Sivils Named Inaugural CEAH Fellow in the Arts and Humanities

The Office of Vice President for Research

Matthew Wynn Sivils, an associate professor of English whose scholarship combines his passions for early American literature, natural history and the American landscape, has been named the inaugural Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities (CEAH) Fellow in the Arts and Humanities at Iowa State University.

The CEAH created this new fellowship to recognize established scholars who have distinguished themselves through a major scholarly project and who represent advanced scholarly achievement in the arts and humanities at Iowa State.

“We established the CEAH Fellow in the Arts and Humanities to honor the extraordinary achievements of ISU arts and humanities faculty, and to enlist their help in engaging and broadening the scholarly community that intersects the humanities and creative arts at ISU,” said vice president for research Sarah Nusser. “It’s especially fitting that Dr. Sivils’ research connects literary scholarship with the natural sciences.”

As the CEAH Fellow for spring 2015, Sivils will present his research to the Iowa State community in public lectures and short colloquia as well as host a forum on interdisciplinary humanities research.

Sivils, who had a first career as a zoologist with a degree in wildlife biology before pursuing the field of literary scholarship, brings a broad range of experience to his role as Fellow.

“As part of my outreach for this fellowship, I anticipate drawing upon my background in the biological sciences as well as my more recent experience in the humanities to make connections with people and bridge different disciplines,” said Sivils. “I’m hoping I can use my work as a springboard to promote research in the arts and humanities here at Iowa State and initiate discussions with a variety of audiences.”

Sivils recently published American Environmental Fiction, 1782–1847 (Ashgate), a monograph that explores an emerging environmental consciousness in the early decades of U.S. history through a critical examination of early American fiction.

His published journal articles and book chapters as well as his recent presentations explore connections in environmental, literary, visual and historical scholarly works. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in early American literature and environmental literature in the Department of English, where he has been on the faculty since 2008.

Sivils received the Award for Early Achievement in Research (2013) and the Gregory L. and Kathleen C. Geoffroy Faculty Fellowship (2009), both in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“We are excited to have Dr. Sivils as our inaugural Fellow in the Arts and Humanities,” said Christopher Hopkins, CEAH director. “His work will draw a wide audience to the humanities’ perspective on such a cross-cutting concern as conservation of our natural environments. The review committee was particularly impressed with the variety of interdisciplinary events he proposed.”

Events organized by the CEAH spring 2015 Fellow in the Arts and Humanities

February 4
The Literary Aftershocks of the New Madrid Earthquakes
6:30 p.m. reception with cash bar and hors d’oeuvres, 7:00 p.m. lecture and readings, Upper Rotunda, Parks Library

Dr. Sivils will discuss the cultural reverberations of one of the most powerful natural disasters to strike North America in recorded history: the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811–1812. He will also examine how the fictionalization of such a cataclysm in early American fiction served as an indicator of growing environmental anxiety among Americans as the nation moved away from its agricultural origins toward an increasingly industrialized future.

March 4
Early Natural History Texts: The Roots of American Environmentalism
7:00–8:00 p.m., program with refreshments, Special Collections Reading Room, Parks Library

Dr. Sivils will provide a brief overview of the texts of some of the most influential eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century naturalist-explorers, such as Mark Catesby, Alexander Wilson, and John James Audubon, whose works contain powerful descriptions and stunning illustrations of the plants and animals that would come to define the land. The program will be followed by a viewing of rare natural history volumes housed in the ISU Library’s Department of Special Collections.

April 2
Roundtable Discussion on Interdisciplinary Humanities Research
5:30 p.m. gathering, with refreshments, 6:00 p.m. presentation and discussion, Ensminger Room, Kildee Hall

Knowledge rarely confines itself to disciplinary boundaries. Humanities scholars increasingly find it productive to engage in studies that transcend the borders of convention, finding that they must become conversant in areas of inquiry removed from their formal expertise. To help foster a conversation on this subject, Dr. Sivils will hold an informal roundtable discussion for those interested in pursuing interdisciplinary research in the humanities.

April 26
Imagining the Prairie, Then and Now
Closing lecture and exhibit tour, 2:00–4:00 p.m., with refreshments, Brunnier Art Museum

The prairie landscape has left an indelible mark upon the nation’s larger cultural identity. Exploring the origins of this imagined prairie in a selection of key works of early American literature, Dr. Sivils will discuss how the prairie landscape functioned as a challenge to European-American conceptions of the land, while becoming a defining emblem of the American experience. Following the presentation, Adrienne Gennett, the University Museums assistant curator of collections and education, will provide a tour of Iowa artist Ellen Wagener’s landscapes exhibit.