By Barbara Melendez
TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 4, 2009) – With his distinct British accent and a cloud of shoulder length white hair swirling about his head, it’s not difficult to imagine Pat Rogers roaming through London in his preferred century – the 18th. The blue jeans give him away as a 20th century man. His distinct persona will be missing from campus temporarily. He’s off to Great Britain to teach and conduct research for a brief while.
The Distinguished University Professor and DeBartolo Chair in the Liberal Arts is going to be living in London for the first time during the next four months. Interestingly, he has never lived in a big city in his life, having grown up in rural Yorkshire. That changes when Rogers takes on an assignment as Visiting Professorial Fellow at the School of Advanced Study, University of London and he’ll be living in the heart of a city he doesn’t think of as British as much as a truly international and cosmopolitan one. While there, he will be steeped in research – the history of the book in the early eighteenth century.
During the time Rogers is away, he’ll be missed. He directs graduate students in their research and teaches advanced courses. Any graduate student who wants a guide to 18th century literature couldn’t ask for a more accomplished one than Rogers. He has authored or edited 44 books, most recently The Cambridge Companion to Alexander Pope (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and Edmund Curll, Bookseller (Oxford University Press, 2007). In 2004 he published the first full scholarly edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. An edition of papers from the 20th DeBartolo Conference came out in December from the University of Delaware Press. Rogers has just completed a biography, Hangman: The Earl of Coningsby and his Victims, and is in search of a publisher. He has also written more than 100 articles and hundreds of reviews.
The volume Rogers produced on Jane Austen’s seminal work, Pride and Prejudice, is considered an indispensible resource for those who study and enjoy her work. Unlike with his work on Edmund Curll, where Rogers discovered that no two copies of his works were the same and required exhaustive reconciliation of various versions, Rogers worked with bad printing and glaring typos of Austen’s first edition. He made corrections, added new annotations – not wanting to “overexplain or underexplain” – and has set forth the first complete edition of the novel since the 1920s standard edition.
“I feel that Pride and Prejudice combines satire and romance more successfully than any other novel in English,” Rogers said. "You see just how tightly constructed the narrative is, and how Austen releases the key information at the most appropriate moment."
Any discussion about his life at USF includes kudos for the library which has played such an important part in his research.
“I am very grateful to the library. The library acquired a great many older volumes from the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s which I have found very useful,” Rogers said. “The librarians do an extremely good job. I have access to 18th century newspapers in a matter of seconds and a lot of archival stuff that I used to have to travel hundreds of miles to see. Now it’s just a click of a button and I can sit at home. I can also find unpublished works. The searchable databases are a godsend.”
Rogers is pleased with his students as well. “They’re serious, committed, do the work, sacrificing family time,” he observed. “They are hard-working and conscientious and I like that very much.” He encourages them to “get into the habit of looking things up.”
One of Rogers’ students who appreciates this approach is Quentin Vieregge, a graduate teaching associate in the USF Department of English. “His seminars always generate interest and discussion among his students,” he said. “I've had the privilege of taking two classes with him, and in each he was always able to speak authoritatively on any subject a student brought up, often referencing several books off the top of his head. What I most appreciate about him though is his teaching style. His classes are always discussion centered, and in my experience every student felt empowered to introduce a new topic or question for conversation. Creating that kind of atmosphere asks a lot of students, but it's very rewarding for everyone involved when students meet the challenge.”
Rogers comes from a background where reading the text takes precedence over reading about the text. “That’s what I like to do in class,” he said. “Rather than get into what the people were eating and doing during that time, we look at what’s in the text.”
He pays special attention to craftsmanship and making sure his students understand the meanings of words in the context of their times.
“Candid had an almost opposite meaning during Jane Austen’s time,” he points out as an example. “And by reading closely you really get to understand her by connecting something mentioned on page 27 in discovering that it matters on page 106.”
What Rogers loves about the 18th century has a lot to do with the people and ideas circulating at the time. “There was Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Goethe, the American, French and Haitian revolutions, the Jacobite uprisings, as well as Handel, Haydn, Mozart,” he lists. He acknowledges how difficult it would be, though. “You probably wouldn’t live very long unless you were well-nourished and managed to make it through the infant diseases of the time.” He enjoys how easy it is for him to “…get into the mindset, feelings and emotions” of the time, where he feels right at home.
Rogers received both his master’s and Ph.D. in Literature from Cambridge University. He was recently awarded the 2004 Outstanding Faculty Research Achievement Award for his publication in the prestigious Times Literary Supplement of his article “Hurricanes Happen Hampshire: Defoe and the Great Storm of 1703.” The esteemed eighteenth-century scholar became the first USF DeBartolo Professor in the Liberal Arts and was recently installed as a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy in recognition of his outstanding achievements as a literary scholar. Rogers is among 900 in an organization chartered in 1902 by King Edward VII. On a par with the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, the British Academy focuses on the social sciences and the humanities, he is one of only 10 Corresponding Fellows chosen in 2009. These are scholars who live outside the United Kingdom, in addition to the 38 Ordinary Fellows based in the UK – all who have attained high international standing in their disciplines.
“Dr. Rogers’ installation into the British Academy is one of the most prestigious awards granted to any faculty member at USF in recent history,” said Ralph Wilcox, provost and senior vice president of Academic Affairs. “We are immensely honored to have Dr. Rogers on our faculty. His scholarship has had a profound impact not only at USF but on his discipline across the global academic community.”
Rogers joined the USF faculty in 1986. Previously, he was a professor at the universities of Cambridge, London, Wales, and Bristol. Rogers earned his M.A., Ph.D., and Litt.D from Cambridge University and a D. Litt. from the University of Bristol.
The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.