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Exploring Literature’s Cultural Secrets

Dr. Julia Wright calls culture the “dark matter” that shapes us.

Her focus

“I’m interested in the history of ideas,” says Julia Wright, a former Canada Research Chair whose specialties include Irish literature and the ways that authors have used literature as a vehicle for discussing concepts of nationalism and power. In July, Dr. Wright will commence a five-year term as a University Research Professor, a title bestowed on faculty members with a distinguished record of scholarship. “Literature was a way of talking about different ways of moving society forward politically and thinking about power and ways to manage it.”

Highlights

Dr. Wright has authored or edited 15 books, from a monograph about poet William Blake to an exploration of masculinity in American gothic television. During her Canada Research Chair, she produced a two-volume companion for Irish literature drawing upon the work of 57 contributors. “That was a massive effort and a wonderful opportunity to bring together expertise from around the world,” says Dr. Wright. Her work with students is also a highlight. “You get to see students go from undergrad to graduate work to careers in publishing, education, law, communications, government—it’s fantastic.”

Why I do it

“Culture shapes how we speak to each other, what decisions we make, what things we buy and what politics we have. Just as scientists are interested in dark matter, I’m interested in that puzzle.”

A former student of astrophysics, Dr. Wright likens culture to the mysterious “dark matter” that scientists believe makes up most of the universe. “It seems to me that culture is the dark matter of how societies function,” she says. “Culture shapes how we speak to each other, what decisions we make, what things we buy and what politics we have. Just as scientists are interested in dark matter, I’m interested in that puzzle. And there’s a massive amount of material we have to go through if we’re going to start figuring it out.”

Dr. Wright is Professor of English and Associate Dean, Research at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.