Martin Groff, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, is the 2021 Dr. Nancy C. Joyner Summer Research Fellowship recipient, which allows him to conduct research on 19th-century American authors and their conceptualization of democracy.
Groff, from Cornwall, Pennsylvania, is spending the summer analyzing several texts to study the ways in which they depict democracy—and, how in American literature, those depictions often incorporate elements of aristocracies. Aristocracies, an antiquated form of government, are often led by those in the upper class who are presumed best qualified to rule.
“I’m looking at the way we conceptualize democracy in America and how that often incorporates elements of the aristocracy that we believe we’ve overcome,” Groff said. “I’ve always been very interested in American literature.”
Groff is reading several texts, including The House of Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne; A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain; The Heroic Slave, by Frederick Douglass; and Of One Blood by Pauline Hopkins, among others.
By better understanding these texts with an academic lens, Groff became interested in the passage of time in literature, and how aristocratic forms of government from the past seem to inform present-day democracies, whether intentional or not.
“I hope that other scholars in my field will re-think the ways in which we talk about democracy,” Groff said. “We think of democracy as an abstract, idealized goal, but I think a lot of people outside of academia have different ways of conceptualizing it.”
Groff said the reputation of Carolina’s program in American literature influenced his decision to apply for his Ph.D. “Within my specialization, there was a tight-knit culture between students and the instructors, and that was a really positive thing.”
The fellowship allows Groff to focus exclusively on his dissertation research, which includes a close reading of texts to better make connections in literature.
“The fellowship allows me to focus in on that deep reading without distractions,” Groff said. He added that he hopes his experience this summer will inform his teaching as he pursues a role in higher education.
“I hope this will help me present the texts that I teach my students in a way that will be easy for them to digest so they can make deeper connections,” Groff said.
The Summer Research Fellowships provide summer support to doctoral students so they may focus exclusively on their dissertation research. The department is housed in the College of Arts and Sciences.