Madison Shumway

Staff Writer

A recently-published book written and edited by College of Arts and Letters faculty explores the role of narrative in academic research and community.

Twenty faculty members teamed up to create “Narrative, Identity, and Academic Community in Higher Education,” released last week.

“This idea of narrative really provided a focus, a way for us to recognize something in common that crossed our traditional departmental and disciplinary boundaries,” said John Gribas, Associate Dean for Social & Behavioral Sciences, who edited the book.

“Narrative helps to create a sense of identity, and all of the work in the book focuses on that, how narrative—stories—bring people together, give people a sense of who they are, what they’re about, what their identity is collectively.”

The project began not as a book, but as a colloquium series hosted by the college.

When faculty members realized that scholars across disciplines incorporated storytelling into their research, whether by studying narratives or conducting research through the lens of narrative, they began meeting together. The ensuing discussions led to the idea of an edited book, with chapters contributed by individual faculty members.

A shared use of narrative connects disciplines that are often viewed as separate.

For example, political scientists look at patterns as narratives, and historians study what is essentially a vast catalogue of stories.

Emphasizing this key similarity unified departments within the college and strengthened its sense of community, Gribas said.

“It’s important, especially in a time like this, when higher education is challenged in a lot of ways, financially and other ways,” Gribas said. “It’s really important for people in academic units to have a sense of identity and unity and community, where we feel like we’re all part of the same thing somehow.”

Chapter contributors included Elizabeth Cartwright from the Department of Anthropology; Gribas, Zac Gershberg, James DiSanza, Nancy Legge and Terry Ownby from the Department of Communication, Media, and Persuasion; Brian Attebery, Sonja Launspach, Alan Johnson and Thomas Klein from the Department of English; Raphael Njoku and King Yik from the Department of Global Studies; Paul Sivitz from the Department of History; Grant Harville from the Department of Music; Kellee Kirkpatrick from the Department of Political Science; Gesine Hearn from the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Criminology; and Vanessa Ballam and Lauralee Zimmerly from the Department of Theatre and Dance.

Gribas, Sivitz, Attebery, Mark McBeth from the Department of Political Science, and Dean Kandi Turley-Ames edited the book.

The book is somewhat unique, as its contributions come from the same college, said Gribas. It also features author conversations at the end of each chapter that took place in online chatrooms.

“Doing this work … helped create identity and community in this academic unit, in this College of Arts and Letters,” Gribas said. “We see how what we’ve done together, these discussions, the colloquia, the working on this book, has been a source of bringing us together as an academic unit, as a college community, not a bunch of individuals who work for the same college, but a group of people who focus on similar things.”

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