Meet Kate Scarth, the new Chair of L.M. Montgomery Studies and Applied Communication, Leadership, and Culture (ACLC) at UPEI, who will be working with the L.M. Montgomery Institute to further develop the life and work of L.M. Montgomery.
Kate's research focuses on English and Canadian literature from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth with a focus on women’s writing, fiction, urbanism, and the environment and her book, Romantic Suburbs: Fashion, Sensibility, and Greater London, is under contract with the University of Toronto Press. She also leads a digital humanities, public engagement project on literary Halifax, Nova Scotia, which includes a focus on Montgomery's life and works set in the city. Halifax's suburban spaces in Anne of the Island are explored in a forthcoming article from Women's Writing.
I sat down and asked Kate a couple of questions about her first experiences with Montgomery and what she hopes to do as the Chair.
What is your first experience with L.M. Montgomery and what is your favourite novel, poem or short story?
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know L.M. Montgomery! My family came to PEI when I was 8 and I was already deep into Anne’s world. I was re-reading the series while we were here and when we visited Green Gables, I was the family’s self-appointed (and very excited!) tour guide. The haunted woods was a highlight – like Anne, I could feel that ghost child’s hands. I think my favourite Montgomery text depends on when you happen to ask me that question. It all goes back to Anne of Green Gables – that’s where I first fell in love with Montgomery’s imagined world.
This summer I read The Blue Castle for the first time and absolutely loved it. I don’t know where it’s been all my life. At some point, I would love to teach a course on Montgomery and Jane Austen (another favourite) and I think The Blue Castle and Persuasion would be a good pairing. They both have older protagonists (well compared with child or teenage heroines!) who are single women negotiating societies that prize marriage, especially for women, while at the same time living with overbearing families. So that’s a long winded way of saying that in summer 2017, I’ll say my favourite is The Blue Castle.
You write about suburban spaces, Halifax and Montgomery’s Anne of the Island. What is it about this novel and this focus that you find so intriguing?
Growing up with a father who’d always get us to look at the map of where we were, I became intrigued by geography and had thought of being an urban planner for a long time. Doing a PhD thesis on suburban spaces in late eighteenth-century/early nineteenth-century fiction was a way of combining this interest in geography with my love of literature. While rereading Anne of the Island a few years ago, I started thinking about the idea of suburban space in Montgomery’s depiction of Kingsport/Halifax, and especially Patty’s Place, in that novel. I’m intrigued by analysis that leads to a better understanding and appreciation of everyday spaces, like the suburban ones so many of us now live in. And, of course, Montgomery, who writes so beautifully and appreciatively of everydayness is a perfect author for this kind of analysis.
Can you give us a few hints as to what you will be working on as the Chair of L.M. Montgomery Studies and Applied Communication, Leadership and Culture?
I’m really interested in the intersection of literature and geography. I would love to create a large-scale crowdsourced map of all of Montgomery’s works. I’d love for people to be able to use this kind of map to curate their own tour of PEI based on particular sites, texts, or characters. I really want to hear from the public and from people working with the public around Montgomery and her works to see what I can do to complement their work. So please get in touch!
I’ll also be working with the LMMI on various exciting projects, like a Montgomery journal and repository (containing all kinds of material—videos, images, etc.).
In terms of the ACLC, I’ll be teaching a course called “Putting Arts to Work” and courses in digital literacy and digital humanities. This is the first year for this program and we’re really excited about its possibilities for complementing and enhancing existing liberal arts education at UPEI. Alongside traditional liberal arts education, students will gain practical skills (such as video production and desktop publishing), have the opportunity for internships and international exchanges, and explicitly think about their career development.
What are you most excited about with this new role?
It’s exciting to be in a new brand new position working in a brand new program. It really feels like the sky’s the limit. I’m excited about the collaborative potential of this position. Both the Montgomery and ACLC side of things can bring together people across UPEI. Both also provide a lot of scope for public engagement and partnership, whether in terms of creating Montgomery projects with local heritage sites, setting up student work experiences, or inviting community members to guest lecture in the program.
Which is better: tea and crumpets or cordial and ice cream?
Hmm how to choose!? This is almost as hard as choosing between Montgomery’s works. Can I pull a Diana Barry and ask for currant wine and ice cream?