Dr. Tom Hanks
Many boys grow up dreaming of dragons and sword fighting alongside King Arthur, but Dr. Tom Hanks gets as close as you can get to the Arthurian fairytale. Most children want to slay the dragon rather than read about it, but Dr. Hanks was hooked on the tales as early as about first grade. King Arthur made him want to be a medievalist.
As Professor of English at Baylor University, Dr. Hanks is steeped in his favorite research topics: Sir Thomas Malory and King Arthur, his boyhood fascination. After earning a Ph.D. in English from the University of Minnesota, Dr. Hanks made his way to Baylor in 1976 where he began to publish on medieval literature. Major publications include “The Rhetoric of the Folk Fairy Tale in Sir Thomas Malory’s Tale of Sir Gareth,” “Isode’s ‘Sownyng vppon the c--sse of Sir Trystram’ in Malory’s Morte Darthur,” and “Textual Harassment: Caxton, de Worde, and Malory’s Morte Darthur.”
Since Dr. Hanks loves teaching undergraduates at least as much as studying Arthuriana, it is natural that he would invest himself in guiding student research in related areas. Dr. Hanks feels that research has immediate and practical value; it requires students to discover what is known about a topic and then to delve into what is unknown. These new insights are what Dr. Hanks finds exciting about undergraduate research.
Many students have sought out Dr. Hanks to direct an undergraduate thesis; in fact, he has directed two theses in the past five years, along with departmental MA theses and PhD dissertations. In other cases, when Dr. Hanks feels he has something to learn from the student’s project, he collaborates with students on publications. Most research students are those whom he has already had in class, as is the case with his most recent thesis advisees, Noah Peterson and Avery Erratt. Peterson tapped into Dr. Hanks’s love of Sir Thomas Malory, writing “‘No mercy, but mortall warre’: Familial Violence in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur.” Erratt chose a different path, researching the connections between young people’s literature and Margaret Mahy, a New Zealand author. In order to obtain the best research possible, Erratt actually traveled to New Zealand to interview Ms. Mahy in January. It was thanks to Dr. Hanks that Erratt was able to go; he encouraged her to do so and relentlessly pursued the grant money, she says. Although Erratt’s thesis is still a work in progress, Peterson presented his thesis in the form of a professional paper at a conference of the Texas Medieval Association.
What Dr. Hanks recommends for those interested in serious research or scholarly work is to find a faculty member or sponsor who specializes in something you’re interested in and begin chatting. If a student should be interested in an academic profession, this type of research is a must. However, even a daunting task such as a thesis or research project seems easy when you find a subject and mentor you love, like many students have found in Dr. Hanks . . . especially those fascinated by damsels in distress and Knights of the Round Table.