JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight—Amy Zhao

May 12, 2023 by Sonja Johnston

Amy Zhao is a fourth-year English specialist and Latin major at the University of Toronto. She is the past Editor-in-Chief of Trinity Review and the current president of the English Student Union. For the past two years, she has served as a research assistant to Professor Pamela Klassen, working to produce a decolonized glossary and timeline for a teaching curriculum of Treaty 3. She has also worked as a research assistant for The Edinburgh Edition of the Works of John Galt with Professor Angela Esterhammer as well as Literature, Politics, and Law in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Henry Fielding and the Trade of Authoring with Professor Thomas Keymer. Amy joins the JHI in 2022-2023 as one of our JHI Undergraduate Fellows and received the Dr. Jan Blumenstein Undergraduate Award in the Humanities.

What are your main research interests?

My research interests involve popular literature published in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, particularly Gothic novels and conduct books. I am fascinated by the gendering of genres, the fictionality of novels, and the practice of publishing and authorship. Beyond my current research at Jackman, I am interested in the field of environmental literature and ecocriticism, centred around Romantic poetry and the narrative development of ecological consciousness.

What project are you working on at the JHI and why did you choose it?

I am working on my thesis titled “Labouring in Vain: Reproduction, Domesticity, and Female Identity in Romantic and Gothic Literature.” In my project, I examine reading and writing conventions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, drawing a connection between constructions of the Gothic novel with constructions of femininity. I argue that the organization and generalization of fiction and fictional characters are useful in thinking about essentialist categories of gender as femininity is contingent upon imitative practices of labour between women in the social sphere. Furthermore, I turn to the materiality of books and examine the creation, manipulation, and disruption of printed texts.

What are you hoping to experience as a JHI Fellow?

Listening to and interacting with other fellows who are all equally passionate and knowledgeable about their projects. And of course, reading lots and lots of Gothic novels for my project!

What have you enjoyed the most so far?

The support offered by my supervisor and the JHI to fully pursue my research in any direction it might take me. My project looks vastly different from my initial proposal, and it is all a part of the process of intellectual exploration. Hearing from other fellows on a weekly basis has also greatly influenced the trajectory of my research to take on a more interdisciplinary approach.

Share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by.

I enjoy seeing my research in contemporary culture. Period dramas and modern adaptations (yes, including Bridgerton) help me think through the common thread that weaves all these stories and forms together. It is fascinating to see how movies and TV shows re-contextualize Jane Austen’s novels to appeal to the modern audience.

What is a fun fact about you?

I also write short stories (although not historical ones). You may see my name pop up in publications around campus!