The Graduate Awards Committee is pleased to announced the winners of the program's 2018 Peer Dissertation Prizes. (These prizes are typically awarded during the academic year following the entries' deposit dates.)
First prize went to Christine Hedlin for “Novel Faiths: Nonsecular Fiction in the Late-Nineteenth-Century US.” One committee member lauded Hedlin's dissertation as a compelling intervention in the ongoing effort to complicate well-worn critical narratives of secularization, both in US history and in the history of the novel, revealing the affective and ideological power of underexamined religious fiction in US culture circa 1860-1905. Another praised the project's "outstanding job of using a particular take on religious history (close attention to postbellum resistance to secularization, and the rise of new or marginalized religions) to analyze an interesting archive (postbellum religious fiction) to come up with a new aesthetic theory (the formal qualities of the novel -- focalization, layering, dialogism -- were crucial to working through the era's fraught experience of religious doubt). Best of all, it's rhetorically framed as a revision or critique of current assumptions about the declining importance of religion in postbellum America."
Honorable Mention went to Brandon Jones for “Uncommon Work: Utopia, Labor, and Environment in Late-Century American Fiction." According to one of the committee members, Jones’s dissertation approached the "the overwhelming prevalence of apocalyptic environmental discourse, and its widely-noted political liabilities (it tends to freeze its readers in a posture of despair, rather than engaging them in an activist reform project). In foregrounding a minority tradition of critical 'eco-georgic' writing, Jones calls attention to a further liability of current environmental discourse: its tendency to pit workers who need jobs against ecological desire to limit excessive economic expansion. It thus convincingly aligns a political problem with an aesthetic form, and suggests that this tension might be negotiated by a turn to a new set of literary works.” The committee collectively agreed that this is a "persuasive recovery of late twentieth-century georgic as an underappreciated novelistic resource for engaged environmentalist politics, relevant not only to ecological debates in US culture but to global discourse on the Anthropocene more generally” (to borrow the wording of another committee member).