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Faculty Teaching, Study Abroad, The Value of English, Undergraduate English

The Grand Tour: Cultural Disparities

The famous Shakespeare and Company store in Paris.

Inside the clock tower at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

I walked down the cobblestone streets of Paris and stopped. To my left was a row of antique buildings. Every building held its own share of history and was now filled with chic boutiques blooming with French fashion and bookstores containing the works of authors that used to find their muse in the exact surroundings I was currently experiencing. To my right was the Musée d’Orsay with only the Seine river separating me from its’ hundreds of years of art and sculptures held inside. A quick stroll down the street would land me at the famous Notre Dame and deliciously unmatched gelato. For the month of January, twenty-four other students, two professors, and I experienced sights like these in each of the cities we visited.

The Coliseum in Rome, Italy

Led by Professors Kelli Larson and Cecilia Farr, we were lucky enough to experience various more-than-just-picturesque cities in order to learn about the Grand Tour. The course, titled “Americans Abroad: The Grand Tour,” took us on a detailed exploration of 5 cities: Paris, Nice, Venice, Rome, Siena, and Florence. Each day, in every city visited, we were able to see and experience first-hand some of the exact same places as various nineteenth-century Americans did. Typically, they did so to polish themselves artistically or socially, but they also did so to complete their education or to find inspiration. Our texts for the course consisted of works by Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, and included various excerpts from other exceptionally talented authors who completed the Grand Tour.

Group picture in Nice, France.

The texts were all unique with their own plot and purpose, but comparatively they all revolved around a common theme: the cultural differences between the Old World and New World. In some way, the protagonists in each of the texts encountered foreign customs and cultures and had a difficult time adjusting.

Florence, Italy

A lack of typical American customs—like hasty meals or differences in social expectations—is unsettling to them at first. Eventually, though, after experiencing various trials and tribulations mixed with benevolent encounters, their cultural ignorance begins to fade and they soon attach a sense of value and appreciation to this differing culture. In a different scenario, like in Henry James’ Daisy Miller, the exposure to European culture only reinforces the protagonists’ sense of superiority in their familiar American customs.

Venice, Italy

After retracing some of the same steps these nineteenth-century Americans did, I can say that experiencing a culture different to my own only broadened my perspective and understanding for other cultures and their customs. It is easy to find one’s own ways of life or customs to be superior to others when you have never experienced or attempted to understand the logic or history behind them. As a Minnesota native, I definitely missed the constant smiles and “hello’s” from a random passersby, but I also came to prefer their slower, relaxed pace of life. There is no correct right way to live. Traveling, though, allows for reflection; to appreciate your own culture but also to take a step back and realize where other cultures might be getting at something deeper than you ever fathomed.


Shayla Curtis is a sophomore Accounting & Finance major with a minor in English Literature. After college, she hopes to work as a financial analyst or in another position related to her major. With a passion for animals and kids, she hopes to volunteer on the side and perhaps start her own nonprofit. 

Faculty Teaching, Graduate English, Opportunities for Graduate Students, Teaching Mentorship

Teaching Mentorship Reflection

Each semester multiple students are engaged in our Teaching Mentorship program. Students team up with a full-time faculty member to help in all aspects of undergraduate teaching. This Spring, graduate student Taya Sazama helped teach Dr. Catherine Craft-Fairchild’s Clues: Detectives in Literature and Film course. Proving that close relationships between our students and faculty exists far beyond the classroom, Taya  (T.S.) and Dr. Craft-Fairchild (C.C.F.) interviewed one another on their experience working together.

Graduate student Taya Sazama leads class discussion while Dr. Craft-Fairchild (second “student” in from far right) participates as a class member.

C.C.F.:  How did you feel last summer when you found out you were getting a stack of free books and that one pair were the collected Sherlock Holmes stories? Which book in the stack ended up being your favorite and why?

A1er2KQKI1LT.S.:  It is always a treat to get books for free! Nobody actually ever told me that they were free—I assumed that I was getting them on loan from the bookstore. I even remember asking when I went to pick them up from my mailbox if I would be allowed to write in them. I think the idea that I was getting all of them for free was too good to be true! As your question indicates, I think the Sherlock Holmes collection would have to be the books that I am most in love with from the set, although I especially enjoyed Laurie King’s continuation of the Sherlock Holmes story. Other than a general understanding of Sherlock Holmes, I had actually never read Doyle’s works before (shocking, I know). It was wonderful to experience them for the first time with the students (most of whom were probably also reading them for the first time).


T.S.: You have participated in the teaching mentorship program many times before – what about the process keep you coming back? What was a highlight of this semester for you?

