Dear NGSC blog followers: the blog has a new permanent home on our NGSC webiste.
Please add this to your bookmarks and visit us there from now on. Thank you and happy new year!
From the NASSR 2011 conference website http://nassr11.byu.edu/?page_id=4
CFP: “Romanticism and Independence”
The NASSR 2011 Organizing Committee invites proposals for papers and special sessions on “Romanticism and Independence.” The conference theme is capacious, and we encourage submissions that engage any of its many possible inflections: literary, aesthetic, political, social, cultural, scientific. Proposals from disciplinary perspectives beyond literature and the arts are particularly welcome. Please submit proposals of 500 words to email@example.com by January 15, 2011.
In addition to paper proposals, we also invite the submission of proposals for complete special sessions on the conference theme. Special sessions should consist of three presenters and a moderator (who may also be a presenter); please submit separate proposals for each paper and a brief description of the session. In the event that a proposed special session cannot be accommodated, individual paper proposals will be considered separately.
Topics for papers and special sessions might include:
- Generic and Formal Innovations
- Impartiality and Disinterestedness
- Religious Freedom
- Declarations of Independence
- Romantic Nationalism
- Atlantic Revolutions
- Transatlantic Independence Movements
- Romanticism and the American West
- “Indie Romanticism”
- Romanticism and Film
- Romanticism and Contemporary Culture
Please note that the availability of audio-visual equipment will be limited and will be allocated by application after papers have been accepted.
At the end of each semester, I tell students that any class worth its salt should give them something they didn’t have before they began it. Since I ask them to think about and name a few of those “somethings,” I figured I would ponder and write about a few of my own!
I was supposed to post more than a week ago, but it’s been one of the more hectic Decembers in recent memory; something that definitely affects the subject matter here. If you’ve ever seen the fabulous Disney movie Meet the Robinsons, there’s a recurring line: “I’m just not sure how well this plan was thought through.” Well, no matter how well I feel I have planned my semester and prepared for every contingency, there are always a few snags that bring that line to mind! Thankfully, those snags generally balance out with a few pleasant surprises I hope to repeat. So here, in no particular order, follow my top ten. May you avoid my mistakes, and have a few pleasant surprises of your own!
1) I need to explain what I mean by “revision.” How could I have forgotten, after my years teaching composition, that most students consider “revision” a slightly more involved form of spell-check? Foolish Kelli. Also, when I allow revisions, I need to specify that previously incurred late penalties still apply.
2) I need to be careful about what I assume is “basic knowledge.” I taught a freshmen-level course this semester, and simply assumed that most of my students would be familiar with various literary terms and forms, like I was by the end of high school. Not so! Most of my students had never discussed the characteristics of epic poetry, or written anything in iambic pentameter…not even a sonnet. Some students had, and they could help the others, but I was surprised more than a few times into backtracking. I didn’t mind doing this; it just showed me that I need to question my assumptions. Or perhaps I should do a little survey at the beginning of the semester to determine what “gaps” I need to fill.
3) I like giving final exams (not merely final papers). Tried it for the first time, and I think it exercises the brain differently, and involves a healthy fear-factor. Students actually study for finals, whereas papers usually get written at the last minute. Plus, my end-of-semester grading goes faster—that is, it would have, if I had finished the essays students gave me after Thanksgiving….see #s 4, 5, and 6.
4) I must consider how assignments I give to students translate into MY workload. This is my first semester teaching this many classes and trying to get my own work done—at least since 2006—and I did not achieve balance. All those assignments I designed sounded SO awesome when I put them on my syllabus! And I do think they facilitated some good learning…but they swamped me with grading! Though it’s part of my job as a teacher to accept the responsibility of grading and offering helpful feedback and critique, I’ve resolved to consider my own time and abilities as well. Time, energy, and mental stability are factors that must be respected.
5) I should automatically double the amount of time I think it’s going to take me to grade assignments. I should also never make promises about what day papers will be returned. And, I should become a better time manager, and faster essay grader, so as to hand papers back before students start asking about them…but that’s the top of the mountain, and I’m still in the foothills. Baby steps.
