I try to set up all of the classes I teach in such a way that students aren’t just learning about a body of material, but are also learning how to ask interesting questions of their own about that material. A former professor of mine once observed a class I was teaching and noted that, in my classes, asking an interesting question was more important than having a right answer. He was right: I’m perfectly happy for you, as a student, to get the answer “wrong” if articulating that wrong answer takes you through a process of reading and thinking that produces greater understanding by the end.
That said, of course, I’ll certainly push you on the places where your thinking doesn’t seem focused or rigorous enough, and I’ll also try to fill in information you couldn’t otherwise have known to help you see how that might change your thinking.
My goal is to help students become more observant in their reading, more probing in their thinking, and more precise in their expression of ideas, whether verbally or in writing. To that end, you’ll read demanding texts, and I’ll expect you to find something to say about them—even if, at first, that just means articulating the things you’re confused about. While I provide some background information through lectures, I try to keep the focus of most classes on discussion. If we’re doing it right, you’ll learn as much from listening to what other students have to say and working out what you yourself want to say as you will from listening to me.
I teach several upper-division courses in my area of specialty, eighteenth-century British literature. These include: English 318 - Restoration Literature; English 331 - Early Eighteenth-Century Literature; and English 319 - Age of Sensibility, all of which fulfill the “Middle period” requirement for the English major. (I also teach, from time to time, different special topics courses—bearing the course number English 365—that fulfill the same requirement). My 300-level classes mix readings from different genres (poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction prose) and place them alongside relevant secondary criticism.
In recent years, I’ve been placing an increasing emphasis on the ways that the books we read originally circulated in the eighteenth-century print marketplace. We look at digital reproductions of original eighteenth-century editions to get some feel for how these texts looked, and we take advantage of the increasing availability of those reproductions online to explore texts well beyond what’s available in classroom paperback editions. We’ll make forays into the worlds of bibliography (the study of books as physical objects—not the compilation of lists of works cited) in an effort to read not simply the contents of books, but the books themselves as bearers of cultural meaning.
If you’re taking one of these classes, you should expect to do quite a bit of reading each week (hey, you’re thinking about taking an upper-division English course, so you like to read, right?). The emphasis in these classes is on discussion, so you should also come prepared to talk about what you’ve read. These classes generally involve several brief written assignments (abstracts of secondary readings, short interpretive essays); often a group project (usually a 20-minute presentation, which is the equivalent of an 8-9 page collaboratively-written paper); and a substantial final project involving independent research (which could be a traditional paper, or a different kind of investigation in the field of book history).
I frequently teach English 203 - Writing for English Majors, which is a requirement for the English major and a pre-requisite for the Senior Seminar. In this class, you’ll focus on developing your skills in the close reading of poetry, fiction, and drama, you’ll gain practice in reading scholarly criticism of literary texts, and you’ll sharpen your ability to do the kind of research that lets you enter the scholarly conversation about works that interest you.
Oh, and you’ll also write. Boy, will you write. The class is a hybrid of discussion class and writing workshop: you’ll take multiple papers through the stages of drafting, peer review, and revising, with an eye toward becoming a more critical reader of your own writing. This class is designed to help you discover the techniques and habits that work best for you as you move into the kinds of writing you’ll do more and more of as you progress in the English major.
I also teach English 214 - English Literature to 1798 with some regularity. That class fulfills the historical survey requirement for the English major, and provides you with a kind of package tour of about 1,000 years of English literary history, starting with Beowulf and moving through to the late 18th century. When I teach this class, readings certainly include works by “major” authors (like Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton), but also works by so-called “minor” authors, many of them women (so when we come to something like Ben Jonson’s famous “country-house” poem, “To Penshurst,” we’ll also read Aemilia Lanyer’s “The Description of Cooke-Ham”).
An ongoing theme in this course is the ways that the English literary tradition didn’t just happen, but was constructed. Authors selected their “ancestors” and thereby wrote themselves into a tradition, as when John Dryden called Chaucer “the father of English poetry.” Then, too, authors could also be written out of a tradition, as when Dryden, again, portrayed Thomas Shadwell as the worst poet of the age (his works described, with suggestive elision, as “loads of Sh—”).
If you’re taking 214, you can expect somewhat more lecturing than in my other classes, though there’s still plenty of discussion, frequently in smaller groups. This class involves briefer writing assignments (a few pages), as well as periodic quizzes, a midterm exam, and a final exam.
I teach English 125 - Introduction to Literature pretty frequently. That class brings together works from different genres (poetry, fiction, and drama) and from different periods (I’ve taught everything from a Greek tragedy from the 5th century, B.C. to a film released in 1996), organized around a central theme. The aim of this class is to get you started looking both closely at the details of complex literary texts and considering the kinds of big questions that literature can provoke us to confront.
If you’re taking this class, you should expect a fair amount of reading (and I do think it’s fair: I’ve tweaked it over several semesters to be manageable for students who may not have much background in the subject, while still being enough of a workout to keep you on your toes). I don’t use an anthology or textbook for 125, but instead have us read a selection of poems, plays, and novels. Some of these can seem pretty demanding (Milton’s Paradise Lost, for example), but you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can become engrossed in them. I lecture more in this class than in others, though there is still plenty of discussion. You may have short written assignments, as well as quizzes, exams, and group projects.
I also teach English 100 - College Writing more or less regularly. This class (or English 100P) is a requirement for Tier I of the University’s Liberal Arts Core. When I teach this class, I start from the presumption that there’s no way, in a single semester, to review all (or even a significant fraction) of the many and varied kinds of writing you’ll do in several different disciplines over the course of your academic career. Rather than being a "How to Write a College Paper" class, then, this is a class that directs your attention to the kinds of questions you have to ask yourself as you begin any kind of writing: Who is my audience? What is my purpose for writing? What approaches are most likely to help me achieve that purpose with this audience?
If you’re taking this class, you can expect to do quite a bit of writing (but then you knew that, right?). We generally take on four major assignments, each representing a different kind of writing (a formal presentation of an argument grounded in research, a very concise letter, etc.) that will prompt you to think in different ways about questions of audience, tone, and so forth. Each assignment will involve drafting, peer review, and revision—real revision, not just catching typos, but going back and reexamining the entire construction of the piece.