M. Catherine Coleman
M. Catherine Coleman is a Powers Fellow and Ph.D. student in the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts. Her research focuses primarily on the print archives of voluntary associations – organizations created by individuals for the purpose of achieving shared social goals in the North American colonies and early United States.
Catherine’s dissertation, Disinterested Benevolence: Literatures of Voluntary Association, 1700-1860, considers a range of eighteenth and nineteenth century organizations as forums in which deliberation, informed discussions of pertinent issues in public life and governance, took place. The process and outcomes of these deliberations were subsequently publicized in print. The concept of deliberation originates in political theory, but Catherine contends that it is particularly useful for approaching the print culture of reform during this period. The explanations and debates captured in these printed records influenced legislation and extralegal initiatives during the late colonial period and were essential to the formation of a republic premised on representation.
Disinterested Benevolence begins with the religious devotional societies and monitory moral reform groups initiated by Cotton Mather in the early eighteenth century. Later chapters address associations founded in the early nineteenth century including the American Colonization Society, which promoted gradual emancipation until the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The Society also advocated the hypothetically consensual emigration of free blacks and manumitted slaves to Liberia, an unofficial American colony in West Africa.
Catherine draws from a vast archive spanning a number of genres. Her primary sources include organizational records featuring transcriptions of speeches, meeting minutes, and budget reports. Historical documents and literary narratives serialized in newspapers and magazines and published in book form also respond to the often controversial practices and agendas of these societies. By considering the social history of the practice of voluntary association, in addition to the specific publications of the groups she analyzes in depth, she aims to promote heightened awareness of the role that written articulation and print technologies played and continue to play in deliberation. Catherine maintains that deliberation was and still remains a vital element of citizen involvement in democracies.
The Powers Fellowship gives Catherine the time and funding necessary to complete this ambitious project as well as the means to travel for research and present at conferences. She is honored to represent the University of Texas as an institution committed to promoting public social responsibility and active and informed citizenship. She appreciates the opportunity the Fellowship grants her to reflect upon how she and other contemporary scholars across disciplines can participate in encouraging civic interest and involvement in their scholarship and teaching. Catherine aspires to a future in academia and plans to revise and expand her dissertation into a book.