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Colleen Willenbring, PhD

Colleen Willenbring, PhD
Assistant Professor of English
Joined Eastern: 2012

Research Interests

I study the literature of Great Britain and the (former) British Empire between the 18th century and the present. Here I find writers offering thoughtful and creative insights about many of the questions and issues we care about today. I am primarily interested in the problems of poverty and the elusive ideal of economic justice, but in these poems, stories and plays, I see other ideas worth applying to our world as well: the value and preservation of the natural environment and its resources, wise progress in science and technology, avenues toward effective government, the role of religious faith in an increasingly secular culture, racial injustice and imperialism, changing conceptions of gender and gender roles, and the definition and value of individual identities. In order to observe these writers' unique ideas, values, and arguments effectively, I like to examine historical documents like legal records and government reports and contemporary journalism.

I am also particularly engaged by women's writing. I am absolutely humbled by the courage that women have shown throughout history in making themselves heard despite obstacles and expectations that kept them silent in public and political spheres. In my work, I explore the ways in which literary artistry has offered—and continues to offer—strategies and sources of power in this struggle even as it testifies compellingly to the invaluable contributions of women in the world.

Professional Experience and Passion

In my work teaching literature and writing, I am most passionate about equipping you with confidence in your judgment and your ability to apply it in your work and life. I try to model ways for these lessons to carry over outside the classroom, so I hope you’ll become aware of opportunities for expert reading and writing in your personal, professional, and political life. In a news story about the problem of poverty, which rhetoric is new, and which is 500 years old? How does the presentation of an individual in the story borrow from the characterization strategies of nineteenth-century sentimental fiction? What guidance might Pope's “Essay on Criticism” offer when you decide to add to the public comments that follow the story online?

Courses Taught

The Victorian Age
The Romantic Period
English Literature of the Restoration and Eighteenth Century
Survey of Literature of the British Isles
Literature of Women
Masterpieces of European Literature
Studies in Drama
College Writing


PhD, English, Marquette University
MA, English, St. John's College, Cambridge University
BA, English, College of Saint Benedict

Selected Recent Presentations

“Within and Without: Picturing English Poverty in American Travel Writing.” Paper presented at Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies Conference, 2011.
“‘Their Discontent has Been Abated’: Commissioned Happiness in Poor Law Reform.” Paper presented at Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies Conference, 2009.
“Early Modern Women: Almshouse Charters and the Law.” 42nd International Congress on Medieval Studies, 2007.

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