Upon arriving to the newly occupied office of Dr. Felicity Turner within Armstrong’s history department, one is met with an Australian accent and a warm welcome. When looking around Dr. Turner’s office, her bookshelf is filled to the brim with her passion. Topics such as law and society, women and gender roles and nineteenth-century American history catch one’s eye.
When arriving at the question of why and how she came to the profession of teaching history, Dr. Turner admits that she “took a long and winding road to become a history professor.” During her collegiate studies in Australia, where she originally hails from, Felicity Turner focused on a degree in American history. Upon graduating, instead of putting her history degree into action, she took an unexpected route and decided to work at an accounting firm that did business in both Australia and the Unites States. After almost four years of working in accounting, Dr. Turner reveals that one of the most important realizations that she had during this career was how much she wanted to be a historian, saying that “if I’m going to be working around the clock, all of the time, I want to do what I love.” So, the accountant/historian joined a master’s program to pursue her passion.
Dr. Turner calls her time spent studying for her master’s degree as “enormously liberating” and says that her years working at an accounting firm “gave the perspective needed” to complete the program on time. Dr. Turner has invested herself into researching the phenomenon of infanticide (the killing of a newborn or infant by its mother) in America during the 19th-century. The topic of infanticide allows Dr. Turner to become involved in many aspects of the history field such as: law and society, nineteenth-century American history and women, and gender and sexuality.
When asked how she became interested in this research topic, Dr. Turner says that her interest was initially aroused by a book entitled Beloved. “There are a handful of books that have changed my life, this is one of them.” Beloved, a novel by Toni Morrison, is about an enslaved woman who murdered her child in Ohio in 1856. After reading the novel, Dr. Turner began searching through legal records, newspapers and anything else that would help to reveal another piece of the puzzle about infanticide, viewing the gender perspective from the fact that “historically, only women could ever be charged with this crime.” Dr. Turner hopes that one might learn from her research “how much legal sources from the past can tell us about important cultural debates of the time” and “how individual women’s lives, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can teach us a lot about much bigger questions that are happening in nineteenth-century U.S. history.”
But what brought Dr. Felicity Turner to Savannah and Armstrong? Dr. Turner divulges that she first came to Savannah twenty-five years ago when she was still an accountant. On a whim to better explore and learn about the American South, she chose Savannah because it was “a pretty city, and it was during the really big midnight in the garden of good and evil time” and laughingly, Dr. Turner says that Savannah was the “first place that I ever tried grits.”
Dr. Turner loves to teach and she found that “this is something that everybody at Armstrong shares in common.” Aside from teaching, Dr. Turner has also for years advised students as to what their next steps could be in regards to deciding what they will do with their degrees and if they want to further their education within the field of history. Dr. Turner says that “it took me a while to get where I am, so I only have my own experience to go from, and I don’t think there was anything wrong with the fact that it took me twenty years to get from finishing college to eventually ending up being a history professor. Even if you took half that time, a quarter of that time, it doesn’t matter if it’s five years from you getting your degree to getting to a job where you do history. My advice, two words: be patient. Finish getting your degree…take the skills you learned and put them into some sort of workplace environment and work, take volunteer opportunities downtown…get to know people. Be clear that it is a long term goal, that the chances of graduating and going straight into your dream history job, it may happen, but for most people it’s going to take at least a couple of years. Be open to the idea that history can involve lots of things.”
The extent of what students can learn from Dr. Felicity Turner goes far beyond her studies into infanticide and its legal and gender implications. Her experience is a valuable asset that can truly help answer the questions of many students, not just those students within the field of history: How does one get from a degree to their dream job? How does one decide what they want to do? What one can take away from Dr. Turner is that it is okay to not know immediately what you want to, or where you eventually want to end up. What matters is that you love what you do; sometimes that dream job will require a leap of faith, and Dr. Turner encourages one to take it.
(Interviewed by Aubrey Tate)
Aubrey Tate is a senior at Armstrong working towards her History and Political Science major. Her research interests include the foreign policy of the Irish Famine and its global effect on immigration and 19th century European politics and culture. Miss Tate will pursue her master degree in History upon completion of her B.A. degrees in December 2015.
Aubrey Tate, “‘Be Patient’: An Interview with Dr. Felicity Turner,” Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History 4, no. 1 (April 2014).