Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

StFX students off to Germany to present work at prestigious, international literary theorist conference

April 17th, 2019
Pictured are, seated in front, l-r, Alejandra Torres, Jessica Morrison, Laura Blinn and Jennifer Aftanas. Back: Emma Hofland-Burry and Renée Proctor

It’s one thing to study literary theorists in class, it’s another thing altogether to present your work, network and ask questions of those very same experts as a participant at a prestigious international conference. 

That’s the rare opportunity afforded to four StFX students—Jennifer Aftanas, Laura Blinn, Emma Hofland-Burry and Jessica Morrison—who will accompany StFX English professor Dr. Mathias Nilges, a conference co-organizer, to Germany in May to present their work as part of a special session at “Reading In The Age Of Trump: The Politics And Possibility Of Literary Studies Now,” taking place May 15-18 at the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany

Additionally, StFX English honours students, Renée Proctor and Alejandra Torres, who are both supervised by Dr. Nilges, will attend as conference organizers.

“It’ll not just be a great opportunity for them, but it’s especially noteworthy, since the conference is an intensive event that brings together prominent names in literary studies for an intensive conference including presentations, discussions, and public event,” Dr. Nilges says. 

“The fact that the event only includes notable academics, and not even graduate students, makes it all the more significant that four of our undergraduate students will participate and present their work.”

Dr. Nilges agreed to take the four students who wrote the strongest papers as part of his upper-level course, “Contemporary Literary Theory” with him to the conference. His colleagues in Germany agreed to add a special panel for StFX students. 

The four students who wrote the best papers and who will present at the conference include Ms. Aftanas, a fourth year forensic psychology student from Halifax, NS; Ms. Blinn, a third year sociology major from Bridgewater, NS; Ms. Hofland-Burry, a fourth year biology student from Sackville, NB; and Ms. Morrison, a second year English student from Framboise, Cape Breton. 

They are receiving funding support through the Jules Léger Endowment for the Faculty of Arts. 

The four will present their thoughts on the recent “method wars” in literary studies and run a session that puts the conference’s participants in the hot seat by asking them to clarify and define basic concepts, ideas, and approaches that are shaping literary critical debates today. 

“It’s an amazing opportunity to get to present to top literary theorists, and to interact with people you’re writing about and researching in the classroom,” says Ms. Hofland-Burry.

“And to ask questions and get feedback,” agrees Ms. Proctor, who will present in another session at the conference. 

“It makes what you’re doing in the class real,” says Ms. Aftanas.  

Ms. Morrison says she’s looking forward to the back-and-forth conversations between conference participants. “They can’t put all their thoughts and opinions in their papers, it’s a chance to see what else they’re thinking about,” she says. 

Ms. Blinn says she is excited about the opportunity to present her work, and the opportunity to make connections that may have an impact on her future studies.  

“It’s another opportunity to develop the skills we need as we move forward in our academic careers,” Ms. Hofland-Burry says.

Ms. Proctor says the conference will not only help her make personal connections, but it will also be useful as a measuring stick to see where she’s at as she heads into a new chapter of her life as she starts graduate school in the fall. 

The students say another cool thing about the opportunity is that they all come from different backgrounds—from English, sociology, biology and forensic psychology. While they have different interests, they also have common overlap, and all bring different perspectives and ideas.

“It really shows StFX’s interdisciplinary approach to education,” Ms. Aftanas says. 

The students also had words of praise for their professor, Dr. Nilges, saying he makes the subject accessible and is very encouraging, but at the same time expects them to achieve high standards. The class, they say, was challenging, but also enjoyable. 

Both Ms. Torres and Ms. Proctor will create a ‘keywords’ project during the conference, interviewing participants on the understanding of literary theorist terms so that everyone shares the same meaning of those terms. 

Ms. Torres says she has studied some of the scholars who will be in attendance and has developed her own ideas based off some of their work. “It’s a really cool opportunity,” she says about meeting them. 

The conference will be live-streamed and presentations will be archived and available for viewing after the event concludes.  

More on the conference can be found at the following links, and 

This research is, in part, made possible by the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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