Dr. Cathy Craft-Fairchild has been a Professor of English at St. Thomas since 1989!

Dr. Cathy Craft-Fairchild has been a Professor of English at St. Thomas since 1989!

C.C.F.: The highlight of the semester was working with and getting to know you, of course! Actually, honestly, that was a highlight and is one of the reasons I enjoy the mentorship program so much–it’s fun to work one-on-one with graduate students. Our master’s students are really smart and enthusiastic. Every mentee that I have worked with has brought wonderful ideas to the table and terrific positive energy to the course. Your lesson plans, assignment ideas, insights into individual students, and general input on things we might do to improve the course were all wonderfully helpful. Undergraduates get a better course when there are two minds working on it, engaging with them, and available as resources. (And I think you were amazingly generous in conferencing with students–you devoted a lot of time to that, even though you’re working and taking classes and super busy.  I know the undergrads benefitted from the conferences with you, and bye-the-way tons of students sang your praises in their writing reflections!) I guess what I’m saying, in short form, is that I enjoy collaboration and feel that my mentees really co-teach; I know for certain that I learn as much from you guys as you do from me!

T.S.: That is really sweet that they thought to say nice things about me in the evaluations! It makes me happy to know that I was able to help them. I agree with you that getting to collaborate as teachers was one of the most enjoyable parts of the class. It felt really natural to work together and even though we sometimes had different styles, we always seemed to mesh well. I was sometimes amazed at how easily we bounced off one another during lessons (and we never even practiced!).


C.C.F.: You generously spent a lot of time conducting one-on-one conferences with students. What were the highs and lows of that experience? I thought your contribution here was spectacular–what do you think?

T.S.: I know from my experience both as a student and as a teacher how important one-on-one conferences are, especially to become more proficient in writing. I also know how much pressure there is to be on the teacher’s side of the conference; you often don’t know what students will walk in with and you have to be ready to make sense of their ideas and take them to the next level. It is hard when you see a student start to get frustrated because they don’t understand what you want them to do or feel overwhelmed with the amount of changes they need to make to a draft; it takes practice and knowledge of individual students to be able to have the type of conference where both the teacher and the student walk away feeling excited for the next step.

C.C.F. I absolutely love what you’re saying here—it explains why you were so good at conferencing! You are so good at reflecting on the complexity of the task and how best to approach it! I think sometimes I get so involved with the paper in front of me and with thinking of strategies for the student to take with it that I stop attending to the individual, and that always backfires. The writer’s feelings factor into the process in a huge way—if the person feels positive and confident, the writing and revising go a lot better.

T.S.: For this reason, I knew going in to this semester that I wanted to get lots of practice in with writing conferences. I am thankful that students wanted to sign up to meet with me—I tried to stress to them that while I wanted to help them with their essays, they were also helping me too by letting me practice this skill. It was gratifying that many of the students I met with came back to talk with me for each paper. I appreciated how supportive you were of me doing this, encouraging students to meet with me throughout the entire semester. In the same way, my individual meetings with you really helped me to process all that we were doing throughout the semester—thanks!


T.S.: What are some of the challenges of having a student mentee? Do you approach the class differently?(Obviously, I’m a peach, but even so…)  

C.C.F.:  The challenges of having a student mentee connect to the rewards: with someone next to me, hoping to learn something from me, I really don’t want to be spectacularly stupid. I want to make sure my course design, syllabus clarity and completeness, course materials, and lesson plans are all reasonably intelligent! I make mistakes in every course, and sometimes, even carefully thought-through plans can go awry. Encountering the unpredictable element always present in dealing with human beings–for good and ill, because sometimes the opposite happens, too, and a botched plan works amazingly well through sheer serendipity!–is a good learning experience for aspiring teachers. But I don’t want my mentees going away muttering, “gosh, all I learned this semester was how NOT to teach English 203”! I hope always to teach courses that are responsibly planned and laid-out so that my graduate students can see all the moving parts. The goal of the mentorship, as I see it, is for the graduate student to examine everything that goes into course planning and instruction, co-create some instructional materials with me, plan and execute some of her or his own designs, and make decisions about how to shape her or his own materials and pedagogic strategies in future. I want my mentees to feel confident about putting together a full course of their own by the end of the semester.


C.C.F.: You are a veteran teacher, having taught high-school for several years. How would you compare secondary to post-secondary education?  

Taya Sazama will be writing her Master's Essay and graduating in the Fall of 2016.

Taya Sazama will be writing her Master’s Essay and graduating in the Fall of 2016.

