Chasing History’s Mysteries This summer, Allison Jue ’20 dove into the books to learn more about the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and the second Earl of Essex.
“I still intend to major in music and pursue pre-med, but this experience has reminded me how much I enjoy literature and writing, and it encouraged me to continue cultivating these pastimes in my experience here at W&L, even if I can’t fit it in as a major.”
— Allison Jue ’20
Hometown: Gilbert, Arizona
Q: What are you doing for the summer?
This summer I am working with Professor Dobin in the English Department for eight weeks. I am contributing to his project on the second Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux. Essex had a very tumultuous relationship with Queen Elizabeth I at the end of her reign, which ended with his execution after he led a rebellion through the city of London. The project is a literary collection of more than 500 works that have been created on Essex, including poetry, fiction, biographies, YouTube videos and more. Each item has an entry on a timeline containing analysis on how the relationship between Elizabeth and Essex is portrayed, whether the author has a gender bias, and how historically accurate the work is. I’ve been able to focus on what interested me, which ended up being biographies on Elizabeth and children’s histories.
Q: Where is your work taking place and what do you like best about that location?
I am staying on campus. My work is flexible, though, so I can work wherever I want. I just bring my computer and the book I am currently reading, and can pick the spot on (or off) campus where I want to work that day. Some of the places I have worked include the library, the Center for Global Learning, and Pronto coffee shop. The best thing about having a variable work location was being able to work outside and enjoy the summer weather!
Q: What does an average day for you look like?
On an average day, I will pack my backpack with my laptop and a couple of books I am analyzing and walk to campus to work in whatever location suits me that day. I’ll spend my day either reading and taking notes, or reviewing my notes and writing up my analysis on the book and its portrayal of the Essex story.
Q: What was the most interesting thing you have learned while working on this project?
The most interesting thing I have learned while working on this project is how much variation exists in the perception of Elizabeth I’s personality in the biographies written about her. I knew that no biography was entirely impartial (that would make for an extremely dull read), but I didn’t realize how many different versions of Elizabeth could be produced by the facts and personal accounts surrounding her life. Especially interesting is how many distinct adaptations there are on the potential impact of Elizabeth’s age and vanity on her decision-making during the end of her reign.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced?
The biggest challenge I faced was sorting through a biography written in 1791 by Charles Ashburton, which I read via a digital copy online. The challenging part about this read was that it written in the style of old English texts, where the s’s are written in a long fashion and look a lot like f’s. Consequently, Essex looked like Effex, and I had to consistently remind myself as I read that f’s were s’s (most of the time) and had to occasionally stop and decipher some words.
Q: Have you had any mentors during this time?
Yes, my mentor has been Professor Dobin. I took his Shakespeare class in the fall, which helped me to develop my writing and analysis skills at the collegiate level, and piqued my interest in the Elizabethan Era of English history. This class was where Professor Dobin first told me about the project, and I was immediately intrigued! He has also been a great mentor throughout the summer, helping me to find books that fit my interests and giving me ways to improve the articulation of my ideas in writing.
Q: Has this experience impacted your studies or future plans in any way?
Definitely. I still intend to major in music and pursue pre-med, but this experience has reminded me how much I enjoy literature and writing, and it encouraged me to continue cultivating these pastimes in my experience here at W&L, even if I can’t fit it in as a major. I hope to participate in another English-related program next summer and make sure that literature remains a component of my academic experience as an undergrad.
Q: How did W&L prepare you for this experience?
W&L creates an academic community that is tightly knit and welcoming but also has lofty expectations for its students. I have been able to make connections with faculty and students during my freshman year that would not have been available to me at a larger institution. The high standards and independence I experienced in my classes have helped me to develop a discipline and work ethic that have been crucial this summer.
Q: Why is this kind of experience important to W&L students?
It enables them to explore interests that comply with and go beyond their majors. It allows students to use the skills and information they have learned in their classes and apply them to real world projects. W&L students are able to take on a lot more responsibility for research projects than is offered at many other undergraduate universities.