Category Archives: Teaching

Engl 108P, Popular Potter, now online

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Grab your quills and keyboards! As of Winter semester 2019, you can take English 108P, Popular Potter, online. Are you curious about how Rowling draws on mythology and folklore to ground and structure her novels about the boy wizard? Perhaps you have always wanted to talk about the traces of World War II in the novels, or consider how the ideology of the Fabian Society influences Dumbledore’s philosophy and the Order of the Phoenix. Do you have a burning desire to express your frustrations with Harry’s romance with Cho–but in literary terms, which reflect on the limitations of narrative voice? Or maybe you can’t wait to talk about Dobby and why it’s initially funny when he is forced to hurt himself, but then suddenly isn’t humorous at all. Setting aside all of these possibilities, what about the luxury of taking a course for which you probably have already done the reading in advance? Wingardium Leviosa!

Image source: Etsy

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Welcoming Dr. Stacy Denton

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You may have thought we were done with the blog posts welcoming new faculty, but we have one more to sneak in as classes start! Dr. Stacy Denton earned her PhD at Concordia, and most recently taught at York University; she will be dividing her time between UWaterloo English and Arts First. During her interview day she gave a teaching presentation that generated significant debate and discussion among faculty, while also providing significant humour. I’m positive students will be as enthusiastic as we are!

JLH: Welcome to UWaterloo. You have an interesting position, in that you will be teaching in English as well as the Arts First Initiative.  Do you anticipate any differences?
SD: Thanks — I’m really looking forward to this upcoming year! I do think that there will be significant differences in my experience with the English classroom and the Arts First classroom at UWaterloo. The most important difference that I anticipate is the fact that Arts First is focused specifically on first-year students who are just beginning to navigate their postsecondary education and may not know what discipline they want to pursue. This will require me to introduce concepts related to the fields that we associate with English at UWaterloo, as well as provide a sustained focus on the process of engaging with these concepts in an academic setting. As a result, my Arts First classrooms will spend a lot of time drawing out critical thinking and analysis of texts and ideas, and how this can be accomplished through both writing and — gasp — presentation. In the English classroom, at least for non-academic writing courses, there will be less emphasis on strengthening skills and “finding one’s voice” in the same kind of way. Because we can focus less on adjusting to the academic context, my content-driven English courses will more deeply engage with theoretical concepts and close reading of texts (literary, filmic, or otherwise) in light of the unique expertise that students bring to these materials.

JLH: You have significant experience teaching academic writing at different levels: what has been the most rewarding part of that for you?
SD: In order to answer that question, I think that I need to refer to the phrase just mentioned in my last response: the most rewarding part of teaching academic writing is helping students “find their voice” in an academic context that may initially seem alienating or, at the very least, impersonal and strange. I have worked with students at all levels of their academic careers, from first-year students to PhD candidates, and I have noticed that while students at these different stages face different challenges, there is a resounding similarity in the struggles surrounding “academic” writing. For example, writers at all levels will face, at some point, writer’s block or just a feeling of not being able to write anything coherently. In my experience (with my own writing and in guiding other people’s writing), these issues arise due to the anxiety that occurs as people push themselves beyond their comfort zones, as they engage with new ideas and incorporate them with their own perspectives. Instead of ignoring this uncomfortable feeling, I encourage students to embrace it, as it is my belief that the discomfort and insecurity that accompanies this stage of inquiry is an important part of growing as a writer and a scholar. “Finding one’s voice,” then, becomes more than one’s writing style (although, of course, this is fundamental!), but to embrace all the aspects (both positive and negative) that make someone a unique and important contributor to knowledge — and when somebody “gets” that, it is a nice thing to see.

JLH: Can you tell us a bit about your academic research, and how you might bring it into the classroom?
SD: In a general sense, I have been (and continue to be) interested in the postwar (1945-1970) period in the US. It was such a fascinating time period due to the seismic social, cultural and economic shifts that occurred in what must have seemed like an instant. It is also fascinating because these changes and their aftereffects still resonate in the 21st century. But what I have been primarily interested in researching are the ways that representations of the rural, white, working-class were (are) used to help make sense of these changes. The similarity of these postwar representations across journalism, the social sciences, literature, film, and popular culture is very striking; it is almost as if this demographic became one of the important characters in the narratives of progress and development that were propagated across the postwar. However, while I love to talk about this specific time period and this particular kind of representation in my courses, I can’t always do so given the mandate of a given course. But what I concretely bring into my classroom from my research is an emphasis on the usefulness of interdisciplinarity in helping us understand the many layers of a society through its different kinds of “texts.” Through this emphasis, I also try to highlight how different disciplines speak to and strengthen each other.