T.S.: Well, I don’t know if I would say that three years’ experience qualifies me as a veteran, but I actually found more similarities than differences between the two. I think I was prepared for it to be drastically different, but many of the strategies, goals, and challenges were the same. I think I would notice a definite shift the higher the course number and the more specialized the material, but the mix of ages and skill levels made it feel very familiar to me. We talked a little in our last meeting about some of the differences between student-parent-teacher relationships and the varying levels of grade transparency—these aspects were more different than the actual classroom sessions that we had with students. The way in which you structured the course and how you presented the class goals was a lot like what I did as a high school teacher—you think about what you want students to be able to do in the end and then you structure the materials, lessons, activities, and assignments to achieve those goals. Without a doubt, the experience gave me the chance to think back over those first few years of teaching and realize what was effective and what I could do better in the future. I can’t say how valuable it is to go back to being a student in order to gain that perspective.


T.S.: This was the first time you taught the class on Detective Fiction. I thought it was a great, creative blend of classic and modern texts. What parts of the class do you think were most successful? If you teach this class again, would you make any changes? How do the final student surveys influence this decision?

C.C.F.: I appreciate the compliment, Miss Taya! I believe that creating and designing new courses is my best skill–I actually like the way I put together texts that “speak” to each other in various ways. I just think someone else–someone with actual charm and social skills, like you, for instance!–should teach the courses after I’ve mapped it. I’ve learned, over 28 years of full-time teaching, that being an extreme introvert, as I am, is a big drawback in the job.
Anyway, what I liked best was the way students responded to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. They really enjoyed them and were very willing to engage in discussion, do micro-research projects, and write about that first unit of the course. Laurie King’s Holmsean adaptation, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, also taught well. In my other class, Mitch Cullin’s A Slight Trick of the Mind, produced wonderful discussions and thoughtful writing, which made me think that devoting more of the course to Sherlock Holmes and his spin-offs might be a good idea.
51cn4iUzisL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_  What surprised me was the largely negative and sometimes stone-silent response by students to Graham Greene’s The Third Man. Since my daughter Samantha is in college, I often run course ideas past her to get an opinion from the twenty-something demographic, and she likes learning about filmmaking and film history. She thinks film noir is cool, but I forgot that my kiddo is a theater major and kinda artsy–clearly, that topic was not especially interesting to our class. So I think I need to rework the second half of the course if I teach it again.
In the surveys I gave at the end of the semester, several students mentioned that they would like to read more classic detective fiction, and some mentioned Agatha Christie. It might work to stick to the British tradition and close with writers like Christie and P.D. James. Student surveys, whether the ones I give or the IDEA ones for St. Thomas, are often inconclusive because they self-contradict: what one student likes and learns from, another dislikes. In our class, for instance, there really was no clear consensus about which books were people’s favorites and which least favorite, though Sherlock Holmes scored relatively high, while The Third Man and Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist were mentioned more often as least-favored. I have to admit, though, that I often teach the same way I parent: green vegetables and Colson Whitehead are both good for young people, so I sometimes ignore what they like and give them what I think is valuable for them!

T.S.: I love your logic at the end and I definitely agree! While I may never have naturally gravitated towards The Third Man or The Intuitionist, I am really glad that I got the chance to read and discuss them. They were a great mix to the more classic Sherlock Holmes. I remember that quite a few students said that even though one or the other was their least favorite text, they learned the most from it. That in itself is gratifying because they recognize the difference between being just entertained and being exposed to something completely new.


C.C.F.: Having been on both sides of the desk now for quite a while, what “dream course” is your student self telling your teacher self to design?

T.S.:  I think I would have said this even before beginning my graduate degree, but I would love to teach a course focusing on female authorship. I would probably just focus on British authors since that is where my true love lies. It would absolutely have to include Jane Austen, Anne Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Virginia Woolf as the main figures, but beyond that I would have to sit down and do some thinking. Unlike you, I think being in the classroom is much easier than planning an entire course!

C.C.F.:  Great! I’ll plan and you teach! Think UST would let us job share?

T.S.:  I’ll only agree if you co-teach with me! I think this sounds like a great plan for a Spring 2017 course…


Faculty Teaching, Student Research, Undergraduate English

The 2016 Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

Wikipedia-LogoWikipedia is one of our most important sources of information today. In a Google search, it is often the first hit. Wikipedia is usually the easiest means of accessing information and, as such, it tends to color our first impressions; oftentimes, it may be our only source of information. What’s represented is important, of course, but it’s also important to ask what’s missing.

