Alumni Profile: Amanda Zoch (’10) Wins J. Leeds Barroll Dissertation Prize

The Miscellany is happy to share exciting news—alum Amanda Zoch (’10), who recently completed her Ph.D. in English, has won the J. Leeds Barroll Dissertation Prize at this year’s Shakespeare Association of America conference! The prestigious prize is awarded to the best Shakespeare-related dissertation of the year. We’ve interviewed Amanda for the Miscellany before but were thrilled for an excuse to reconnect! Read on to hear about her PhD and teaching experience, and some bonus Shakespeare content.

Congratulations on winning the Shakespeare Association of America’s J. Leeds Barroll Prize this year! Can you tell us a little about your dissertation?

Thank you! Receiving the award was a pleasant surprise, especially since there’s not very much Shakespeare in my dissertation! My dissertation is called “Pregnant Self-Fashioning: The Narrative Management of Maternity in Early Modern Drama and Women’s Writing,” and it examines how 17th-century British women wrote about their pregnancies, which were simultaneously quotidian and dangerous. I’m especially interested in how pregnancy could be performed, both on the stage and in real life (for example, women sometimes obscured their pregnancies to hide infidelity or exaggerated them to elicit sympathy), as well as the ways women erased the fear they experienced during pregnancy after they became mothers (if they survived, that is). Half of my dissertation looks at genres written by women (poetry, mothers’ legacies, letters, diaries, closet drama, etc.) and the other half traces how male playwrights appropriate women’s narrative strategies for the stage. That’s where Shakespeare comes in, but also Ben Jonson, John Webster, Thomas Heywood, and (my favorite) Thomas Middleton.

What was the process of writing your dissertation like (compared to, say, comps)?​

Much much longer! 😊 I spent about two and a half years writing my dissertation and that was only after writing and defending a ~30 page prospectus. When I was writing my comps, I was scared to let advisors see rough drafts (or really anything other than a final draft), but writing my dissertation forced me to get over that fear. I shared drafts of each chapter and revised them multiple times. The end result was much better because of that sustained revision process.

What’s something your learned in the course of your PhD that you didn’t expect to or that surprised you?

​I originally planned to write my dissertation on drama, but once I decided to include women’s life-writing, I realized I needed to do archival research. And to do that, I had to learn paleography, the study of handwriting, so that I could decipher manuscripts written in secretary and italic hand. It’s fun, but often frustrating when deciphering a single word takes ten minutes!

You’re currently teaching in the English department at Colorado State University—how’s that going? What’s it like being on the other side of the classroom? Is this a path you think you’ll be continuing down?

​I love teaching, and my students at CSU have been really great. Teaching can be a weird combination of preparation and improv, and I enjoy figuring out what each group of students needs from me. As for the future, anyone who is considering a PhD in the humanities should know that the job market is terrible (there are more and more graduates for fewer and fewer jobs), so I’m always strategizing about how my skills and interests can translate into the professional world. I’m lucky to have a stable teaching job, even if it’s non-tenure track, but I’ve also been exploring various kinds of political work.

In honour of Shakespeare’s recent birthday, which of his characters do you most identify with?

I’d love to say Cordelia, but given how much I talk to my dogs I’m probably Launce from The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

As spring continues to spring, any words of advice for the English major about to take on the world outside Northfield?

​I’m not sure I’m in the best position to give career advice, so I’ll just offer one small, general suggestion: keep reading and read widely. Read new genres, read the news, read writers with whom you disagree, read about cultures you don’t know, read about cultures you think you know, read new books, read old poems, read even when you’re busy, and then let what you read shape what you do and who you are in the world.

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