English Associate Professor and Students Work Together to Honor the Wordsworths

Associate professor Paul Westover and students enrolled in his Fall 2019 Romantic literature course curated exhibits to honor the memory of the English poet William Wordsworth and his sister, diarist Dorothy Wordsworth.

PROVO, Utah (Sept. 29, 2020)—Last fall semester, associate professor Paul Westover (English) tasked the students in his “Romanticism and Memory” course to create two exhibitions for the Harold B. Lee Library: one about William Wordsworth’s remarkable sister, Dorothy, and one commemorating the poet’s own 250th birthday.

Westover created this nineteenth-century literature course to help students examine memory “not just in terms of how the literary texts are embodying memory or talking about memory or dealing with memory in some way, but also in thinking about how we remember romanticism and romantic writers.” The research he has conducted shows that memory can be transferred not only by literary texts but also through sites, practices, and material objects.

As Westover thought about “what kind of assignment could help students do some memory work that would be valuable,” he decided to task the students with curating their own exhibits to be shown in the library in March and April 2020. While the March exhibit about Dorothy Wordsworth was shown as planned, due to COVID-19, the April exhibit celebrating Wordsworth’s 250th birthday was pushed back. Fortunately, it is now being shown in the Special Collections area of the library.

The current exhibition is part of a worldwide effort to honor the birth and legacy of the famous poet. In response to the many events happening around the world, Westover stated, “there hasn’t been anything quite on this scale since 1970, which was his 200th birthday… This has been a pretty big deal and it was undertaken in conjunction with a big renovation project at the Wordsworth Trust in England.”

Wordsworth has always held a special place here at BYU: “Certain values in his work resonate with our people,” Westover explained. “And so, he’s been a part of the curriculum in our English department basically since the department was invented. We’ve had several really engaged Wordsworth scholars in our department over the years, and we love to honor that tradition.”

Westover, who has spent much of his professional life researching Wordsworth and other Romantic poets, noted, “There’s something about the connection between our university and this poet that’s unique. We’re just the torchbearers in a relationship that has gone on for many years, and we hope that it will continue long after we’re gone.”

Wordsworth at BYU will be on display in the Special Collections reading room through mid-October. The accompanying websites created by Professor Westover’s students are dorothywordsworth2019.byu.edu and wordsworth250.byu.edu.

—Heather Bergeson (English, ’21)