Ph.D., University of Colorado, Boulder
M.A., English, Loyola University of Chicago
German Certificate, University of Heidelberg
B.A., Philosophy, Loyola University of Chicago
Michele Barale’s research interests gravitate around gender, queerness and aesthetic influence, most recently zeroing in on the author Willa Cather, modernism and photography.
“When I was 10 years old living in the backwoods of Illinois, I had never read anything like her in my life,” Barale says. Her admiration of Cather has endured over a lifetime, and is now a specialty.
Barale’s recent work has involved unpacking Cather’s identity as preserved in portraits dating back to the heyday of the “brownie” camera. These photos show a young Cather in what appears to be masculine dress.
“I am trying to make sense of Cather’s desire to quite literally see herself as an artist even as she refuses to accept as art the literally representational,” Barale says.“I want to know what it means when an author says, ‘I want my portrait taken.’ Who is she thinking of herself as being, or maybe, conversely, not being?”
When people look at the photos, Barale says, they often overlook Cather’s corset-bound waistline underneath the masculine dress. This corset represents the dress of the “new woman.”
“I don’t think that we can trust that what we have here is the ever-so-naïve young woman pretending she’s a boy,” Barale says. “I’m trying to dissuade readers from thinking that this is a visual proof of sexuality, a visual proof of the nature of desire.”
In courses including “Having Arguments,” “Realism” and “Queer Geographies,” Barale takes an interdisciplinary approach, which allows students to deepen their close reading of texts. She enjoys team-teaching with colleagues who have expertise in areas such as sociology, anthropology, psychology and film theory.
“I never stray away from close reading: I don’t know of any other way to read a text except by taking every word very, very seriously,” she says.