Bridging teaching and scholarship in the study of "difference"

Pembroke postdocs bring a critical lens into classrooms and seminars, simultaneously passing it on to a new set of scholars and informing their own research.

First-year students don't always choose upper-level courses. Even when those courses reside within their anticipated concentrations. But the possibilities that existed with Global America: Gender, Empire, and Internationalism Since 1890, taught by a postdoctoral fellow at the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, appealed to Matthew Marciello ’21 enough to take the plunge. "As someone who plans to double-concentrate in American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies, I wanted to find something that could link the two and also extend my horizons."

Matthew Marciello ’21
Matthew Marciello ’21

The course did that and more.

"I definitely got a lot of history, which was learned implicitly," he says. "Just going through the readings I picked it up and then was able to focus on the more complicated issues of argumentation, connection, and critique. I didn't realize they would work together seamlessly."

Teacher / researcher / learner

Marciello took advantage of a one-time-only course taught at the Pembroke Center last year. It was the brainchild of Talya Zemach-Bersin, nicknamed Professor Z-B by some, who accepted a position as a Nancy L. Buc Postdoctoral fellow for 2017-18. Each year three postdocs—young scholars who have recently completed their Ph.D.'s—are chosen for one-year appointments. They, in turn, bridge the professors' innovative explorations and those of graduate and undergraduate students; teach undergraduate courses of their own design; benefit from research and conference funding; and develop professionally through faculty mentorship.

Zemach-Bersin's course reflected her research in how women contributed to the making of U.S. global power through the education and socialization of young people. Prior to arriving at Brown, she had won Yale University's prize for best humanities dissertation. And her manuscript was already under contract with Harvard University Press. Being able to devise a course of her own, however, brought a new dimension to her work: "Teaching makes the scholarship matter."

The fellowship was "a lifeline," she says. Precisely what she needed to complete her project and focus on developing her own teaching and research. Besides time, she received the funding necessary to travel to the Hoover Institute and Berkeley's Bancroft Library to visit their archives and examine historical sources for her manuscript. In addition, she participated in the Pembroke Seminar—led by Leela Gandhi, John Hawkes Professor of the Humanities and English—which provided her with meaningful resources as part of the center's vibrant scholarly community.

We get so much from our postdoctoral fellows. New theories, great undergraduate teachers who invigorate the curriculum with new subjects of study, a livelier academic community, and a distinguished research profile in the humanities.

Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg Pembroke Center Director

Understanding "difference"

Postdocs have been a mainstay of the center's research and teaching enterprise since its inception in 1981. "We get so much from our postdoctoral fellows," says Pembroke Center Director Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg. "New theories, great undergraduate teachers who invigorate the curriculum with new subjects of study, a livelier academic community, and a distinguished research profile in the humanities."

The research profile often centers on identifying and understanding "difference" with respect to gender, sexuality, nationality, religion, race, and ethnicity. The Pembroke Center's research and teaching is found at the intersection of knowledge production and the expression of this difference.

Where are they now?

Many former postdocs—thanks to the support and the experience they gained—have gone on to distinguished careers as scholars, writers, activists, artists, and journalists. Where have they landed? Elisabeth Anker (2007-08), now an associate professor of American studies and political science at the George Washington University, regularly writes and speaks about gender and political theory on CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera. Joe Fischel (2011-12), who immediately moved into a tenure track position at Yale University following his fellowship, is an associate professor, women's, gender, and sexuality studies; and writes about consent and sexuality for Slate and Huffington Post. Rogaia Abusharaf (2000-01) is a noted author and professor of anthropology at Georgetown University in Qatar.

Influenced by the center's commitment to gender and sexuality, they bring that critical lens into their future classrooms or fields of study, passing it on to a new set of scholars. "One thing I love about gender and sexuality studies is that it's never OK with established knowledge," says Marciello. "We pull together texts that might seem very different, trying to find that new perspective of intellectual engagement."

The Pembroke Center's pathbreaking research is timely, relevant, and significant. In order for the postdocs—the lynchpins who tie the scholarly community together—to be able to continue their vital role, $3 million in endowment funds is needed. To learn more or to make a gift, please contact Darcy Pinkerton, Academic Initiatives Development Officer, at [email protected] or +1 (401) 863-1162.