6) I will never again specifically ASK for papers to be emailed. Electronic documents are convenient in many ways, but hey DO NOT save time!! Just opening all the darn attachments takes at least as long as grading half the paper—and then finding all the right tools to leave comments in the way I want to is a huge time-sucker as well. Then emailing back the new file with comments means more filing on my computer desktop, and taking the time to find all their email addresses and write individual “here you go!” notes is another time sucker. Never again.
7) I love teaching texts I’m encountering for the first time. Teaching familiar texts certainly has a lot of advantages, but teaching fresh, unfamiliar ones is exciting and invigorating! I just have to be careful not to monopolize discussion.
8) I really like pairing texts, both for in-class study and for assignments. This semester I paired Wordsworth’s The Prelude with The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano. It led to some great discoveries about how similar subject matter (autobiography) can be treated completely differently through use of different forms (poetry and prose), and how those forms might link to the author’s audiences and agendas. I had students choose a passage from each text, and “translate” it into the form used by the other author—and I was so pleased with the results! I did learn that The Prelude is incredibly challenging for students, and probably needs close study on its own, rather than in conjunction with something else. Next time I get to teach this particular course, I will pair Frances Burney’s Evelina with The Interesting Narrative, since they represent completely different social and geographical perspectives, but still contain stories from roughly equivalent time periods of how relatively powerless people learn to navigate and succeed in their worlds. Sound cool? I think so.
9) I need to figure out how to be tougher. I think I’m a pretty tough grader and I don’t go easy on student essays, but I also give a lot of points for attendance, and I accept late papers for partial credit. Maybe I should stop doing that, since I ended up with a LOT of As and Bs, and still got an email from a student (a week after the final) asking if there was anything he could do bump up his grade to an A, because he felt he had worked hard enough to deserve one. Aargh. I’m a sympathetic softie by nature, but would like to have a flinty enough form of authority that I don’t get questions like that. Still pondering how to achieve this.
10) I still genuinely enjoy teaching. Yep, it’s always a relief to discover that fact, especially in the stressful crunch at the end of the semester, when my patience and sense of humor run out WAY quicker than usual, and I randomly burst into tears when looking at my stacks of ungraded finals and piles of dirty dishes (in separate rooms, of course). Those are rough days. Yet when the grading is all done and my house is clean again, and it’s Christmas Eve, and I’m looking forward to a new semester and a new course to create, I think I’m pretty lucky to get to do this for a living! It’s not glamorous, but it’s creative and challenging and interesting. Most of all, it helps me grow, which is what this little inventory is all about. Thanks for indulging me.
Happy Holidays, Everyone!
As I near the close of another semester of teaching ENGL 1500: Masterpieces of British Literature, I cannot help but reflect on the semester that has been. This course is designed to provide non-majors with an introduction to the poetry, prose, and plays of British literature. The course description tells the student that they can expect to read Shakespeare, Milton, and one pre-20th Century novel; the rest of what constitutes “Masterpieces” being in the hands of the instructor. This student is also expected to perform a substantial amount of writing, somewhere between 20-25 pages and to take a Final Examination on the course. But how well are my students being served by this set-up? What is the value in teaching Business, Science, Engineering, Philosophy, Physiology, Psychology, etc. majors how to write a piece of literary criticism? A survey of undergraduates (performed by me at the beginning of each semester) reveals that the majority of them do not like literature classes. As a result, many do not like literature very much either. This is a shame. We English instructors are extremely lucky to be selling a high-quality product–yet we do not always seem to succeed in marketing it. How can we help our students to experience the pleasure and wisdom of great literature? I believe that universities could do their students a great service by re-imagining the look and feel of English courses for non-majors. Read More…
This past Monday we hosted two great talks, here at CU, as part of our “Circulations: The Futures of Romanticism” series. Michael Macovski spoke about the history of the Book, with a special attention on the role that redaction plays in Romantic reading practice, and Michael Gamer spoke about the persistent pressures of fame and personal economic stability that accompanied Robert Southey’s establishment as poet laureate in 1813. I feel privileged to have been able to attend these talks, both for the valuable insights they offered relative to book history and economic literary analysis (two compelling avenues of study that clearly have much to offer the field), and for the important presentation strategies they demonstrated.
