Laura Perille is an advanced doctoral candidate in Early Modern British history and one of four Brown Doctoral Candidates selected as Brown/Wheaton Faculty fellows. As part of the Faculty Fellows program, she will develop and teach an original course entitled "Cross-Cultural Interactions in the Early Modern World" in the spring of this year. She will also advise students and experience faculty life at small liberal arts college under the guidance of Wheaton College professors. Laura has previously won the History Department's Peter Green Doctoral Fellowship (2013), and has received grants to study Turkish and Persian from Georgetown University. She has presented at numerous conferences, and will be presenting again at the Sixteenth Century Society Conference in New Orleans later this fall. Laura graciously agreed to tell us a little bit about herself and her research and teaching work at Wheaton.

What are you working on for your dissertation?

My dissertation “‘A Mirror to Turke’: ‘Turks’ and the Making of Early Modern England” examines relations with and discourses of the “Turk” within England from the formalization of Anglo-Ottoman trading rights in 1580 to the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683. Considering particular moments at which this engagement assumed critical importance, I argue that the Muslim “Turk” helped to define an evolving Anglo-Protestant character through shaping the contours of public debates about issues such as national responsibility, liberty, religious unity, and political governance. As visions of what constituted this character remained contested throughout this period, contemporaries deployed particular cultural assumptions of the “Turk” both to legitimize their own political and religious visions and deny their opponents the right to represent the national interest. I am interested in both the mechanisms by which pivotal debates were shaped as well as the interplay between discourse, policy, and public opinion.

My title’s phrase comes from a sermon delivered by the minister John Boys in the mid-1610s in which he nostalgically remembered Queen Elizabeth I as a mirror to the Turk. My dissertation follows such earlier constructions – when Elizabeth sought to represent herself as equal or superior to the Ottomans in order to garner legitimacy on a European stage in the late 1580s and early 1590s – to the early 1680s when Tory party propagandists sought to hold up a mirror to the Whig party and underscore that the latter's sympathy for the Turks was misplaced and made them supposedly just as delusional and hypocritical as the Turks themselves. In this study’s full purview, the mirror describes a process of dynamic, continual self- interrogation, as contemporaries evaluated their own practices and policies through recourse to a conceptual field involving the “Turks.”

Where have your research travels taken you, and what kinds of sources have you been using?

I have visited archives in both the United States and the United Kingdom, including the Folger Shakespeare Library, the British Library, the London Metropolitan Archives, the National Archives, the Library of the Religious Society of Friends, and county archives. In my dissertation, I draw upon a range of sources from ballads, libels, newsbooks, pamphlets, political tracts, and histories to sermons and plays to diplomatic and mercantile correspondence. I am interested in the interplay between oral, print, and visual culture as well as the way in which these different generic forms became a vehicle of debate and a means of fashioning cultural discourses for various audiences.

What are you looking forward to about your year as a Brown/Wheaton Faculty fellow?

As a graduate of Colby College, I recognize the great value of a small liberal arts education and deeply appreciate the ways in which its emphasis on critical thinking, interdisciplinary perspectives, and creativity enhances students’ learning experience. Thus, I am excited by this opportunity not only to teach my own seminar in such an environment but also to gain insight into the life of a faculty member at a small liberal arts college. As a fellow, I am able to attend Wheaton’s faculty orientation and participate in the Faculty Luncheon series – a great professionalization experience.

In the spring of 2015, I will teach my course “Cross-Cultural Interactions in the Early Modern World” as an upper-level seminar at Wheaton. Considering the quickened tempo and scale of cross-cultural interactions during the early modern period, this course will engage with these interactions on both the macro scale – through a comparative approach to empires – and the micro scale – through an assessment of how early modern individuals formed, challenged, and shared their cultural assumptions. The course will examine variations in these interactions across global regions and cultures while assessing how these interactions gave rise to “cultural symbiosis” involving new meanings, systems, and forms.

What are some of the other things that you have done to build your professional background during your time at Brown? 

During my summers at Brown, I have participated in both immersion language programs and special institutes that meaningfully enhanced my graduate experience and served as further professional development. Aided by a grant from the Georgetown University’s Institute for Turkish Studies, I spent one summer at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, completing the intensive Turkish Culture and Language Program at the lower intermediate level. I devoted another summer to an immersion Persian language program at Georgetown University. Over the last two years, I have continued to audit Persian language courses at Brown.

Summer institutes have enabled me to delve into my particular research interests with a community of scholars, thereby giving me access to new perspectives as well as inspiration for future projects. In the summer of 2010, I participated in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s late-spring seminar “The Voice of Conscience, 1375-1613” in Washington, D.C. My research and presentation for the seminar became the basis for a commissioned article for Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. More recently, I was one of two graduate students selected to participate alongside more senior scholars in the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute “Empires and Interactions in the Early Modern World, 1400-1800” at Saint Louis University. The methodologies and themes that I explored in the NEH institute served as an inspiration for the course that I am developing for Wheaton.

With fellow graduate students, I have co-organized both the History Graduate Student Association Conferences “Material and Imagined Bodies” (2010) and “Borderlands and Meeting Points” (2011). In addition, sharing an interest in empire as a category of analysis, two of my peers and I organized the colloquium “Empire Comes Home” in 2013 with a Graduate International Colloquium Grant from Brown’s International Affairs Office.  During the colloquium, which featured breakout sessions and panels of established interdisciplinary scholars from across the region, we examined the ways in which empire is experienced and practiced at “home.”

Also during my time at Brown, I have grown increasingly interested in higher education administration, as it represents the opportunity to maintain a broad field of vision and work across departments, centers, and constituencies. This interest was strengthened by my participation in the Brown Executive Scholars Training (BEST) Program, which provided a semester-long mentored education and training experience for future leadership roles in higher administration. Over the course of the program, I had extended conversations with different top administrators, including the Dean of the College, the Dean of the Graduate School, the Dean of Admissions, and the Provost, who shed light on the university’s “brand” and strategic vision as well as methods for managing processes and communication.

This year I am serving as a Fellowship Advisor through the Dean of the College Office at Brown. In this role, I advise undergraduates applying to highly competitive fellowships, including the Fulbright, Rhodes, and Marshall. I have found the work to be both intellectually stimulating and inspiring, as it allows me to guide students in identifying exciting academic and personal opportunities and crafting materials that speak to their passion and vision.

What are some of the other things you do for fun when you manage to find some down time?

Outside of the program, you can find me organizing alumni events for Colby College, embarking upon spontaneous adventures, seeking out pumpkin food products and lobster rolls, salsa dancing, or participating in yoga, spin, or barre classes. I should also mention that I am originally from Colorado and have great “box state” pride. Go Broncos! (We’ll pretend the Seahawks never happened).

Laura Perille