Monday, June 30, 2008

Alumnus Update: Andrew Ratner

I graduated GW University in May of 2007. During that period in which most of the seniors (including myself) were thinking, “What am I going to do now?” I began to look into going to Chile to teach English. I had studied in Santiago, Chile for a semester my junior year, and had friends there who I wanted to see. I also had this inkling that teaching would be a possible career choice. So I decided to combine the two, and apply for teaching jobs with the Ministry of Education, a program called English Opens Doors. I had the fortune to stay in Santiago and worked with kids from fifth grade to eighth grade in a rather poor school.

Teaching without any educational background besides the skills you carry from college teaches you more than enough about social interactions, class, the educational system, and cultural dynamics. The difference between one part of Santiago and the other is incredible, and I am lucky to have experienced this. But, to move on, I finished up the semester and looked for another teaching job, this time at the DuocUC, a technical/professional institute, a much more structured operation. This time with an idea of what I was doing, I taught adults and young adults aged nineteen to thirty. It’s pretty hilarious to be called “Sir” when your student’s three years older than you.

In the meantime, I had this itch to teach American poetry something that I’m really passionate about. I organized a proposal and sent it to the education department in the municipality of Maipú, where I taught last semester, and was accepted! So twice a week I teach American poetry to community teachers of English language.

I have to take the chance to say thank you to all of my teachers in the English department. Professors Tony Lopez and Holly Dugan really opened my eyes to a new way of critiquing literature and the everyday things we take for granted; Chris Sten introducing me to American literature; and especially Fred Pollack and Jane Shore, who really helped me (along with a classroom full of excellent poets) along with my poetry, which I’m still writing today.

PS: I also have a poetry blog where I post interesting quotes and mostly my own poetry. I also had two poems published, one at (volume 2), called "After Stanzas, Sexes, Seductions by Anne Carson," and one at called "I'm an inexperienced hiker."

Friday, June 27, 2008

Alumni Weekend Open House

If you are an alumnus of the English Department and will be attending the Alumni Reunion Weekend, please stop by the English Department on Friday September 26 from 3-5 PM for our open house.

We look forward to welcoming you back!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Changes to the English Major

Undergraduates who declare their English major on July 1 2008 or later will progress towards the degree under the following requirements. The previous requirements remain in effect for anyone who declared the major before July 1. No changes have been made to the major's prerequisites or to the total number of courses required for the major.

Students must now register for the following classes in English and American literature:
  1. Two courses in literature written before 1700
  2. Two courses in literature written between 1700-1900
  3. One course in literature post-1900
  4. English 120 (Critical Methods)
  5. One additional course in cultural studies or critical theory
  6. Four English Department courses of the student's choice as electives
Look for complete details in the 2008-09 University Bulletin.

Practically speaking, this means that English department courses now fall under the following rubrics:

Literature in English before 1700 (9):
112 Chaucer
113 Medieval Literature
125 English Renaissance 1515-1625
127 Shakespeare #1 (fall)
128 Shakespeare #2 (spring)
129 Special Topics in Shakespeare
130 Milton
155 English Drama to 1660 (fall)
191 Folger Seminar

“Before 1700” OR “1700-1900,” but not both:
160 Early American Literature

Literature in English between 1700 and 1900 (12):
131 18th Century #1 (fall)
132 18th Century #2 (spring)
133 The Romantic Movement
135 Victorian literature #1 (fall) 1830-1865
136 Victorian literature #2 (spring) 1865-1900
153 English Novel #1: 18th Century
154 English Novel #2: 19th Century
161 American Romanticism
162 American Realism
163 American Poetry #1 (fall): beginnings through early 20th Century
167 American Novel #1 (fall): beginning through 19th Century
183 Literature of Black America I: 18th-19th centuries

