[I tried to wait to write this Fall semester series until I felt certain about what the Fall would hold—but I don’t know if I ever will, not even as it unfolds. So I decided to share one thing I’m cautiously but definitely excited for with each of my Fall courses, because what can we do but hope—and work—for the best?]
On two reasons why I keep going back to one of my earliest scholarly subjects.
If the First Year Experience seminar about which I wrote yesterday represents a brand-new course in my rotation, my Honors Lit Seminar on America in the Gilded Age is by contrast one of my most familiar classes. Not only because I’ve taught this particular course four prior times over the last half-dozen years, but also because (as I wrote in that hyperlinked post) the very first new class I ever created at FSU was an English Studies Senior Seminar on the same subject. That original Gilded Age seminar was based closely on my dissertation/first book on the time period, and while the class has of course evolved a bit over the 15 years since, it nonetheless remains in some central ways quite similar to where I began these investigations as a grad student and young teacher (including the four thematic units, on the West, women, work, and race/ethnicity, that parallel chapters in that project).
There are many reasons why I keep returning to the Gilded Age as a subject for these in-depth, literature seminar explorations, but there are two in particular that I’m especially excited about as I gear up for the next such exploration. One is the contemporary connections about which I wrote in this post, and which have only become more and more pronounced the last couple times I’ve taught this course. Indeed, while I called those contemporary contexts “unspoken” in that Fall 2017 reflection, it’s become impossible not to speak of them, and I’m okay with that—doesn’t mean I’m telling the students what to make of such echoes or parallels (no more than I ever tell them what to make of anything we read or discuss in a class of mine), but rather that I’m very open to us engaging and exploring together what we can learn from links between the Gilded Age and our own moment (as well as distinctions or changes between the periods, of course). Such connections help us recognize the true stakes of why we learn about our histories, and teaching this class offers so many potent cases in point.
At the same time, there’s equal value in discovering and engaging with voices and texts, figures and stories from our past that are unique, distinctive, and surprising, and another reason why I keep coming back to the Gilded Age is that so many of my favorite American authors and texts (nearly all of them profoundly under-read and –remembered) are from this period. From Sarah Piatt to Sarah Winnemucca, Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton to Sui Sin Far, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps to Charles Chesnutt, and so many more, this syllabus is just littered with voices and works that embody the best of American literature, culture, and identity at any moment and in any context. Getting to share these folks and readings with students, and then to talk about them together, is one of the best parts of what I do, and even in the toughest of times and semesters—indeed, especially in those moments—I’m so excited for another chance to do so.
Next Fall preview tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Fall courses or work you’re (cautiously) excited for?