Since the talks, I’ve been thinking about these and other presentations I’ve enjoyed, mulling over what it is, in particular, that makes for a good academic talk. So much of our classroom experience, both as teachers and as students, is oriented around discussion, where we can riff, where an inchoate idea satisfies to propel a discussion towards completeness, where continuity is not always necessary nor even desirable; as such, the prospect of giving a talk, of owning the floor for fifteen to twenty minutes, uninterrupted, to present ideas for which we are solely responsible, can be daunting. Certainly, it must help to watch the presentations of others with an eye for the specific stratagems they employ, not only in constructing an argument, but in effectively engaging an audience. Read More…
Advice on the Job Market from Experts at RMMLA
So, I promised in my past post that I’d deliver something practical—and here it is! At the Rocky Mountain MLA conference in Albuquerque last month, I attended an incredibly useful panel on advice for students entering the job market. It proceeded in Q&A format, but I’ve rearranged and edited the information to consolidate major themes. No matter what level you’re at, this is really good stuff! If after you’ve read it you’re hungry for more, check out the recommendations on the MLA website! Lots of good, detailed advice there too.
But back to the RMMLA. Our panel of experts included four distinguished folks:
Ingrid Ranum – Gonzaga University
Catherine Perry – Notre Dame
Anthony Cardenas-Rotunno.– University of New Mexico
David Laurence – director of research and ADE for MLA
I’m sorry I haven’t kept track of exactly who gave what advice…but their messages were fairly unified. I just hope they won’t object to being mooshed all together! Anyway, without further ado, on to the good stuff! Read More…
The traditional literature class does much to perpetuate the image of a hermetic system. The student, in almost every instance an outsider to that system, is to read a text whose value has already been established within the system, whether by a traditional canonically-centered ideology or by the myriad political or historical ideologies that variously motivate literary study. The obligatory reading practice to be adopted relative to this text is one that is oftentimes foreign to students. We demand: the value with which someone has imbued these particular pages exerts an occult-like control over the method of your engagement. This is not a text that can be read from afar, or casually; it requires a scrupulous, an active, a restless and a difficult attention. Close-reading demonstrations and exercises become the incantations that manifest the space of literary analysis. Students enter into this conjure room, having struggled to adopt that practice, and unload the fruits of their labors in discussion. They leave. They refocus. They return. They pour their energies out into the open air. Meanwhile they produce documents, exercises in literary analysis that are presumed to be of great value within the system, and of almost no value outside of it (the rarity with which students will return to claim end-of-semester work the following semester speaks to the degree to which they know this to be true). At the end of the semester they are awarded a grade that evaluates their capacity to accommodate themselves to the expectations of the system. They are sent on their way. They are not asked to return, nor is it suggested directly that they take anything with them. Read More…
Last night I attended Johanna Drucker’s talk entitled “The Future of the Book.” Looking for the new Visual Arts Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, I followed a line of people through a set of doors and thought I was there. As I held the door for an older gentleman who seemed to be following his grandson, I asked him if he was going to hear The Future of the Book lecture. He giggled and replied, “We’re going to young scholars’ night. You’re in the chemistry building, dear.” Whoops. Some zig-zagging later and I found the VAC, my academic-looking crowd, and my seat.
I had never heard Drucker talk before, and knew only generally about her work and her most recent book, SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing, but that was enough information to charm me to the presentation. Her presentation attracted a somewhat-diverse humanities crowd: I saw several of my peeps from the English department (among them a Chaucerian who also studies comics; a Renaissance scholar; a new media scholar; a postmodernist; and a poet), and detected groups also from the visual arts, history, education, media studies, and librarians and archivists. Individuals ranged from professors to grad students to elderly members of the public to sub-ten-year-old children accompanying their parent. One little girl came with a mini suitcase of organized markers and paper, and colored quietly and diligently for the entire talk.
The little girl coloring seemed to have her marker-smudged fingers on the pulse of Drucker’s talk, as did the Young Scholars’ Night crowd I accidentally joined. Though the speaker’s material presented a very serious look at the history of the book and used that information to make a prediction about its future (or rather how we humanists can shape its future), her style was playful and, in fact, provided a serious message of the importance of “play” to the evolution of authorship, readers, and texts.
Drucker folded examples of play, humor, entertainment, and recreation into her talk with a subtlety that seemed not to phase the scholarly vibe of the majority of the audience.
