The spark of recognition: a new faculty profile of Vanessa Rapatz

This week, we bring you another installment of our new faculty profile series. Be sure to check out past profiles, which include but are not limited to Silas Hansen, Lupe Linares, Laura Romano, and Molly Ferguson.

Give a warm welcome to Vanessa Rapatz.

Photo provided by Vanessa Rapatz

Photo provided by Vanessa Rapatz

Vanessa grew up in Minnesota, but has spent the last sixteen years living, studying, and working in California. She received her MA in Literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and her Ph.D from the University of California at Davis, where she has served for the past several years as a lecturer teaching classes in Early British literature, topics in drama, and composition. Vanessa is thrilled to return to the Midwest.

At Ball State, she will be teaching courses in Renaissance literature, Shakespeare, gender and performance studies.

How did you get interested in performance studies?

My interest in convents and novices in early modern drama grew out of a combination of taking a graduate seminar at UC Davis and TAing for a Shakespeare course. I started to notice a pattern in which young women were entering and exiting convents frequently in these plays and I began to wonder how that might have resonated on an English stage during a time in England’s history where convents and Catholicism were outlawed. This early question led me to start researching nuns and convents and ultimately involved a trip to England where I was a resident at the Globe Theater and made a side research trip to York where I stayed at Bar Convent, the first convent in England after they were banned in the Renaissance. My London research reinforced my interest in performance and in convent buildings themselves, specifically their remains whether in the form of ruins or re-purposed buildings.

Photo provided by Vanessa Rapatz

Photo provided by Vanessa Rapatz

How would you describe yourself as a teacher?

I think I’m an engaging and enthusiastic teacher.

I want students to have an active interest in the texts they read.

When teaching early British literature, fostering this level of interest can be difficult, especially because early writing can often read like a foreign language. Because of this, my classes often begin with translation and annotation work; we might spend a significant amount of time focused on the way a word has changed over time. The next day I might have the students analyze a sonnet and wait for them to have that “light bulb” moment when they realize I’ve slipped them Beyonce lyrics in an early modern form.

What are you most proud of as a teacher?

My proudest moments are always when I see that spark of recognition in a student, whether it be because they can see a connection between an early modern text and contemporary concerns or because after weeks of hard work they realize they can decipher a poetic trope on their own.

One of my favorite moments of my first semester at Ball State was when my British Literature 1 students were discussing their responses to Chaucer’s Wife of Bath character and we decided that she would make a fascinating Facebook personality. This lead to us creating an essay prompt that led one student to create mock Facebook profiles for The Wife of Bath and Margery of Kemp, and another student to take create Dating profiles for the same two characters as she juxtaposed medieval depictions of marriage and religion.

What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m working on publishing an article that relates Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and the way we read its novice nun to the recent conflict between the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Vatican. I will also be giving a guest lecture based on this article and a talk about my larger body of research at the University of Dayton this spring.

Welcome to the English Department, Vanessa!

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