Wow, it’s been a long time since I showed my face around these parts! I had expected to be able to throw myself into the Long Eighteenth this summer, but found myself stymied on all sides. (Yes, I am finally going to do my orals.) I did want to make a small plug, though, for one of the projects I was working on, mostly because I found it both absurdly rewarding to do and potentially an excellent resource for the English scholarly community.
Broadview Press is currently developing an instructors-only resource on the web to provide a supplement to their British Literature anthology series. As most of us who teach survey classes know all too well, the survey class can be rather stressful when we look back and remember that the last time we read a particular major text was eons ago, if at all. We all have those odd gaps, and organizing a syllabus for a survey can provide a sudden and uncomfortable wake-up call.
Broadview has been asking scholars of particular authors to provide guides on their own authors of expertise, aimed at instructors who may be fully aware of general theoretical problems and interests, but could use some assistance when planning a lesson on a period or author who may not be a part of their own research. In my own classroom, for example, I feel comfortable talking about the critical problems around seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century authors, but when we get to the Romantics, I’m stuck with my own isolated readings of poems and whatever research I can fit into a busy teaching schedule.
The teaching guides will consist of brief introductions to the main critical approaches to each author in their anthology, followed by possible lines of discussion and inquiry for each of the works, suggested questions for discussion, a brief critical history, and a few excerpts from other sources that instructors and their students may find helpful. Of course, it’s far more information than anyone could fit into a survey, and instructors with expertise are likely to quibble with the focus provided, but I can think of several ways in which these guides may help me to encourage students doing research on authors I haven’t personally written about.
As it is, I find it’s difficult to teach my survey course in a way that doesn’t merely reflect my own predilections. If my students want to research Behn, Swift, or Austen, I respond enthusiastically that I know just the article or book to send them to. “What a great idea for a project!” I say. “I don’t think anyone has taken that issue up in quite that way, and here’s a good place to start.” But to the student who wants to write about Carroll or Pater, I end up saying, vaguely, “To the library! Go team!” I love teaching them, but my reading in the field is not exactly thorough.
Do you find your own research interests and limitations getting in the way of helping students to research authors you haven’t personally studied? Is this a ridiculous anxiety to have? If you were to have some kind of guide at your fingertips, what would it provide you with and why?