And what’s missing on Wikipedia is women’s voices. An official reporting of Wikipedia membership composition tells us that, “Among respondents only 12.64% of contributors are female.”[1] And another review of the database reveals hundreds of names of women artists whose entries either need to be created or expanded.[2]

It was in response to this lack of representation that an annual and international event was created, the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. Held in early March, in honor of Women’s History Month, the Edit-a-thon is a self-described “campaign to improve coverage of women and the arts on Wikipedia, and to encourage female editorship.”[3] It has developed a strong presence here in the Twin Cities. This year, volunteers gathered on March 5 at the Central Library in Minneapolis. And as part of a class project this semester, each student in Dr. Emily James’s “Literature by Women” course participated in the cause.

Minnesota_Art_and_Feminism_logo400Each of us wrote and edited entries on women and women’s issues that we felt could be better represented. Throughout class this semester, we’ve been exploring issues of gender representation and voice, and this was a chance for us to see these things in practice.

It was an endeavor we met with varying levels of success. Anne Youngblood ran into some difficulties with her entry on Wisconsin pioneer and writer Elizabeth Baird.[4] For starters, there was the lack of information anywhere. “It was hard because I think it was the most minor figure I’ve researched on the Internet,” said Youngblood. “What I did find was good, but it wasn’t like Michael Jackson with a million hits.” And then, of course, there were the technical difficulties. Youngblood’s efforts were initially rejected by Wikipedia’s roving censors, by way of a simple notification that popped up on her screen.

For others, the project went fairly well. Meaghan Scott wrote an entry on Immaculée Ilibagiza[5], Rwandan author of Left to Tell and a survivor of genocide. Scott’s own editing experience went smoothly. “It was actually pretty easy,” Scott said of her research on Ilibagiza’s book.

My own experience was initially fraught with difficulties. Despite being a prominent author, there isn’t a lot of information available about Mary Pope Osborne[6] (of Magic Tree House fame) on the web. Gathering reliable sources of information was the first difficulty. Sure, there was her main website, with its single-paragraph biography, but that hardly dealt with the deep stuff. I had to dig pretty far into the web for the more concrete details about Osborne’s personal life history.

With the extensive amount of patrolling bots and editors, writing for Wikipedia is a bit harder than we might have initially expected. The difficulty of writing for Wikipedia is itself similar to the difficulty women had in getting heard in the first place. Authorship is largely male and white. The most extensive articles are largely about male artists and public figures. To break into either of these spheres is to go against the status quo of the database. And it’s only natural that Wikipedia and its editors might be a little watchful of attempts to change, as necessary as they may be.

The fact is, women’s voices are largely new. They’ve been unheard for centuries, and we’re really only now getting to experience a world with them in it. Initiatives like the Edit-a-thon are about encouraging us to listen to these voices.

It’s hard to speak for a group of twenty people, but I’m confident in saying that I know that each of us appreciated this chance to narrow the gender gap and participate in the cause of equal female representation online. Many thanks to Dr. James and those helpers at Wikipedia for the opportunity, and I encourage readers to increase representation in public databases like Wikipedia. Because every voice deserves a chance to be heard.

[1] http://www.ris.org/uploadi/editor/1305050082Wikipedia_Overview_15March2010-FINAL.pdf

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Meetup/ArtAndFeminism/Tasks

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Meetup/ArtAndFeminism

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Baird_%28writer%29

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immacul%C3%A9e_Ilibagiza

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Pope_Osborne

Molohan

Joseph “Joe” Molohon is a senior majoring in English (Writing Emphasis) and minoring in Communications and Journalism. He is also an executive member of Purple Gloves and an editor for the Summit Avenue Review this year. Future plans include work on a funded research project in the summer and grad school next year.

Faculty Research, Faculty Teaching

True Monsters

LawrenceTrueMonstersTV

It’s 1995. I own: a pine wood futon, a Compaq Presario laptop computer (no modem), a few banker’s boxes full of books, and enough clothes to fill two duffle bags. I live in a corner studio apartment just off Saddle Creek Road in Omaha, Nebraska. I’ve just started an English MA program at Creighton University. And at this very moment a car is on fire outside my front door. I stick my head out to see what’s going on and a guy I have never seen before blurts out at me, “Dude just walked up, pulled out a gas can, poured it all over the car, and dropped a match.” I go back inside and call 911 before settling back down to watch the rest of Charlie Rose.


I didn’t grow up in what you would call an “intellectual” family. My dad was a truck driver and then he worked for a pipeline company for thirty years. My mom was a nurse. We had books in our house, but we didn’t really talk about them that much. I read a lot, but, as you might suspect, elementary kids just aren’t that interested in the latest Sidney Sheldon novel your mom got in the mail from the Book of the Month Club. I guess I craved intellectual exchange.

