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Inquiring Minds: An Interview with British Research Council Fellow Maria Shmygol

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The following is a guest post by Jason Steinhauer, program specialist in the Library’s John W. Kluge Center.

Maria Shmygol

In 2012, the John W. Kluge Center welcomed 28 promising young scholars from the United Kingdom to conduct research at the Library of Congress. The scholars – all currently pursuing doctorate degrees – are funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council, which have been collaborating with the Library since 2006 to provide short-term opportunities for scholars based in the U.K.

British Research Council Fellow Maria Shmygol talks about her research and her three-month tenure at the Kluge Center.

Q: Tell us about yourself and your research.

A: I’m from the University of Liverpool, and I’m in my final year of my doctorate, which is about performing “sea change” in early modern literature and drama. I’m exploring how developments in commerce, navigation and exploration impacted the early modern imagination and the representation of the sea as a cultural, historical and aesthetic space on the Renaissance stage in plays like “The Tempest,” for example.

Q: How did you get interested in the Renaissance and the sea?

A: I started specializing in the Renaissance quite early during my undergraduate program. I developed an interest in Renaissance drama during my masters’ year, when I also became interested in cartography. I’ve always liked old maps, and when I started coming into contact with more, I couldn’t stop! I became very interested in how cartographers were representing maritime space. The study of images on maps got me interested in other kinds of illustrations that have pictorial articulations of marine creatures. There’s something interesting in exploring the anxiety to fill the emptiness of the sea with some sort of recognizable images.

Q: How is it that you came to the Kluge Center?

A: I found out about the program on the AHRC website. I thought it would be a great experience to be at this library, have my own space to work, be immersed in the collections and have absolutely no distractions at all. I thought I’d apply to work with the extensive collections that the Library has in the Renaissance period.

Q:How has your experience been?

Image from Ingrid Faust’s six-volume edition of “Zoologische Einblattdrucke und Flugschriften vor 1800.”

A:It’s been great. I’ve had time to continue my work uninterrupted. I’ve talked with experts who’ve had really interesting things to share with me, especially in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Mark Dimunation, the head of Rare Books, had a batch of lettering and calligraphy manuals, one of which had images of mermaids and tritons made of calligraphy flourishes. That’s not something I’ve come across before, so it was quite an exciting find. He also introduced me to Giovanni Battista Bracelli’s “Bizzarie di Varie Figure,” a collection of unusual sketches by a little-known Florentine artist, which is one of only two surviving copies worldwide. One of the sketches looks a lot like a Florentine fountain I’m writing about, so I’m interested in whether the artist would possibly have seen that statue and then drawn the sketch.

Q: Tell us also about this book that you’ve had at your desk throughout your fellowship.

A: This is a part of Ingrid Faust’s six-volume edition of European early modern zoological pamphlets and broadsheets. It has quite an extensive collection of animal prints and pretty much covers every kind of animal, including sea monsters. One example is a French pamphlet about an anthropomorphic sea monster. The entry has some references to some other similar pamphlets that were previously unknown to me. I’ve tracked down such pamphlets with the help of the references in this book, and after emailing the Royal Library in Denmark, I was able to procure a PDF of a rare German pamphlet that deals with a similar kind of monster. I’m looking forward to translating that when I get home.

Q: Apart from translating German sea monster pamphlets, what are your future plans?

A: I’ll be applying for post-doctoral positions and teaching jobs and hoping to develop some new research projects. Maybe I’ll even return to the Library of Congress as a Kluge Fellow!

Q: Any final thoughts as you head home?

A: This has been a really great experience. The staff here are really, really helpful. It’s been amazing to have so many people that know so much about everything! To be here among the Kluge scholars every day has been wonderful, and I would encourage anyone to apply for this fellowship – it’s been an amazing three months.


  1. I find this information very interesting.
    I am a Library and Information Technician in Canada with roots to England.
    I would love to visit the Library of Congress one day.
    It is on my Bucket List.


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