JLH: Many academics find their interests either shift post-dissertation, or broaden. Has this been the case with you?
SD: Absolutely! There is a lot of unfinished business that I feel I could only touch upon in my dissertation and wanted to explore further. For example, in my dissertation, I was very much concerned with isolating a potential counter-narrative to the discourse that pushed a very specific kind of “American-ness” that seemed to be largely defined through a middle-class sub/urban lens. I want to further understand how this narrative/counter-narrative continues to influence the US in the late-20th/early-21st century, and more recently, I have pursued this interest through analyzing the ways that film engages with the larger socioeconomic shifts occurring in rural areas in the 1980s and 1990s. I also think things in this arena have gotten infinitely more complicated in the last five years, and I am only starting to touch on that topic. I have also found that, because of my focus on teaching across disciplines and the time that is required to organize different kinds of classrooms, I have become fascinated by some topics that are quite different from what I originally started researching. For example, I am currently investigating the work of the postwar painter and writer Rosalyn Drexler, something that is certainly adding to the quilt of texts that I am using to understand the importance of the postwar period. And, finally, I want to embark on a new scholarly avenue that considers the role of interdisciplinary pedagogy in the 21st century university. This scholarly interest is very much inspired by my experience of teaching in different places, across different disciplines, in the last ten years.

JLH: Finally, what are the books you’ve most enjoyed reading for pleasure this past year?
SD: Three books that I have read for pleasure in the last year and that stand out to me are Alice Munro’s The Lives of Girls and Women, Kim Edwards’ The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, and a re-read of Thoreau’s Walden. Although I am familiar with Munro, I had never read this particular work, and I felt that it was time to pick it up. There aren’t many writers who can capture the quiet desperation of people with seemingly few choices, but as with Munro’s other writing, this work really draws out just how complex such an experience can be. I mention Edwards’ novel here as well because I was surprised at how enjoyable it was (I had randomly picked it up at a used book store and didn’t bring any expectations to it). Among other things, it is a beautifully written meditation on the failures of the American Dream, and what people feel they need to give up to achieve it. And, finally, in light of the current political and cultural divisions of our present context, I wanted to return to Walden. Although written in a completely different set of circumstances, I feel that Thoreau still offers us things to think about in light of the pursuit of unthinking economic “progress.” In particular, what do we give up as individuals and as a society when we become too complacent with “the way things are”? Who gets sacrificed for the comfort of the few, and at what environmental and moral price? And, perhaps most importantly, he seems to be asking the reader what it is they are going to do once they have answered these questions for themselves.

Typewriters! Femme fatales! Zeppelins!


English 460A: Early Literature of the Modernist Period in the United Kingdom and Ireland, taught by Dr. Dorothy Hadfield this fall, promises modernism as you’ve possibly never imagined it. Typewriters! Zeppelins! ZEPPELINS! There’s something delightfully steampunk about it all. Read on to find out more about English 460, which runs Tuesday/Thursday 10:00-11:20am.

Vampires. Prostitutes. Typewriters. Femme fatales. Zeppelins.
As the world moved towards the 20th century, the spirit of modernism was in the air… and on the ground, and in the machines…. Literature of the fin-de-siècle reflected both the optimism and the anxiety of a nation in transition. This is the age of Dracula and Sherlock Holmes—villains intent on destroying the sociopolitical order and agents intent on thwarting them. It’s the age of Major Barbara, pitting a Salvation Army crusader against her arms-dealer father in an argument over which of them will save the world. But some of the most controversial literature of the period revolved around Grant Allen’s notorious novel The Woman Who Did, hotly debating the propriety of what the woman did – or didn’t – do. In this course, we will look at both the literary texts and the historical and social contexts in which they were written to examine how a range of early modernist writers were coming to terms with the future they see approaching.

Welcoming Dr. Megan Selinger

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Historically Blackberry has hired English’s people; this time, the process was happily reversed when Dr. Megan Selinger agreed to join our department. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have gained a colleague who not only has professional expertise as a technical writer, but also boasts significant experience teaching Communications to STEM and Business students. She has impressed us all, and I have no doubt her students will be equally enthusiastic. However, you don’t necessarily have to take her course to benefit from her wisdom: read on to find out what she has to say about dangerous apps, overcoming a dislike of writing, and more!

JLH: Has your teaching been influenced by your practical experience as a technical writer in industry?
MS: One of the first lessons that I learned as a technical writer was to consider my audience: how are they receiving the information I am trying to provide? Can they parse my language, follow my instructions, and understand the data I am attempting to pass on? How can I write cleaner, clearer, and more concisely?

I’ve continued to ask myself these questions for every communication – and that includes in my lectures. When teaching, I look to the needs of my audience – of my students – to best assess what format I should use, what tone and word choice I need to employ, and, most of all, what method best ensures that I can provide an enriching and entertaining classroom experience.