The first slide showed Keanu Reeves in The Matrix–in order to illustrate the fantasy of a disembodied virtual utopia. Juxtaposing the intelligent virtual and Keanu drew chuckles round the house, and Drucker was just getting started. She also showed slides of e-readers in different shapes, including the form of newspaper pages large enough to shield the privates of a guy on the john. She then addressed the history of print and dove backward in time to Gutenberg’s press and figures like Tyndale, where she made the requisite “he had a lot at stake” joke. We then saw slides of early playing cards and learned how printers were asked by the church to stop producing them, as the populace took too easily to gambling. After other examples, she ended with a vision of the way a “novel” of the future might work: Drucker describes a narrative that seems folded into news in realtime that reaches you through mobile devices and that changes as you make decisions about how to interact with the narrative. It is multimedia, multi-player, and multi-platform. It sounded a bit like the Michael Douglas movie The Game, and also a little bit like Stranger Than Fiction. Serious play, in which our concepts of fiction and real life blend and disrupt each other in new ways.
Maybe I’ve just been studying for comps for too long and neglecting proper recreation, but I couldn’t help but find the message of seriously play–or “adult swim”–in Drucker’s talk about the future of the book. Her presentation suggested to me that the meaning of play, play-ers, play media, and conversely the definition of “work” (noun and verb), have a giant impact on the way we treat reading technologies now and will treat new reading and authoring technologies in the future.
It is late October, and despite my academic commitments, teaching and reading which persist in intensity even as the season is dying down, I cannot help but think of Halloween. I still afford it no small measure of priority. Surely, my fondness for ghouls and ghosts as entangled with gourds and cider partakes of some nostalgia. I recall the youthful enticements of sweets and neighborhood sociability, and the thrill of becoming, for an evening, a licensed hellion. But I suspect the appeal of the holiday has grown along with me. Perhaps, in a profession for which self-branding is such a dominant and ever-present concern, one night a year of masquerade is a welcome, even a necessary diversion. Though I may, in fact, recite “Tam O’ Shanter” at a Halloween party, or in a mellower moment “To Autumn,” on October 31st I need not be a Romanticist.
But what shall I be? What an agonizing decision this can be for us self-fashioners. We cannot merely decide what we will seem like on Halloween, we also must decide what we will be. We decide upon the costume based on what it says about the submerged identity. I find myself torn between several possibilities. First, the Sublime. In this costume I dress as normal, except I wear a cap with a lime glued to the bill. I am sub-lime. But who am I sub-sublime? Clearly I’m intellectual: I’ve dressed as a concept for Halloween. But I’m also flippant—I’ve reduced a complex philosophical idea about the limits of perception and expression to a fruit pun. Don’t worry about me; I don’t take things too seriously. It appears I have a wry sense of humor. And there’s more than a little exclusion to this costume; depending on what Halloween party I’m going to, I must expect that there will be some who don’t get the joke. But I’m comfortable with that; in fact, I wouldn’t mind having to explain the joke. Perhaps this costume also says: “I’m fairly casual when it comes to Halloween. You’ll not confuse me for a Halloween enthusiast.”
Or there’s Jareth, the goblin-king, from the movie Labyrinth. This one’s primarily nostalgic and a bit more earnest; it gazes fondly on the same childhood that engendered my love for the holiday. It took some assembling and, unlike the sublime, is not dismissive of the festivities. With its revealing tights it’s also a bit more daring—a flamboyant statement of personal bodily comfort. Or there’s Bill Compton from True Blood: pop-culture savvy, less exclusive than the sublime and less nostalgic than the goblin-king. This one announces, “I participate in my own cultural moment. I am not too cloistered to Pop.” There is also a whole host of possibilities already discarded for the undesirable personas (undesirable at the present time) they manifest. The perennial dead celebrity costume is too callous and may gesture towards an unoriginal sense of humor. Ditto, the ironic disaster costume. And while historical, literary, or political personas are not off the table for Halloweens in perpetuity, each would announce affiliations I don’t currently feel compelled to own.
