Professor Tom Festa Honored for Anthology on Early Modern Women

 ENG Festa book award1
The Society for the Study of Early Modern Women (SSEMW) has honored Professor Thomas Festa and his co-translator/editor, Michelle Dowd (University of North Carolina, Greensboro), with the 2012 award for best teaching edition for their book, Early Modern Women on the Fall:  An Anthology.  Festa is an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in English.

ENG Festa book award2 Early Modern Women on the Fall: An Anthology presents the works of eighteen early modern Englishwomen addressing the story of the Fall of humankind in the Bible.  These texts, many of which are now available in a modern edition for the first time, include poems, prophecies, romances, medical treatises, handbooks on wet-nursing and on women’s education, and proto-feminist political tracts.  

“For the women who wrote these texts, the myth of Adam and Eve and the Fall from the Book of Genesis proved inescapable, as it was the most formative story of their culture,” noted Festa. “Thus, commentary on the story of the Fall became the medium in, through, or against which women argued for greater rights in English society in the period.”

Festa first conceived the anthology in 2003, while a graduate student applying for jobs in academia. “One application requested that I submit sample syllabi, and I wanted to appeal to the hiring committee by reflecting new, diverse methods for approaching my field.  I came up with a syllabus and then went looking for an anthology to assign and discovered that it didn’t exist,” he said.

Festa reached out to his friend and fellow Ph.D. student, Dowd, for her expertise in women’s writing. Festa and Dowd circulated the anthropology proposal for five years before the acquisitions editors at the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (ACMRS), housed at Arizona State University, asked to see the entire manuscript.  The ACMRS board of editors accepted the book in the fall of 2009, and it appeared in 2012.  

Since its publication, Festa has used the anthology in his courses on Seventeenth-Century Literature and on John Milton. “Students in my graduate seminars read a selection from the book before it appeared in print, and their responses to the material helped me to think about how we could adjust the annotation and commentary to make the texts more accessible to both undergraduate and graduate students,” noted Festa.

Festa is honored to receive the book award from the SSEMW, a network of scholars who study women and their contributions to the cultural, political, economic or social spheres of the early modern period. 

 “It feels thrilling to be awarded Best Teaching Edition by the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women some ten years after the idea first popped into my head,” said Festa. “I am particularly pleased that a learned society has recognized our anthology’s contribution to teaching, since that was always our aim in producing the edition–to help students gain access to a diversity of stories that have mostly been lost to history.”

Dowd will accept the award at the SSEMW’s Sixteenth Century Studies Conference at the Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan Puerto Rico on October 26.


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