The C in RMC

Caption: Dr Erika Behrisch Elce and Captain Bill Noon of Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) Sir Wilfrid Laurier, ‘The Franklin Discovery Lecture Series’, sponsored by the Canadian High Commission (Australia), February 2015 Hobart, Canberra, and Sydney Australia.

The C in RMC

Most readers will recall that in the fall we put out a piece about research in Oxford by Dr Randall Wakelam, Associate Chair of War Studies under the ‘C in RMC’ banner.

Following is a second piece in what can perhaps become a series on the interesting, relevant and connected ‘stuff’ that academics do in support of the College’s mandate.

Often the boundaries the academic and the military pillars at RMC are artificial constructs; many of our faculty weave the military deftly into the warp and weft of their courses. This has been the case over the past two years for Erika Behrisch Elce of the English Department.


During a recent sabbatical Dr Behrisch Elce went geographically in two directions: twice to England, where she worked on a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada-funded project on Nineteenth-century Science, the Royal Navy, and Networks of Influence, and once to Australia, to participate in a speaking tour through Hobart, Canberra, and Sydney on the discovery of Sir John Franklin’s ship HMS Erebus.

Dr Behrisch Elce had already done extensive work on Franklin; her book of Lady Franklin’s letters – As affecting the fate of my absent husband: Selected Letters of Lady Franklin Concerning the Search for the Lost Franklin Expedition, 1848-1860 – was published by McGill-Queen’s in 2009, but in 2014 the Erebus was discovered in the Canadian Arctic, so interest in the historical search for Franklin was renewed. Not only did she speak on her research in Australia last year, but more locally too, in Kingston, and in Durham (outside Toronto), both on Lady Franklin and the discovery of the Franklin ship. These presentations have revived her interest in Lady Franklin, and Dr Behrisch Elce is currently working on a project about her and her role as an advocate for naval widows.

That link with the navy and with veterans and their families is a big factor in Dr Behrisch Elce’s connection with our cadets. As she says, “Everything I do in my own research filters through my teaching here at the college: I teach Victorian literature, and nineteenth-century science and literature, and my work on the Victorian preoccupation with cultural and scientific progress provides a strong foundation for class discussions on workers’, women’s, and children’s rights, the rise of scientific professionalism, urbanism, and the birth of the middle class reader. RMCC itself is also a Victorian institution, and in taking my students through the archives of some of the Old 18, they’re surprised to learn how much continuity there is between the 1876 curriculum and today’s. On a more fundamental level, my work on nineteenth-century Royal Navy culture helps me understand life here at RMCC, and within DND – nineteenth-century Admiralty bureaucrats were not that different from DND now: people with a strong sense of national duty and responsibility, under the constant burden of having to do more with less. The historical lieutenants and assistant surgeons heading out on exploring expeditions remind me so much of the college’s current students: full of energy and the desire to make a difference, and a willingness to learn how to do that most effectively.”

Dr Behrisch Elce’s research and teaching underline an important truth about our people. Defence policies, international relations and technologies come and go but the constant that our young officers have needed and will continue to need to know is that the humans in the system must be aware of all of these things in order to lead well in their careers. That C in RMC – priceless!

Article submitted by Dr Randall Wakelam, Associate Chair of War Studies