That’s not to say my more practical tech-writing side doesn’t, on occasion, clash with my more stylistic writing – especially when I’m writing for presentations or to produce particular effect, but I always ensure that the needs of my audience are met before throwing in a dash of alliteration or a hint of humour. It was a hard lesson to teach myself that alliteration doesn’t innately improve interaction. (A lesson I’m clearly still learning.)

JLH: You’ve been teaching a lot of writing and communication courses: what do you think is the most rewarding part of these classes for you?
MS: Teaching any course is rewarding; you gain the opportunity to see students engaging with material and ideas that are new to them. But I would say that writing courses provide an additional benefit as they can change the very structure of a student’s way of communicating. That is, my course could positively improve every future communication a student has. The students write with more confidence; they present material in a manner that is well-structured and sound. Most importantly, once the student can be sure they are communicating effectively, they become more adept at developing their own personal voice and style in order to enhance their writing and presentations. Even requests for assignment extensions are far clearer near the end of the term than they were in those first few weeks. I have to say, it’s a lot harder to turn down requests using the correct format.

JLH: Do you have advice for students who think “I can’t write” or “I don’t like to write”?
MS: I’ve found that most students have only been taught one method of brainstorming, one method of writing essays, and one method of editing. These methods may work wonderfully for students who benefit from those particular learning styles, but they work against students whose main strength resides in a different learning style.

My advice is to first attempt to get over the general fear of writing and “blank page paralysis”. Write 100 words a day – every day – even when you aren’t actively working on an assignment. Train yourself to translate thoughts into language and language into narrative.

Second, try a ton of new brainstorming techniques. Use traditional cluster or word association, but also consider apps like Written Kitten – which rewards you for your writing (http://writtenkitten.co/) – or The Most Dangerous Writing App – which uses the “punishment” side of the reward/punishment dichotomy to ensure you don’t stop writing. (https://www.themostdangerouswritingapp.com/)

Above all, remember that writing is just like everything else. It requires practice, training, and continual learning to keep your communication skills sharp and focused.

JLH: Finally, I generally close on a book question: what was your favorite book (or two!) of the last year?
MS: Late last year, I finally tackled Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. It had been on my “to read” list for a number of years, but I was glad I waited until after I submitted my dissertation. Danielewski’s book references many of the texts that I read for my courses, field study, or research. It gives the book that extra bit of uncanniness when you remember a text that is referenced in the footnotes (or even footnoted in the footnotes), remember the section of that text that is being referenced, and yet you’re fairly sure that the quote itself is fictional. But not quite sure. (And as you get further and further in the book, you become less and less sure.)

I’ve also been reading through Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, and I’m enjoying it immensely. Once I’m finished, I’ll finally be able to watch the movie version of Annihilation. I’ve always felt the need to read the source material before tackling a text’s adaptation, which can create quite a backlog of TV shows and movies. (One day I’ll finally watch The Shining.)

English 408B: The Discourse of Advertising


I am grateful to anyone who gives me an excuse to share that vintage image of a pig bisecting itself. In this case, it’s Dr. Gordon Slethaug who, this fall, will be teaching English 408B: The Discourse of Advertising. According to the description:

Print advertising is dead; Long live advertising. Well, no, door-to-door advertising mainly involving newspapers, magazines, and other printed material and is not entirely dead, but it no longer represents the main thrust in advertising or the bulk of revenue. Still, because TV and digital advertising now surrounds us in ways that it never did before, the volume of it and the revenue have been steadily climbing and are expected to climb further. Moreover, of the 584 billion dollars spent on advertising in the US in 2017, over 50% of that is said to be on Google and Facebook. In fact, 97% of Facebook’s enormous revenue comes from advertising. So, the face of advertising may have changed, but the consumer is increasingly influenced as never before. This course will introduce students to the history and present reality of the discourse and rhetoric of advertising that surrounds us at home and increasingly abroad. In addition, students will have ample opportunity to write about advertising, create ads of their own, and compile a portfolio of advertising copy and discussion to show prospective employers.

Texts:
Barry, Pete. 2017 (third edition). The Advertising Concept Book. New York: Thames and Hudson
Various online and PDF articles on LEARN as required
“Glen talks” by Glen Drummond (Quarry Communications) and Gordon Slethaug

Evaluation:
Test X 2 (30%)
Twice a term (Oct. 16, Nov. 29), in a full class period of an hour and twenty minutes each, students will write a test applying readings and lecture material to ads. Each test will cover a specific section of the course. Both will hold equal weight with regard to your final grade. (15% each)

Advertising Portfolio: Reflections (32%/8% each)
Students will create and maintain a portfolio for the duration of the course. Four reflections of about 1200 words each submitted on LEARN as well as in hard copy will give students the opportunity to create, analyze, and edit ads within the context of course readings and lecture material. Reflections will include:
–Oct 2: Use Barry’s basic tools and campaign analysis to unpack an advertising       campaign
–Oct. 11: Reflect on the semiotic use of color in a campaign
–Oct. 30: Reflect on the use of males or females in advertising or relationship between the two
–Nov. 15: Subtervise (substitute/revise) either a single ad or campaign

Advertising Portfolio: Major Campaign (15%)
–Nov. 27:  This major assignment will require students, working in groups of three (a sign-up sheet will be distributed), to design and comment on a multi-platform advertising campaign (consisting of 3 print ads, 2 TV spots, 1 viral component), present the projects in class, and submit them to me.

