Victoria Baugh, graduating MA in English student at ASU. / Courtesy photo

ASU literature scholar starts new conversations about old books

By

Kristen LaRue

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

Close study of older, English literature may not seem like a field with much to offer in the way of new discoveries. But one outstanding graduate, Victoria Baugh, has made some new findings in books that are 200 years old. 

The Scottsdale/Tempe native, who is earning her master’s degree in English literature this December, studies race in 19th-century British literature. Her work shows that not only is there more to learn about the past, but these “old books” might even teach us something about the present.

Baugh’s faculty mentors call her “one to watch” and point to her research on Jane Austen’s little-known mixed-race heiress in “Sanditon” (1817), which Baugh links to an 1816 novel, “Owen Castle,” by another female author. No previous scholar had made the connection.

“Victoria is the first to have noticed this fact in 200 years of criticism,” said Devoney Looser, professor of English at ASU and a prominent Austen scholar internationally. “Victoria is bringing this novel back into our scholarly conversations about Jane Austen and the history of race and the novel,” she said.

Looser pointed out that these conversations are extremely important in the current political climate, “as so much attention is turning to issues of race and class.”

“I am certain that this argument will see print in a top-notch journal,” said Looser. “Victoria was already invited to present a lecture on her findings at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania in September. She wowed the audience of 100 there with her findings, her argument and her poise.”

Baugh, who has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and minor in English from ASU, is also a staff transfer admissions specialist for ASU Admissions Services. We caught up with her between work shifts and final papers to ask a few questions about her plans.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field? 

Answer: I worked in Community Outreach and Education after graduation, and I really enjoyed helping people and bringing them access to knowledge. I realized that I wanted my influence to be in education, doing research and teaching literature.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: Interdisciplinary work is the new standard and the best way we are going to solve the world’s challenges. Thinking about how literature can inform other areas of study, and vice versa, helps me rethink how I approach my reading, research and writing.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of the diversity it offers. It’s a place where you are able to gain different perspectives. New ideas are welcome. ASU is the place for innovation and cutting-edge research. There are professors here who are doing amazing work in their fields, and I love being part of that.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Find that thing that you’re passionate about or that idea that you keep coming back to and pursue that. For me, no matter what paper or project I completed, I was continuously curious about how race/ethnicity and gender operated in literature and history. I was able to pursue a master’s thesis on mixed-race heroines in late 18th- and early 19th-century British literature. Everyone has that one idea you keep coming back to. The sooner you recognize and embrace it, the sooner you’ll be able to get started on the work you care about most.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: The second floor of Hayden Library has one of the best views of campus and is a great place to read, think and write. ASU will be renovating Hayden Library, starting in December, so I am spending as much time as possible there before the changes are made. I can’t wait to see how it will be transformed when the renovations are complete.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I hope to continue my education in a PhD program in English literature and ultimately to teach at a university. I would like to be able to have a positive impact on students and make it possible for them to discover the work they dream of doing. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had mentors along the way who were supportive, encouraging and believed in my success, which made all the difference in the world to me. It is my goal to do same for others.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would use it to help end classroom hunger. Children are unable to focus on learning if they are hungry. We need to create an environment that helps our future leaders succeed, and that starts in the classroom. Ending classroom hunger is one of the main objectives of Valley of the Sun United Way. Anyone can help start solving this problem today by giving their money or time. I’m proud to be part of Arizona State University and the Junior League of Phoenix, because both have committed to this goal.