During club hour on December 7th, associate professor of English Dr. Ann Peters and assistant professor Dr. Seamus O’Malley led a majors meeting where they introduced the English classes that will be offered at Stern College in the spring 2017 semester. After a brief presentation, Drs. Peters and O’Malley opened up the floor for questions and encouraged students to share their thoughts on existing classes and to provide suggestions for new courses. The students in attendance seemed enthusiastic about the classes and many stayed afterwards to chat with the professors about what promises to be a rigorous and rewarding semester.
In an interview with Professor O’Malley, he offered insight into the courses he will be teaching next semester and what he aims for students to take away from his classes. “Both of my courses are foundational, focusing on the building blocks of literary interpretation,” he said. “Ways of Reading will showcase how to interpret various genres of writing—poetry, fiction, and drama—and try on different critical lenses to produce as many quality interpretations as we can. Intro to Fiction will explore novels and short stories through the lens of narratology, which focuses on the forms and functions of literary narrative. I believe that such critical nitty-gritty is essential for any act of interpretation. I hope that students come away with both an ability to close read texts, and an enthusiasm for it. While it’s a difficult skill to master—it’s counter-intuitive, and goes against our more shallow social-media habits—it is a requisite tool for navigating the language-based world.”
Dr. Peters, who will be going on sabbatical next semester, spoke about the courses she is currently teaching, explaining how she became involved in her areas of study and what she hopes students will gain from taking her courses. “My field is American literature, and the American literature survey course is one I’ve taught many times since I began my career,” she remarked. “It offers a general survey of a range of works written after the 1860s. We usually start with Walt Whitman, one of my favorites. This semester we are ending with a William Faulkner short story. I like teaching the survey because I get to give students a taste for all kinds of literature. The Harlem Renaissance is a new course, one I’ve never taught before. I came up with the idea for this course after beginning a research project on one of the writers from the period, Jean Toomer. It’s an exciting course because it’s inter-disciplinary. We are reading novels and poems, but also watching clips of films about the musicians and visual artists from the period. Students are all working on a research project of their own choosing, and I’ve been so impressed by the students’ enthusiasm about their papers.
“I want students to practice thinking for themselves,” she further remarked. “I want them to understand the importance of curiosity and help them see how important it is to keep asking questions about everything they learn. I want them to learn how to critically evaluate ideas and present their own ideas logically and clearly. I want them to learn how to write a beautiful sentence and appreciate a beautiful sentence when they read one.”
Towards the end of the presentation, associate professor of English Matt Miller joined the meeting to say a few words about the writing minor and discuss the classes he will be teaching next semester.
In an interview with Professor Miller, he further described his course on Transcendentalism and discussed how the knowledge students gain from studying literature can be valuable to so many aspects of their future lives and careers. “Transcendentalism is a new course, focusing on one of the most exciting times in American history and culture: the creation of America’s first major counter-cultural movement and our first distinctly American forms of writing and thinking,” he said. “The course will allow us to explore many fascinating writers: America’s first major philosopher of note, Ralph Waldo Emerson; Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden and other classics, as well as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and lesser known writers like Margaret Fuller. We’ll take a field trip to the Morgan Library, which is hosting a major exhibition of Dickinson’s manuscripts and handmade books. I’m excited for this class. My students often describe how my classes improve their abilities in surprising ways, allowing them to make connections that resonate with them for many years to come. They also become better writers, readers, and researchers. Plus, literature can provide much-needed intellectual companionship. It nurtures the heart and mind.”
A Stern student, who plans to double major in business and English literature, expressed how valuable she thinks writing is in any profession. “Knowing how to write well helps you in any career you would choose to go into, be it business, science, or something else. You always need to sound professional.” She further commented that she thinks, “it would be interesting to analyze Tanach using a literary perspective. I hope Stern will offer a class along these lines soon.”
As the fall semester comes to a close, students throughout Stern anxiously await vacation and the chance to start anew. As far as the English department is concerned, next semester looks to be the perfect opportunity for students to take advantage of the fresh and exciting courses that Stern has to offer.