Dr. Danielle Lee (PhD ’17) at Columbia

Last Friday night I had the great pleasure of hearing SJU doctoral alumna Dr. Danielle Lee speak at the Columbia Shakespeare Seminar. As expected, her talk was brilliant, thought-provoking, and at times intensely personal. Since she graduated from our PhD program back in 2017, many of our current students and even faculty may not remember her early days as a doctoral student. But her path as scholar, teacher, and university administrator is worth celebrating.

Danielle is currently Assistant Professor of English at SUNY Old Westbury, where she is also Associate Dean for Academic Institutes and Programs, as well as the Director of the Social and Environmental Justice Institute.

The Columbia Shakespeare seminar, where Danielle spoke last Friday Dec 1, is a monthly dinner + speaker series that each year invites eight scholars to present their current research in the broad field of Shakespeare studies. Her talk followed recent presentations by NYU’s Susanne Wofford and Columbia’s James Shapiro, and other national luminaries of Shakespeare studies. (In full disclosure, I’m on the seminar board, so I voted, with my colleagues, to bring Danielle to Columbia.)

Her talk, “Queen Nzinga and the Example of African Female Agency,” continues to build on the work she began at a grad student at St John’s, including how early modern Europeans understood African cultures and individuals. In developing her notion of the “Sycorax Syndrome,” named for the powerful African female magician in Shakespeare’sĀ The TempestĀ whose name is on everyone’s lips but who never appears on stage, she demonstrates the ways that African women, including both the fictional Sycorax and the historical Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Mtamba (modern Angola), exerted much more power and influence that traditional histories allow. In the q&a that followed the talk, Professor Lee demonstrated a wonderful capacity for empathy, insight, and an understanding of how historical and cultural research can change things for twenty-first century Americans as well as historical actors.

We at the St. John’s English blog appreciate all of our students and alums – but it was particularly gratifying to see our PhD graduate speak at Columbia last week!

About Steve Mentz 1265 Articles
I teach Shakespeare and the blue humanities at St. John's in New York City.

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