Victoria Rego could be the poster child for self actualization as a college student.

The English major, who will graduate on Saturday, May 13, 2017, is the perfect example of what can happen when a student takes the initiative to augment his or her own education.

Photo illustration by Reese Moore

Rego spent much of the past year and a half researching Sherlock Holmes and the curious phenomenon of people who travel to the sites that figure prominently in the stories and books about the character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Her research, which she presented at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research in Memphis, Tennessee, earlier this spring, is impressive. But perhaps even more impressive is how she came upon this area of study.

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“As a sophomore, I started looking into study abroad possibilities because I’d never traveled outside the U.S. before,” she says. “So many of the options seemed beyond my budget, but then I sat down with people at the College’s Center for International Education and they showed me that I could enroll in one of the exchange programs. It seemed to fit my needs perfectly. It was within my budget and would allow me to spend a full semester overseas.”

Rego spent the spring semester of her junior year at University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

“Since I was going to England, I felt it would be important to prepare myself by reading a lot of English authors,” she says.

She dove in and read works by Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and George Eliot, among others. And she took it upon herself to read Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.

“Those books and stories were fascinating,” Rego says. “I became really interested in his narration. That drove me to read a biography of Doyle, which introduced me to Sherlock Holmes as a cultural phenomenon. And that’s when my research project began to take shape.”

Holmes’ fame in literature, film and television — along with his sidekick Dr. Watson — is well established. The Guinness Book of World Records lists Holmes as “the most portrayed literary human character in film and TV.” He’s so famous that many people believe he was a real person, rather than a character from fiction. And that belief is readily apparent in the many sites around London and Edinburgh that cater to what Rego calls “Sherlock Holmes pilgrims.”

Photo Illustration by Reese Moore

“There’s an amazing number of Sherlock Holmes clubs and societies around the world,” she says. “Many of the people who belong to those — as well as other individuals — make trips to the sites that are featured in the books and stories. My advisor, Professor Terry Bowers from the Department of English, helped me to see that as a form of pilgrimage – a secular one. He actually hadn’t read the Sherlock Holmes’ series either, but took it upon himself to do that so that he could better advise me.”

Rego focused her research on that aspect. She sought to understand how something that might be perceived as a trivial, fun experience could actually be serious and deeply engaging, so much so that it might have a spiritual side.

Her work took her to Dartmoor in England’s West Country, the setting for “The Hound of the Baskervilles;” 221B Baker Street in London, where the fictional Holmes lived; and Edinburgh, Doyle’s hometown. Off and on for five months she visited such sites and interviewed visitors, residents, tour guides and Sherlock Holmes scholars.

“Not everyone who visits these sites is making a pilgrimage,” Rego cautions, “but there is a large corps of people who come with vivid expectations and active imaginations and their passion for Sherlock Holmes produces a sense of identity. I write in my paper how pilgrimages are supposed to change one’s identity.”

So, where does she go from here?

“For me, this was the perfect introduction to literary research. I hope to go to graduate school at some point,” she says. “I don’t know yet if I’ll pursue a Ph.D. so that I can teach or if I’ll choose an master’s of fine arts program for creative writing. What I do know is that I want to do more research.”

And that, as Sherlock Holmes might say, is elementary.

Featured photo by Reese Moore.