When you talk to Matthew Teutsch about his plans as a Fulbright Scholar teaching at the University of Bergen in Norway, the last thing you’d think he would be excited about is the crawfish. But, Matthew is a man with a ravenous appetite not just for the delicious delicacies of South Louisiana, but for the culture and the writing that defines who we are as people and the decisions that cause us to rise up and take action. We talked to the Bossier City native and UL Lafayette alum before his big move to learn about his research, his future plans, and the opportunity he finds himself with that was made possible by earning his PhD in English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Why did you choose to pursue your English degree, and why did you choose the English Department at UL Lafayette?
As an undergrad, I majored in secondary education with a focus on biology. The degree required a minor, and I had enough credits for a minor in English. During my student teaching, I taught tenth grade biology, and I had the opportunity to teach an English class for two weeks. That experience led me to the decision to return to school to get my M.A. in English. After that, I taught several years, leading me to the realization that I wanted to continue teaching at the college level. That decision led me to apply to graduate schools, and I chose to apply to UL Lafayette because of its location, well-rounded program, and its connection to the history and culture of Southern Louisiana.
Tell me about your dissertation and your research as if I know nothing about it. What is the question you asked, and what did you find?
My dissertation focused on the intersections between African American, Native American, and white women activists and authors during the 1830s and the 1840s. Specifically, I examined their use of Scottish Enlightenment rhetoric in their writing. I found that there were strong connections between these movements. We typically link abolitionism with calls for an end to the institution of slavery. However, it has roots in fighting against Native American removal during the 1820s. The period of the 1820s and 1830s was an important period for all three of the movements I looked at, and each author deployed, in some form or another, aspects of Scottish Enlightenment rhetoric, specifically sympathy, in their texts. The further I researched, the stronger these connections became, highlighting the transatlantic connections that appear in many of the texts we continue to read today from William Apess and Frederick Douglass to Lydia Maria Child and Catharine Maria Sedgwick.
How did you find/come into your research project? What about it was of intense interest to you?
While working on a dissertation topic, I had different projects that I wanted to pursue. Out of all of the topics, the various connections between the abolitionist movement, women’s rights movement, Native American movements, and Scottish Enlightenment rhetoric stuck out. Initially, I read Albrey Allson Whitman’s The Rape of Florida (1884), a poem in Spenserian stanzas about the Seminole Wars during the early part of the 1800s. This poem, while written later than my focus, caused me to look at the connections between Native Americans and African Americans during the period I studied. The connections appeared again and again in publications such as William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator, a paper we associate with abolitionism and slavery, with the interactions between Native American and African American activists, and in events such as the Seminole Wars, wars fought, in large part, to keep enslaved individuals from running away and joining with Seminole communities. Historians have long talked about these connections, but I did not find anything in literary studies that really looked at the connections between these movements and events. As well, histories of rhetoric tend to focus on privileged groups in the university. So, I tied three of my areas of study (African American literature, American literature, and the history of rhetoric) together and explored the intersections between each of these movements. What interested me was filling in some of these gaps that I was seeing in the scholarship.
What experiences did you enjoy the most at UL Lafayette? What new opportunities did you have inside and outside of the classroom?
Where do I begin? UL Lafayette provided so many great experiences. I am from North Louisiana, and I have always known, living in Louisiana all my life, that we can divide Louisiana into two, possibly three, separate and distinct regions. For most, it’s North Louisiana and South Louisiana. There are major differences. After my time in Lafayette, I came to realize that what I experienced in North Louisiana was more akin to say East Texas. South Louisiana, on the other hand, was very distinct. I enjoyed being able to attend athletic events with my family, especially football games and tailgating. I enjoyed theatre productions such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Clybourne Park. Mostly, I enjoyed the school spirit at UL Lafayette. I hail from UL Monroe, and when I was there as an undergrad, I became frustrated because everything was LSU, and there was not much Warhawk spirit. So, coming to UL Lafayette and seeing the spirit and connection with the university, it made me proud to be a Ragin’ Cajun. I would be remiss if I did not add that I enjoyed the food the most: Billy’s boudin balls, Olde Tyme shrimp po-boys, Judice Inn burgers, Sophi P Cupcakes (Mardi Gras and Nerds), Crawfish Time, and I could go on-and-on-and-on.
