MSU Honors Dean Selected for University of Oxford Research Fellowship
STARKVILLE, Miss. (Press Release) — The dean of Mississippi State University’s Shackouls Honors College is traveling to England to examine possible connections between MSU’s first Rhodes Scholar and the title character of “The Great Gatsby.”
During May and June, Christopher A. Snyder will participate in “Globalising and Localising the Great War Programme” at Oxford University. As an affiliated faculty member at the oldest institution of higher learning in the English-speaking world, he will conduct research on “Oxford and the American Army Education Commission, 1918-19,” as well as for his next book, “Gatsby’s Oxford: Americans in the City of Dreaming Spires.”
Snyder, also an MSU professor of European history, said he plans to provide fresh perspective on the Americans’ war experiences and return to civilian life. He expects his research to reveal more information about Army Major William M. Rogers Jr., one of many U.S. soldiers enrolled at Oxford following World War I.
Rogers first attended Oxford in 1911 following his 1907 graduation from MSU, then called Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College. He returned to the Oxford campus in 1919 to participate in a post-war continuing education project for U.S. Army officers.
While Snyder will be focusing on three soldiers’ war experiences and their trips to Oxford, he said he has a special interest in Rogers. The project resulted from a conversation with Jerry Gilbert, MSU’s provost and executive vice president, who had suggested a study of Rogers’ history.
Snyder said, as he examined Rogers’ biography, he began to see parallels with the fictional Jay Gatsby, the title character of “The Great Gatsby.” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, considered by many to be a literary classic, was published in 1925. Though it initially received mixed reviews and generated modest sales, the novel’s popularity grew over the years, and it was made into major American movies in 1974 and 2013.
“Rogers seems to have done in real life at least some of what Gatsby did in the novel,” Snyder said. “I had already been thinking, what if Gatsby was a historical figure–an American soldier at the front? Then, I thought, what if I wrote this book about the Oxford that Gatsby walked in? What if I extended that into a look into how Americans are drawn to Oxford, and their experiences in Oxford?
“As I worked on the separate project the provost gave me, I realized both of these projects go together,” he added.
Rogers trained cadets and officers in Alabama during 1917-18–the same time Fitzgerald trained there. Snyder said he considers it an interesting coincidence, and he looks forward to learning more.
Along with his research at Oxford, Snyder said he hopes to speak with Wayne Rogers, the MSU Rhodes Scholar’s son who is best known for his role as “Trapper John McIntire” in the long-running television series “M*A*S*H.” Snyder hopes to discover what the retired Birmingham, Alabama-born actor may have learned about his father’s Oxford experiences, which might provide additional insight into Snyder’s research.
Snyder said, an added bonus to his upcoming Oxford visit is MSU’s continuing relationship with the English university, which may enable more MSU students to attend there. He served as a mentor to 2014 Rhodes Scholar and MSU graduate Donald M. “Field” Brown of Vicksburg, who is pursuing an Oxford graduate degree related to the 1930s Négritude Movement in Paris.
“I keep negotiating deals for our students so they can have the best prices and the best experiences,” Snyder said. “The Oxford study-abroad programs can be an entry way for Mississippi State students to the Rhodes Scholarship and studies overseas.”
MSU is Mississippi’s flagship research university, available online at www.msstate.edu.
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