HLGCharlieRoseMaybe that was why in that tiny, dark apartment, I had become obsessed with The Charlie Rose Show – not so much because of Charlie (and his slow, obtuse questions), but because of the people he had on his show: smart people. Writers, directors, activists, artists – you name it – these were the kind of people that made you want to be brilliant and on TV sitting in a black room with a glass of water on a table, pontificating on some subject, whatever the hell it might be. I remember seeing Gore Vidal on the show one night, and I was completely hypnotized by his unquestioned confidence. He knew he was right about everything (even if he wasn’t), and I loved it. Another night I saw Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He was talking about the Encyclopedia Africana, which he was still working on with Kwame Anthony Appiah at the time. The comprehensive reference project on all of Africana culture, it was envisioned by W.E.B. DuBois nearly one hundred years earlier. Gates beamed, chatting about the joy of making his dream come true, of bringing the vision of DuBois to life.

At that moment I was completely sold. Not only did I know for sure I wanted to be a professor (a decision I was still turning over in my head at the time), I wanted to be a famous professor – someone who would appear on TV discussing his newest project, someone who would get the call when PBS was shooting a documentary on James Baldwin or Ralph Ellison, someone who, when he began to speak, people would stop and listen to.


It’s 2014. I am sitting in a small room inside a giant warehouse just north of downtown St. Paul. The room is part of a spare suite that belongs to a local production company, and I am submitting to being mopped with makeup because I am just about to make my first appearance as an expert for a documentary TV show.

The makeup artist is trying to reassure me that she knows what she is doing. She explains, “I’m going to make you look just like you . . . but better.” makeupartisttools300A second later, a production assistant bursts into the room with a shirt of mine on a plastic hanger. “This one will work. They like this one. And keep the undershirt,” he says. I want to ask him, “who’s upstairs right now? Who are they filming up there?” I keep hearing the other PA’s bounding up and down the stairs screaming at each other, “Man, that guy is great!” “Where do you think that accent is from?” “I dunno, but he is killing it with those stories.” Sounds like the cat is good.

“Ok, we’re finished.” The makeup artist packs up her stuff and leaves me sitting there with a pancaked face and a handful of crumpled notes – answers to questions I’m not sure whether or not I’ll be asked. I’ve never ever done this before, so I have no idea what’s going to happen. Soon the PA from before pokes his head through the doorway and whispers, “You ready to shoot, Chief?” I nod, get up, and follow him up the stairs into the darkness.


HistoryChannel200It’s 2015. I’m sitting in my lucky chair in the living room of my house. I know it’s lucky because the night before, the Kansas City Royals, my favorite team, completed another ridiculous comeback to beat some or other media-proclaimed murderer’s row. I’m waiting for the show True Monsters to come on the History Channel. It’s been over a year since I sat for two hours in that warehouse at the end of a giant camera, muttering answers to questions I had only a vague idea were coming. I have to see the show because, honestly, I don’t have any idea what the heck I even said. What if I sound like an idiot? What if I look stupid? What if I said something factually incorrect? As the intro sequence begins, I consider another troubling possibility: what if the show isn’t very good? This is, after all, the History Channel, home of Pawn Stars and Ancient Aliens. Who is going to watch this crap? This isn’t what I signed up for. I wanted to be like Henry Louis Gates – hell, even Neil Degrasse Tyson. Dude built a whole media career off of saying smart things on television.

As I sit back in my chair waiting for the fateful moment, hands trembling, heart pulsing, the cringe-worthy music begins. The screen flickers with fast-cut images of wolves, werewolves, little girls in red capes, pools of blood, and anything else prurient and salacious you can think of. I start to panic as the first segment rolls by. It’s not the best TV I’ve ever seen. Or, should I say that it’s exactly what you would expect to see on today’s History Channel, a venue that thinks history is when an old crotchety white guy explains the value of a twenty-foot tall gas-powered dragon head car crusher to two dudes dressed in leather pants.

little-red-riding-hood-jessie-willcox-smith2And then it happens. My face flashes across the screen. The mouth on my TV face is moving, but what the hell is it saying? Something about Little Red Riding Hood “falling and breaking the bottle?” (Breaking the bottle is an allusion to virginity, I told them in the interview, and the wolf as a werewolf is indicative of fears about the animal characteristics of men, but in the end, they only used maybe 25-30 seconds of what I said. They didn’t care about folklore; they kept talking about the “original” version of “Little Red Riding Hood,” for instance, when of course there isn’t one.) Hmm, that wasn’t bad analysis, though. As the segment continues, I have some other interesting things to say – as interesting as things can be in two or three seconds – which is more than the editors give poor Jack Zipes. The guy who wrote books on “Little Red Riding Hood” is getting less airtime than I am. This is definitely an error in judgment. But, you know what? I’m not bad – certainly not as bad as the show is.


