Meet the Faculty of Humanities Newest Faculty Members
Allauren Forbes, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Explain your area of research?
My research is at the intersection of feminist philosophy and early modern European philosophy. I focus on the re-discovery and reintegration of historically-overlooked women philosophers in the 17th-18th centuries in Europe. I’m especially interested in their discussions of socio-political relations like friendship, custom, and marriage – I’ve found that these relations are morally, epistemically, and politically transformative. I’m also interested in the ways that these women philosophers’ thinking and writing presaged what we tend to think are contemporary developments in philosophical thought.
How did you get inspired to research this topic?
In graduate school, I took a course where I read the work of Mary Astell, a woman philosopher active in the late 17th/early 18th century in England. I was completely blown away to learn that not only were there women philosophers active in that period, but also that Astell was at once enmeshed in the canonical debates of the time as well as developing strikingly modern concepts of freedom and oppression. I was so excited to learn about these early feminists that I’ve been working on Astell and her contemporaries ever since.
How did you get involved with McMaster and why did you want to join the faculty?
I grew up in Southern Ontario so I’ve always known about McMaster as a fantastic research institution – lots of my friends went here back in the day. When I saw that there was an opening in my area in the Department of Philosophy I was thrilled at the prospect of being able not only to return home to Ontario but also to join a department and institution where the faculty are committed to excellence in both teaching and research. It was important to me to become a member of an institution where both of these branches of academia were held in high esteem.
What are you looking forward to in the academic year ahead?
I’m looking forward to creating a new kind of classroom community. While I am disappointed that it is not yet safe to have in-person classes, it has presented me with the opportunity to be able to connect one-on-one (albeit via Zoom) with students in my lecture course with whom I might not otherwise have had an opportunity to speak. And, in making the class accessible online, I hope to lower some of the barriers to success faced by some students.
Kaitlin Debicki, Assistant Professor of English and Cultural Studies and Indigenous Studies
How did you come to McMaster?
I did my undergraduate at McMaster University in English with a minor in Indigenous Studies. After that I took a few years off – I think I was burnt out from academia – and moved to Vancouver. It was amazing but I got bored so I applied to the master’s program in English at York University. It was great, but I struggled to find community at York and found myself longing for the Indigenous community at McMaster. So, when I applied for a Ph.D., I only applied to McMaster. I reached out to faculty I knew there, including Rick Monture who agreed to be my supervisor.
Since graduating in 2017, I’ve completed a two-year postdoc that was cross-appointed across English and Cultural Studies and Indigenous Studies and now I’ve rolled into an assistant professor position.
What’s your area of research?
Trees. That’s the work that I did for my dissertation and that I’m currently working on turning into a book. I have always had a really strong connection and admiration for trees so I thought I would love to bring my two favourite things together: trees and books.
I’m Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk) from Six Nations of the Grand River and we have so many foundational teachings and epic narratives where trees are agents in those stories. Using an Indigenous methodology, which is based on the understanding that trees and the land itself is alive and sentient and can communicate and share information with us, for my dissertation I would spend time with particular trees and repeatedly visit them. I would use the learning from the trees to interpret a novel from a contemporary indigenous writer. The trees would help me have a deeper understanding of the stories that we tell, and all the stories would help me better understand the trees.
How did you get inspired to research trees?
My family would take us camping every summer in Algonquin Park. My mom would take us for walks through the park and it was excruciatingly slow because every time we came across a tree that had fallen or was broken I would burst into tears and hug it. My mom had to extract me from each tree. She said she tried to explain cycles of life to ease my empathetic pain, but it never went away to this day.
What are you excited about in the upcoming academic year?
I am teaching a grad seminar for English and Cultural Studies: North American Indigenous Literature. I’m also teaching a fourth-year seminar for Indigenous Studies on storytelling and conservationism. Both are inherited courses but the pandemic has opened an additional space for me to rethink what they might look like. For instance, the grad course is more focused on queer and two-spirit Indigenous writing. There’s been an outpouring of trans, two-spirit and Queer indigenous writers and scholars so I’m excited to be able to bring this work to the student body and explore what the course will be together.
I’m also looking forward to advocating more on issues I believe in. I really believe McMaster needs to do a cluster hire of Black faculty and restructure support around them. As an Indigenous woman, I knew there was a community around me. I want to support the same for our Black community.