This year the problem is complicated by the fact that I’ve invited my Shakespeare class to attend on Thursday in a Shakespeare-themed costume. I’ve devoted some time at the beginning of the period to having a costume contest, judged on cleverness and creativity. And I should probably participate, for what kind of person wears no costume. Now I must fit the costume to a new context: the classroom. It will not merely generate an identity, but an identity-as-instructor. The possibilities repeat themselves: do I go as a character (perhaps Malvolio cross-gartered), an absurd detail (Titus Andronicus’s disembodied hand), a genre (comedy). So many possibilities. How will I ever settle upon one? Have I properly considered the pedagogical repercussions of each? Beset by such a plethora of identities, how could I not despair?
Except, it occurs to me, I have already worn costumes to teach because, in some degree, this is what the “teaching persona” always is. And as assiduously as we focus on the “seems” of the persona, we take for granted the “is” that we are constantly constructing. Underlying each in-class tic and foible is an out-of-class phantom identity. Have you ever gone to class dressed as the “wise fool”? This persona is often characterized by a self-deprecating humor that never spills over into buffoonery. The fool’s prerogative is the juxtaposition of gravest truth and levity, and as such the fool often pitches its voice into mock gravity when reading, or transports high literature into foreign contexts to absurd effect. This persona announces an identity capable of unserious engagement. It attempts to bridge the various gaps between students and instructors by transmuting all concepts into their least-threatening forms. The out-of-class fool must be approachable (because harmless), lighthearted, jovial, a committed ironist. At the same time this persona secures its self-assuredness by asserting, in a move surely crafted to anticipate the myriad ego-battering dangers of teaching, “you cannot make light of me, for I have already made light of myself.”
A related but distinct persona is the “comedian.” Also operating by humor, but relying less on the diminishment of seriousness and more on a carefully crafted comic timing, the comedian is more charismatic than the fool. Then there is the “lover of literature.” In class this persona will sometimes be overcome by the course texts, even to the point of being (strategically) unable to articulate how impressive or important the text really is. Sometimes too this persona allows the effects of textual sentiment to play upon its countenance. All of this is a calculated performance to establish the passion of the out-of class identity, as well as its seriousness. Also worth considering is the “authoritarian,” who makes much, in class, of the rules and expectations of the course. Conspicuous about the authoritarian is that, rather than communicating an out-of-class identity, this persona assures the students that such an identity exists, but that they will have no access to it. Another fairly common persona is the “molder of minds” who demonstrates a strategic disregard for the stuffy conceptual detritus that accompanies literary formalism. This persona communicates to the students that it is less interested in filling their minds with literary facts and more interested in activating their potential. As such, in-class conversations wax philosophical or broadly cultural. As with each other instance, this persona creates its corresponding identity: one approachable for its worldliness, for its broad range of ideas, for its commitment to spilling outside of the boundaries of the traditional. In each case, the implied identity serves as the truth-of-personality that allows for today’s student to identify with an instructor he or she knows almost nothing about.
No doubt, I have not exhausted the list of possible personas. And I suspect that very rarely does an instructor or professor pass even an entire week dressed solely in one or another pedagogical costume. Where Halloween lasts only one evening, teaching is most often a lifetime commitment. It may be tempting to presume that the personas we adopt in-class arise from our innermost personal convictions, but it is far more advantageous to consider that the identity comes after the persona, a means of backstopping the complex of rhetorical and pedagogical decisions that we make every day. One class may respond better to the assured confidence of the comedian, while another warms to the affable stumbling of the fool. In a moment of weakness any class (and perhaps many instructors and professors) may need the alienating distance of the authoritarian. Considering these personas, and even the communicated identities underlying, as so many interchangeable strategies helps to keep us from being entranced by our own costumery. It is, after all, when we believe that the failures of any given persona to connect in the classroom arise from an inborn character flaw, rather than a rhetorical or performative misstep, that we fall into pedagogical despair. It is when we assume that a persona has blossomed from some incontrovertible aspect of our stable selves that we are deprived of the fluidity necessary to good teaching.
Such a mistake would be tantamount to imagining that my Halloween costume reflected who I was, rather than who I had decided, for the evening, to be. That would in turn mean dressing in the same costume year-in and year-out. And while I have, in bygone busy years, over-relied on the at hand ease of the cowboy costume, I would hate to be doomed to the poncho and Stetson for all eternity.