So it wasn’t Charlie Rose, but it was fun and I didn’t embarrass myself. I did ok discussing Conomor the Accursed as a source for “Bluebeard” and the North Carolina legend of the Tar River Banshee. Maybe the show was a little schlocky, but how can I complain when I was on the same series as the High Priest of the Church of Satan? I bet Skip Gates can’t say that. And anyway, I’ll never be Skip Gates. I don’t even want to be anymore. I’ll be “David Todd Lawrence, Ph.D. – Folklorist,” on True Monsters, talking about fairy tales and legends. Nothing wrong with that. But maybe I should get some leather pants?

 

Lawrenceblog400

Todd Lawrence is an associate professor in the English Department. In addition to teaching folklore studies, Lawrence also researches and teaches in areas that include: The Black Arts Movement, African American outlaw culture, Afrofuturism, memorialization and public space, and disaster studies. He continues to work on a project in collaboration with the displaced residents of Pinhook, MO, a town destroyed when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intentionally breached the Birds Point-New Madrid levee in southeast Missouri during the Heartland Flood of 2011. This work focuses on African American narratives of disaster and resilience. 

Faculty Research, Faculty Teaching

Entering the World of Digital Humanities

Victoria320

The Parliament Buildings at night (Victoria, BC)

The problem was, they didn’t offer “Digital Humanities for Dummies.”  I’m not a technology-savvy person.  Okay, let’s face it, sometimes my toaster is too complicated for me (revelation:  it won’t toast unless you actually plug it in). So why did I sign up to join three digital-sophisticated colleagues—professors Alexis Easley, Emily James, and Sal Pane—to travel to Victoria, British Columbia, to attend the annual Digital Humanties Summer Institute (DHSI)? I had discovered in my graduate classes that students were tackling compelling computer-assisted projects, having mastered some of the DH platforms and tools in their other classes.  I wanted to learn more about this brave new world and had two wonderful opportunities to do so during this past summer, 2015:  the first at DHSI in Victoria and the second in a Faculty Development Summer Seminar here at UST.

What is Digital Humanities?  It appears to be one of those fields where, if you lay all the specialists end-to-end, they won’t reach an agreement.  But the definition provided by Dr. Annie Swafford (SUNY New Paltz, one of the leaders of the on-campus DH seminar) is helpful.  DigitalHumHeader-Blog640She writes, “The field of Digital Humanities is an umbrella term for a wide range of activities that study the human record with computers and digital tools.  The goals are to (1) ask new questions; (2) answer traditional questions in new ways, e.g. ‘using quantification to prompt interpretation’; (3) share data/resources with the larger academic community and citizen scholars; (4) build new tools to ask/answer questions; and (5) augment/challenge print culture (i.e. challenge students to rethink in ways they might not otherwise when completing more traditional assignments).”  Side note:  coming to us from New York, Annie asked for a tour of the Twin Cities.  I took her to visit Minnehaha Falls (pretty, but dinky—I’m from Niagara Falls), the Guthrie Theater, the Walker sculpture garden (must-see “Spoonbridge and Cherry”), and ended with dinner at Nye’s Polonaise.  Annie’s ability to appreciate naugahyde booths and polka music (or at least her ability to appear to appreciate these things) was endearing.

agas_fragment640Back on topic:  DHSI ran from 8-12 June 2015 and, as I started to say, did not precisely offer an entry-level course.  Most of those gathered for the workshops were already adept in the field; I, the neophyte, joined the popular course, “Digital Pedagogy Integration in the Curriculum” taught by Diane Jakacki and Mary Galvin.  Since everyone (besides me) had fairly extensive experience using digital platforms and tools, instructors and guest lecturers coming to visit (in person or by Skype) focused on how to orchestrate DH assignments into a coherent project or full course structure.  For instance, we heard about Janelle Jenstad’s work on the Map of Early Modern London project (see sample above).  This is a collaboration between UVic students and students at other universities to create an interactive map of London circa 1561.  Janelle said that the most exciting thing about the project is that “students will make original contributions to the research” and that “faculty learn from students as students are learning from faculty.”  Along with hearing about this valuable online project, we explored Diane’s work with students to digitize and annotate Civil War archives at Bucknell University, and Mary’s efforts to use digital tools to improve the everyday lives of Alzheimer patients.

