Professor Ruth Perry of literature has been awarded a 2006-2007 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to work on a biography of Anna Gordon Brown, an 18th century Scotswoman renowned among folklorists for her knowledge of the Scottish and English ballads of her time.
Ballads brought forward by Brown (1747-1818) were considered the aesthetic core of "The English and Scottish Popular Ballads," a seminal collection published in the late 1800s, but little is known about her life beyond the fact that she absorbed a lot of traditional ballads in her early youth and sang them to collectors later on, Perry said.
"I am very grateful to the NEH for funding this project and thrilled to be able to start sleuthing on the trail of Anna Gordon Brown," Perry said.
Perry's biography of Brown will explore "who she was and how she became the conduit for our common literary and musical heritage. It is the story of a woman's life during the Scottish enlightenment and the golden age of collecting folk songs at the end of the 18th century," she said.
Perry's earlier work on Brown's childhood explored the period when she learned ballads from her aunt and her aunt's servants and rural workers at a small estate in Braemer, Scotland.
Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Philip S. Khoury said, "Winning major fellowships is nothing new for Ruth Perry, whose scholarship on the 18th century makes her one of the leading literary critics of this period on both sides of the Atlantic."
A ballad-singer and performer herself, Perry is an internationally acclaimed authority on 18th century English literature and culture, women's writing and feminist theory. Her current research and teaching interests include the history of collecting, preserving and performing folk music, particularly in 18th century England.
Her books include "Women, Letters and the Novel" (1980); "Mothering the Mind: Twelve Studies of Writers and Their Silent Partners" (1984); "The Celebrated Mary Astell" (1986); and "Novel Relations: The Transformation of Kinship in English Culture and Literature 1748-1818" (2004).
Perry has been awarded grants by the NEH and the National Science Foundation for projects on the social context of science and has held the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Fellowship as well as fellowships from the Bunting Institute, the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies and the Rockefeller Foundation at Bellagio, Italy.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 21, 2005 (download PDF).