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The Humanities

A legend for the ages

Nevada English professor's bibliography of Arthurian works to be published by Oxford University Press

by John Wheeler

Being published by Oxford University Press. It might be described as being the Holy Grail for academic book authors, but that's the honor attained by Nevada English professor Phillip Boardman. His annotated bibliography, The Arthurian Annals, co-written with Daniel Nastali, a collector and writer who lives in Kansas City, will be published next year by the academic reference division of Oxford University Press. For Boardman, chairman of Nevada's Core Humanities Program, it's the product of 24 years of work.

"It's exciting," he says. "In academic circles, they have as good a reputation as anyone."

Boardman recently shipped off 2,800 pages of manuscript to Oxford, successfully making his March 31 deadline. He's now working on the index — itself a major task since it will list works not only by titles and authors, but also by illustrators (a category never compiled before), characters and themes.

"For the last six months, it's pretty much meant working night and day because of the deadline," he says. "Oxford wants to publish by next spring, so the deadline was serious."

Another thing that Oxford was serious about was the word count: one million words. Boardman had agreed to that number in the contract but didn't really think much about it until talking to his editor.

"It was a big deal," he says. "It's serious because the budget is arranged based on this contractual limit. So we started adding up. We're pretty close to the limit."

Boardman began collecting Arthurian references in 1979, when he decided to write a book about the Arthurian legend. "To do that, you need to start tracking down your sources," he says. Over time, the bibliography took on a life of its own and, in 1986, he hooked up with Nastali, who was doing complementary work. "It turned out we had a huge number of different things," Boardman says.

The bibliography is massive — more than 11,000 descriptions, in chronological order, of poems, novels, plays, films, operas, and even comic books and computer games.

"The word Arthurian refers to the broad range of legends about King Arthur and all the stories that attach to it, such as the stories of the Holy Grail, Tristan and Isolde, any of the knights, Excalibur and so forth," Boardman explains.

At a time when Nevada's research profile in science and technology is at an all-time high, Boardman's achievement shows that equally impressive work is taking place in the humanities. But, although the project is high on prestige, it's unlikely to change Boardman's lifestyle.

"It's a labor of love," he says with a chuckle. "I can't tell you the amount of money I've spent tracking these works. Most of the 3,000 books on the shelves in my home you won't get in the Washoe County or university libraries. It means buying lots of stuff, even stuff I don't want to read. It's been an investment."

Over many years, he's spent months at a time in England researching at sites such as the British Library and the Arts Council poetry library.

"I went through the collection starting with 'A,'" he says. "Lifting every book off the shelf looking at the table of contents to see if anything sounded Arthurian and then leafing through. That's the way you actually work sometimes."

Although the work can be exacting, it can also be richly rewarding, Boardman says.

"It's great fun," he says. "It's like a mystery, really, because there are always little treasures. Collectors know this feeling — the sudden discovery of something that's out of the way."

As you might expect, Boardman's knowledge of the Arthurian legend is impressive, but it's far from rigidly academic, as his students will attest. He uses clips from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in his classes and can discuss the Arthurian legend in such incarnations as disguised in science fiction TV shows such as "Babylon 5."

"We watch for it," he says. "Stories where spaceships and characters in those spaceships reenact, unbeknownst to them, versions of the legend. This is a common modern way of doing it."

When The Arthurian Annals is published, it will be targeted to libraries. It won't be cheap, perhaps in the $200 to $250 range, but collectors, booksellers and hard-core Arthurian fans will likely also be interested.

In the meantime, Boardman will keep working on the index, eagerly awaiting the first proofs in the fall.

"Oxford isn't particularly Arthurian, so this was a shot in the dark," Boardman says. "We were really pleased. When we see the book physically, that's when we'll have the party!"

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Praise with criticism

Regents' Teaching Award winner inspires students with deep-rooted love of instruction

It is truly a unique teacher who compares herself to a midwife. "Combining praise with criticism, I coach, 'Oh what a beautiful paper this is going to be!'" wrote Cheryll Glotfelty in a letter to the Regents' Teaching Award Committee. '"Okay now, push, push, PUSH!'"