Butchart Gardens at Night

Butchart Gardens at Night

After the day-long workshops ended, I spent a couple evenings renting a bike and heading along the “Galloping Goose” trail into the spruce, fir, and cedar forests of Victoria.  Sampling the wonderful restaurants and tourist-spot shopping (where my tasteful selections for friends and family included moose boxer shorts, moose t-shirts, moose earrings, moose…well, you get the idea) was also fun.  Butchart Gardens, which I had to see before leaving town, fully lived up to its reputation as one of the best public floral gardens in North America.

Still, despite the manifest delights of the course and the area, as an unknowing newbie, I found myself longing for instruction in some of the basics.

And that’s where the next seminar, “Fostering the Digital Humanities at St. Thomas” (22-25 June 2015) came in handy.  Guest instructors Annie Swafford and Chris Wells (Macalester College) led hands-on sessions for beginners in Digital Humanities.  Chris addressed the question, “how can adding computers to the mix create new opportunities?”  He demonstrated the ways in which computers, in their ability to process huge amounts of data, open up new analytic possibilities:  they allow us to find patterns and relationships that are otherwise difficult to see.  Together, Chris and Annie introduced UST faculty to data visualization tools like Voyant and Google Ngrams; archival platforms like Omeka; GIS (Geographic Information System) and mapping tools from Google Maps, Neatline, and Mapbox.  Several of these tools and additional information on Digital Humanities can be found in the St. Thomas Library Research Guide for DH (http://libguides.stthomas.edu/digital_humanities) and in the “Pedagogy Toolkit” (http://pedagogy-toolkit.org).

Putting the two workshops together was ideal:  the second offered specific guidance for starting small, with individual tools and simple course assignments, while the first offered a “big picture” view of what could be done by scaffolding larger assignments or collaborating with specialists on course/project design.  Both seminars made this relatively new field and its technology more understandable and accessible, showcasing the many good outcomes possible when computer technologies are introduced into the humanities.

Craft-Fairchild172X250Cathy Craft-Fairchild is a professor in the English Department. Although her primary specialty is 18th-century British literature, she also teaches women’s studies, literature and film, Jewish literature, and most recently, a transatlantic course that combines British and American literature. Her current research centers on the writing of Anglo-Irish novelist and educational reformer Maria Edgeworth, while earlier research focused on 18th- and 19th-century women writers more generally, with particular reference to the image and experience of masquerade.

Faculty Teaching, Undergraduate English

From the Kitchen of Julia Child

Julia Child

Last week, my two classes (ENGL 203 Order Up: The Literature of Food) went to dinner at Salut Bar Américain to enjoy “Mondays with Julia” where Salut selects dishes from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). Fit snugly into three long tables in the Provence Room, we quickly became comfortable with each other as we were served “family style,” requiring us to make sure all were plated before sitting down to sate ourselves.

SalutFoodThe food was mouth-watering and ample, including: salad and French baguettes (which we tore in half to share with our neighbor, dipping into cups of whipped butter), asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, tender green beans with slivers of almond, buttery mashed potatoes, and the pièce de résistance, the coq au vin. The students, stronger and more nimble than myself, deftly lifted and served from giant steaming tureens of chicken nestled in a sauce of wine, carrots, mushrooms, and onions. The dessert, a chocolate mousse accented with fresh blackberries, strawberries, and shortbread, left us in a state that they refer to as a “food coma,” but which I call “bliss.”

While the leftovers were boxed and distributed, I thought of Child’s advice that we had studied earlier: “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” I had applied this advice to writing but now saw it fit well with teaching this class—the subject of which I’m far from expert. But the fearlessness paid off as students asked if we could do this again before the end of the semester—in place of finals.

I want to thank Larissa LaMere for organizing this scrumptious event!

Scott-ColorShannon Scott is an adjunct instructor in the English Department. Werewolves, circuses, film noir detectives, and femme fatales–these are the themes of the English courses she teaches. Each class is an exploration of lives lived on the edge of a tightrope or a knife, in the shadows of a sideshow tent or the silhouette of a smoking gun. Her essay “Female Werewolf as Monstrous Other in Honoré Beaugrand’s ‘The Werewolves’” was recently published in She-Wolf: A Cultural History of Female Werewolves (Manchester, UK: Manchester UP, 2015).

