Saturday, April 12, 2008

Fantasy Class Time - Grad Student Challenge

I got an email yesterday which reminded me that I need to start thinking a bit about my fall classes. All of them. Okay, writing is pretty much going where it usually goes, and I don't actually have to preplan that right now. But I need to start preparing the others, and ordering some stuff, so I thought I'd share some of the fun.

If you're a grad student, or even if you're not, feel free to share the fun!

First, for early modernists! I'm teaching a senior class on early modern drama and the Other, or some such thing. One of my colleagues in history is an early modernist in a middle eastern culture/area, and is going to come talk to the class about Islam and Europe in the early modern period! So that's cool. And I've got some ideas for historical readings from her. BUT, I'm looking for a really good text to introduce Post-Colonial theory, to help us think about how early modern England uses conceptions of the Other in its texts. I'd love a short introductory text or anthology, or a group of essays; they need to be introductory, though, since at least some members of the class have had no introduction to Post-Colonial theory. (Some students will have taken one or more focused classes in more recent Post-Colonial lit, though!)

I'm also thinking about which early modern texts to teach. So far, I'm thinking of focusing on representations of Black, Islamic, and Jewish Others. And I'm planning to teach Oroonoko (because it's a cool text, though late for me, and not drama). I'd really love some other suggestions, especially those that might take us into interesting directions. Drama is the main focus, but some non-dramatic texts wouldn't hurt too much.

[NB. I would rather tear my hair out in one great yank than try to teach The Tragedy of Mariam/Miriam again. I'm sure some people have taught that with great success; heck, I'm sure some people have enjoyed the heck out of the text. I'm not that person. My students hated it when I tried to teach it, though we all enjoyed the biography, of course.]

Second, for the Chaucer and medieval types! Once again, I get the privilege of teaching Chaucer, because at this point, it's me or no Chaucer. And though I'm not a real Chaucerian, I love teaching the stuff.

The class is set at the junior level, which is totally new for here. So I want to totally avoid giving students an assignment to write a "research" paper for the class. Instead, I'd like to see the junior level class as building skills for writing a research paper, specifically skills in reading critical essays well and in asking good research questions. In order to work on developing reading skills, I'd like to choose two or three really top notch recent critical essays on some Chaucer piece that I can use to get the class to read, discuss, and work through. (We'll also be using Graff and Birkenstein's They Say / I Say to help with thinking about such things, and then they'll find another critical essay and write a response to it.) So here's your chance: suggest a really good critical essay on something suitable for a Chaucer class!

The best suggestion in each category will win something fun (and easy to mail) from Japan!

Category 1: Post-Colonial Theory introductory text
Category 2: Early Modern Text (appropriate for class on the Other)
Category 3: Recently published critical essay appropriate for a Chaucer class.

Go wild!


  1. No idea if any of this is appropriate as to period and what you're shooting for, but Three Ladies of London?

  2. Anonymous6:44 AM

    david spurr - the rhetoric of empire colonial discourse in journalism, travel writing, and imperial administration duke university press 1993

  3. Ooo, I nominate The Fair Maid of the West for Category 2. (It is a two-parter, but a REALLY quick read and super fun, and it has lots of Moors in it.) Unfortunately, I don't think there are any editions currently in print, so you'd have to use a course pack.

  4. For the Chaucer class, I like Karma Lochrie's Exemplaria article on women's "privitees" in the Miller's Tale (the full title escapes me). The writing is clear, but students have to grapple with some abstract ideas, especially the idea that the "exchange" of women isn't literal or conscious -- John and Nicholas don't meet and cut some kind of deal -- but part of an unspoken (i.e., privy!) system. Plus, they like the Miller's Tale.

  5. Your course dilemmas sound like fun!

    Post-colonial writings for early modern England? I think there's some interesting material on Spenser and Ireland but it's not relating to drama. However, it's really good for students to understand the contentious nature of Anglo-Irish relations at this time, and from a post-colonial perspective.

    Bruce Avery, (1990), 'Mapping the Irish Other: Spenser's A View of the Present State of Ireland', English Literary History 57(2), 263-79.

    For Chaucer, htere are a couple of interesting articles in Jeffrey J. Cohen, ed., (2001), 'The Postcolonial Middle Ages' Palgrave Macmillan.

  6. Ditto on the Spurr, which, though not an undergraduate text, seems to get at tropes of Imperial discourse with remarkable clarity. Last fall I used McLeod's *Beginning PostColonialism* but a lot of post-colonial theory has to do with literatures produced after the colonial period, so nationalism and its travails are big foci there, and may be irrelevant. The first 2 chapters could be quite useful, though. And of course, never under-estimate the enduring appeal of Said's *Orientalism*.

    More specifically, I could also suggest the work of my colleague Jonathan Burton, whose book *Traffic and Turning* is on precisely the subject of your class, and he has just co-edited with Ania Loomba a collection of primary source materials on race in the Early Modern period from Plagrave, I think. It looks just stunning. Hope that helps!

  7. WHy don't you do Southerne's play of Oroonoko? It's totally bizarre, with the Oroonoko plot grafted on to a Restoration comedy (complete with bed trick and disguise). And since Imoinda is white in the play, it raises all sorts of questions about race.

    An alternative would be Behn's Widow Ranter, which has Indians but not black slaves in Virginia.

    What I've been interested in is how invisible the English practice of slavery is in 17th C lit, aside from Oroonoko. So huge dimensions of the process of colonization are invisible. . .

  8. Wow, these are GREAT suggestions!

    I'd love some more, please!

  9. Ted Steinberg has a new book out on Jewish life in the Middle Ages. I have to link to this press release b/c I love the author photo. It would go great with Amitav Ghosh's In an Antique Land, which uses his historical detective story tracking down the Indian slave of a North African Jewish merchant in the pre-1498 Indian Ocean basin as a counterpoint to his expose of fundamentalisms' rewriting of history in the post-1945 breakdown of the European colonial order. (Yeah, I've just revealed that I've read Ghosh and haven't read my colleague's book yet! Sorry, Ted!)