In the eight years since completing my PhD, I have taught undergraduates in a variety of institutions—public and private, small liberal arts colleges and R1 universities—and across departments and programs: English, Medieval Studies, Gender Studies, and History. Interdisciplinarity is at the core of both my research and my teaching philosophy, as are the connected goals of making medieval and early modern culture intelligible to a modern audience while challenging long-held assumptions about those periods, particularly as pertain to gender and racial representation. Students leave my classes with a greater understanding of the diversity and complexity of medieval and early modern Europe, as well as critical media literacy skills and substantive practice in textual analysis and constructing arguments.
In service of these goals, I draw on my experience working between disciplines, incorporating visual arts, film, creative writing, and performance to help students understand the often alien texts they encounter in medieval and early modern literature classes. All of my classes feature considerable discussion of the circumstances of a text’s production—not just the author’s life (if known), but the larger political and cultural context, how it was first disseminated (manuscript, print, orally), and the response it received, if we know it. By making it clear that texts are not produced in a vacuum and that they are constantly building upon and responding to one another, I encourage students to draw these connections and use them. I include images of manuscripts and early printed books, illustrations, and later artistic depictions where I can find them, and I encourage students to take advantage of local resources as well as those available online. Students in my Renaissance class at Simmons College, for instance, curate a virtual art exhibition focused on a particular figure in early modern Europe before visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to see some of the works under discussion. I also draw students’ attention to modern popular manifestations of classic literary texts or historical periods—even if they prove to be inaccurate or of dubious quality, they are nonetheless useful, since they demand that students back up value judgments with critical analysis.
My introductory classes, as well as my composition classes, focus more on bringing students into dialogue with what they’re reading. I require students to write short responses to class readings—either at the beginning of class or, for shorter class periods, posted online the night before—partly to generate discussion topics and partly to practice writing about literary texts in a lower-stakes setting than a graded paper. I usually offer several prompts from which students can choose in lower-level classes, while I require more advanced students to generate their own topics and abstracts. As I advocated in an article in the summer 2016 issue of Critical Survey, I use other assignments beyond straightforward criticism, such as writing transformative fiction, proposing adaptations, putting together presentations, and, in the case of drama, performing scenes. I approach drama as an interactive exercise to be performed—students watch and compare multiple versions of scenes and engage in scene performances of their own, accompanied by a set of director’s notes explaining their interpretation and grounding it in the text. Through these multiple modes of engagement, students in my classes have found themselves better able to draw connections between these texts and their own lives, to move beyond a misguided sense of difference between the past and the present that elides the struggles that persist today for many groups on the margins of society. While I have encountered a number of resistant students over my teaching career, I am pleased to say that most of them found my approaches to be valuable and helpful in understanding not only early literature but history and culture more broadly, equipping them to engage critically with the complexities of today’s information-saturated world.
COURSES TAUGHT (SELECTED)
Medieval & Renaissance British Literature – Intermediate survey class (30 students) designed to introduce students to literature from approximately 1100 to 1600. I chose to create a themed class focused on representing the female voice when I taught this course at the University of Maryland, College Park, in Fall 2010. (Syllabus – Med-Ren Survey)
Women in Shakespeare – Upper-level elective (15/30 students) designed to examine a selection of Shakespeare’s plays through their depiction of women. The course incorporates extensive primary and secondary material, particularly feminist criticism, and includes a significant performance element. Taught at Georgetown University in Fall 2010 and 2011. (Syllabus – Women in Shakespeare)
Malory’s King Arthur – Seminar (9 students) in which students read the entirety of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur in the original Middle English. This course also incorporates a small selection of additional primary sources for the Arthurian legend, as well as modern criticism. Taught at Georgetown University in Fall 2011. (Syllabus – Malory)
Medieval & Early Modern Women’s Writing – Upper-level elective (12/23 students) focused on women’s writing from approximately 1100 to 1620. Taught at the University of Maryland, College Park, in Spring 2011 and at Georgetown in Spring 2012.
The Renaissance – Intermediate survey (15 students) designed to introduce students to European history and culture from approximately 1350 to 1600. Although taught within a history department, this is an interdisciplinary course that incorporates literature, philosophy, visual arts, and music. Taught at Simmons College in Fall 2013 and Spring 2018.
Introduction to World Literature – Introductory survey class (19 students) offering an overview of literature from the ancient world to the end of the sixteenth century. Taught at Southern New Hampshire University in Fall 2014.
British Literature I and II – Introductory survey classes (17/19 students) designed to offer an overview of British literature from approximately 1000 to 1930. Taught at Southern New Hampshire University in Fall 2014 (I) and Spring 2015 (II).
Advanced Writing (Theme: Gender & Media) – Combined advanced composition and public speaking class (15 students) arranged around the instructor’s choice of theme. The second half of the semester required students to choose independent research topics and complete a series of connected assignments building on that research. Taught at Southern New Hampshire University in Spring 2014 and Spring 2015.