Ph.D. Students Awarded Marsh-Gillette Fellowship

The Department of Childhood Studies at Rutgers University–Camden has named Brandi Venable and Matthew Prickett, Ph.D. candidates in childhood studies, as the recipients of the distinguished Marsh-Gillette Fellowship for 2014-15.

The Marsh-Gillette Graduate Fellowship was established by Margaret Marsh, a University Professor of History at Rutgers, and Howard Gillette, a professor emeritus of history at Rutgers–Camden, in support of the research needs of doctoral students in the nation’s first Ph.D. program in childhood studies.


Brandi Venable

Venable and Prickett were selected on the basis of their compelling applications outlining their dissertation projects and research travel needs, according to Lynne Vallone, chair of the department.

“I am honored to represent the department as a Marsh-Gillette fellow,” says Venable, of Kent, Wash. “I am particularly grateful to professors Marsh and Gillette for their generosity and continued support of the childhood studies department, and especially of graduate students such as myself.”

Venable’s research is primarily focused on the symbolic function of food in the lives of children, and for child characters in children’s and young adult literature and other media. Her dissertation is tentatively titled, “Wholesome Children, Spoiled Appetites: Conceptions of Childhood and Children’s Food Preferences in Popular American Print and Food Advertising, 1870s-1910s.”

According to Venable, her dissertation will explore the iterations of the “priceless” and innocent American middle-class child that appeared in popular discussion and printed advertisements during this period. In doing so, she will examine why these children were powerful tools for selling food and food-related products, how children lent validity to a brand name, and how the association with food limited, expanded, or defined children’s innocence. Furthermore, she will analyze how the vision of the “priceless” child reconciled with an emerging sense of the child as a consumer with his or her own appetites and desires.

Venable plans to use the fellowship award to conduct archival research at the Hagley Museum and Library, and Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library, both in Wilmington, Del. The museums house collections containing food trade cards, food labels, recipe books, women’s magazines, and literature on domestic economy and etiquette, among other texts and food ephemera.

She also plans to spend time at Strong National Museum of Play and Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, both in Rochester, N.Y. The repositories contain trade catalogs, material-culture artifacts related to dining and food preparation, children’s books and periodicals, and food-themed children’s games.

Prior to pursuing her doctorate, Venable served as an instructor for an introduction to popular culture course at Bowling Green State University. At Rutgers–Camden, she has also served as a teaching assistant for computer science courses taught by Dan Cook, a professor of childhood studies, and Susan Miller, an assistant professor of childhood studies. She gained experience working with children by serving as a youth sports team coach and leading theater workshops for high-school students.

Born in Kent, Venable attended nearby Kentlake High School. She earned a master’s degree in popular culture from Bowling Green State University, and a bachelor’s degree in theater arts, specializing in dramatic writing, from Boise State University.

Upon earning her Ph.D. in childhood studies, Venable plans to serve as a professor or administrator in higher education.


Matthew Prickett

Prickett lauded Marsh and Gillette for their generosity and support of the Department of Childhood Studies and its doctoral program. “When you’re doing humanities research, you sometimes feel like ‘who is going to care about this historical event or group or piece of writing?’” says Prickett, of Stuarts Draft, Va. “Receiving this award reminds me of how much the department and Rutgers–Camden cares about the kind of work I do, and see the value and importance in what I’m studying.”

Prickett’s dissertation research focuses on the constructions of childhood and the role of children in the new religious movements of 19th-century America, especially the Mormons and Oneida Perfectionists. He plans to use the fellowship award to fund a major research trip to Salt Lake City, in order to conduct archival research at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Church History Library, one of the two primary archives for his project.

Prior to pursuing his doctorate, Prickett served as a lecturer at Longwood University, teaching courses in composition, children’s literature, and American literature. He also served as an adjunct at Southside Community College in Virginia, teaching courses in correctional facilities for inmates looking to earn their associate’s degrees.

A native of Stuarts Draft, Prickett attended nearby Stuarts Draft High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English, and a master’s degree in English education and writing, from Longwood University, and a master’s degree in children’s literature from Hollins University.

Upon earning his Ph.D. in childhood studies, he hopes to continue teaching at an institution of higher learning, preferable at a college focused on training teachers and developing undergraduate education. “I’m a first-generation college student, so undergraduate education and pedagogy is very important to me,” he says.

The Department of Childhood Studies at Rutgers–Camden offers bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. programs that put the issues, concepts, and debates surrounding the study of children at the center of its research and teaching missions. Through a multidisciplinary approach, the program aims to situate the study of children and childhood within contemporary cultural and global contexts.

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