Elizabeth Galway received her Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto before moving to England to pursue graduate studies in English literature. She earned a Master of Arts from Durham University and a Ph.D. from the University of Exeter. She has been a faculty member in the English Department at the University of Lethbridge since 2003 where she teaches courses in Canadian literature, children's literature, and nineteenth-century literature. She is the author of From Nursery Rhymes to Nationhood: Children's Literature and the Construction of Canadian Identity (Routledge 2008) and is currently working on a book about children's literature and the First World War.
I have a variety of different research interests but my primary research area is children’s literature. I became interested in this subject while I was completing work for my Master’s degree in English literature. This was shortly before the appearance of Harry Potter, at a time when children’s literature was still not well represented in university curriculum. I was studying at Durham University in the north of England at the time and I was conscious of the fact that the English literature that I had a read as a Canadian child had shaped my expectations about life in England, and had led directly to my desire to live and study in Britain. These general thoughts about the continuing resonance of children’s literature in my own life were part of the first step towards my reconsideration of the apparent simplicity of the genre. I became interested in exploring what one might call “adult themes” in children’s literature, and started to consider how literature for children is inextricably bound up with issues of concern to adults, and how it plays a role in instilling attitudes towards a host of issues such as class, race, gender, and nationalism in young readers.
Living in England also had a direct impact on my eventual decision to focus my Ph.D. studies on the portrayal of Canada in children’s literature. Living in Britain gave me a better understanding of British literature and culture, but it also heightened my awareness of my own status as a Canadian. I became interested not simply in British imperialism and British literature, but in Canada’s place within those imperial and literary traditions. I began to consider the extent to which the literature read by children influences how Canadians perceive themselves, and how those perceptions relate to how Canadians are perceived by others. Children’s literature, the British Empire, and the Canadian nation all underwent important developments in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and I have been able to combine my interests in these different topics and to explore the ability of children’s literature to reflect and influence attitudes towards nationalism, imperialism, gender, and citizenship.
I do not believe that we should consider scholarly research as separate from “the real world.” Scholarly research is applicable to everyday reality, whether it is in the field of medicine, the development of new technology, or in any one of a range of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. Research in my field of the humanities can help us better understand ourselves and those around us, and can enrich the quality of our lives in a multitude of ways. My current research project investigates the role that children’s literature played in shaping attitudes towards the First World War. Although I am studying literature written nearly one hundred years ago, it has direct relevance to many events taking place in the world today. For example, one focus of my research is on how Canadian involvement in the conflict was portrayed to children, who were encouraged to participate actively in supporting the war effort. I believe that such literature had a lasting impact on how Canadians viewed the nation, its role in the world, and the concepts of citizenship and patriotism. It also shaped attitudes towards Canadian military achievement. Canada has not ceased to be engaged in military activity in different parts of the globe, and understanding the nation’s early attitudes towards armed conflict can help us better understand our current place in the world.
There is not a specific honour that I would single out as the greatest moment in my career. Every time that I achieve something that is part of the job, whether it be receiving a grant, generating a great discussion among my students in class, or receiving a copy of a book or article that I have published, I feel a sense of excitement. The most recent achievement that I am very proud of is the highly successful Childhoods Conference: Mapping the Landscapes of Childhood, which I co-organized with a group of faculty members here at the University of Lethbridge. The conference drew praise from participants who came from across North America and around the globe, and it represents a major step forward in facilitating interdisciplinary relationships between scholars working in different areas related to childhood studies.
My desire to become a university professor probably arose directly from my own love of being a student, so creating a positive experience for students is something that is really important to me. There is a direct link between my research and my teaching. Because I do a great deal of archival research, I am often able to include readings on my course that stem directly from my research trips, and which students would not come across otherwise. For example, on my reading list for Canadian Literature 1867-1914, I have included a number of short stories and articles that are long out of print, but which provide students with a more accurate, complete picture of what Canadians were reading in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In addition to sharing my research with students in such ways, my recent grant from SSHRC for my project on WWI has enabled me to hire a number of senior undergraduate students as research assistants. Not only have they been a real help to me, they have also had the opportunity to conduct hands-on research by visiting libraries and museums, and working with primary source material from the First World War period. Being involved in literary studies can be a very solitary pursuit, so it has been wonderful to have this opportunity to work with students outside of the classroom and to share ideas about the material that is being studied. I have also enjoyed watching these undergraduates gain a better understanding of what scholarly research entails, perhaps sparking their own desire to pursue it themselves at the graduate level.
If I had unlimited funds, I would invest in every area of research! The real question is how to decide what projects are supported when the funds are limited. The short answer is that we need to strike a balance. After all, what good would it do to invent an iPod or a Kindle, if there was no music to listen to and no literature to read?
"Galway delves into the power of literature" University of Lethbridge Legend, December 2009