Elizabeth Outka teaching a class


Humanities advocate

In October 2019, English professor Elizabeth Outka didn’t expect too many people outside of her field to notice when she published a book about modernist literature. The book, Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature, investigates how the deadly 1918–19 influenza pandemic reshaped the modernist era.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and she found herself a go-to expert for media writing about how people were coping.

She also contributed her expertise through her own writings. Among them is an essay she wrote for The Washington Post about how stories can be powerful tools for sense-making. “In reading and telling stories,” she wrote, “we will discover ways to live in uncertain times, to accept that we don’t know how or when the story will end, and — within this very uncertainty — to forge meaning nevertheless.”

In January, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia named her a recipient of its outstanding faculty award. SCHEV’s awards are the highest honor for faculty at Virginia’s colleges and universities, recognizing superior accomplishments in teaching, research, and public service.

Outka, who is Tucker-Boatwright Professor of Humanities, has been teaching at UR since 2008. She has written on topics ranging from consumer culture and postcolonial representations of trauma to disability studies.

“I have spent my career advocating for the importance of the humanities and for the vital role literature plays in reimagining our worlds, easing our isolation, alerting us to complexity and nuance, and connecting us to other lives,” she said.