Profile: Laurie Finke
A Multidisciplinary Person
When Laurie Finke was eighteen, she left her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, to join the freshman class at Lake Forest College in Chicago. She swore she'd never live in Ohio again.
Today, she smiles when she thinks about that vow, one she broke in 1992 when she returned to Ohio to join the faculty at Kenyon as the first tenure-track director of the Women's and Gender Studies Program. She should never have said never.
"It was an opportunity to shape my own program," she says. Finke first became interested in women's studies while at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where she was an associate professor of English. She has long been fascinated by women's place in culture and society, both as a scholar and a woman. Twelve years after her arrival in Gambier, the program has a new home in the Wing Center and nearly twenty affiliated faculty members, including, this year, a Kenyon Dissertation Fellow who holds a joint appointment in American studies.
"It's always a struggle for interdisciplinary programs to get resources and to get on people's radar," she says. But interest in the program at Kenyon has increased every year, she adds, and she's pleased with what has been accomplished.
Still, Finke is the kind of person who always looks for ways to build on her successes, seeking out opportunities to learn new things. It's a philosophy she's applied to her own research in medieval literature and society. She's published five books and dozens of papers on the subject. Her latest book, King Arthur and the Myth of History, was published earlier this year by University Press of Florida.
"I was born a medievalist," she jokes. "I was the kid reading Tolkien in grammar school. I didn't know you could actually make a career out of it." Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales are among her favorite works. She made her first trip to Europe when she was twenty-six. Now, she tries to go every year, combining pleasure with work by doing research while there. In fact, she did much of the work for her latest book during her travels to Britain.
Although she enjoys visiting interesting new places, she's also happy to have roots in a small community and at a college that affords her the opportunity to work closely with students. It's one of the things that drew her to Kenyon.
"At a larger school, you may have a student in your classroom just once. Here, I see the same students almost every year," she says. "I like seeing the influence on the students."
Her husband, Robert Markley, on the other hand, likes to work with graduate students in a research setting. He currently is a professor in the English department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The two have navigated a long-distance relationship for twenty-two years, Finke says, spending time together each day on the phone and via e-mail as well as through frequent visits. The couple have two children, a twenty-one-year-old son, Stephen, who is a student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and an eighteen-year-old daughter, Hannah, who attends a preparatory school in Pennsylvania.
Finke is a masters swimmer, heading to the Ernst Center pool three to four times a week to do her laps. She learned how to play the piano ten years ago and continues with her lessons today. And she's a second alto in Gambier's community choir, which is practicing now for a winter concert. "They are all bits of my life," she says, diversions that help her to relax.
She also finds rejuvenation from learning about topics she hasn't explored before. Her latest venture in that direction has led her to studies of the relationship between history and film, an interest that prompted her to begin writing a new book, Cinematic Illuminations: Middle Ages on Film, which she calls her "fun book." It explores historic themes in films ranging from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to Braveheart.
Dividing her time between her research and the Women's and Gender Studies Program has never been difficult, Finke claims. She likes to keep busy and is a self-professed "multidisciplinary person" who enjoys the freedom of crossing from one field to another. "How else," she asks, "could I have had the chance to become a film scholar?"