Messenger - Vol. 4, No. 1, Page 12
Barbara Gates adds Alumni Distinguished Professor to her honors

     Barbara Gates, professor of English at the University of
Delaware, has added another first to the list of titles and honors she
has gathered in her more than 20 years at the University. Known as the
teacher of the University's first course in women's studies in 1971,
Gates is now the first woman professor named an Alumni Distinguished
Professor, the third professor to be recognized with the award. She
also is the first alumna to hold the professorship-having earned her
master's degree from the University in 1961.
     Gates says the award, which recognizes excellence in teaching and
extraordinary commitment to students, means "more than I can say."
     "I have never in my life not wanted to go into a classroom on any
given day," Gates says. "A friend of mine once told me, 'Barbara, you
should pay the University for the privilege of teaching. You love it
so much.'
     "Teaching is," the Victorian scholar says, "always challenging,
always different and endlessly interesting."
     It is Gates' commitment to change that keeps her courses in an
ever-evolving state. She is just as likely to change the topic she
teaches each semester as she is to change the content of any given
     "Take the Bronte sisters," she says. "They died young and wrote
seven novels. You might think that's pretty cut and dried, but there
are always changes to be made, always new discoveries to include."
     In material submitted to support her nomination, Gates writes,
"To my mind, the ideals and hopes of our student body have changed....
Even more radically...the profession of English has changed. If
students are less likely to be readers and to have a well-developed
historical sense-and I believe that they are-English is more likely to
have been theorized beyond the interests of most undergraduates.
     "Both of these changes require considerable shifts on the part of
the teacher, shifts that ask for more than a simple lessening of
reading requirements or ignoring of the complexities of theoretical
     "As a consequence, I have found myself redoing my courses in
terms of both content and style, so that the texts I use 'talk' to
each other in new ways and create a cultural context that brings the
present to the past and vice versa," she says.
     "I no longer feel that coverage is imperative in the way that I
used to. Instead, I believe in a kind of easing and sinking into the
     In addition to her dedication to changing the content of core
courses, Gates is known for her innovative course development. Over
the years, she has taught or team-taught a number of unique courses
designed around what she calls "a wedding of my avocations and
     Among these courses are ones in landscape and nature poetry,
poetry and ecology, nature writing, nature and Victorian poetry,
ecofeminism and team-taught courses in nature and human nature,
landscape awareness, landscape and literature.
     A leader in the University's development of women's studies,
Gates also was one of the first University professors to introduce
Native American writing into the curriculum and has taught across
cultures in all of the introductory genre courses in English.
Additionally, she has team-taught some of her Victorian courses with
professors in sociology and art history.
     In all courses, she says she tries to "relate the literature of
the past and of other cultures to our own culture, encouraging
students then to relate their milieu and individual lives to the works
being studied."
     Although Gates has lost track of the number of graduate and
undergraduate students she has mentored over the years, she cites as
her proudest moment the year her dissertation candidate Maria Frawley,
Delaware '91 PhD, won the Sypherd Prize for the best dissertation in
the humanities. It also was a year when two of the students in her
Bronte course were chosen to participate in the Research on Women day
and one won the first prize in the contest for the Rosenberry Award in
writing-based on a paper for one of Gates' classes.
     Gates refers to herself as a teaching scholar and says, "As we
work together, drawing upon those areas which I myself am pondering
and writing, I have found that my students have often enriched,
inspired and challenged me, rather than the other way around. I am
deeply attached to the art of teaching as communication, and I am
genuinely fond of students as people. These dual attachments often
make the hardest days brighter."
     In addition to her teaching and revising of courses, Gates is
hard at work on three new books: one on Victorian women writers and
nature, another a volume of essays on how women through various
centuries have popularized science and a third on ecofeminism-a
selection of literary texts.
     Her previous books include Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad
Histories, published by Princeton University Press in 1988; Critical
Essays on Charlotte Bronte, published by G.K. Hall in 1989; and
Journal of Emily Shore, published by the University of Virginia Press
in 1991.
     Additionally, Gates has published numerous articles and given
numerous lectures on topics ranging from Wordsworth to landscape and
literature, cultural attitudes toward suicide and the Brontes.
     At the University, she has been honored with the Excellence in
Teaching Award and the E.A. Trabant Award for Women's Equity.
     Gates has been teaching at the University since joining the
faculty as an assistant professor in 1971. She became a full professor
in 1988 and has also served as a visiting professor at Monash
University in Melbourne, Australia, and at the University of
California at Davis. She served as the acting director of the Women's
Studies Program in 1992.
     Gates received her bachelor's degree in English and history from
Northwestern University in 1958 and her master's from Delaware in
1961. She received her doctorate as a Danforth Fellow at Bryn Mawr
College in 1971.
                                                          -Beth Thomas