Posts in category "What Are You Teaching?"

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What are you teaching? (Alan Richardson)

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Our thanks to Laura Mandell, who solicited this interesting response from Alan Richardson to the question, "What are you teaching?"

This semester I'm teaching an entirely new version of my course, "Romantic Writing." I've offered various incarnations of this course over the past 15 years, with anything from 15 to 40 students involved. When the class size is small enough (under 25), I ask for a good deal of journal writing instead of exams, and writing back to the Romantic-era texts becomes part of the "writing" promised by the course title. More centrally, though, I wanted "writing" to displace traditional associations between Romanticism and poetry and (to a lesser extent) between Romanticism and the novel (roman). So, all versions of the course involve a fairly democratic treatment of many different kinds of Romantic-era writing, including borderline "literary" cases (e.g. private letters, journals, polemical writing) as well as poetry, fiction, familiar essays, and autobiography. We explore how different genres involve different stakes, positions, aims, but also how certain discursive strategies or moves can cut across genres, often in unexpected ways.

This semester I was asked to give the course as an undergrad seminar, limited to 15 students and meeting once a week for 2 hours. The weekly meeting format inspired me to think of the course in an entirely new way, as a set of loosely interlinked modules (13 weeks, 12 modules) organized by topic. The web of connections among the various topics has proliferated so much, however, that I'm tempted to withdraw the "loosely" qualifier from the previous sentence. The topics include slavery and abolition, the French Revolution and British reaction, the rights of woman and changing notions of femininity, Romantic and un- or anti-Romantic representations of childhood, changing modes of self-representation, Orientalism, the Americas, nationalism(s) and British identity, incest and the crisis of the family, new versions of pastoral, and two modules on "avant-garde poetics." I added these two because I felt it important to stress the literary-cultural innovation of the times directly, "poetics" including iconoclastic discussions of the novel, of drama, and of women's poetry as well as expected literary-critical documents like the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads and the Defence of Poetry. I found most everything I wanted in the Mellor/Matlak anthology British Literature 1780-1830, except in relation to Orientalism. There, however, I found just the texts I wanted (The Giaour and "Murad the Unlucky") in a New Riverside volume, Three Oriental Tales, not surprisingly because I edited it myself! One of the pleasures of the course has involved taking more full advantage of Mellor/Matlak than I have in the past, drawing on the "Historical and Cultural Context" sections and referring students to these for additional reading.

Alan Richardson

What are you teaching? (Laura Mandell)

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Since we were online with Laura Mandell yesterday, we asked her the question: What are you teaching?

I am currently teaching a course called "Early British Romantic Writers," ranging roughly from 1789 to 1815:

Every year I teach the course with a different theme, and this time, it is the politics of form. Of course we have been reading and interrogating the usual suspects on this question--Lyrical Ballads and Jacobin novels--but we also spent a lot of time thinking about the ballad and sonnet revivals. I must say I was able to do this by taking the plunge: after ten years of teaching Romanticism survey courses, early and late, I finally gave myself permission to stop using anthologies. A Riverside edition of Lyrical Ballads has a great section on the ballad revival, and Feldman and Robinson have a beautiful new book out about Romantic-era sonnets. We just stepped into political allegory: after reading Coleridge's "Letter to Famine" and Barbauld's "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven," we are about to launch into Sydney Owenson's The Missionary. I have one of the most enthusiastic groups of students, in person, but I haven't been able to get them to use their blog--I have to think more about that!

At the risk of going on too long, I wanted to mention that I am also teaching a course that I received a grant to develop called Technology and the Humanities:

It isn't technically a Romanticism course, although Neil's post this week makes me think that it really is--I'll have to read Coyne's Technoromanticism. We just finished Frankenstein and yesterday saw Kenneth Branaugh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein which, I believe, poses the wonderful paradox that only the screen can give us a sense of the physical brutality of death feeding Victor's passion to create life.

Laura Mandell

What are you teaching? (Neil Fraistat)

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Today I turned (virtually) to my co-editor, Neil Fraistat, and asked, "what are you teaching?"

This semester, I’ve been teaching a graduate seminar entitled “Technoromanticism,” which is exploring the extent to which the ideological formations of Romanticism both underlie and resist the way technology is imagined in contemporary culture through poetry, fiction, film, MOOs, and computer gaming. I derived the title of the course from Richard Coyne's Technoromanticism, which argues that contemporary understandings of the computer, “with its promises of interconnectivity, subversion of hierarchy, restoration of the tribe, revitalism of democracy, and new holism”--all have their historical roots in Enlightenment and Romantic thought.

While I rarely agreed with Coyne, especially in his understanding of Romanticism as such, his bold thesis and provocative title sparked my own thinking on the subject, which was further stimulated by the recent publication of Jay Clayton's wonderful book, Charles Dickens in Cyberspace.

As I finally conceived it, the course is concerned with Romanticism as a discourse about cultural change; about monstrosity and the body; about art as technology; about the necessity for and the impossibility of making art or technology that isn’t always already co-opted; about abjected, alienated, resistant subjects at the mercy of phallic power structures; about the gendering of technology; about textual and sexual reproduction; about Luddite and eco- resistance to technology; about utopian imaginings and dystopian worlds; and about the world itself as a consensual illusion.

To that end, I decided to structure the course through strategic pairings that would stage readings of Romantic era work through the lens of writing contemporary to us. So, for instance, we’ve used Neo-luddite texts as a way of thinking about the Luddites themselves; used theory about hacking to read Blake’s [First] Book of Urizen; used The Matrix films and Baudrillard to read Godwin’s Caleb Williams; used Harraway’s "Cyborg Manifesto" to read Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman; and used Patchwork Girl and several films to think about Frankenstein.

To date, my students have been extremely enthusiastic and engaged. Some of their thinking on the subject can be found on the course blog. I’m very much looking forward to upcoming classes on the “Prosthetics of the Imagination,” in which we'll read new media theory as a means of considering DeQuincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Coleridge’s Biographia and Shelley’s “A Defence of Poetry.” The course will conclude with a segment on the “Prosthetics of Memory,” which will use the film Memento and Willaim Gibson’s “Agrippa” to read various poems by Wordsworth about inscription and memory.

The syllabus for Technoromanticism can be found at

Neil Fraistat