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Guinta and Huber Present at Stevens Institute of Technology

Senior Breanna Guinta (left) and first-year graduate student Anna Huber ’23 (right) at the symposium

Two Monmouth University English Department students, senior Breanna Guinta and first-year graduate student Anna Huber ’23, presented their research at an interdisciplinary symposium sponsored by Stevens Institute of Technology in April.

The symposium, “Crisis and Meaning: Intersections of Humanities and Mental Health,” focused on how “humanities and mental health discourses inflect one another.” The panels offered “key insights into the power of the humanities, arts and social sciences to help us make sense of the human experience, the human mind, and our turbulent times,” and included presenters from Monmouth, Stevens, Fordham, the University of Virginia, and Universität Oldenburg, Germany.

Guinta presented a paper titled “Traumatized Correspondent: Nathaniel Parker Willis’s Use of Writing Therapy during the 1832 Cholera Pandemic.” During the pandemic, Willis visited Paris, and specifically a hospital there. Although he was traumatized by what he had seen and experienced, he coped by writing about it in his reports to the “New-York Mirror” newspaper, later collected in his nonfiction book “Pencillings by the Way.” Understanding literary responses to past pandemics may provide perspective on current pandemics, Guinta said. Her presentation was part of her undergraduate departmental honors thesis, in progress.

Guinta was surprised by the positive response. “Professors, students, and non-academic attendees supported my project and wanted to learn more about it,” she said, and added that “some professors were impressed with the amount of research, and the dean also asked how I was able to research it.” She credited her thesis director, Stanley Blair, Ph.D., associate professor of English, for helping her develop advanced research skills. “It boosted my motivation to continue my research even beyond my undergraduate thesis.”

Huber presented her revised undergraduate departmental honors thesis on Bobbie Ann Mason’s 1980 short story “Shiloh.” Huber contends that the story’s couple, Norma Jean and Leroy, are each differently traumatized. Untreated, they cope by unintentionally triggering each other, leading to their divorce. Huber said that she “appreciated all the different ideas and questions that attendees had. They were interested in what I had to say about close reading and how that contributes to the story’s meaning.” She recently taught her thesis as a guest speaker in an undergraduate American Literature class and is currently preparing to submit her revised thesis to a scholarly journal.

Both students praised each other’s presentations. Guinta said that “it was a great honor to be on the same panel as Anna and to represent Monmouth University at the symposium.” Huber liked Guinta’s presentation: “Bree did a beautiful job presenting. Calling attention to a writer who survived a pandemic and wrote about it can be inspiring for readers who have lived through the COVID-19 pandemic. I am so proud of Bree for what she did and accomplished!”

Blair, who served as thesis director for both, said Guinta and Huber’s presentations both drew upon literary trauma theory, an emergent theoretical approach in the field of literary studies. “Bree and Anna have been thinking outside of the semester box, as professionals do. Because they did much research into the relationship between mental health and literature,” he said, “they prepared themselves well for this challenging interdisciplinary venue, and were impressive representatives of our department and university.”