for Denhard, and a topic she has presented on extensively.
"My presentation did show the students 'in action' at the MCLA Undergraduate Research Conference, of course, but it was designed to show others teaching in this content area how we can design a challenging project to take undergraduates to new levels by modeling a culture of collaboration and primary-source research."
This is familiar territory for Denhard: She has been leading pedagogy workshops and discussions on the topic of teaching early modern women's writing for more than a decade. She has done much of this work with a British colleague, Professor Gweno Willilams of York St. John University in England.
"It is still relatively rare to see projects focused on teaching and learning in the undergraduate classroom at specialized conferences in the field, so our work generates a great deal of interest from those teaching undergraduates and also those specializing in working with students at the graduate level," Denhard said.
"The response in Belgium was excellent. This conference included scholars from Britain, Europe, Asia, the United States and Canada. Perhaps most significant was the way it was clear that these undergraduate students had identified through their own work concerns and issues in Cavendish scholarship that are ongoing topics of study."
By challenging her students, Denhard helps them gain the skills and experience they need to do their best and most exciting work.
"Challenging them also means being there to support and advise them. Our best students are extraordinary. They continually work to gain all they can from a dedicated faculty, rigorous curriculum and myriad high impact learning activities, such as undergraduate research and academic travel."