Bren Tooley, Monmouth College associate dean of academic affairs, is preparing for a two-week Fulbright institute in Bulgaria later this month, but globetrotting is becoming almost routine for the well-traveled scholar. She has already made two trips to Europe this year for conferences, while also continuing an MC connection with the eastern European nation of Moldova.
In June, Tooley presented at an international symposium in England. The “On the Wane: Decadence and Decline in Literature and Culture” conference took place at the University of Wolverhampton. Her paper was titled “‘And Universal Darkness Buries All’: Narratives of Decline and Degeneration in Pope’s Dunciad, Epistles and Dialogues I and II.”
“The comparative literature symposium was small, lively, cordial and deeply international,” said Tooley. “It included scholars from Germany, France, Spain, Bulgaria, and the United Kingdom.”
Tooley was one of only two Americans participating, the other having been a co-organizer who has lived in the UK for 18 years.
“It was an honor to have been invited to present, and a pleasure to be funded by the university,” said Tooley.
Her paper argues that the Tory satirists of the early 18th-century provide “an exemplary instance in which narratives of decline, decay and degeneration form the core thematic within a related set of literary texts intended also as cultural and political interventions. Swift, Pope, Gay and their friends announce time and again the fatal turn taken by British culture.”
She said the authors’ satire explores and denounces three modes of decline: literary, political and social, with “the key issue being the debasement of society resulting from increasing commercialism in each of these realms.”
In May, Tooley attended The Second Euroacademia International Conference, “Re-Inventing Eastern Europe,” in Vienna, Austria.
“I was invited to participate by a colleague, a senior scholar at a Bulgarian university, who organized a session on fictional representations of Bulgaria and Bulgarians,” said Tooley, whose paper was titled “A Country in Stories: The Interplay of Identity and Exoticism in the Short Stories of Miroslav Penkov.”
“My fellow panelists and I gave papers on Eastern European writers working in English. Writing about Bulgaria in English is the subject of the course I am teaching at the Fulbright Summer Institute in Bulgaria later this month.”
Her paper focuses upon a set of questions that arise from its subtitle, including “What does it mean to claim that ‘a country’ can be found in a collection of stories?” and “What kinds of cultural and historical knowledge do these stories convey through their representations of specific situations, persons and motivations?”
Tooley was the only American in a group that primarily came from the “New Europe” – Poland, Romania, Serbia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ukraine and Bulgaria.
In the coming year, Tooley will co-edit a collection of essays with her Bulgarian colleague, Ludmila Kostova. The working title is “Challenging Borders: New Directions in the Study of National and Transnational Cultural Practices, Spaces and Identities.”
“I feel so fortunate to have colleagues and friends around the world with whom I collaborate,” said Tooley. “Some friendships and academic connections are an outcome of my wonderful Fulbright experience at the University of Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria in 2010, and other connections come from many years in the field of English literature and criticism. This network of friends and colleagues opens doors to new opportunities not just for me but for Monmouth College.”
For her most recent experience in international academia, Tooley did not have to leave Monmouth. She participated via Skype in a State Department-sponsored conference on pedagogy in English language and literature classrooms with friends and colleagues at the Alecu Russo State University in Balti, Moldova.
“Officials at their university are very interested in reshaping their courses to promote student learning and in developing syllabi that are clearly and thoughtfully tied to learning outcome objectives,” said Tooley. “They’re still rebuilding after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and we are in a position to help here at Monmouth, especially through the efforts of my fellow associate dean, Frank Gersich.”
Tooley was not part of Monmouth’s 2011 outreach trip to Moldova, but odds are the frequent flyer will find her way there one day soon.
“Connecting with Monmouth alumni around the world is another aspect of travel that I deeply enjoy,” Tooley said. “I’m able to combine scholarly work with alumni outreach and student recruitment. Like all of us who travel, I’m proud to be an ambassador for Monmouth College.”