Professor Sheila Fisher will give a Wassong talk on women, confinement and self-expression


Sheila Fisher, Professor of English at Trinity College, will deliver the annual Shirley G. Wassong Memorial Lecture on European and American Art, Culture, and History at Trinity College on Monday, April 25. -Expression,” Fisher’s talk will take place in the McCook Auditorium at 4:30 p.m. and will also be streamed live here. The lecture will be followed by a reception at Hamlin Hall.

Sheila Fisher, English teacher at Trinity College. Photo by Sonia Brand-Fisher.

Fisher will discuss possible connections between the expressions of two groups of women who are central to her current work: medieval nuns, mystics, and anchors (religious recluses), as well as contemporary women in incarceration. The questions she will explore include: why might some women find opportunity to express themselves in confined spaces, whether these spaces are chosen voluntarily or imposed by social forces? Why might the restriction of body and experience work to generate an expansion of mind, spirit and imagination? And how might these questions challenge us as we process our experiences of the pandemic?

A medievalist specializing in Chaucer, late 14th century English literature and medieval women writers, Fisher is the author of The Selected Canterbury Tales: A New Verse Translation (WW Norton and Company, 2011, and included in the inaugural launch of the new Norton Library series, 2021) and co-editor of In Search of Women in the Writings of the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance: Essays in Feminist Contextual Criticism (University of Tennessee Knoxville Press, 1989). She is about to complete her first historical novel, which focuses on two notable 15th-century English women who met and shared their religious experiences: the mystic Margery Kemp, author in 1436 of the first autobiography in English, and the anchor, mystic, and author Julian of Norwich, best known for his work, Revelations of Divine Love.

A faculty member at Trinity College since 1984, who served as chair of Trinity’s English department from 2005 to 2008 and associate dean of the faculty from 2009 to 2013, Fisher earned her M.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University and his BA summa cum laude with highest honors in English from Smith College. A recipient of the Prize Teaching Fellowship at Yale and the Brownell Prize for Distinguished Teaching at Trinity, Fisher believes that the richest and most challenging teaching in his fields fully engages students in the complexities and difficulties of the text, along with He cultivates in them ways of asking difficult questions of the works they examine.

Fisher is co-director of the Trinity Prison Seminar Series, which since 2012 has offered credit-worthy college-level courses at York Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s only women’s prison, as well as the Free to Succeed program, which provides mentorship to reintegrating citizens as they seek to complete their college education after prison.

Support for the Wassong Memorial Lecture on European and American Art, Culture, and History comes from a fund established in 1996 by Joseph F. Wassong, Jr. ’59, in memory of his first wife, Shirley, and supplemented with gifts from family and friends. . The annual conference features Trinity faculty members and rotating visiting scholars. Lecturers come from a variety of academic disciplines and their topics range from antiquity to the present day. Since 2010, this annual conference has been organized by the Trinity Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies.

Joseph F. Wassong, Jr., who died in May 2021, was the husband of Rebecca Skinner and the late Shirley (Gyurik) Wassong. He resided in Thomaston, Connecticut for most of his life and graduated in 1955 from Thomaston High School. Double majoring in History and Educational Studies at Trinity College, he was selected as a Fellow of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. After earning his Trinity bachelor’s degree in 1959, he earned a master’s degree from Columbia University. He taught history at Glastonbury High School for eight and a half years, followed by a 31-year career as a history teacher at Mattatuck (later Naugatuck Valley) Community College. In addition to his contributions as an educator – impacting the lives of over 10,000 students of all ages – he has been actively involved in the city of Thomaston, serving for many years in volunteer committee roles and of directors, as well as in leadership roles with the Thomaston Historical Society. He was voted Rotary Citizen of the Year in 1991.

Shirley Wassong, who died in 1995, was a graduate of Bryant College and spent her career as a dental assistant. In Thomaston, she volunteered with St. Thomas Church, the Thomaston Library and the Thomaston Visiting Nurses Association. A member of the Connecticut Historical Society, she also served as curator of the Thomaston Historical Society.


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