Help Search Campus Map Directories Webmail Home Alumnae Academics Admission Athletics Student Life Offices & Services Library & Technology News & Events About the College Navigation Bar
MHC Home College Street Journal


Setting Her Sights on Everest: Marjorie M. Cross '65 Reaches Ultimate Goal--"To Inspire"

Justice on the Court: MHC's New Leading Scorer

Making It Their Business to Give Back: MHC's Business and Technology Alumnae Mentors

Film Scholar Robin Blaetz Explores the Language of Imagery

On Broadway with Suzan-Lori Parks '85

Mount Holyoke College News and Events College Street Journal Vista

SUMMER 2002 • VOLUME 7, NUMBER 1

Chaucer, Cosynage, and Criticism of a Literary Kind

BY JANET TOBIN

 
 
PHYLLIS GRABER JENSEN/
BATES COLLEGE
  Elaine Tuttle Hansen '69, newly named president of Bates College.
Mount Holyoke can be proud of its cosynage, Middle English for kinship, with Elaine Tuttle Hansen ’69. Although she uses the email moniker Chaucer4me2 and has authored articles and books on Geoffrey Chaucer and Old English verse, Hansen has both feet firmly rooted in the modern age, studying the English poet through the lens of feminist literary theory. "I want to understand whether Chaucer was really ‘womanis frende,’ and whether a feminist approach can open up his poetry in ways that make it speak to our age," she says. It was her experiences as a student and professor at liberal arts colleges, says Hansen, that led her to meld such seemingly disparate areas of scholarship as gender issues in literature and the analysis of a male literary figure who lived more than six hundred years ago. It was her distinguished career as a leader at such institutions and her commitment to liberal arts education that made her Bates College’s choice to become its seventh--and first woman--president.

Embarking on a pilgrimage that should prove no less eventful than that of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Hansen notes that Mount Holyoke provided an essential prologue to her position, which begins this summer. "My intellectual journey toward this presidency began at Mount Holyoke, where I was encouraged always to aspire to the next level," says Hansen. "The College gave me the skills to be a productive scholar and an effective administrator and instilled in me a commitment to academic excellence. I will work to sustain and extend the liberal arts tradition that lies at the heart of Bates and Mount Holyoke."

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English from Mount Holyoke, Hansen went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota in 1972 and a doctorate at the University of Washington in 1975, both in English literature. As a graduate student, she focused on Old English, rather than Middle English, in which Chaucer wrote, returning to Chaucer in a "real way" when she began teaching courses on him at Hamilton College in 1978. "Although I continued to publish articles in Old English and my first book was on Old English wisdom poetry," says Hansen, "I found it more and more important to write about things I was learning in the classroom. This is the part of teaching at a select liberal arts college I think is the most exciting. For a scholar, teaching is truly transformative; the oft-praised intersection between teaching and research is attainable and sustainable. My journey from Old English to Chaucer to contemporary women writers looks rather meandering unless you understand the teaching connection."

That journey was also a function of the times. Hansen was learning to teach Chaucer at Hamilton just as feminist theory and women’s studies were emerging as academic disciplines. Soon she was not only reading books by contemporary women authors but was teaching about them in the course Contemporary Women Writers. "So the first important question I found myself needing to ask about Chaucer had to do with his (in)famous female characters--how could we interpret them, as late twentieth-century women readers, and what were Chaucer’s ‘real’ attitudes toward the notorious antifeminism of his day?," she says. Hansen moved to Haverford College in 1980 and continued exploring such questions, in the process rising to the rank of chief academic officer there in 1995 and continuing in that role until being tapped by Bates.

Hansen says she is looking forward to the challenge of leading Bates, where she plans to "support the liberal arts college ideal, which needs to be preserved, moved forward, and made accessible." By the sound of things, the Mount Holyoke alumna devyseth a parfit pilgrimage.

Home | Directories | Web Email | Calendar | Campus Map | Search | Help

About the College | Admission | Academics | Student Life | Athletics
Offices & Services | Giving | News & Events | Alumnae | Library & Technology

Copyright © 2002 Mount Holyoke College. This page created by Don St. John and maintained by Office of Communications. Last modified on August 9, 2002.

History of Mount Holyoke College Facts About Mount Holyoke College Contact Information Introduction Visit Mount Holyoke College Viritual Tour of MHC About Mount Holyoke College