Benjamin S. Lawson
Professor, Department of English
and Modern Languages, Albany State University, Albany, Georgia
Lecturing: Walt Whitman Chair, American Literature
Host: University of Utrecht, Utrecht, Netherlands
June 2000-June 2001
|Amsterdam- (Building by water)
Benjamin S. Lawson loves teaching a range of courses in literature,
literary theory and composition at Albany State University, a
small Southern, historically black institution where students
come first, and there is little emphasis on "publish or perish."
But there are generally no sabbaticals, either; he can't leave
for a semester without rearranging his usual nine-month contract
to spend the summer teaching.
Lawson publishes anyway, relentlessly pursuing his special interest
in American literature from 1840 to 1940 in the time not consumed
by a heavy teaching load, committee work, and community service-churning
out books, monographs, articles and papers. And the chance to
teach his specialties at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands
from September to December of 2000, on a Fulbright grant, was
|Derek Rubin (English Dpt., Utrecht), Eric Sandeen (guest lecturer from U. of Wyoming), Ben and my wife Mary- Utrecht.
It was well worth it, helping him to put his work in an international
context, he says. It enabled him to provide his Dutch students
with a "real-life experience" of the American South
they had only read about, and of the ethnic variety of the region.
He believes his award also contributed to Albany State's growing
internationalism and expanded mission (it only recently became
a "university") to provide more inclusive and ambitious
It was actually the second Fulbright award for Lawson, who had
spent a semester a decade earlier at the University of Helsinki,
Finland, where students accustomed to more formality from their
professors were struck by Americans' lack of formality. "I
liked their small talk," one student wrote engagingly, "as
the only thing I knew was how to be quiet in four languages."
In Utrecht, which Lawson found "less exotic, more like Chicago"
than Helsinki, the indefatigable professor occupied the Walt Whitman
Chair of American Literature-teaching six hours a week, delivering
formal lectures at Utrecht and three other Dutch universities
(Groningen, Amsterdam and Nijmegen) and writing for two Dutch
scholarly journals. He taught courses on "Boundaries: Race
and Region in Early-Modern Southern Fiction," and on Moby
Dick, and provided the literary component of an interdisciplinary
seminar about the American West.
Lawson and his wife, Mary, an English professor who took an unpaid
leave from their home institution to accompany him, also "took
advantage of living in Europe by presenting papers at conferences
in Finland and Sweden," he said. "It was immensely fulfilling
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