Daily Archives: August 10, 2006

Desert Island Classroom

This fall, for the first time, I have been assigned to teach one of those massive undergraduate Brit Lit surveys ranging from the late Renaissance to Modernism. From what I’m led to believe, most of those who teach this class are Victorianists who find it rather easy to tiptoe through the tulips of C17th and C18 poetry and prose, plucking a few nice things to complement a semester resplendent with Romantics, Vickies, and Mods. For me, choosing among texts for the earlier two-thirds of the semester was rather like Sophie’s Choice, especially since not even English majors are likely to take C18 anything before graduation.

Of course, I can’t assign Tom Jones and Clarissa and call it a day, though the thought had occurred to me. I ended up taking the opposite path of assigning many short poems, literary prefaces and essays with the purpose of showing the British Early Modern/Enlightenment era in all its confusing, self-contradictory glory. For poets I have Donne through Pope, and then prose selections from as many C18 writers as possible, including all of Gulliver and a full day and a half of pieces from Johnson.

The limitations of the semester-long survey are severe, but while writing my syllabus, I found myself having nightmares that I was forced to limit the eighteenth-century section even further. “You only have a week for the eighteenth!” a booming administrative voice declared. Then, when I’d dream-revised, the voice said, “Just kidding! You only have a day!” A day? I thought. What could anyone get across about the eighteenth century in a day?

So here’s my version of the Desert Island question, limited not by space but by time. If you only had one day (a 90-minute class, say) to teach something about the eighteenth to a class of undergraduates, what text (or texts) would you use to exemplify it? You probably can’t discuss a whole novel, so you can excerpt, if you like.

I’ll post my dream-answer in the comments.

Upcoming courses?

At the risk of eliciting groans, I will observe that classes start for most of us, those who are teaching that is, in a few weeks. I would love to know what courses others are to teach and how they will organise them, so please feel welcome to link to your course websites. (And now that I think of it, a section in the sidebar that links to pertinent course pages might be a useful thing. Note to self.)

This term I have two courses, a second year course that surveys English literature until 1800, and a graduate course on women in the theatre in the Restoration and 18thc. As you will see if you visit, the pages are in varying stages of readiness:

Thalia’s Daughters for English 6365: Women Onstage in the Long Eighteenth Century
systematic deviation for English 2101: Literature in English I

Each is a new course (though the 2101 is really just half of a longer course that we recently divided, which I had taught several times). Any comments are most welcome, on course content, formatting of the course sites, or anything else.


You realize, Carrie, that this is totally going to force me to actually think about my . . . research! . . . from time to time. Which is good, since I should really do more of that.

Speaking of, I, at least, hope to use this occasionally to just freewrite and get some feedback on whether I’m off my rocker, which recent articles and books are glaringly absent from my mental library, that sort of thing. Or even, “this is startlingly original and brilliant; you must publish it immediately.” Which leads me to ask–does anyone mind if I set up a Creative Commons license and put the little “this stuff is copyrighted” button on the front page?

Oh, and, hi everyone. And yay Carrie. Don’t forget to put this on your CV.