Jennifer Smith Develops Two New Projects While on Sabbatical at the Benson Center
Jennifer Smith, an Associate Professor of English at Seaver College, is currently in the midst of a sabbatical fellowship at the University of Colorado's Benson Center for Western Civilization and Thought. Within this program, Smith is developing a pair of projects that involve her dual research focuses of Medieval Literature and Digital Humanities.
“The Benson Center is interested in fostering open discourse, academic freedom, and intellectual diversity on university campuses in particular,” explains Smith. “This is in line with some of the more service-oriented work I have done at Pepperdine.”
Encouraged by these common initiatives, Smith applied for the Benson Center fellowship by pitching two research projects she was interested in developing. Specifically, she is writing a book on the lost works of 15th-century Archbishop Reginald Pecock, and, alongside that, Smith is developing an app called The Vineyard, which serves as an informative resource for teachers seeking to promote equity in their classrooms. While these two projects are different from each other, both align with the Benson Center’s mission in unique ways.
Pecock, who was convicted of heresy, had the majority of his canon burned for the supposedly scandalous thinking it promoted. Despite having written somewhere between 50 and 55 books, only 5 of the archbishop’s texts have survived until the present day. Smith, while drafting her book – The Book of Reginald Pecock – is attempting to reconstruct his corpus. In the process, she hopes to connect the medieval figure with contemporary audiences by pointing out the cultural similarities existing between then and now.
“Pecock was ultimately confined for his work, meaning he was functionally imprisoned, and his books were burned,” says Smith. “If I were to translate that into modern terminology I’d say something like, ‘Bishop Pecock was canceled, and his works were censored.’ These are concepts we are dealing with right now. How should people of authority be held accountable, especially if they suggest something that is considered corrupting of the youth?”
Similarly, the genesis of Smith’s app production was also spurred on by a question – “how do we give second chances to students in a way that is fair, consistent, and transparent.” Over the past two years, Smith has sought to create a systematic way for teachers to create a classroom that is both just and merciful for students, and she hopes that The Vineyard will be an instrumental tool in this classroom restructuring.
To learn more about the Benson Center and their fellowship program, visit their website.