Friday, February 10, 2012

Astronomy and literature meet in English professor's upcoming talk

On a clear, cold night in 1847, a shy young Quakeress named Maria Mitchell peaked through a telescope on the bank of Nantucket, Massachusetts. When she discovered a comet that night, she made scientific history—and also sparked an international controversy.

“Her sex, science, and celebrity combined to make a powerful statement, a statement that made its way into the American cultural expression of her time,” writes Heidi Kunz, an English professor at Randolph College.

On Thursday, Kunz will give a talk about the way contemporary literature reacted to the discovery of Miss Mitchell’s Comet.

She will present “Miss Mitchell’s Comet and the Nineteenth Century American Novel” at 4 p.m. Feb. 16 in the Alice Ashley Jack Room in Smith Memorial Hall. The presentation is part of the Works in Progress Series sponsored by the Randolph College Chapter of the American Association of University Professors and the Office of the Dean of the College.

While Kunz teaches courses in American literature and 18th century British literature, she also enjoys literary exploration of science, such as Mitchell’s scientific accomplishment that rocked common perceptions of gender roles in her time (and set her on course to be America’s first female professional astronomer). She also researches and writes extensively about F. Scott Fitzgerald, and was recently appointed to the editorial board of The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review.