Professor Betty Schellenberg awarded Royal Society of Canada Fellowship

October 06, 2021

Distinguished SFU Professor Betty Schellenberg is one of 11 Simon Fraser University researchers who have been named to the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) this year. Membership in the RSC is Canada’s highest academic honour.

 “I am at once humbled and very proud to be elected to the Society,” says Schellenberg. “It means that my peers in my own field and also across many disciplines recognize my scholarly contributions as having made a difference in 18th-century studies.”

Schellenberg has been teaching in the Department of English since 1991. Over the last 30 years, she has become an internationally recognized scholar of 18th-century book history, focusing especially on the contributions of women to British literary culture. After three decades of research and teaching, Schellenberg still finds it challenging and rewarding to reconstruct and reimagine the lives of 18th-century women writers and to bring those lives into focus for students.

To tell these stories, she has done extensive archival research on manuscripts and letters written by women during the period. She has also helped edit these previously inaccessible materials so other scholars can access them. Recently, Schellenberg discovered a collection of manuscript poems written by Sarah Wilmot, a previously unknown writer associated with the Bluestocking network.

The Bluestockings were upper- and middle-class women and men who met in the homes of leading hostesses for literary and intellectual conversations, rather than the more frivolous pursuits of card-playing and gossip associated with 18th-century women. Schellenberg has studied their published writing (e.g. novels, educational works, and translations), but also the thousands of unpublished letters that, in their own time, were an important source of their reputations as writers. She also co-edited the text Reconsidering the Bluestockings with Nicole Pohl in 2003, and in 2016 published a study of such literary-social networks titled Literary Coteries and the Making of Modern Print Culture. Schellenberg co-founded the Department of English’s Master of Arts in Print Culture and initiated SFU’s Centre for the Study of Print and Manuscript Cultures, as well.

Currently, she is conducting the first-ever study of manuscript verse miscellanies. Like the playlists people create today, ordinary 18th-century people made unique, personally curated books out of poetry copied from magazines, mingled with the writing of people in their networks, and their own compositions. This year, Schellenberg also brings readers two publications, co-written with SFU English Professor Michelle Levy, Women in Book History, 1660-1830 and Why to Do Things with Eighteenth-Century Manuscripts (forthcoming).

Reflecting on her years of research and continuing enthusiasm for old books and manuscripts, Schellenberg says:

“Studying 18th-century literature from the perspectives of book history, print culture, and manuscript studies, offers us a rare glimpse into why and how the texts we now read in anthologies—and those we have forgotten—were made, circulated from hand to hand, and embedded in people’s everyday lives. It is a way of entering into the experience of those who first created and read them.”