This past summer, Beth Frieden ’08 and Assistant Professor of English Sharon Alker traveled 4,400 miles to Edinburgh for research. There they spent two weeks in the National Library of Scotland, studying the works of Scottish Romantic poet James Hogg.


In a small room of a huge library, they pored over original 19th-century documents.


Beth Frieden, Sharon Alker
Beth Frieden ’08 and Assistant Professor of English Sharon Alker

“It’s a part of scholarship that can’t be shown in the classroom,” Alker said of their experience. “Being in that room, touching the manuscripts that Hogg touched, engaging with the past . . . it’s wonderful.”

Alker and Frieden were one of 18 student-faculty teams at Whitman who spent their summers collaborating on research after receiving Perry Grants. Some of the pairs remained in Walla Walla; others traveled as far as Jordan. Alker and Frieden’s pursuit of Hogg took them to Scotland’s capital.

The spur for their research is Alker’s forthcoming book project, “James Hogg and the Literary Marketplace: Scottish Romanticism and the Working-Class Author,” to be published within the next 18 months. Alker is co-editing the work with her sister, Associate Professor Holly Faith Nelson of Trinity Western University.

The book is the first collection of essays to focus on Hogg, whose work has received greater and greater attention in the past few years. Edinburgh University Press will soon publish the last volumes in a series of his works. “Hogg’s poems, novels and other writings are now far more available,” Alker said.

“Collections of essays are great because they bring together different voices, with complementary and competing views,” she added.

With her sister, Alker will contribute an introduction and an article on Hogg’s short story, “The Pongos,” about a family abducted by orangutans. The article prompted Alker’s summer collaboration with Frieden and will examine how Hogg’s working-class experience “shaped his view of empire.”

“We looked at context for the story, from travelogues of colonies in Africa to contemporary references to monkeys,” said Frieden.

Despite humble literary roots, Hogg now holds the attention of many literary scholars. “He wasn’t schooled in literature,” Frieden said. “He was raised as a shepherd and moved to the city. His work is very original.”

Frieden paused and laughed, remembering all the hours she spent deciphering Hogg’s texts. “He had horrible handwriting,” she said.

“James Hogg is present in Scotland in a way that he is not in the States,” she added, noting the author’s vast repertoire of work, from novels to short stories to poems to songs. “You can go into a pub and hear his songs in the very place he wrote them.” Frieden, a lover of folk music, joined the Folk Music Society while studying abroad last year at the University of Edinburgh. She has founded a similar club since her return to Whitman.

During their time abroad, Alker and Frieden met with many Scottish literature scholars, including Douglas Mack and Gillian Hughes. “I wanted to show Beth how scholarship works. Not isolated in a room, but developing a network of support,” Alker said.

They managed to leave the library for a few excursions around historic Edinburgh, including a visit to Melrose Abbey and a ghost tour. “I love to walk all over Edinburgh, and I know its streets by heart now," Frieden said. "It feels like home.” 

Though a theater major, Frieden considered English as a concentration and has taken several literature courses, including a special topics class in Scottish literature with Alker during her first year at Whitman. “English literature is not my path, so the Perry was a good chance to do something I care about but will probably not have the opportunity to do again,” Frieden said. “Most theater majors don’t get this opportunity.”

Frieden will not be saying goodbye to Scotland anytime soon. After she graduates from Whitman, she plans to enroll in a Gaelic immersion program at the Sabhal Mor Ostaig college on the Isle of Skye. She then hopes to return to the University of Edinburgh for a master’s degree in Highland Studies, focusing on Gaelic theater. “I have a lot more confidence in writing a graduate school thesis after this summer,” she said.

“Beth was doing the job of a graduate student, the sort of work I did when I was getting my Ph.D.,” said Alker. “I wanted to re-create that experience for her. I had high expectations, and she exceeded them.”

“The Perry Grant is a wonderful opportunity,” Alker added. “It provides the resources to complete one’s own research, and, at the same time, to mentor a student and engage in a different type of relationship. It enables students and professors to work directly as peers and contribute to scholarship that is internationally important.”

— Katie Combs ’08

Keith Raether
Office of Communications, Whitman College