Maggie Berg is professor of English at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, an expert on Victorian literature and the co-author of 'The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy'.
Berg was born in Portsmouth and grew up in Hayling Island. Sadly, her father died of a heart attack aged only forty-three. Her mother got a job with the Portsmouth Evening News. Maggie was the oldest of the five children; she remembers that they helped to bring each other up. She was the first person in her family to go to university; she comments that had she not received a student grant, she would not have been able to do this.
Berg graduated with a first-class degree from St David’s University College in 1973; she remembers that she had a wonderful time in Lampeter. She was also the Senior Scholar, an award based on successive scholarships. Berg went on to study for a DPhil at Linacre College, Oxford. Her thesis was entitled The artistic relationship between John Ruskin and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
After her doctorate, she moved to Canada, supposedly for a one year post-doctoral fellowship as Killam Research Fellow, Dalhousie University, in Nova Scotia. However, apart from a year in France, she has stayed in Canada for the rest of her career. She held a succession of lecturing posts at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, McGill University in Montreal, and Université de Toulouse-le-Mirail in Toulouse, France. She joined Queen’s University, Kingston, in 1987 and has worked there ever since. She became a full professor in 1998.
Berg lists as her areas of expertise: Victorian literature, the Brontës, literary theory, and gender and sexuality. She says, ‘Studying Victorian culture lets us see ourselves more clearly through and in our predecessors.’ Her first book was Jane Eyre: portrait of a life (Boston, Mass. : G.K. Hall, 1987). She emphasized the two tales of Jane Eyre – the history of Jane as we see her moving and growing through her story, and then of the autobiographer reflecting on her art. Maynard commented, ‘And it is good to see a study that advances formal analysis of a work without merely parroting fashionable deconstructive moves.’
Berg followed this up with a second Brontë book, Wuthering Heights: the writing in the margin (Boston, Mass. : G.K. Hall, 1996). Brady commented that Berg’s lucidly argued and often original work rigorously analysed Emily Brontë’s often neglected linkage of sex and violence. She concluded that Berg’s book both introduced Wuthering Heights to the uninitiated and offered startling but persuasive new interpretations for Brontë critics. Berg is currently working on a third book about the Brontës, Animals and Animality in the Brontë Novels.
However, she is probably best known for her book The Slow Professor: challenging the culture of speed in the academy, (University of Toronto Press, 2016), written in collaboration with her friend, Barbara K. Seeber. They wrote that it grew out of their feelings of guilt at not reading a departmental email sent at 10.45 pm until the next morning, and at wanting to say no to judging essays for a competition with only ten days notice. The Slow Professor was the first book to combine the Slow movement with academia. The Slow food movement began in the 1980s in response to the fast food industry that dominated much of global food supply. The Slow movement now ‘challenges the frantic pace and standardization of contemporary culture’ in numerous areas. Berg and Seeber argued for a professional culture that praised not busyness but balance, one that ‘dares to be sceptical of the professions of productivity.’ They believed that academics ‘need time to think, and so do our students. Time for reflection and open-ended inquiry is not a luxury but is crucial to what we do.’ Berg and Seeber defended their concept of ‘timelessness,’ an escape from managed time to allow people to think, absorb and digest, or to read, teach and write more meaningfully.
The two authors thought they had written a quiet little book that would be read by a few like-minded people. In the event, they were blown away by the reception of The Slow Professor. It hit a nerve; it reached a global audience across a range of disciplines. Carrière wrote that it was difficult to imagine a full-time academic faculty member not enjoying it. Mainstream media noticed it. It was given a two-page spread in Times Higher Educational Supplement. Henry Martyn Lloyd reviewed it for the Los Angeles Review of Books and it was mentioned on Canadian national radio. Berg and Seeber were even interviewed on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) on a popular Sunday morning show. In some cases, people even formed reading groups round The Slow Professor. It has been translated into Polish, Spanish (for South American readers), and Chinese.
Berg won the Chancellor A. Charles Baillie Award for Teaching Excellence, Queen’s University, in 2005. She has won the W.J. Barnes Award for Teaching Excellence, Queen’s University, three times, (in 1998, 1999 and 2017). She lives in Kingston with her partner Scott Wallis, a visual artist and a preparator in Queen’s University gallery. They have one daughter, Rebecca, a psychotherapist who lives in Toronto.
Berg, M. (2019). Curriculum Vitae Maggie Berg. Retrieved January 28 2021 from https://www.queensu.ca/english/sites/webpublish.queensu.ca.englwww/files/files/PDF/CV%20Bio/Maggie%20Berg%20CV%202019%20-%20191008.pdf
Queen’s University. Department of English Language and Literature. (n.d.) Maggie Berg, Professor. Retrieved January 28 2021 from https://www.queensu.ca/english/m-berg
Maynard, J. (1989). [Review of the book Jane Eyre: portrait of a life, by M. Berg]. Victorian Studies, 32(3), 419-421. Retrieved January 28, 2021, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/3828504
Brady, K. (1999). Wuthering Heights: The Writing in the Margin. University of Toronto Quarterly, 68(1), 487-489. Retrieved January 28 2021 from https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/scholarly-journals/wuthering-heights-writing-margin/docview/224042875/se-2?accountid=130472
Mattocks, K. (2017). Book review. Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber: The Slow Professor: challenging the culture of speed in the academy. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, p. 115. Higher Education, 74,377-379. Retrieved January 29 2021 from https://web-a-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&sid=13513e9d-aa65-44bf-a2fd-d44492102085%40sdc-v-sessmgr03
Flaherty, C. (2016, April 19). ‘The Slow Professor.’ Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved January 29 2021 from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/04/19/book-argues-faculty-members-should-actively-resist-culture-speed-modern-academe
Scoville, C. (2018). The Slow Professor: challenging the culture of speed in the academy by Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber. University of Toronto Quarterly. 87(3),341-342. https://doi.org/10.3138/utq.87.3.41
Carrière, M. (2017). The Slow Professor: challenging the culture of speed in the academy. English Studies in Canada, 43(1),103-106. Retrieved January 29 2021 from https://web-b-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=fe917951-6265-47c8-951
Charbonneau, L. (2018, March 23). The slow professor revisited. University Affairs = Affaires universitaires. Retrieved January 29 2021 from https://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/slow-professor-revisited/
Shook, K. (2018, March 31). Review: The Slow Professor, by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber. THE Books [Blog post]. Retrieved January 29 2021 from http://sejinlifeforce.blogspot.com/2018/03/