Maybe that type of enthusiasm helped garner her the Regents' Teaching Award at the university's Honor the Best Ceremony on May 14.

Or maybe it was the 30 different courses she has taught at all levels — freshman composition to graduate seminars — in the Department of English over the past 13 years. (She created many of those courses herself and played an instrumental role in crafting the Literature and Environment graduate options.)

All these accomplishments fall subservient, though, to Glotfelty's simple and genuine love for teaching.

"To be recognized for something that I care about so much really means a lot," she says. "I put a lot of work and energy into teaching. I think about it, dream about it, I'm on walks and planning for it — it's a really important part of what I do."

The associate professor of English says she learns as much from her students as they learn from her. Moreover, she credits part of her philosophy to purely serving her students.

"When I was in college, I was really intimidated by my professors," she says. "I thought I was a lowly student and didn't want to take up their time or bother them. So I try to encourage my students to not feel that way. I'm like their paid personal trainer. I tell them they're paying my salary and, in a sense, they're my bosses."

The other facets of her three-pronged teaching philosophy are equally student-based: teach tolerance, elicit good work, and above all, engage the students.

"Nevada students are predominantly white and many of them haven't traveled too far outside the state," she says. "I'm always trying to enlarge their horizons, help them understand different people, different social classes, gender issues — always trying to get them to understand and empathize with what to them would be an other, a group they're not familiar with."

Promoting such diversity isn't hard for Glotfelty.

"I get excited about every single student and say, 'Well, we have you who can bring us the rural perspective, we have you who can bring us the East Coast perspective,'" she says. "I try to make everyone from day one feel valued and feel like they have something unique to offer the classroom conversation."

Educing superior work is where her midwife role comes into play.

"Giving birth is a very difficult process," says Glotfelty, who gave birth to her daughter Rosa six years ago. "I see myself as a coach saying (to students), 'You can do it, you can do it,' helping them achieve their best work."

Engaging students is always the first priority, though.

"One thing that's so great about Nevada students is that they have really full and active lives — they ski, they have friends and family, and hobbies and jobs," Glotfelty says. " So I think that especially in this environment, if you're going to teach them anything, you first have to catch their interest. You have to keep that interest throughout the semester, too."

Glotfelty was originally nominated for the Regents' Teaching Award by Stacy Burton, the chair of the Department of English. Burton's nomination was forwarded to Provost John Frederick, whose committee formally nominated Glotfelty to the Regents Committee.

Accompanying her nomination were two binders of supporting documentation, demonstrating her qualifications for the award. In her cover letter, Glotfelty listed the 10 most significant flairs that contribute to her effective teaching, including range, innovation and assessment.

In addition to garnering acclaim from her peers, she was also overwhelmed by the support of her former students.

"I had asked some of my previous students if they would write me letters of support and I got great, great letters of support," she says. "Just reading those, saying what I had meant to them in their lives, was almost as important as the award."

On top of helping students, Glotfelty also puts effort into advancing her department.

"Ethnicity, Gender, and American Identity," "Nevada in Literature," and "Aging and Identity in Nevada" are all courses pioneered by Glotfelty to move English studies in new directions.

"Nevada in Literature," in fact, has become her forte. Since arriving in Nevada in 1990, she has developed a strong love for the state. Next year she will be taking a sabbatical to compile an anthology of literature from the state of Nevada.

Upon her return, she plans to push for creation of a Nevada Studies Initiative, in which Nevada experts from a wide range of disciplines and from all of the UCCSN campuses may collaborate to undertake projects, host conferences, and form degree programs in the field.

"There are many faculty within the UCCSN system who specialize in some aspect of Nevada studies," she explains. "It would be wonderful to find a way for us to meet each other, pool our knowledge, and work together to educate the influx of new Nevada residents so that they may come to love and understand this great state and govern it wisely."

Aside from teaching, Glotfelty, 44, who has been married to husband Steve since 1992, also plans to explore many other life activities following an anticipated early retirement in a decade or two.

"I want to learn to play the guitar, do pine needle basket weaving, be a marathoner, explore Nevada, climb mountains, volunteer in the community, write books, take naps in the sun, and enjoy more freedom," she says.

"I love teaching, but I think I'm also going to love the next chapter of life."

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