Alumni Spotlight: Lenora Hanson

Lenora Hanson

May 20, 2022 by Anne Nagel, Ph.D. Candidate, Literary and Cultural Studies

Dr. Lenora Hanson, who received an M.A. in literature and a Certificate in Nineteenth Century Studies from UNL in 2009, is an assistant professor of English at New York University. The forthcoming publication of their book, The Romantic Rhetoric of Accumulation, is set for this coming winter.

Dr. Hanson’s scholarship explores the intersections between British Romanticism, colonial Jamaica, rhetoric and rhetorical reading, and studies in Marxism, feminism, and colonialism. Of particular interest are accounts of dispossession and what Marx ironically called “so-called primitive accumulation.”

They teach undergraduate and graduate courses at NYU, primarily on topics in, or in relation to, Romanticism, and work collaboratively on projects relating to higher education, capitalism, and alternative ways of organizing study and education.

What are you currently most excited about in your professional life?

Probably because of the COVID context of teaching, I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of reflection on what the parameters of the classroom are and the ethics of assignments and grading, and the extent to which COVID has really clarified how thin of a boundary there is between the classroom and students’ outside lives.

And while that’s been disruptive in a lot of ways, for me, it’s been really clarifying and allowed for me to think about something that I already felt personally, but hadn’t really felt was intellectually meaningful before, which is just: how to give students space to bring in things from their outside lives and center them as intellectual components of the classes I’m teaching. That sounds really big, but at the end of the day, it’s (about) making small modifications to the class.

The COVID teaching world has definitely helped me to decathect even more from disciplinary orientations, which I never had a super strong commitment to, anyway. I feel like my own personal reasons for studying Romanticism are quite strange and not particularly academic. Maybe that’s true for everyone, but (I’ve been) just reflecting on my own personal orientation towards how I came to studying literature, which wasn’t in a particularly disciplinary mode, and thinking about (questions like): How can I craft assignments and grading… and these kinds of things in a way that speaks more to students’ own intellectual histories and backgrounds? And how to center those in a way that isn’t just about a student-centered classroom, but that helps us to move between literary texts that can feel pretty far away from them and their own backgrounds. I would say that’s something I’ve been spending a lot of the time this past year thinking about.

I co-taught a class with Dr. Fred Moten in Performance Studies here at the beginning of COVID, and we just made it (enrollment) wide open, like anyone can join. He’s a well-known, established person, so that meant we had like sixty people in the class… But the central focus of that class was really not having a syllabus and figuring out how to run a weekly discussion or conversation that is still focused on a topic, but a topic that can kind of branch out on the basis of whoever is in the class at a given point. And one thing that I really appreciated about it was just the demand to come to class every week and say, “What are we here for? What are we doing this week? Why do we want to be here?”

And you know, I felt like that was just a kind of refreshing approach to breaking away from the kind of mechanical things that we can get into when we think that our job is just to assess students or something.

Is your book one of the things that you’re excited about?

I am excited about it, yeah. You know, there are times when it feels anti-climactic, but I have to go back to it regularly, because there are still page proofs and stuff that I have to do with it, and it’s nice to look back and feel like it’s something I’m happy with. You know, there is part of me that would have liked it to have to be less disciplinary, but I think it’s as non-disciplinary as possible, given the constraints of publishing, and yeah, I’m happy with it. I’m happy with the way that it’s written. And I’m sure when it comes out, I’ll feel differently, probably want to disavow it (chuckling), but I’m happy with it right now.

What other projects are you working on?

NYU started a Public Humanities Initiative just before COVID hit, and it mostly entails graduate students taking two courses and a couple of electives to get a certificate. The primary foundation for it right now are sixth-year funding options for students where they’re placed with a non-academic organization, and they do a year of work as like an internship.

What I’ve been working on with Dr. Prita Meier from Art History, who is really fabulous and who I never would’ve worked with otherwise—She works on vernacular architecture in East Africa and Muslim architecture and Islamic architecture, in particular. So she’s so far outside of what I technically do, but we got paired initially to teach a class together, and then the class wasn’t able to continue, so we just took up a project to help articulate the initiative in a way that’s more meaningful for faculty. We've just been writing a research report and also doing some collaborative work around what our ideal version of a public humanities project would look like and where public humanities has been… how an NYU version of the program might enliven it in a new direction. It’s been a really fun project to work on with her.

Do you have any favorite classes or professors from your time at UNL?

Two classes that stood out for me were a class that was on science fiction with Nicholas Spencer, who died while I was there. He taught this really amazing science fiction course in the department. And I have no academic orientation to science fiction, but it just exposed me to a lot of amazing work that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.

Nick was such an inspiration for being able to move between politics and literature in a really meaningful, but really sophisticated way. I feel like I got a lot out of that class in terms of thinking about how one could approach literature in a way that wasn’t reductively historical, but that had a critical kind of aesthetic component to it. And of course, that’s (already) part of the science fiction discourse in a lot of ways, but Nick was really great at wanting us to think in a practical way about (questions) like: “What are the possibilities for thinking lives?” That came out of science fiction. So yeah, that was a really meaningful class for me, although I also remember almost never saying anything in it, because I was so lost (smiling). But it was a really meaningful class.

And then, Marco Abel taught this critical theory survey course, and he’s just kind of brilliant at doing incredibly long, invested overviews about the history of critical theory. I learned so much in that class, and Marco is so committed and rigorous. And after that, he did an independent study with me and Aaron Hilliard, who was here, but was years ahead of me… Marco was really kind and did an independent study with me and Aaron on Italian Marxist stuff, which was great…

We would meet at The Coffee House, and it was also just really nice to kind of have meetings outside of the institutional setting.

Other than The Coffee House, are there any other places that you especially enjoyed going to in Lincoln?

The only other place that stands out to me is the pizza place, Yia Yia’s. They had a great beer selection too, and I had just come out of working in the service industry for a long time, so I was very happy about that. I have very fond memories of Yia Yia’s.

I really should remember other extracurricular things, but the master’s program was such a change of pace for me, because I graduated undergrad, and then I was running a bar for a couple of years, and then, when I started my master’s, it was just like, Oh my god, I have to learn all this stuff, kind of, anew or again. Now I look back on it, and it’s just like, Oh… Everyone felt completely underprepared for it. But of course, in the moment, you think you’re the only one.

It’s definitely why I have very fond memories of both Marco and Nick. They were both incredibly supportive. You know, they have no relationship to Romanticism; there was no reason for them to have been as supportive as they were. But I feel like they just developed and grew this great, small intellectual community.