In Recognition of Professor Carole Gerson’s Retirement

January 09, 2020

By Professor Betty Schellenberg

The Department of English gathered in December to celebrate the career of Professor Carole Gerson, FRSC. And what an accomplished career it has been! Prof. Gerson began her academic path at SFU with a BA Honours degree on the 17th-century poet John Donne, but by the time she had completed her PhD at the University of British Columbia she was a specialist in early Canadian Literature. It is here that she has broken new ground with her scholarship on early Canadian writers, especially women, and their extensive engagement with the developing English-language print culture of a fledgling nation. By means of painstaking archival work from coast to coast and beyond Canadian borders, she has recovered and recorded forgotten authors in more than 12 published monographs and editions. These seminal publications include A Purer Taste: The Writing and Reading of Fiction in English in Nineteenth-Century Canada (1989); Canadian Poetry: The Beginnings Through The First World War (co-edited with Gwendolyn Davies, 1994); Canada's Early Women Writers: Texts in English to 1859 (Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, 1994); Volume three of the monumental History of the Book in Canada (2007; co-edited with Jacques Michon); and Canadian Women in Print, 1750-1918 (2010). Her two books on E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)—a collected works edition and a critical monograph, both in collaboration with historian Veronica Strong-Boag—also call for special mention as influential acknowledgements of Canada’s Indigenous literary traditions. Prof. Gerson’s scholarly leadership has extended to the digital humanities, where she has been director of several major projects that will stimulate research for years to come, in particular the Canada’s Early Women Writers (CEWW) database and the Database of Canada’s Early Women Writers (DoCEWW)—the latter an expansion of the CEWW’s 470 women authors of English-language books to include more than 5,000 Canadian women who published in periodicals or other venues before 1950. This is not to mention her 48 book chapters, 33 scholarly articles, and countless reference-work contributions, reprints, and book reviews.

            Prof. Gerson’s work, often supported by grants from SSHRC, has garnered numerous awards and recognitions, among them a prestigious Killam Research Fellowship, the Gabrielle Roy Prize of the Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures (twice); the Bibliographical Society of Canada’s Marie Tremaine Medal and Watters-Morley Prize and an Institutional Award for the History of the Book in Canada project; and the Canada Prize of the Aid to Scholarly Publications Program. In 2000, she was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Since joining SFU’s Department of English in 1989 as Assistant Professor and Canada Research Fellow, Prof. Gerson has been a winner of the Dean of Arts Medal for Academic Excellence and has held the position of University Professor for the last ten years. At SFU, and in the wider field of Canadian literary and bibliographical studies, she has mentored new scholars, including acting as senior supervisor of four Honours projects, three MA theses, four PhD dissertations, and nine post-doctoral fellows; and as external examiner of ten doctoral defences.

Collaboration has been a hallmark of Prof. Gerson’s scholarly practice; locally, this has meant being an influential advocate for, and team member of, the department’s Print Culture Studies concentration. Indeed, her service at the departmental, university, and national level has been exemplary. At SFU, her tireless leadership and committee contributions simply can’t be enumerated, but highlights include stints in all three of the department’s administrative roles as Chair, Associate/Undergraduate Chair, and Graduate Program Chair; 12 years as Faculty Research Liaison Officer (and therefore Chair of several grant adjudication committees); a term on Senate and related Senate committees; and membership on search committees for various senior administrators. On the national and international scene, she has been consultant or advisory board member for a range of entities that include eight different scholarly journals, the Canadian Federation for the Humanities, the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproduction, and plaques erected for national historic persons by Parks Canada. She continues to be involved in the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory.

            Prof. Gerson’s advocacy work on behalf of Canada’s literary history, and the history of its women, in particular, extends beyond the academy into the community. She has brought Sara Jennette Duncan, L.M. Montgomery, and especially E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake), to the attention of radio audiences, newspaper readers, public lecture attendees, and book clubs. That advocacy continues, with such forthcoming work as Hearing More Voices: English-Canadian Women in Print and on the Air, 1914-1960 (co-author Peggy Lynn Kelly) and “‘Perhaps the white man’s God has willed it so’: Reconsidering the ‘Indian’ Poems of Pauline Johnson and Duncan Campbell Scott” in Royally Wronged: The Royal Society of Canada’s Role in the Marginalization of Indigenous Knowledge. As for the Department of English, Prof. Gerson’s wisdom, expertise, and breadth of vision will be sorely missed, and we are grateful for her generous willingness to serve as our “Professor on Call” in the future. Congratulations on your retirement and very best wishes, Carole, from your SFU colleagues in English!