February 15, 2012

My Great Friend and Mentor Caroline McCracken-Flesher

The first class I took from Caroline McCracken-Flesher was a sixteenth and seventeenth century British survey class, in which we read Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and John Donne, Philip Sidney and Samuel Pepys, Alexander Pope and Milton. It was in a sterile classroom in the engineering building, right by the stairs, but it had a lot of windows.  I remember lots light, and not just from the windows!

Caroline is a petite woman, but she fills a room.  She’s fun and intelligent and passionate about what she does.  I remember being intimidated at first, but that quickly changed when she held us to a high standard but made impenetrable Milton absolutely fascinating.  (Confession: I still have not read more than a couple of pages of Milton's Paradise Lost, though to this day I love the poem “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent.” It’s even more poignant now as I age.)

Caroline is originally from Ireland, I believe, but she attended Oxford and Edinburgh and Brown.  Her work is about how Scotland maintains its cultural and political identity, both historically and contemporarily, and also connected to issues of place in Wyoming.  Like so many wonderful professors she serves in all kinds of other capacities, and right now she’s head of the English Department. She’s won scads of awards for her teaching and published and edited all kinds of things.

I also took the nineteenth century novel and our capstone class about theory from her. Can you imagine: she made theory fun and interesting in ways that many teachers might make it nothing but a muddle. We applied theory to movies and to cool books like Frankenstein and had a whole party at her beautiful home for Halloween based on theory.  We did mock-teachings and held a mini conference.  We talked about important things like “And Just Exactly What Are We Going To Do With An English Bachelor's?” I remember in one class, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had just come out, and she spent half of class reading the Mirror of Erised scene and talking about mirrors and what they mean.

And ~ AND! ~ she taught me close reading, the single most valuable skill an English major can acquire.  It’s like you learn to translate your own language.  Instead of English being this flat one-to-one correspondence, it flowers into this magical puzzle of possibility.  So amazing.

It didn’t stop there.  When I went on to get my master’s, I had three full changes of committee.  That’s three people times three. The final reason it changed was that I didn’t get my thesis done for May graduation so the defense extended into the summer, and my professors were gone.  I was doing my thesis on identity in 1850s pioneer diaries, and even though Caroline’s specialty is Scottish literature, she stepped up at the last minute to be on my committee.  (As did Beth Loffreda and Phil Roberts.  Thank you all so much!)  She was the one that turned me on the identity theories of Homi Bhabha, which gave me direction when I needed it most.

So this is a GREAT BIG THANK YOU to my great friend and mentor Caroline McCracken-Flesher. I wanted to point out some of the great work she’s doing. 

Here’s a great book review in Scotland’s national newspaper about her book The Doctor Dissected: A Cultural Autopsy of the Burke and Hare Murders.  Here are her books Possible Scotlands: Walter Scott and the Story of Tomorrow and Scotland as Science Fiction.  She organized a great conference here in Laramie about the conjunction of Sir Walter Scott and the American West, in which the great Diana Gabaldon came and spoke. And, finally, here’s Caroline giving a great talk for Saturday University.  Enjoy!


Pembroke Sinclair said...

You aren't kidding about Caroline filling a room. I remember my first class from her, she scared the crap out of me! Of course, after many years and getting to know her, she's an amazing woman. She really has taught so much!

Tamara said...

:-) So true! I agree with everything you said!