In the media-saturated and highly-literate society of modern America, every citizen should be prepared to read and interpret the multitude of texts that surround us. And the critical tools honed in the study of literature provides the perfect training for this. Whether exploring the historical events that suffused Shakespeare's drama or investigating various thematic elements that unite the top-grossing films of the last decade, literary analysis allows us to better understand where we come from and what we are concerned with as a community. This focus on culture, context and rhetorical approach lies at the center of the literature courses that I have taught (and will teach), anchoring this core competency in a critically-engaged and rational public sphere.
Introduction to Literary Studies
At the University of Kentucky, Introduction to Literature (ENG 230) encourages students to take a fresh look at how they read and understand the fiction (and non-fiction) that they encounter. Focusing on a central theme or topic, students study a variety of genres and authors immersed in a critically-attuned context and filtered through the literary terminology and theory that forms the foundation of good literary analysis. Students leave this course better able to engage with the broader context and deeper meaning of even the most frivolous page-turner.
My own approach to this course utilizes foundational themes to explore a range of literature while still appealing to the general interests of non-majors. Drawing from Ancient Greece, Renaissance England, modern America, and points in between, I have asked students to explore how literature (both canonical and non-canonical) from throughout history reflects concurrent medical theories ("Literature and Medicine") or forces us to empathize with villainous motives ("Sympathy for the Devil").
The Introduction to Literature courses that I have designed feature bestsellers (Gone Girl), innovative graphic novels (Blue Pills), the lyrical stylings of hip hop artists (Pharoahe Monch), and, of course, the playful rhetoric of the definitive playwright (William Shakespeare). In an effort to help the amateur critics enrolled in the course, I emphasize accessibility over chronology in my course design, focusing instead on the development of thematic complexity and culturally-situated variation as the semester progresses. As a result, we will often start with a modern interpretation of a core theme presented in an approachable format (Jon Scieszka's True Story of the Three Little Pigs or a collection of Greek myths) as a prelude to more traditional literary forms. This allows students to quickly apply the skills developed in class, instead of relegating "close reading" to high literature and clears the way to a more critical appreciation of the thematic core of the course.
Over the last few years, I have enjoyed teaching several sections of the Introduction to Literature course as a primary instructor and assisting on a variety of survey courses at the University of Kentucky. However, should I get the chance, I have a variety of Prospective Courses that I would welcome the opportunity to implement. These potential courses in early modern literature can be found here.