What does an Old English poem have to do with English at Minnesota? Director of Graduate Studies Katherine Scheil tells the story.
Readers of this newsletter are probably familiar with the famous Old English poem Beowulf. But you may not know how readers of that poem continue to support graduate students in the Department of English. Here's the story: Frederick Klaeber, an esteemed faculty member in English, retired from the University of Minnesota to his native Germany in 1931, having completed his first two editions of the poem Beowulf. Klaeber was at work on a third edition when his house in Berlin was destroyed by an American bomb in 1944. Klaeber was injured, and his library was destroyed--all of his books, journals, notes and references lost. "The Klaebers are in bad shape--in fact, starving," read a letter from Germany sent to Joseph W. Beach, then Chair of English at Minnesota: "I doubt if they will be able to live through another winter without help." Beach and other Minnesota colleagues came to the rescue, sending food, clothing, and materials on Old English scholarship so that Klaeber could complete his work on Beowulf; the contributions continued until Klaeber's death in 1954.
Meanwhile, Klaeber's assets had been frozen in the U.S., and he was unable to collect the royalties for what had become the standard scholarly edition of Beowulf. In 1951, Klaeber wrote to the University of Minnesota and to his U.S. publisher, donating his U.S. assets and the royalties from his edition to establish a scholarship in English. The U eventually received his U.S. assets, but Klaeber's publisher, D.C. Heath, didn't act on the letter. In 1987, Klaeber scholar Helen Damico, professor of Old English and Middle English at the University of New Mexico, uncovered the correspondence and called up Heath. Two years later, a $25,500 backlog of royalties was sent to the U; the checks continue to arrive. Today, the Klaeber scholarship helps to support one graduate student each year by releasing the student from teaching and allowing him/her to concentrate on scholarship.
You may know that our graduate students receive a mix of fellowships and teaching assistant assignments, but, to date, no single fund can cover the annual costs of even one graduate student on fellowship. Yet it is crucial for our students to have dedicated time to do their research. "I feel so grateful--to the department in general and my donor in particular--to have been welcomed into the English department with an offer of a fellowship," says current student Laura Brennan. "The difference between being on fellowship and being a teaching assistant . . . means the ability to take a few more classes, explore a few more ideas, engage in a few more conversations, and feel that you've taken just a few more steps toward completing your PhD."
As state support continues to shrink, and competition among universities for the best students intensifies, private support can help the department ensure that we have fellowships to attract and support outstanding graduate students. "It's great that Minnesota gives us the opportunity to teach and that makes us so much more marketable," affirms graduate student Elissa Hansen. However, she notes, students also profit, at the beginning and the end of graduate study in particular, from the deep focus on learning, research, and writing that a fellowship allows.
We plan to profile more of our historic donors to the Department of English in a future newsletter--stay tuned. In the meantime, we would be grateful if you could help contribute to our graduate fellowships--no amount is too small--at http://english.umn.edu/giving. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.