In-class presentation (13%)
Students will work in groups of three to make PowerPoint presentations on material for one particular day.  This should be 30 minutes long, commenting on some of the main take-away points of readings with reference to selected ads.

Participation (10%)
By enrolling in this course you obligate yourself to read the assigned texts in advance of class, attend classes, and enter readily into class discussion. Our class discussions will be an important part of your learning, and that is reflected in the mark distribution. Should you miss a class, it is your responsibility to find out what you missed.

 

Literature of the Romantic


Looking for a 4th year course for Fall 2018? Why not consider English 430A: Literature of the Romantic, taught by Dr. John Savarese?

This course will offer an introduction to the first half of the Romantic period. Often characterized as an “Age of Revolution,” the Romantic period saw a variety of approaches to (and breaks with) tradition, from modes of governance to poetic style. We will begin by studying the poetry, prose, and images that circulated in the wake of the French Revolution, with particular focus on the development of a discourse of human rights in literature and political rhetoric, and culminating in William Blake’s various treatments of the power of the imagination. The next weeks of the course will focus the relations among Romanticism, revolution, and the literary gothic. We will conclude the course by revisiting perhaps the most traditional location of a “revolution in poetic language”—the Wordsworth circle—in light of the broader interests, anxieties, and experiments we will have surveyed. Our last sessions will focus on an additional text we choose together, with the aim of producing a concrete outcome (e.g. an annotated text or digital resource) that future classes can use.

Readings
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Dover, 9780486281223)
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (Broadview, 9781551114798)
Coursepack (available on LEARN; please print and bring to class)

Assessment
Participation 25%
Exercise 1: 2-page “close reading” 10%
Exercise 2: 5-page short paper 15%
Exercise 3: Final Project 20%
Self-evaluation 1 (at mid-term) 5%
Self-evaluation 2 (end of term) 5%
Final exam 20%

MONSTERS! (also known as English 208G)

Screenshot 2018-07-19 09.29.50
From Frankenstein and Dracula to World War Z and Slenderman: join Dr. John Savarese this fall for “Gothic Monsters,” a study of monstrosity, fear, terror, and horror in the gothic mode from its origins to the present (Tuesday/Thursday 11:30 – 12:50).

Among other questions, this term the course will ask: What cultural and intellectual work do our monsters do for us? Why do scary s tories give pleasure ? W hy did stories of religious superstition and ghostly hauntings take on new power in and after the “Age of Enlightenment , ” and how do today’s terrors bear the marks of that history ? We will first survey the foundations of the gothic mode and two of its most canonical monsters — Mary Shelley’s patchwork of living tissues and Bram Stoker’s synthesis of vampire traditions . We will then use the zombie as a test case a) in monsters and their variations ( how does the zombie relate to other “undead” monsters, and why is the reanimated corpse so persistent a trope ? ) and b) the migration of genres (to what degree are zombie horror fictions “gothic” in any meaningful sense)? Alongside the zombie, we will also examine the gothic’s divergent paths in weird fiction, horror film, music and fashion subcultures, and the murkier regions of the internet.

Required Texts
Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (the 1818 text)
Bram Stoker, Dracula
Max Brookes, World War Z
Note : You may procure any complete and unabridged edition of the above texts , so long as the edition of Shelley uses the 1818 text (which was subsequently heavily revised) .

Available on LEARN (Courepack)
Jeffrey Cohen, “Monster Culture: Seven Theses”
Excerpts on the Sublime, Terror, and Horror ( Baldick; Burke; Ann.; Radcliffe; King)
Theoretical readings: Sigmund Freud, from “The Uncanny;” Julia Kristeva, from Powers of Horror; Susan Sontag, from “Notes on Camp;” Bakhtin, from Rabelais and His World
Fiction selections: Rice, Lovecraft

Online/Hyperlinked Texts
Frankenstein (1910 film , recommended but not required viewing)
Bauhaus, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” (1979 song)
“From Gothic to Goth” ( Youtube playlist)
Night of the Living Dead (1968 film )
Know Your Meme: Slenderman

Pictured: a young Bram Stoker