Washington State University English Professor William M. Hamlin has been selected as the first faculty member to serve the Honors College as the Elma Ryan Bornander Honors Chair.
“Will is a scholar, author, researcher, and award-winning teacher and mentor who has served the university, his department, and the Honors College and its students for years in innovative and impactful ways,” said M. Grant Norton, Honors dean. “We are very pleased that our relationship with him will progress even further and more deeply over the next two years through this endowed chair position.”
Hamlin has already prepared his spring 2020 course aimed at junior-level students titled, “Global Shakespeare.” Hamlin said he plans to help students explore how the Bard’s works are understood and performed in different parts of world.
“It’s fascinating,” he said, “to investigate the ways in which different cultures make sense of Shakespeare. There are strong traditions of Shakespearean production in India, Japan, and Russia, for example. I’d like Honors students to consider how ‘Othello’ is played in South Africa or how Israelis tend to view the character Shylock.”
This new Honors chair will provide funding for Hamlin to employ Honors College student Emma Taylor to help with his research. One project will involve using computational linguistics to study ideological shifts in English-language use over large periods of time. This sort of study is now being made possible by the extensive digitization of early printed books.
Hamlin said he is interested in examining the balances between religious and secular language in the early modern era. A question to pursue could be, for example, “in what contexts does a word like ‘soul’—which has strong religious connotations—appear between the years 1500-1700 in English texts? How does it change over time? When and why does its meaning evolve? What are its collocates—the words used in close proximity? What do they tell us?” Hamlin said that corpus linguistics enables the detailed scrutiny of huge collections of texts—tens of thousands of books—as they shift over time in their ideological assumptions and implications.