Author Visits, Faculty Teaching, Undergraduate English

The Road Not Taken

In the Fall of 2013, as I considered text selections for my new course The Road Not Taken, the recently published novel Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger caught my attention. I was struck by the complexity of the characters and the nod to our own Minnesota history. But, I hesitated on committing the novel to my syllabus because it was only available in hardcover and I felt the expense to students was a burden. In the end, I could not deny that the novel was brilliant, beautiful and that it fit surprisingly well with my theme of young people making poor choices with often devastating consequences.

As it turned out, my students never complained about the cost and, in fact, declared that it was their favorite book of the semester. When I told them that Krueger lives right here in St. Paul, my students were astonished and asked that I find a way for them to meet this local author.

WilliamKentKrueger-200pxlAt that time, Krueger was already the author of the wildly successful Cork O’Connor detective series. I was certain that this famous author, whose work is frequently listed on the New York Times bestseller lists, would not have time to visit a local University classroom. But, as he later said to me, “All you had to do was ask.” Sure enough, Kent walked in, sat down and facilitated one of the best class discussions of the semester.

Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” suggests that in life, there is no right path. There is only the path you choose. Ordinary Grace opens with the mysterious death of young Bobby Cole and the character of Frank as a reflective adult recognizing that he “should have known him better, been a better friend” (Prologue). For Frank, the summer of 1961 becomes a time of heartbreaking loss, misunderstandings, and the painful recognition that there are things we cannot bear, but must accept. Throughout the novel, Frank wonders if the events of that fateful summer could have turned out differently if he had made different choices and, quite literally, taken a different road.

OrdinaryGrace-200pxlKrueger does a remarkable job of describing the agonizing struggles of young adults. Ariel, a talented musician has been accepted to Juilliard, yet inexplicably decides to forgo this opportunity and stay in the small, unsophisticated town of New Bremen, MN. Frank struggles with what he thinks he knows from what might be the ultimate truth about a homeless Native American. Another character struggles with the secret of his sexual orientation. Even the town bully Morris provides an opportunity to recognize that mean-spirited behaviors probably come from a life of loneliness and indifference.

Another intriguing aspect of Kent’s work is the way he weaves Native American Culture into his writing. Although not originally from Minnesota, after he moved here in 1980 he became fascinated with the beauty of the Boundary Waters and the rich Ojibwe culture. In fact, his main character in the Cork O’Conner mystery series is half Irish and half Ojibwe. Ordinary Grace provides an opportunity to speak to the Great Uprising of 1862, a part of Minnesota history that our public schools often either ignore or misrepresent. In the years preceding the uprising, thousands of white immigrants settled in Minnesota. Although the settlers and Native Americans appeared to co-exist peacefully, the truth is that the Native people had their land taken, game poached and, in the summer of 1862, their annual annuity payment was inexplicably delayed by Congress. The Sioux launched a brief rebellion against the white settlers in Southwestern Minnesota and nearly a thousand settlers were brutally killed. For generations, the story of this uprising has been skewed to put blame on the Sioux tribes, although their people were in fact starving and dying from malnutrition and disease. On December 26, 1862, thirty-eight Sioux braves were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota. This remains the largest mass execution in U.S. history. In Ordinary Grace, the misunderstood character of Warren Redstone opens the door for discussion about the prejudice and overall unfair representation of our Native Minnesota people.

"Battle of New Ulm" (1904), Anton Gag

“Battle of New Ulm” (1904), Anton Gag

In the spring of 2014, Ordinary Grace won the prestigious Edgar Award for the best mystery novel. It is recognized as a classic work of literature with a suspenseful plot, poignant characters, and beautifully written prose. Teachers will find that there are many ways to approach this novel, only a few of which I have listed here. The story truly does explore “The Road Not Taken,” and yet in the words of Robert Frost we recognize that we cannot go back and choose the other road, “Yet knowing how way leads on to way, / I doubted if I should ever come back” (14-15).  Frost affirms that we only have one chance to choose our road in life.

With a stunning, award-winning novel and his humble, down-to-earth personality, William Kent Krueger has become a highly sought- after speaker. This month, we are privileged to have him visit our campus and address a larger audience. Krueger will read from Ordinary Grace and participate in an audience Q & A.  A book signing will follow this event.  Please join us for a memorable evening with a man who genuinely enjoys engaging his readers.

Works Cited

Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken.” You Come Too.  New York:  Henry Holt and Company, 2002.

Hofmeister-New

Jeannie Hofmeister is an adjunct professor in the English Department. She is primarily interested in 19th-and 20th-Century American Literature and regularly uses work from Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Stephen Crane, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, and Sylvia Plath in her classes.