Rebecca Olson PhD '08
I grew up in a small beach town on the Oregon Coast and moved east to attend Boston University, where I developed a passion for Renaissance literature and culture. I was drawn to Brandeis for graduate school because of its reputation as a research university and because of the excellent faculty members in English and American literature. I also thought that the Brandeis PhD program struck a sensible balance between study and teaching—the fact that I could spend my first year engrossed in classes, without a teaching requirement, ultimately made me a stronger graduate student and a more thoughtful instructor.
The students at Brandeis were a lot more talkative than I was used to. I loved it. I never left campus without having a really interesting conversation with a student, professor, or staff member. I was also fortunate in having an amazing group of classmates. We had only been at Brandeis a week when the attacks of 9/11 occurred, and that probably strengthened our bond. I can't overstate how much my fellow graduate students taught me in the course of our years together—we were one another's editors, cheerleaders, and even roommates and pub quiz teammates.
My favorite seminars were those that attracted students from different fields—Mary Campbell's Utopia seminar comes to mind, as does Tom King's seminar on Performance Theory—I looked forward to these classes because I never knew where the discussion would go. The great thing about a small program is that it challenges you to take courses outside your specific field of interest. But at Brandeis, you also have faculty whose interests are incredibly far-ranging—they seem to know everything! This was sometimes intimidating, but always inspiring.
My own focus of study was Renaissance Literature, and my dissertation was on tapestries in Shakespeare and Spenser. My first reader was Mary Baine Campbell, and my second Willam Flesch, and in their different ways they both encouraged me to trust my scholarly instincts and to think outside the box. They also helped me to make connections between my own personal experiences and my approach to literature.
Now I try to do the same for my own students—I teach Early Modern literature at Oregon State University, including a Shakespeare course that attracts students from a wide range of majors, from Forestry to Nuclear Engineering. OSU would seem to have nothing in common with Brandeis—it's a large land, sea, space, and sun-grant University in a rural area, and football is a huge deal here (Go Beavs!). However, I've found that some of the things I most love about OSU are things that I loved about Brandeis too, such as a rich creative writing culture and an undergraduate population who care deeply about social and environmental issues. I feel incredibly fortunate to be teaching in my home state, and although I could not have forseen it, I know my experiences at Brandeis are what made it possible.
Since 2008 I have written articles and book chapters on early modern textiles, Spenser, Shakespeare, and the teaching of early modern literature. My first book, Arras Hanging: The Textile That Determined Early Modern Literature and Drama, is forthcoming from the University of Delaware Press (2013).