Martha Ackmann Becomes President of Emily Dickinson Society

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 - 10:00

Martha Ackmann, author and senior lecturer in gender studies, has been named the new president of the Emily Dickinson International Society (EDIS). Members of the EDIS Board of Directors elected Ackmann during the organization’s August conference at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. Ackmann has been a member of the EDIS board for seven years, is the society’s former vice president, and served as codirector of the EDIS third international conference, which was held at Mount Holyoke in 1999.

The Emily Dickinson International Society has more than 300 members that include scholars, historians, professors, museum professionals, librarians, teachers, and appreciative readers. The organization holds large scholarly conferences every three years, most recently in Japan, Hawaii, Norway, and Austria. In 2013, the EDIS will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a conference in Washington, D.C.

As president of the EDIS, Ackmann hopes to expand the society’s membership to junior scholars as well as K-12 teachers. At the meeting in Oxford, the board voted to form two new committees: one to focus on graduate students studying Dickinson and another for K-12 educators seeking to incorporate the poet’s work into their classes.  Ackmann is especially interested in reaching out to the latter group. In 2008 and 2009, she participated in National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Seminars for teachers, sponsored by the Emily Dickinson Museum. She was also a recent lecturer for the museum’s National Endowment for the Arts “Big Read” public program, and she worked last year with Amherst Regional High School teachers studying Dickinson through a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant.

“There are many K-12 teachers who teach Dickinson and want to learn more,” Ackmann said. “They are interested not only for teaching purposes but also for their own personal enrichment. I want to see the EDIS reach out to them. I want to find out what teachers want to know and find a way to meet those needs.”

Besides organizing international conferences, the EDIS also publishes a scholarly journal and newsletter, and awards fellowships to graduate students and international scholars who wish to conduct Dickinson research in New England. During years when large international conferences are not held, the organization hosts annual meetings centered on specific topics. Next year’s EDIS annual meeting will take place in Amherst and will focus on six great debates surrounding Dickinson’s life and art. Ackmann will organize the meeting along with Jane Wald, executive director of the Emily Dickinson Museum.

Having just returned from the United Kingdom, Ackmann said the recent conference was perhaps the EDIS’s most international gathering. Scholars from 23 countries presented papers, participated in plenary discussions, and heard a keynote address from Oxford don Lyndall Gordon, author of the new book, Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds. The society’s banquet in the medieval surroundings of Oxford’s Oriel College was breathtaking, Ackmann said.

“EDIS is devoted to scholarship on Dickinson, but we also put on one dazzling feast,” she said. “It was great fun.”

Assuming the Emily Dickinson International Society presidency comes at an appropriate time for Ackmann.She is writing a new book on the poet, Vesuvius at Home, which examines ten pivotal days in the poet’s life. Ackmann also teaches a popular seminar at Mount Holyoke on Emily Dickinson that meets every Tuesday afternoon during the fall semester in the Dickinson’s Amherst home--in the very rooms where the poet wrote her memorable verse.

Members of the Mount Holyoke community who are interested in Emily Dickinson are invited to become members of the EDIS. To find out more, visit the organization’s Web site. Photos and an Oxford conference blog are also available on the EDIS Facebook page