Dr. Nikki Hessell is a co-winner of this year’s NASSR/Romantic Circles Pedagogy Contest, as announced at NASSR 2017 in Ottawa. Nikki is a Senior Lecturer in the School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies at the Victoria University of Wellington. She’s been kind enough to tell us about her submission and share some tips for graduate students on teaching Romanticism.
Dear Fellow Graduate Students,
I am posting the following statement of behalf of the NASSR Graduate Student Caucus.
“The NASSR Graduate Caucus echoes the statements made by the NASSR Advisory Committee and Executive Board regarding what has been occurring on the NASSR-L and supports their decision to disaffiliate from the listserv. We are working towards creating a more collegial space, both online and offline, for the Romantic graduate community. If you have any suggestions, or would like to contact the co-chairs directly, please email NASSRGradStudentCaucus@gmail.com. Please also keep in touch via Facebook (NASSR Graduate Student Caucus), Twitter (@NASSRGrads), and the NGSC Blog (www.nassrgrads.com).”
When an undergraduate professor assigned Roland Barthes and told me, “The Author Is Dead,”1 I heard with elation the clarion cry of burgeoning self-importance. I was no longer a measly high school student who naively derived literature’s meaning from the author’s personal psychology. No, no, I was a college student now and could refer to The Text as Ding an sich. In fact, by interpreting it, I was basically writing the darn thing! Reborn as a liberated reader, I ultimately heeded the call to become a literary critic myself.
At CUNY, a New York state public university where I teach an introductory course in literature and writing, undergraduates like thinking about power. Their material disadvantages make social critique come naturally. Knowing this and wanting to get them hooked, I present Romantic literature as an early expression of dissatisfaction with social processes and conventions, a perspective to be developed later by Marx. This semester, I threw Jane Austen into the mix, and oriented reading and discussions of Persuasion around questions of social class. We spent a lot of time discussing the historical attributes of Austen’s class system that seem strange to modern sensibilities: the phenomenon of rank, the marriage between cash and land, the ambiguous category of the “gentleman” and the expanding mercantile economy.
As we march ahead, perhaps forebodingly, into a new epoch in America’s political climate, one might wonder exactly what can be the value of teaching Romantic poetry and prose. In the weeks immediately following the recent historic election (however one chooses to define “historic”), we must consider whether undergraduate students really want to spend their time reading Wordsworth’s “A slumber did my spirit seal” or Keats’s “To Autumn” or Austen’s Emma. When these students are otherwise preoccupied with what Twitter and Snapchat have to tell them about the current state of the world, why would they choose to bow their heads over texts that, while they may have something to say about the early nineteenth century in Britain, seem to be so distant and disjointed from our own time and place? This was a question I set out to explore this fall…and then November 8th happened.
Reflections, questions, & forum for response.
The dawn of another academic year always comes with a slew of first year Teaching Assistants. Graduate students must now stand up in front of the classroom and, if any of them are like me, spend more time reflecting on their own learning processes than ever before in their academic life. Like so many gradate TAs I don’t have the option to choose which courses or syllabus to teach, but rather am assigned courses that vary between English Composition 100 and Intro to Literature. I’m not complaining as each opportunity provides the space to learn a new topic that otherwise might have slipped my academic history.
One of the last panel slots of NASSR 2016 was reserved for a roundtable with contestants of the Romantic Circles‘s Pedagogy Contest, hosted by RC Pedagogies editor Kate Singer. This year’s competition featured these finalists:
- Simon Bainbridge (Lancaster University) – “Wordsworth Online and On Location: Teaching Romantic Writing Beyond the Literature Classroom”
- Michelle Levy (Simon Fraser University) with Alex Grammatikos (Carleton) and Kandice Sharren (Simon Fraser) – “Remediating Lyrical Ballads”
- Lauren Neefe (Georgia Tech) – “Romanticism’s Social Media”
- Tristram Wolff (Northwestern) – “Poetics of Stone”
In general, I was floored (and, to be honest, a little intellectually intimidated) by the pedagogical innovations on display yesterday. And while Wolff was unfortunately unable to present, I was excited that the remaining panelists and audience would have plenty of time for the presentations plus a vibrant lengthy Q&A discussion session to round off the entire conference. Here’s more:
Sunday’s Tweets about NASSR 2016 via Storify
So here we are, at the end of NASSR 2016, with all of us likely traveling across the U.S. and Canada this evening, or on our way across the Atlantic or Pacific, heading back to our home institutions. Hopefully we’re re-invigorated with an exceptional amount of insight, inspiration, and innovation that will carry into our research and teaching over this coming academic year.
For me, today’s panels provided a surprising amount of vim and vigor on this, the final morning of our annual conference. When I imagine the Sunday morning of any conference, I envision a small gaggle of weary academics dragging their feet and their suitcases to the free morning coffee buffet before plopping in their seats to process, with half-closed eyelids, the final papers that our poor presenters must still deliver after the three action-packed days. To my pleasant surprise, however, both rooms were animated, engaged, and quite lively! Here’s some of what I heard… Continue reading NASSR 2016 Rapid Response: Final Day!
After an arduous year one of grad school I have come out alive. In anxious preparation for year two a few good friends and myself set quite the task this summer to read Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit that haunted us all year. Given the complexity and reputation of the great man himself I find our “Adventures in Hegel” will entertain readers on how we successfully managed reading his “Preface” to the book. What follows is the affective and intellectual journey myself and friends Katy and Liz have embarked upon.
In lieu of actually trying to explain Hegelian thought or even relay my precise thoughts on the preface I provide some useful tactics we employed to “mastering”, well, getting through difficult texts such as Hegel. Now at the end of year one of graduate studies I can attest the most common nerve-racking question from new grad students to be “How do I read X?” Whether long novels, poetry, images, and of course theory/philosophy everyone has that one form they consider impenetrable to decipher. My fellow book club interlocutors agreed our reading of Hegel to be extremely enlightening and cleared up many conceptual gaps. It does help we’re all good friends but we actually had a great afternoon discussing Hegel? It was fun, and not soul-crushingly dark and intimidating? But how?! Our satisfaction shows such texts are indeed very approachable with just the right attitude.
I’ve long been fascinated by two Romantic objects that figure prominently in poetry and prose: the Aeolian harp and the Claude glass. The Aeolian harp is a stringed instrument that is placed in an open window so that the strings vibrate with the wind, sort of like a sideways guitar.
Image source: http://chestofbooks.com/reference/American-Cyclopaedia-V1/Aeolian-Harp.html