October 2010

Teaching non-majors

As a full-time graduate student and part-time instructor, I typically teach lower-division survey courses with nebulous titles like "Masterpieces of British Literature" and "Introduction to Women's Literature."  My sections are populated by students with majors such as psychology, integrated physiology, molecular and cellular developmental biology, etc.  Since the majority of my students will never take another English course, I feel a great deal of pressure to inspire them with a lasting passion for poetry, drama, and novels--or, perhaps more realistically in the Hippocratic spirit of fi

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Why Teach Romanticism? Reflections on Course Objectives

Diedre, Eric and Crystal have all given compelling reasons for a contemporary "in" to Romantic literature. Diedre's stunning example of a student connecting "The Negro's Complaint" to poets in Singapore was complemented by her admission that she is "(still) a historicist critic." Crystal's argument that we should not let contemporary texts replace the focus of the course on "primary sources themselves," is an important rejoinder to keep historicism at the core of what teachers of the Romantic period do.

How do we, though, justify a Romantics course when we aren't primarily teaching survey or period courses? Is there, in other words, a purpose to teaching Romanticism that isn't contained within a historical survey?

Here's my reasoning.

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Rare Books in the Classroom

In a couple of weeks I’m going to take a group of students from Deidre Lynch’s Romantic Poetry and Prose course to the E.J. Pratt Library to show them some rare material in the Library’s collection.  Pratt has a particularly strong Romanticism collection, including such gems as the holograph of Christabel, many of Coleridge’s notebooks, numerous Blake prints, and a diverse collection of color prints by George Baxter.  Indeed, there is so much interesting material that it is proving difficult for me to select what to show students.  Yet in considering what specific items I will show the class, a more fundamental issue has arisen.  In the end it may matter much more how I show them things rather than what I show them.

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More Contemporary Connections (Keats and Contemporary Poetry)

Deidre’s great post on “contemporaneity” sets things up nicely for me to introduce the class I’m teaching this semester, a new grad seminar on “Keats and Contemporary [as in contemporary to us] Poetry.” In my department, we have an excellent creative writing MFA program alongside our MA programs in Literature and in the Teaching of Writing and Literature (we don’t have a doctoral program in literature).

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Contemporary Connections (Blake in the Guardian, Cowper in Singapore)

I very much enjoyed the conversation about William Blake’s contemporaneity that Roger and Crystal commenced in the “comments” section that follows her posting “Wordsworth in a Math Bubble.” Further evidence supporting Crystal’s remarks on Blake’s power to inspire the present is offered in this rather charming series of interviews with contemporary musicians that the Guardian newspaper has put together to celebrate National Poetry Day in the U.K (today). (Yes, “Bard Reputation” is a terrible title. And I admit that “contemporary” is not quite the right word, given that the interviews include one with Neil Peart from Rush, who is even older than I am!) Anyhow, Blake, Coleridge, and Percy Shelley’s Mask of Anarchy all get a shout-out.

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