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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

English Department Grant to Extend Resources Beyond Campus

When UMass Boston English Department Associate Chair Cheryl Nixon decided to take one of her 18th century English Literature graduate classes to the Boston Public Library to conduct research on rare books in the summer of 2006, she had no idea that her actions would result in a world-renowned exhibit and a UMass-sponsored grant partnership with the library.

This July, The UMass President’s Office awarded UMass Boston with one of seven Creative Economy Fund grants for Nixon’s proposal for “A Partnership with the Boston Public Library for Access to Rare Books.”

“The BPL/UMass Boston collaboration is a natural partnership as our institutions share the same mission: providing the public with access to learning,” Nixon said

The $30,000 grant will, among other things, create an opportunity for UMass Boston English professors to conduct similar workshops at the Boston Public Library with their graduate seminar students in hopes of exhibiting their findings the way Nixon did last winter with her “Crooks, Rogues and Maids Less Than Virtuous: Books in the Streets of 18th Century London” exhibit.

“As soon as people see these materials, which often have beautiful bindings, titillating topics and themes, strange illustrations, or unusual layouts or typefaces, they get excited about books and literature,” Nixon said.

The partnership will also extend its reach into the wider community, with talk of UMass Boston students aiding ESL-needy students, overseeing creative writing workshops in the library and possibly getting paid to tutor.

Currently, Nixon is most excited about an upcoming collaboration where UMass Boston undergrad students help Boston public school students with daily assignments in the Homework Assistance Program (HAP).

“UMass Boston students can serve a role models for Boston high school students,” Nixon said, “showing them that a college education is not a distant dream, but achievable and right around the corner.”

Professors Scott Maisano, who specializes in Shakespeare and the English Renaissance, and Leonard Von Morze, who focuses on Early Colonial American Literature, are also involved in this unique collaboration, entitled “Literature First Hand.”

Maisano will debut the official partnership this spring when he will lead a team of graduate students past the cobwebs of history and into the Rare Books Room at the BPL to unearth many of Shakespeare’s original works. According to Maisano, the caliber of books at the library is on par with some of the best private libraries in the country.

“Our students will have an archival experience to rival their counterparts at Ivy League institutions such as Columbia, Yale, Harvard and Big Ten schools,” he said, adding that those who expose themselves to the arbitrary nature of the written word during the 17th century are sure to realize there is no one definitive copy of a text. “[And thus, students] begin to realize the power that editors, publishers, and academics have had in shaping the literary canon.”

Morze also praised the partnership because it will shed some much-needed light on the amazing collection of uncategorized rare books at the BPL during a time when antique literature seems simply out of reach.

“It’s funny because we live in an age where we have Google books, we have all these ways of accessing rare books online, and yet these seem further from us than ever before,” Morze said.