UL Lafayette provided me with countless opportunities, especially outside of the classroom. I became involved with the Graduate Student Organization (GSO), first as a department representative then as the president. This role allowed me to see the ins and outs of the university and how it operates. It allowed me to work on important issues facing graduate students at the time, specifically healthcare costs. Along with my work as a member of the GSO, I worked in the Ernest J. Gaines Center. This opportunity was amazing because it provided me with the opportunity to connect with the community, gain experience working with archives, and to publish pieces on Gaines and his work. After my time as a student worker, and after I graduated, I had the opportunity to become the Interim Director of the Ernest J. Gaines Center, position that also highlighted for me that I am interested in working as an administrator and as a public intellectual who engages not just with students but with the community as well.
You recently received a Fulbright scholarship to teach in Norway — what are your responsibilities/course subjects/research plans/etc?
Over the course of the 2018-2019 academic year, I am teaching three courses at the University of Bergen. For one of the courses, I will be one of four teachers lecturing on American literature from the beginning through the present. There will be weekly lectures, which we will take turns presenting, and break out seminars. The seminars are similar to our courses in America. This is where we will have discussion about the texts. Along with this course, I am teaching a class entitled “African American Literature and the American South.” This will be a seminar course, and we will look at texts from authors such as Zora Neale Hurston and Charles Chesnutt through writers such T. Geronimo Johnson and William Melvin Kelley. In the spring 2019 semester, I will teach a course entitled “Modernism and Ernest J. Gaines.” The course will center on the work of Louisiana author and UL Lafayette Professor Emeritus Ernest J. Gaines to trace modernism from Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, and William Faulkner through to the present.
As for research, I am extremely interested in the opportunity to learn from my colleagues at the University of Bergen and from my fellow Fulbright scholars in Norway. I look forward to researching issues related to migration at the Bergen International Migration and Ethnic Relations Research Unit at the university. I want to learn more about the movement of migrants to Norway, especially from Africa and North America, and the experiences they have upon living in the region. This knowledge will help me in my work on American expatriate authors such as Frank Yerby.
How did you arrive at this point in your career path? What brought you to want to teach in Norway?
Sometimes, I sit back and wonder how I have gotten to this point in my career path. As an undergrad, I had no clue how or why I was attending college. I just went. Since then, I have found a path that allows me to grow and learn each day through teaching and research. That path has not been easy, but it has been something that I have loved doing day in and day out.
A couple of years ago, an officemate suggested I apply for a Fulbright since the job market is so dire. I thought about it, and I kind of put it in the back of my mind. Fast forward to the summer of 2017, and in the midst of preparing for another round of job applications, I spoke with my wife about the possibility of applying for a Fulbright. We discussed it, and we came up with a list of possible places to apply. We settled on the University of Bergen. I chose Norway for a couple of reasons. For one, it is totally different from South Louisiana or even Alabama where I taught at Auburn University after having earned my PhD. Being able to live in a country so far removed from the region where I grew up and currently reside appealed to me. As well, I was drawn to the University of Bergen and its academic programs, especially the International Migration and Ethnic Relations Research Unit.
How did your experiences at UL Lafayette prepare you for your new gig?
My experiences at UL Lafayette prepared me for the Fulbright in a myriad of ways. My time as GSO president and working in the Ernest J. Gaines Center equipped me for this moment. However, I think some of the most important moments came about from me becoming open to new experiences such as food, activities, and social customs. While I am also a native Louisianan, the transition to Acadiana brought with it new opportunities for me to learn more about myself and my identity. Going to Norway for a year will be a similar experience. I will learn new customs, foods, and activities, and these experiences will inform me as well. Being able to be open to these moments is important to growing and learning about the world around us.
Anything else you would like to discuss or mention?
While I am looking forward to this adventure, I am excited for my family because we all get to go on the journey together. My kids, 5 and 11 respectively, will enroll in a school in Norway, and I am thrilled that they will have the chance to immerse themselves in a new culture through learning about Norway and meeting friends at school.
There are many things that we are looking forward to, but there are two specific ones that stand out. First, as a Fulbright scholar in Norway, I could attend the Noble Peace Prize ceremony. This would be an amazing experience for my wife and I. Second, I look forward to bonding with individuals in Norway over crawfish. They have crawfish parties, typically in August, as a celebration before the onset of winter. Learning the similarities and differences in the ways that we partake of crawfish will be interesting.
If you want to follow along with Matthew and his family during their international adventures, his wife maintains a blog named Notes From Norway that offers stories and posts about the culture. For the more academic side, Matthew’s own blog, Interminable Rambling, follows his teaching and research in Norway and beyond.