Carolyn Williams Wins a Guggenheim Fellowship

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Spring / Summer 04


Carolyn Williams Wins a Guggenheim Fellowship
by Maria Villafranca

The English Department is pleased to congratulate Professor Carolyn Williams, the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2004-2005. Professor Williams is well known as a devoted and award-winning teacher of English, and also as the Associate Director of the Center for the Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture. Her wide range of interests – including Victorian literature, cultural studies, and theater – will come together in her new project, a study of the artistic rules of nineteenth-century melodrama.

The competitive Guggenheim Fellowship, given by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, is awarded to established scholars and artists in support of their ongoing work. These fellowships are particularly coveted because the funds have no set restrictions for spending them, enabling Fellows an extraordinary amount of creative freedom. Professor Williams will use the support to take a year off from teaching, giving her time to think and write about research she has already completed.

Her new project arose directly from her previous one. In her second book, nearly complete, Professor Williams explores popular culture in the Victorian period, writing about the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. These theatrical performances combined elements of low culture with the respectability of high art in fascinating ways. While doing the research, Professor Williams had to learn more about the theatrical genres that Gilbert and Sullivan were parodying in their work, including stage melodrama, a type of spectacle that seems purely for entertainment and simple in its conventions.

Melodramas are not as simple as they seem, she found. Melodrama combines many different elements: repetition and revision of familiar plots and characters, pervasive use of music as a counterpoint, and moments of tableaux, when actors suddenly pause to create a staged “picture.” Professor Williams plans to argue that these components of melodrama came together to shape an important new set of artistic conventions in England in the nineteenth century. Even today, she says, we live in an age when melodramatic approaches dominate most social and cultural forms of expression.

When Professor Williams returns from her year on this fellowship, she will jump right back into the department’s daily life by becoming the Director of Undergraduate Studies in addition to returning to teaching. Best of luck to Professor Williams on her fascinating new project, and congratulations on becoming a Guggenheim Fellow.


Professor Williams joins a long list of colleagues who have been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. English faculty members who have received this honor in past years include Professors Derek Attridge, Marianne DeKoven, William C. Dowling, Myra Jehlen, Alicia Ostriker, and Michael McKeon.

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