February 25, 2004

Charles Fanning wins SIUC's top academic honor

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. - Charles Fanning, internationally known for his broad knowledge of the Irish in America, has won Southern Illinois University Carbondale's top academic honor.

Fanning, who joined SIUC's English department in 1993, began his scholarly career in 1970 focusing on Irish-American literature, but he soon branched out to include history, culture and immigration. Without exception, those who wrote letters supporting Fanning's nomination say this put him at the top of his field or very near it.Given each year since 1984, the Outstanding Scholar award honors research and creative activity and carries with it a $5,000 cash prize. Fanning will be honored for his achievements during the Graduate School's commencement ceremony in May.

For example, Thomas E. Hachey, executive director of Boston College's Center for Irish Programs, called him "one of the most prominent and accomplished interdisciplinary specialists on either side of the Atlantic."

Wrote Emmet Larkin, professor of British and Irish history at the University of Chicago, "His visibility in Irish-American studies is second to none in this country and in Ireland. He has accomplished this by being a true practitioner of the interdisciplinary method and his professional achievements as an historian are only equaled by his achievement in literature."

Maureen Murphy, past president of the American Conference for Irish Studies, credits Fanning with founding the discipline of Irish-American literature.

Fanning discovered an authentic Irish-American voice in the persona of (19th-century, syndicated newspaper humorist) Finley Peter Dunne's Mr. Dooley (a fictional, Irish-American bar owner from Chicago with opinions on everything)," she wrote.

He went on to identify an Irish-American regional literature in the work of Chicago writers like James T. Farrell (author of the Studs Lonigan trilogy), and later, in 'The Irish Voice in America: Irish-American Fiction from the 1760s to the 1980s' (published in 1990), a distinct Irish-American literature. His work is a model for other Irish diaspora literatures."

All of Fanning's supporters pointed to his prodigious publishing record - 12 books, 16 articles in professional journals, 12 book chapters, nine book reviews, two encyclopedia entries - as a measure of his scholarly worth.

Noting that three of Fanning's books have won national prizes, Lawrence J. McCaffrey, emeritus professor of Irish and Irish-American history at Loyola University, described Fanning's writing as "the clearest, most elegant prose I have read or heard."

Fanning's first book, "Finley Peter Dunne and Mr. Dooley: The Chicago Years," - a book that Hachey said "remains to this day the definitive work on the fictional Mr. Dooley" - won the Organization of American Historians Frederick Jackson Turner Award in 1979.

The Turner prize is "a major honor for any of us historians," wrote Walter Nugent, emeritus Tackes Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. "For a person principally in an English department to win it is exceptional."

The Irish Voice in America: Irish-American Fiction from the 1760s to the 1980s," published in 1990 and winner of the American Conference for Irish Studies prize for literary criticism and related fields the following year, "clearly establishes Charles Fanning as the leading Irish-American studies scholar," McCaffrey wrote.

Describing that book as "a work of great originality," Eamonn Wall, Jefferson Smurfit Professor of Irish Studies at the University of Missouri St. Louis, wrote, "It would not be an exaggeration to claim that every research act in the field of Irish-American literature begins with 'The Irish Voice in America.'"

Wall also credited Fanning with training the next generation of scholars in "the model program" he developed at SIUC.

These men and women are now located throughout the United States where they continue with the good work of teaching, scholarship, service and promoting Irish and Irish-American history, literature and culture," he wrote.

Several supporters pointed to Fanning's grantsmanship: 11 fellowships and research awards in 10 years, including a three-year, $240,000 federal grant to underwrite the development of an exchange program with University College in Galway, Ireland. That program continues to provide, as SIUC English chair Michael Humphries wrote, "an outstanding opportunity for our graduate students and faculty to exchange ideas and materials related to Irish-American studies."

Supporting and fostering faculty excellence is among the goals of Southern@150, the long-range blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

Fanning, who grew up in Norwood, Mass., an area settled by Irish immigrants from Galway, earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard College in 1964, a master's from Harvard University in 1966, and master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968 and 1972. He taught at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts for 21 years and spent two years as assistant to the chancellor of the University of Missouri St. Louis before coming to SIUC. He and his wife, Frances, live in Carbondale.