From her early pre-med and subsequent pre-law inclinations, Marjorie Howes, a professor within the English department and Irish Studies Program, rejected the possibility of becoming a teacher. “I wanted to resist the idea,” Howes said, partially in light of the fact that her father taught English at the University of Michigan. This term, however, works Howes’ 25th year as a professor-13 of which she has spent instructing at Boston College.
Howes grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich. alongside one brother, and she attended the University of Michigan for her undergraduate degree. In 1984, she graduated with a B.A. in both English and political science, and from there she continued straight on to graduate school at Princeton-not without initial conflictions, however. After being accepted to both graduate school and law school, Howes ultimately decided to pursue her graduate degree. “Grad school sounded more interesting,” she said.
After obtaining her Ph.D. from Princeton in 1990, Howes taught English at Rutgers University for 12 years. There, she focused mostly on the 20th century, from the late Victorian era, to Modernism, to race and gender theory. Occasionally, Howes had the opportunity to teach Irish literature, but she left Rutgers for BC in 2001 because of the University’s notable Irish Studies Program. “BC is famous for its Irish Studies Program, so that is really what drew me here,” Howes said.
Although English attracted Howes from a young age, her passion for Irish studies evolved much more gradually. Only while writing her dissertation on Yeats did her interest develop from the background research she had to conduct on Ireland and its history. Now, she specializes in postcolonial studies, Anglo-American Modernism, feminist studies, late Victorian literature, and 19th to 20th century Irish literature-particularly Yeats and Joyce. “A lot of my research has been on Yeats, and Yeats and Joyce are among my favorites to teach,” Howes said. “I look at them through the lens of the postcolonial, imperial age.”
Since then, Howes has been more interested in the 19th century cultural history of Ireland, looking at Ireland as part of the Atlantic world and working on a book about the country’s relationship with the slave trade. Materially, the nation was not a major player in the exchange, yet there is a curious conjunction between the two nonetheless, which is what currently fascinates Howes.
In addition to studying Irish history and literature within the U.S., Howes also travels to Ireland regularly. Most often, her research and work take place in Dublin, and the Irish government occasionally hires Howes to read applications for grant scholarships-similar to the U.S’s National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), an agency that supports and funds research, education, and preservation by creating grants. Howes also delivers speeches on her current research while abroad, and lately her talks have centered on Ireland and slavery and have even led her to countries such as New Zealand and Japan. “It definitely gives you a kick in the butt to make progress,” Howes said of the influence that invitations to speak have on her work’s development.
At BC, Howes teaches Major Irish Writers, a class that involves the analysis of work from three to four significant writers, Readings and Research on Ulysses with two undergraduate students, and a graduate course on Joyce’s Ulysses, which Howes says is one of her favorite classes to give, and one of the most popular. “We always run out of time, but by the end of class, I think the students really think they have accomplished something, and they have-it’s such a hard book,” she said. Her other favorite to teach is Studies in Poetry. “Even though some students start out disliking poetry or being intimidated, they realize, ‘Hey, this isn’t so bad,’ and they eventually grow to like it,” Howes said.
Additionally, Howes has given a small seminar in the Burns Library twice. The class brings archival materials to students so that they can learn about special collections and conduct research, and Howes hopes to offer the course again in the near future because of the many educational benefits of the library’s resources. Howes has also helped to design and produce three exhibits within the McMullen museum, and at present she is working alongside other professors and the museum’s directors, administrators, and managers to create an exhibit to open in 2016 on Irish arts and crafts.
Regarding her experience at BC, Howes talked about the enjoyment she has had within the University. “The students definitely work hard,” she said. “I really like my colleagues in the Irish Studies Program and within the English department, and I really respect the way the University cares for its students. There is a lot of support here.”