Meet Bread Loaf/Oxford On-Site Director Emma Smith

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This summer, Bread Loaf/Oxford students were encouraged to speak what they feel, not what they ought to say. And this was just one way that new on-site director Emma Smith, a scholar of Shakespeare and early modern drama and a fellow and tutor at Hertford College at the University of Oxford, brought her vision and enthusiasm to the program.

Bread Loaf/Oxford’s first academic conference, called “Speak What We Feel—Not What We Ought to Say,” encouraged student participants to explore the relationships between personal impulse and the critical imperative. Seniors Robin Lehleitner and Ann Whittaker developed the topic and then produced, along with director’s assistant Mike Mayo MA ’08, an event with overwhelming attendance—22 of the 53 Bread Loaf/Oxford students presented papers to their peers. Commenting on the feedback she and other participants received, Lehleitner said, “We felt appreciated; we knew ourselves to be part of a community.”

A faculty member at Bread Loaf/Oxford for eight years, Smith is an enthusiastic supporter of the opportunities for sustained research that Bread Loaf offers—especially at Oxford, where half of each two-unit course is devoted to independent study. “It’s great for us to really showcase the things that are particular to Oxford scholarship,” Smith comments, “[such as] the chance to use the collections of the Bodleian Library and the centuries of reading and writing in this historic city.”

Smith has been integrally involved in a project to expand the accessibility of Shakespeare’s First Folio by creating a high-resolution digital copy online (http://shakespeare.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/). “For me,” Smith says, “this is a vital part of the Bodleian collection—not least because it has been marked by its stay in the library: the signs of wear on the pages of popular plays such as Romeo and Juliet give real insight into the Oxford of the 17th century.”

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Drawing on that resource, Smith developed a course this summer that included workshops with a master printer so students could see a historic printing press and learn, through hands-on experience, how the First Folio was published. Christopher Moore MA ’13 says he gained “a richer understanding of the textual history of Shakespeare’s plays and the debates that exist around what exactly constitutes ‘authentic’ versions of some of the most well-known pieces of literature in the English language.”

Helping create enriching opportunities like the academic conference, and developing new courses such as “First Folio” or her popular Ghost Stories class, is part of what keeps Smith coming back to Bread Loaf year after year. That and the students. “Bread Loaf guarantees me interesting and clever students with a range of experience beyond academia,” she adds. With its unique research and cultural resources, Bread Loaf/Oxford provides an excellent environment, Smith believes, for students “to push themselves intellectually, to follow their academic interests, and to move into individual research.”

And to say what they feel while they do it, of course.