My LIT Grant Adventures in the Alice Archive

When you think about a memorable children’s book, what comes to mind? Our memories of reading tend to elicit visual responses, whether we’re recalling the cover of the book, a notable scene, or even an illustration. This is not a coincidence, as children’s books themselves tend to be richly illustrated. For me, the books I best recall reading as a child are picture books like Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd‘s Goodnight Moon (1947), Crockett Johnson‘s Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955), and Maurice Sendak‘s Where the Wild Things Are (1963). I can picture a green and red bedroom, swirly, purple lines against a black background, and Max’s pointed crown with ease. I also recall the movies I watched as a child, like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Alice in Wonderland (1951). It was not until I began to study these stories that I realized their visual complexities, which led to my dissertation project at St. John’s University.

The Lambda Iota Tau (LIT) Research Grant has been fundamental to my dissertation work. This summer, I spent considerable time with Lewis Carroll, John Tenniel, and Beatrix Potter in Princeton University‘s Firestone Library. Of course, I didn’t get to talk to them, but I did get to add my voice to the rich scholarship surrounding these authors and illustrators; I also got to put them in conversation by analyzing their original editions and manuscripts. As part of my dissertation project, I am investigating how illustrations in England’s “Golden Age” of children’s books address children and adults. I am reading Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) alongside other “classics” like William Blake‘s Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794), Walter Crane‘s picture books, Charles Kingsley‘s The Water Babies (1863), Beatrix Potter’s tales, and A. A. Milne‘s Winnie-the-Pooh (1921). Despite their persisting popularity and multi-age appeal, scholars have yet to discover why exactly we’ve come to love these books and how their illustrations contribute to their multi-age appeal. I turned to archival material within Princeton’s Parrish Collection of Lewis Carroll and their Beatrix Potter Collection of Lloyd Cotsen in order to answer these questions.

While my adventures have, thankfully, been far from topsy-turvy, as is the case for Alice, it has opened up new doors to studying children’s book illustration. For example, I learned about Carroll’s 1903 Alice “Adapted for Very Little Folks From the Original Story” as well as differences in cover-art across editions. I also learned how archival materials are stored and how to appropriately handle them. While at the Firestone, I also explored the Cotsen Children’s Library, which animates children’s books through their giant-sized architecture. Working with archival documents has enriched my professional experiences, has allowed me to consider children’s books within a larger book history, and will allow me to complete public-facing, digital, appendices with illustrations featured in my dissertation project.

Stephanie Montalti
Lambda Iota Tau (LIT) Research Grant Recipient, 2023
Upsilon Omicron Chapter
St. John’s University, Jamaica, NY

Lambda Iota Tau (LIT) Research Grant

Lambda Iota Tau (LIT) Research Grants are designed to support individual members at the undergraduate or graduate level as they complete original research that furthers the goals of the Society. Grant money of up to $1,000, with up to $500 for runners-up, will support travel to and use of archives or collections important to their research. The winning applicants will demonstrate the relevance of the research to English and English-related fields and may also describe the effect on current coursework, future research, or career pursuits.

Applications Open: March 11 – April 15, 2024—All research travel and the resulting written or presented outcome must be completed before May 2025.

Past LIT Grant Recipients

Turning Pain into Poetry with a LIT Grant
An Idea, An Idea—A LIT Research Grant
Discarded Garbage: Poetic Images of Humanity
Writing On Both Sides, A Tale of Literary Obsession
What Do I Write?

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