Dr. Rachel Collins Participates in Institute for Willa Cather Scholars

By Celia Rittler | August 9, 2023
Rachel Collins headshot.

Dr. Rachel Collins, assistant professor of English and director of the First-Year Writing Program at Arcadia University, was featured in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s news coverage of its two-week institute called “Willa Cather: Place and Archive,” in which she participated.

The program, running from July 16 to 28 and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, allowed participants to experience first-hand some of the places that inspired Cather, an American writer known for her novels about life on the Great Plains.

Collins, who has published work on Cather and her work, was drawn to this specific exploration of Cather’s literature because of her focus on spatiality in lots of Collins’ own work. She says, “The notion of spending two weeks thinking about spatiality in relationship to Willa Cather was just really appealing to me.” 

Collins was inspired to use digitized records in her classes to give her students new ways to interpret historical fiction. Inspired by a session about census records and aerial photographs tracking the migration of Czech settlers, she is considering having her students do some work with aerial photography of settlement patterns, environment impacts, and social relations. “It was exciting to look at Census records and follow the Pavelka family, their experience as it was recorded” she said. “The data included not only the people, but the type of crops they planted and the livestock they raised.” 

After her two weeks with the program, Collins said, “It was my first time in Nebraska, and I feel it has been enormously illuminating” and that the institute “brought some rich texture to the scenes and lives we encounter in Cather’s fiction and the material conditions of their lives.”