I just got back from the AAC&U Institute on High-Impact Practices and Student Success at Vanderbilt University. While I learned a great deal about HIPs, and about what it means to make meaningful interventions in student learning at the institutional level, I also learned a cool tool: Cmap. A wide variety of uses for teaching and scholarship were immediately apparent, but I also got a good idea from, Tim Eatman, the faculty member who taught the tool to my team: using it to visualize a promotion portfolio.
One of my challenges as I’m preparing to apply for full professor this fall is making sense of the range of post-tenure activities in which I’ve participated over the last six or so years. I pursued these avenues in a way that felt very intentional to me, but I’m not sure that will be visible to my P & T committees. There’s a mix of traditional scholarship and online interventions, teaching experiments and campus service, public engagement in the arts and culture sector throughout the Philadelphia region…where’s the narrative? What’s the guiding principle to the work I’ve been doing?
So, over the next few months as I’m putting together my application, I’ll also be creating a Cmap, which I’ll include in my documents and publish here once it’s done. My focus question will be: How does an academic in literature and the humanities shape a career committed to literary study, public engagement, student success, and institutional health? Mapping the nodes and connections I’ve built over time will show — I hope — how these elements can be integrated and a case for their value as a whole can be made.
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I was delighted to be invited to give the keynote at this year’s Northwest Undergraduate Conference on Literature at the beautiful University of Portland. You can read about the conference here, on their English Department blog, and here’s an excerpt from the remarks.
Scenes from a Life Loving Books; Or, Everything I Think I Know about Stories I Learned from Barry Manilow
I actually do think that reading literature makes you a better person, which sounds positively 19th century — maybe even 18th or 17th century — but also kind of 21st century, as cognitive science, the emerging field of “literary neuroscience” proves irrefutably that Jane Austen makes you smarter. Literature does make you a better person by engaging people in big questions of humanity and civilization, or at least it gives you the equipment to recognize when those questions are being asked, and maybe even to grapple with their answers, myriad and various though they are. But more and more I think that literature is important because it allows us to give in to our impulse for play as well. AND, perhaps an even more important point, and an even weirder thing to say, is that literary criticism is important because it allows us to give in to our impulse for play.
We don’t necessarily think of literary critics as the types to go in for fun. But that’s sort of why I began with a kind of “autobiography of the reader,” writing the life of the critic, in order to model just one version of how a reader gets to be who she is, and in the telling of my story I’m offering an instance of play. Such a story provides an opportunity to think about how we develop a sense of who we are as readers, and how we begin to understand the questions and ideas that are most important to us. You all have a story like this, and while I’m talking you might even think a bit about what it is. In the time remaining to me, I’d like to focus on what I’ve done with these origins and this still-emergent critical stance, and how I think criticism works — how the incredibly important empathic and affective function literature serves exists in what is to me a very exciting and productive dynamic with play — and how the job, the use, the delight, the necessity of literary criticism is to illuminate that dynamic — and, finally, how literary criticism does this by performing and enacting both the incredibly important empathic function and the play. Literary criticism explains by doing, it doesn’t just tell, it shows, and this is why we need it. It shows us how to play, how to care, how to have an intelligent conversation — indeed, how to fulfill what Lionel Trilling called “the moral obligation to be intelligent.” Who would ever say, in our world today, that we don’t need more empathy and more play?
Winding down a semester that saw a lot of excitement: the inaugural semester of our First-Year Common Experience (featuring a lecture by Ta-Nehisi Coates), an exhibition of the work of Norman Rubington, writing, teaching — all culminating in great thesis presentations by our senior English majors…and a departmental assessment report. I know that last one sounds less than thrilling, but it’s prompted some really productive conversations in our department around teaching and learning.
Speaking of — looking forward to debuting a new course on Graphic Narrative this spring. I’m trying a few new things, involving students earlier in the design, planning a Google Hangout panel chat (hopefully with Comics Grid colleagues), and some reflective journaling.
Lots of traveling, too — a sample:
- The pre-meeting symposium at the AAC&U Annual Meeting: “New Designs for Integrative Learning,” January in DC
- A paper on Leann Shapton at the 2014 Narrative conference, March at MIT
- Keynoting at the Northwest Undergraduate Conference on Literature, April at University of Portland
As always, you can find me over at Inside Higher Ed/University of Venus.
This semester there will be an additional place to find me online: Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 9-10pm I’ll be holding online office hours. Visit on Google Chat and Skype.
You can also find me in Cincinnati in November for the annual National Women’s Studies Association Conference. I’ll be joining Brenda Bethman, Liana Silva, and Mary Churchill for a roundtable on our Twitter chat for women in higher ed, #femlead. As always, I can be found at the University of Venus blog over on Inside Higher Ed.
Check out the Widener University Art Gallery, where I’ve curated an exhibition on the American expatriate artist Norman Rubington, who also wrote for the Olympia Press under the pseudonym Akbar del Piombo; visit the website here.
And finally, I’m delighted to spend a few evenings this fall talking Jane Austen as part of the Lantern Theater Company‘s production of an adaptation of Emma.
In addition to finding me in the classroom, you’ll be able to find me in assessment meetings as we revise our first-year writing program and our departmental goals and objectives — and hopefully you’ll find me in my office making some long-awaited progress on Erotic Biography.
Online and off, I’ll be:
- Attending the Annual Meeting for the National Humanities Alliance/Humanities Advocacy Day in March once again;
- Working on an introduction for the Valancourt Books edition of John Braine’s Room at the Top;
- And, of course, blogging at Inside Higher Ed/University of Venus
Also: watch the Widener English blog this January for writing from my fall semester students on why we read — and need — fiction.
Looking forward to the return of THATCamp Philly on September 29th. I’ve proposed an idea for a session on using digital archives in research and teaching: check it out.
Classes at Widener begin on August 27, but before then I’ll be participating in a few chairly-type retreats focusing on governance, leadershipping, etc., so very much around. Here’s what I’ll be teaching this fall, and when you can find me for office hours.
In and around town — and beyond:
- Continuing my work at the Swarthmore Public Library leading a book group on biography called “Women’s Lives”
- Joining a few Twitter colleagues for a roundtable on modernism and social media at MSA 14 in Las Vegas, October 18-21; I’ll also be chairing a panel I put together entitled “Modernist Necrophilia”
- Recent posts up at University of Venus/Inside Higher Ed as well as The Comics Grid
Finally — very pleased to be joining the editorial team at College Literature as an Associate Editor. They’ve undergone a redesign and a shift in focus with new editor Graham MacPhee, and I’m excited to be part of it.