Prof. Kate Thomas's 'Bone Body: English Potteries and Colonial Violence' Continues Endowed Chair Lecture Series

December 3, 2018 by Emily Schalk '19
Professor of English Kate Thomas

Bryn Mawr College Professor of English Kate Thomas is not afraid to stir the (tea) pot.

The chair of the English department and newly appointed K. Laurence Stapleton Professor of English is teaching and analyzing chinaware as texts in her classes and as part of her lecture "Bone Body: English Potteries and Colonial Violence." Part of the Endowed Lecture Series, the talk takes place on Thursday, Dec. 6, from 4:30-5:30 p.m. in Carpenter Library, Room B21. A reception in the London Room will follow.

“It might sound strange for an English professor,” Thomas says, “But I’m to be talking about a bone china plate. It’s a gilt-edged, pink-scrolled, gorgeous piece of china that was made in Staffordshire in England sometime around 1815 or 1816, having been commissioned by a prince in India. It was shipped to him and held in his palace there, and later by his successor, who then found himself at the center of a conflict known as the First War of Indian Independence.”

Throughout her academic career, Thomas has been interested in studying texts in addition to those found between the covers of a book. The texts she analyzes and researches are found everywhere, from the British postal system to Victorian foods and eating culture. This china plate isn’t just another antique; it was an agent in a pivotal moment in colonial history.

“This plate that was in the palace survived horrible violence and looting on the part of the English troops and actually was stolen by English troops and removed back to England,” Thomas says. “I'm interested in tracing the pathway of this delicate piece of china, and how it traces the complexity of colonial relations between England and India in the 19th century.”

In addition to her aforementioned research interests, Thomas also published on Victorian temporalities and queer theory in SAQ and GLQ, and is working on a book of these topics titled Lesbian Immortalities. Her many popular courses taught include Victorian Media; Eating Culture; Victorian Literature and Culture; Here and Queer: Placing Sexuality; Food Revolutions; and Lesbian Immortal.

“Bryn Mawr has a dedication to public scholarship,” says Thomas of her upcoming lecture. “It’s at the heart of what we do here. And I think a lecture like this is an opportunity to share our interests together, and the new work professors here are doing, so that we get to have the kind of conversation and debate that is central to academic enterprise. An event like this says, 'This is the heart of what we believe in here, which is getting the opportunity to learn new things, see new things, and talk about it together.'”

Event Listing: "Bone Body: English Potteries and Colonial Violence"

Department of English

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English Alumnae on the Influence of Professor Thomas

"There are few people like Kate Thomas. She bakes her famous chocolate bundt cake with the same care that she reads Shelley’s poem Ozymandias. Having just started my first job as a professor, I often draw on Kate’s mentorship. I didn’t say much in her classes, but she showed me that I had something worth sharing.

"Her quiet elegance offers a model of thoughtfulness that often isn’t expressed at Bryn Mawr—a place where strength is understood as being bold, loud, and decisive. But Kate’s grace is what learning is about—being humbled in the face of difficulty. She shows that critical thought is the work of patience.

"Any student who witnesses Kate’s pedagogical magic won’t leave her classroom the same. Her students are stronger and more generous because of her teaching, and the hallmark of my Bryn Mawr education is—without doubt—the gift of having Kate as a continued mentor and friend." — Clare Mullaney '11, Visiting Assistant Professor of Literature, Hamilton College.

"Kate Thomas is a superb professor, mentor, and colleague, and her impact on my education and career has been profound. Her classes at Bryn Mawr were among the most demanding, intellectually rich, and paradigm shifting I took. Whether analyzing lesbian ghosts in nineteenth century literature or unpacking dense post-structural feminist theory, Kate Thomas brings rigor, generosity, depth, and dedication to every aspect of her teaching and mentorship. I am still learning from her." — Mary Zaborskis '12, Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pittsburgh.

"Professor Thomas' commitment to the classroom and the community are still highlights of my time at Bryn Mawr.

"From innovative seminars such as her class Lesbian Immortal, which was a Flexner Lecture Seminar where we had the chance to work with Judith Butler, to her rigorous (but always fun!) methodology seminar, Kate always manages to pair academic intensity with a collegiality that makes students seek her out for advice again and again.

"I wouldn't be in the Ph.D. program I am now without her example. And I find myself missing some of the best parts about Professor Thomas' pedagogy--her interest in facilitating a community of English majors. One of my fondest memories from college was when Professors Thomas and Schneider had us to their home for a post-seminar dinner and discussion!" — Kersti Francis, English Ph.D. candidate, UCLA.