*Originally published in A Guide to Making Open Textbooks with Students (Rebus Community, Ed. Elizabeth Mays) OER, OPEN PEDAGOGY, AND THE EARLY AMERICAN LITERATURE SURVEY At the start of each semester, I write a simple maxim on the board for discussion: “all people are equally intelligent.” The underlying claim, in a paraphrased line from radical philosopher Jacques Rancière, is that any measurable differences in “intelligence” have more to do with access than with intellect. So, before course themes, content, objectives, or outcomes, I insist upon equality as a first principle and a constant practice. Then, as a group, we deliberate: what does “equal” mean in this context? How about “intelligent”? Is the claim true? How does it call upon us[…]

Last month (in March), I was asked to be interviewed for a feature in the graduation issue of Graceland’s alumni magazine, the Horizons. They needed 500 words, so, as is my habit, I gave them 1500. Below is the full, unedited version. Now that the semester (and year two on the tenure track) is wrapping up, I’m delighted to have been forced to take time out for reflection on teaching at Graceland. How long have you been teaching at Graceland, and tell me a bit about how you came to be here? This is my second year at Graceland and, thus far, I think I’ve avoided the dreaded “sophomore slump.” The Humanities Division hired me on in the spring of 2015,[…]

  Any collection of national literature rests finally on that country’s founding myths. This is to say, literary history is the practice of legend making, and the choices behind its creation won’t be innocent, objective, or even wholly scholarly. Indeed, literary anthologies are freighted with all kinds of assumptions, from the geopolitical (in the tensions between history, land, and identity) to the generic (i.e. what counts as “literature”? Who counts as an “author” when?). Once we situate literature as belonging to the history of a particular space,—the point of departure for both the anthology and the literature survey course it supports—any single conceptualization of, let’s say, an “Early American Literature” collection issues a statement on “American” history itself. This is[…]

O blessed poet of freedom and God, How few have ascended the heights thou hast trod! Marietta Walker printed these lines in Autumn Leaves— the young adult literary journal she founded and edited—two years before donating a 20 acre plot of land in southern Iowa for the construction of Graceland College. Walker, who became one of the college’s first instructors, was already a prolific author in the blossoming literary scene of fin de siècle Lamoni. In the verse above, a tribute to J.G. Whittier, Walker stressed the core values she shared with the abolitionist bard—social justice and spirituality—and on which Graceland College and her poetry were established. As a resident of nineteenth century letters, Walker believed deeply in the ethical significance[…]

Among the most potent archetypes in modern American culture is the English major cum budding novelist scriptwriter turned hipster barista. A guaranteed (if lazy) punchline, that a humanities degree ensures a middling career in the food service industry is a truism served up hottest by opportunistic politicians across the spectrum. (Here’s a right-wing governor, here’s a conservative presidential candidate, oh, and here’s the president of hope and change.) Despite the discipline’s best attempts to dispel the myth of the “impractical” English major, career marketability remains a constant source of anxiety within the walls of the academy itself. The most popular majors in U.S. colleges, big and small, remain those fields with ready professional tracks–Business, Psychology, Nursing, Education, Criminal Justice–and there’s good reason for it, even if, as Natalia Cecire tweeted recently, the rationale might sometimes[…]

Note: I wrote this “welcome” blog post to my TU Dortmund  students  for a course on Anarchism in America, March 2014. I think a lot about work. Thinking about work is an important part of my jobs, all of my jobs. Practitioners of “cultural studies” are self-reflexive about methods, disciplines, and canons; the best teachers interrogate lesson plans and classroom decisions to no end; and graduate students waver precariously between the roles of apprentice, colleague, and professional, with a variety of tasks — including research, writing, teaching, networking, professionalizing —  attending our every waking thought. I am grateful that today’s lesson returned me to Emma Goldman’s “Anarchism: What it really stands for,” an essay that already saved my life twice in graduate school.[…]

Note: I wrote this “welcome” blog post to my TU Dortmund  students  for a course on The New York Poets, March 2014. I admitted in our first meeting that this is a new kind of course for me. I have never taught a class committed entirely to poetry or to the twentieth-century. My other offering this term, a cultural history of anarchism in the United States, is much more typical (that is, if I’ve been around long enough to have a “type”). I entered a graduate program in literature with an uneven bundle of interests: Walt Whitman, Marx/Hegel, labor history, and not making a fool of myself. I’ve come to love poetry, but it was a long, stubborn struggle. Sure, I was “a Whitman guy,”[…]