5 Questions with Dr. Elizabeth Galway

Dr. Elizabeth Galway has been a faculty member in the Department of English since 2003 where she teaches courses in Canadian literature, children's literature and nineteenth-century literature. She is the author of From Nursery Rhymes to Nationhood: Children's Literature and the Construction of Canadian Identity (Routledge 2008), and is currently working on a book about children's literature and the First World War.

What first piqued your interest in your research discipline?

I have a variety of different research interests but my primary research areas are children's literature and Canadian literature. I became interested in these subjects while I was completing work for my master's degree in English literature. I was studying at Durham University in the north of England at the time and I was conscious of the fact that the English literature that I had read as a Canadian child had shaped my expectations about life in England, and had led directly to my desire to live and study in Britain. These thoughts about the continuing resonance of children's literature in my own life were the first step towards my reconsideration of the apparent simplicity of the genre. I became interested in exploring what one might call "adult themes" in children's literature, and started to consider how literature for children is inextricably bound up with issues of concern to adults.

Elizabeth Galway
Dr. Elizabeth Galway believes that children's literature has a profound effect on the attitudes we carry as adults.

Living in England gave me a better understanding of British literature and culture, but it also heightened my awareness of my own status as a Canadian. I began to consider the extent to which the literature read in childhood influences how Canadians perceive themselves, and how others perceive them. I have been able to combine my interests in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Canadian and British literature and to explore how children's literature reflects and influences attitudes towards nationalism, imperialism, gender and citizenship.

How is your research applicable in "the real world?"

We should not consider scholarly research as something separate from "the real world," since the work being conducted across different disciplines is applicable to many aspects of everyday life. Although my current project about WWI has me studying literature written nearly one hundred years ago, it has direct relevance to events taking place today. I recently published an article on the portrayal of child soldiers in WWI literature that can help us understand current debates about the use of underage fighters. Exploring literary portrayals of child contributions to the First World War can help us understand contemporary definitions of childhood that simultaneously include a longing to protect children, a need to shape them into "good citizens", and a desire to give them a sense of confidence and agency.

First World War children's literature may have also had a lasting impact on how Canadians viewed the nation, its role in the world, and concepts of citizenship and patriotism. Canada has not ceased to be engaged in military activity in different parts of the globe, so understanding earlier attitudes towards armed conflict can help us better comprehend our current place in the world.

What is the greatest honour you have received in your career?

Every time that I accomplish something that is part of the job, whether it be receiving a grant, generating a great class discussion, or receiving a copy of one of my publications, I feel a sense of excitement. The most recent achievement that I am very proud of is my role in helping to establish the Institute of Child and Youth Studies (I-CYS) at the University of Lethbridge. This institute represents a major step forward in facilitating interdisciplinary relationships between scholars working in different areas related to childhood studies.

How important are students to your research endeavours?

My desire to become a university professor arose directly from my own love of being a student; so creating a positive experience for students is something that is very important to me. There is a direct link between my research and my teaching and I am often able to include readings on my courses that stem directly from my research trips. For example, on my reading list for Canadian Literature 1867-1914, I have included a number of stories and articles that are long out of print, but which provide students with a more complete picture of what early Canadians were reading. The SSHRC grant for my project on WWI has also enabled me to hire several students as research assistants. They've been a real help to me, and have had the opportunity to conduct hands-on research by visiting libraries and museums, and working with primary source material from the war period. The study of literature can be a very solitary pursuit, so it has been wonderful to have this opportunity to work with students outside of the classroom and to share ideas about the material that is being studied.

If you had unlimited funds, which areas of research would you invest?

If I had unlimited funds, I would invest in every area of research! The real question is how to decide what projects to support when the funds are limited. The short answer is that we need to strike a balance. After all, what good would it do to invent an iPod or a Kindle, if there was no music to listen to and no literature to read?

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This story first appeared in the June 2013 edition of the Legend. For a look at the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.