Before I begin, let me say, I really don’t think that I believe that the best way to teach historical reading is through survey courses. In my fantasy world, we’d completely re-envision the way that we teach literature historically at the undergraduate level, and it wouldn’t involve a bunch of survey sequences. That said, my radical and revolutionary ideas will never have traction in my current department, at least not for 20 or so years, so I’m playing the hand that I’m dealt.
But so anyway, I’m teaching the survey (or my specialization’s piece of it) for the first time in four years next semester. Because I haven’t taught it for so long, I’ve needed to think carefully about what I will teach. And because I love nothing more as a procrastination excuse (It’s productive procrastination!) than writing a syllabus, I spent tonight figuring out my survey course for the Spring.
Working on a course like this is an excellent intellectual endeavor. Unlike more specialized upper-level courses, it forces you to make choices. Does it matter that I teach a woman writer in the Romantic period? (Kind of no, except kind of I should and so I managed it). To what extent is representation across genres (poetry, fiction, drama, non-fiction) important? (I believe that it is, so I did distribute the material across genres, though let’s not lie: there’s more poetry than anything else because it’s short.) Should the survey really bring us to the present moment, or could I cut it off at, say, 1945? ( I totally believe I need to bring them to the present moment.)
Decisions I’ve made:
- No novel this time. In the past, I’ve always insisted on teaching a novel. But that takes up two weeks. And frankly, I’ve learned that I care more about getting up to the present moment than I care about teaching a novel in this particular course. I still teach fiction… but no, no novel this time around. I might be ok with this, once I process it a bit more. Because I do really care a LOT about novels.
- I’ve added in some authors that I’ve previously ignored. I think that’s good.
- Since I’ll be teaching this class on Monday night, and since we start a week before MLK day, I’ve had to rethink my first day of class. Before, the first day was about introducing them to Romanticism. Now, that seems dumb as we’ll have two weeks before we really get to the Romantic period. So this time, I’m doing the first day as a total overview of the class, with “touchstone texts” from each of the periods that we’ll cover. Will it work? Who knows? But I think it’s an interesting experiment. Also, it will allow me to force them to listen to this song, which TOTALLY references “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” And that’s awesome.