Before Liam Corley returns to Cal Poly Pomona this fall following a three-year military leave, the English professor will spend three weeks connecting with fellow scholars at a 2016 National Endowment of the Humanities Summer Institute.
Corley, who has been away from campus while on active duty with the U.S. Navy, will attend the institute, which focuses on veterans in American society, from July 10-29 at Virginia Tech. The campus’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and University Libraries have partnered with the National Endowment of the Humanities to host the program.
“This is an opportunity to spend three weeks with 25 to 35 other faculty doing research on veterans,” he says. “It’s a good environment in which to continue to develop new ideas.”
Corley is writing a book on the portrayal of veterans in 19th century American literature. Authors have told stories with veteran characters for a long time, he says, but their function and ascribed authority has changed since the early Republic.
Changes in the way veterans are perceived in real life has an effect on how they are portrayed, Corley says.
Over time, the type of knowledge attributed to veterans has changed. Immediately following the Revolutionary War, the public did not favor a standing army and there weren’t many benefits for veterans. According to Corley, veterans who gained public office and authority in the early Republic were trusted because of specific skills and leadership experiences gained in their military service and not simply because of challenges and dangers braved during their service.
There has been a shift in emphasis towards a more mysterious form of authority gained from military experience in recent times.
“Now there are many virtues and insights attributed to veterans because they have risked their lives,” he says. “So now you have this pull between experience versus rationally discovered and developed abilities.” Corley sees the difference in authority attributed to veterans as related to other divides in American society that pit research and experience against each other, whether in politics, religion, or education.