Getting to Know: Dr. Melissa Rampelli

Melissa PhotoDr. Melissa Rampelli brings a love of English Literature to Holy Family University as its newest Associate Professor of English in the School of Arts and Sciences. Originally a Business and Dance double major, Rampelli switched her field of study after taking an English class during her freshman year at Skidmore College. Dr. Rampelli sat down with Holy Family University to discuss her dissertation focusing on British realist novelists, her favorite authors, and her hobbies outside the University.

HFU: Can you tell us more about your background and how you came to Holy Family University?

MR: “I completed my BA in English Literature at Skidmore College and an MAT in Secondary English Education at Brown University. Following my student-teaching through Brown, I taught for four years at New Canaan High School in Connecticut before returning to graduate work. I earned my MA and PhD in English Literature from St. John’s University in 2016. I have taught as a summer adjunct professor at Skidmore College and as a doctoral fellow and an adjunct professor at St. John’s University. I am thrilled to be joining the English faculty at Holy Family University.”

“My previous teaching experience solidified my commitment to teaching in a small, academically rigorous liberal arts community. I find the liberal arts college’s philosophy—of creative, critical, and interdisciplinary thinking—compatible with my desire for students to explore through writing, to take risks in their arguments, and to be interdisciplinary and independent in their thinking. Holy Family University’s focus on fostering a community and tolerance for difference is something I have sought to nurture in my classroom.”

HFU: What made you interested in studying English Literature? Is there a particular piece of literature you’re fond of?

MR: “I have been an avid reader my whole life, but I originally attended college to double major in Business and Dance. An English class that I took for fun during the Fall semester of my freshman year drew me back toward literature. We read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and the intersection between gender, psychology, and social roles in the 19th century fascinated me. I switched to the English major that next semester and this early interest in psychology and feminism in literature became the germ for my undergraduate senior thesis and even my doctoral work years later. My two favorite authors are Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen, and I look forward to teaching a course on the latter in the Fall.”

HFU: Your doctoral thesis from St. John’s University sounds interesting, The Form of Fits: Proto-Feminism in the British Realist Novel, could you tell us what your research entailed?

MR: “My research argues that 19th century British realist novelists used the topic of women’s hysteria as a means to forward material-based feminisms and new narratives of health that granted women cognitive agency while also recovering the epistemological capabilities of the body. When we reengage with the hysteria archive in the context of the recent theoretical move toward materialism, a paradox emerges: hysteria discourse relied upon a mind-body connection, while simultaneously pathologizing said connection by rooting hysteria in the immaterial mind’s vulnerability to the material agency of the body. This paradox would have posed a dilemma for 19th century novelists committed to women’s health and social roles. When we examine the mind-body connections that Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy advocate, we can appreciate the new—I would argue, feminist—narratives their novels write for women’s individual and social health in the midst of this paradox. I ultimately argue that these material-based feminisms draw heavily on the form of the nineteenth-century novel, as the authors under study play with and manipulate stock structures—e.g., the illness plot, the marriage plot, the detective plot—to offer their new definitions of women’s health.”

HFU: What is your classroom philosophy when teaching? How do you get the students engaged in the classroom to fully comprehend the material?

MR: “As a teacher of undergraduates, I view literature as a tool for students to develop critical thinking skills and their own analytic voices, and I see it as my role to help scaffold and facilitate this process. Students’ personal experiences can be a wonderful jumping off point to help them better understand and appreciate literary and theoretical concepts. I often use small writing assignments that ask students to reflect on a given topic in their own lives; if we have come to a standstill in discussing a particularly difficult piece of literature, asking students to think of the idea in their own lives can help students to shift perspective and to see the difficult passage anew.”

“In my classroom, literary analysis and writing serves not only the means of deciphering textual meaning but also as a stepping-stone for empowering students to articulate their own positions within historical and political discourse. My course syllabi often focus on seeing literature in dialogue with the social milieu to highlight how literature contributes to and challenges the cultural imagination in which it was written.”

HFU: Do you have any hobbies you like to do for fun outside of Holy Family?

MR: “I enjoy taking ballet and yoga classes, seeing new exhibits at the Rosenbach, travelling through Europe, and exploring Philly’s neighborhoods.”