February 02, 2006

Tæcende boccræft

Well, I promised an entry on my English teaching at Mount A, so here it is.

Last term I taught a course called Literature, the Arts and Humanities. It’s a first year course aimed at students not (necessarily) intending to continue on in English, and relates literature to other areas of the arts and humanities, such as history, philosophy, music, or what have you. Beyond that I had no other limitations in terms of what I included in the course, so it was very fun to teach. And given my background in medieval studies, I’m quite in favour of interdisciplinary approaches. Basically the way I approached it was to teach what I thought the students should know if they took no other English course, which I think accords well with Mount A’s quasi-liberal arts set up. I covered the literary periods in turn from Anglo-Saxon through modern, and gave special attention to the ways in which the literature reflected the cultural world in which it was produced. I found it particularly interesting to make the connections between trends in literature and other areas of the culture. And in general I encouraged the students to look for the connections and patters, the way all things are interconnected, adopting the symbol of Sir Gawain’s pentangle, the endless knot. I’ll write more of this soon, as I’ve been thinking very much along these lines lately.

Some of the major works we looked at include Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Faerie Queene, The Tempest, Paradise Lost, Gulliver’s Travels, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Frankenstein, Northanger Abbey, The Lady of Shalott, and The Goblin Market. But equally interesting was to include texts not traditionally referred to as literary, which provide interesting insight into the periods and the other more major texts. Thus, for instance, Robert Hooke’s (of the Royal Society) writings on observations with a microscope adds depth to the size-distorting descriptions in Gulliver’s Travels. I find the Longman Anthology of British Literature quite good for this sort of thing.

This term I’m teaching a second year course called Literary Periods 1800—Present. I wasn’t originally supposed to be teaching an English course this term, but due to an emergency I’m stepping into this class already three weeks in. Since I didn’t start the class off, I didn’t initially create the syllabus (though I’ve slightly adjusted the readings), which will make the class somewhat more challenging than it might otherwise have been, but it should be an interesting experience. And useful to have the chance to teach something so far removed from my area of specialisation. I’ll write more on this class once I get into it a bit.

In the spring session (May/June), I’ll be offering Literature, the Arts and Humanities again, should there be any takers, and I have some further interesting plans for the course…, but more on that later as well…

Posted by Mark at February 2, 2006 06:12 PM | TrackBack