Earning a Fulbright award is usually an opportunity for professors to step away from the classroom and their students and focus solely on research.
That was the plan for Carole Levin when she traveled to the University of York in the United Kingdom to spend the spring 2015 semester there researching the first-century queen Boudicca. But Levin, Willa Cather Professor of History and director of UNL’s medieval and Renaissance studies program, soon turned it into an opportunity for her students.
Thanks to relationships forged while at the University of York during her Fulbright and with support from the College of Arts and Sciences, Levin has laid the foundation for what she hopes will become a lasting partnership between UNL and the University of York’s world-renowned faculty in medieval and Renaissance studies.
“While I was over there, Dean (Joseph) Francisco had suggested to me to look at ways the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program could possibly partner with the Center for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies at York,” Levin said.
“We wanted to set up student exchanges but we can only do that occasionally because of funding. We’re finding ways around that,” Levin said. “Thank goodness for technology so we can Skype. It’s just great.”
The partnership brings a unique opportunity to classes in the medieval and Renaissance studies program, Levin said. Using Skype and other technology, Levin is bringing some of the foremost experts on the Elizabethan era into her classroom.
For example, in Levin’s History 432/482 class, Tudor/Stuart England, graduate students are reading a book on Sir Francis Walsingham by John Cooper, a world-class Tudor scholar and a professor at the University of York, Levin said.
“Those students will get to Skype with John and will be able to ask him more questions about Walsingham and other topics related to Queen Elizabeth,” she said.
The partnership also allows Levin to work with her York colleagues to mentor and challenge the next generation of scholars. Levin will be the outside examiner for York graduate student Dustin Neighbors on his viva, the oral exam for a doctoral dissertation.
At UNL, graduate student Andrea Nichols is the first to reap the benefits of mentorship from York. Nichols, who is working to achieve her doctorate in 2016, has added Helen Smith to her dissertation committee. Smith is one of the top experts in Nichols’ field of research on readers’ marks in English printed histories.
“Having her on my committee is really going to help my dissertation be the best it can be,” Nichols said. “I’d like to apply for a postdoc in England, and she’ll be able to help me navigate that process.
“I have made many connections and can use them as a resource.”
Nichols has also been helping to launch an academic association called the Gloriana Society that will host its inaugural conference at the Tower of London next November.
While the partnership is in name only, Levin’s goal is to see it grow into a funded collaboration that will open more doors for students.
Through special funding, Anna Valent, a York doctoral student who is working on cultural interactions between England and Spain, will have a residency here at UNL in April. Valent will deliver a public lecture on her research, visit classes and meet with graduate students and faculty members.
“The administrator at York was very clear that they’d love to have any collaborations possible,” Levin said.
As Nichols continues to pull from her resources in York for her research, to better the program’s curriculum and to bounce ideas off faculty and fellow graduate students, she sees great possibilities.
“We’re just getting started,” Nichols said. “I’m hoping that students in the future can do a lot more with this.”