Earlier this month, I had the privilege of meeting with Dr. Scott Peeples, English Department Chair, professor, and Edgar Allan Poe specialist. Dr. Peeples smiled at me from over the lip of his coffee mug, an immediate conversation piece featuring Poe’s face and a memorable word emblazoned beneath: Dropout. I knew at once that Dr. Peeples and I were going to get along swimmingly. Throughout the interview, I picked his brain on a myriad of topics, but chose to keep the interview centered on his published work and his process for gathering research for these publications.
I was fascinated to learn who had courted whom in Dr. Peeples’ and Poe’s career-long relationship, so Dr. Peeples graciously led me through the journey that led him to Edgar Allan Poe’s softly rapping at his chamber door. After finishing graduate school at William and Mary, he taught at Louisiana State University before moving to Niagara University as an assistant professor. A Charleston native, Dr. Peeples returned to CofC in 1996 as an assistant professor, and has remained ever since. Dr. Peeples had always enjoyed Poe, but the infamous American Gothic author wasn’t always “his guy.” It was a class at LSU concerning the modern short story and a dissertation on the way that the popularity of magazines skyrocketed the short story, that sent Dr. Peeples circling back to Poe. He was interested in the history behind the development and growth of American literature, namely the short story as a genre, during the first half of the 19th century. As his research deepened, he began to realize the integral role that Poe played in this flourishing of American literature. People needed to pay attention to Edgar Allan Poe, not as a cultural or literary outcast as he is often portrayed, but as a key player in this amazing time in American history.
Dr. Peeples’ list of publications is extensive, and he contributes the early start of his publishing success to a lucky break during this very same LSU short story course. Presented with an incredible opportunity to write a novel about Poe at the recommendation of his current professor, The Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe was born. Soon his career was, in his own words, “snowballing.” Once he had published a book concerning Poe’s work, more opportunities arose, more journal articles were written, and Edgar Allan Poe had become Dr. Peeples’ “guy.” Sooner than he could have imagined, he was teaching a class entitled “International Poe” in the little town of Annot, nestled along the border of the French Alpes, examining Poe’s influences in popular European literature.
The most burning question I had, however, was what exactly English research meant. When thinking about conducting research, I thought of beakers and test tubes, complex diagrams and experimental designs. The picture that Dr. Peeples described, however, was a different matter entirely. Lit research is essentially arming oneself with literary knowledge, and gathering your arsenal in between towering library shelves and thousands of pages in historical archives. Even more fascinating, some literature scholars conduct thorough textual studies with manuscripts of the original works. This is especially true if the scholar is concentrating on Medieval or Early Modern pieces and the condition of the books themselves can be studied and analyzed.When conducting the necessary research for his numerous publications on Poe and on 19th century American literature, Dr. Peeples often involves undergraduates. He was more than willing to share some insight into the types of research in which an English major might choose to be involved. For example, Dr. Peeples has spent most of his time working with undergraduates who have applied for and received SURF (Summer Research with Faculty) grants. Two of his most notable projects spanned two very different topics, one of which involved a trip to the South Carolina Historical Society to study letters written by the women of South Carolina during the Civil War. The ending result, which Dr. Peeples and the student co-authored, focused on two cousins of the Middleton family during the Civil War. More recently, Dr. Peeples worked with another SURF grant student who helped him read a significant collection of 19th century crime fiction, resulting in a co-authored conference paper.
I left Dr. Peeples’ office uplifted. Hopeful, for the first time, that finding a research opportunity as a Humanities double-major wasn’t going to be an insurmountable obstacle. Dr. Peeples’ expertise and gracious advice has given me a new-found determination to make the connections with the professors whose research interests me. As Dr. Peeples himself can attest with the publication of his career-defining The Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe, you never know when an opportunity may present itself.