“Between 1700-1900” OR “After 1900,” but not both:
134 Children’s Literature

Literature in English after 1900 (14):
139 Irish Literature #1
140 Irish Literature #2
158 Contemporary Drama, since 1960
164 American Poetry #2 (spring) Early 20th century to present
165 American Drama #1 (fall) 19th century through 1950s
166 American Drama #2 (spring) 1960s-present
168 American Novel #2 (spring) 20th century
169 Ethnicity and Place
170 Short Story
173 Selected Topics in Postcolonial Literature
177 Contemporary American Literature #1 (fall)
178 Contemporary American Literature #2 (spring)
184 Literature of Black America II : early 20th century to present
187 Asian American Literature

“After 1900” or “Theory & Cultural Studies,” but not both:
137 Modernism

Theory & Cultural Studies (7):
120 Critical Methods
124 Play Analysis
175 Gender and Literature
179 Special Topics in Theory or Cultural Studies
186 Cultural Theory and Black Studies
196 Senior Honors Seminar (fall) by application in spring of junior year only
198 Senior Honors Seminar (spring) by application in spring of junior year only

156 English Drama #2 (spring), 1660-present
171 Major Authors
172 Selected Topics in Literature (periods TBA for individual sections)
185 Topics in African American Literature Studies (19th or 20th century, TBA for individual sections)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Robert McRuer and Jane Shore in the latest By George!

The June 2006 edition of By George! includes the following words about two overachieving professors of English, Robert McRuer and Jane Shore:

Associate Professor of English Robert McRuer was researching and writing about lesbian and gay studies—or “queer theory”—and AIDS cultural theory when he was asked by a member of his local reading group to explore the connections between queer theory and disability studies. The result, Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability (NYU Press) was a nominee for a Lamba Literary Foundation Award and winner of the Alan Bray Memorial Book Award, given annually by the Modern Language Association’s Gay and Lesbian Caucus.

The connections McRuer found between homosexuality and disabilities include a history of being labeled deviant, a desire to challenge what is considered socially “normal,” and a “shared tension” of advocating for both social acceptance and change of societal norms.

McRuer says he hopes readers of his book are left with an understanding of how homosexuality and disability are connected and how the emphasis on “heterosexuality and able-bodiedness” is being challenged. McRuer often discusses these ideas with students in his five classes, an opportunity he deems “dynamic.”

Professor of English Jane Shore’s newest book of poetry, A Yes-or-No-Answer (Houghton Mifflin), explores how her memories of growing up above her parent’s dress shop in New Jersey resonate with her current life as a parent and member of the baby-boomer generation. The book takes its name from the poem title, in which Shore asks a series of rhyming questions with the refrain. “Please answer the question yes or no.” The other poems chronicle the emotional collision of Shore’s past and future as she watches her daughter examine her old clothes and childhood diary.

Although she had always had a pen in hand, it wasn’t until Shore was in her 30s that she began publishing poetry about her past. “Things I never thought I could write about presented themselves as possible for poetry,” says Shore, who came to GW in 1989 as a Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington. Shore received the 1977 Juniper Prize for her first book of poems, Eye Level; the 1986 Lamont Poetry Prize for her second book, The Minute Hand; and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for her third book, Music Minus One. A Yes-or-No-Answer was reviewed in April by National Public Radio’s Alan Cheuse.

Shore currently teaches poetry and advanced writing classes at the University and says she finds a great balance between teaching and writing. “When I’m not writing, I get to read poetry daily and share something with my students that is my first love and at the core of my nature and interests,” she says. “What could be more wonderful then waking up, going to work, and getting to talk about what you love the most with people who really want to talk about it?”

New blog: Wynken de Worde

Check out the new blog by Sarah Werner, Wynken de Worde.

The undergraduate program director at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Dr. Werner teaches our Folger Undergraduate Research Seminar. Her blog is well worth bookmarking or adding to your RSS feed.

English Department Welcomes Rajiv Menon as Communications Liaison

We are very pleased to have Rajiv Menon join us this fall as the second Communications Liaison, an undergraduate internship position charged with disseminating news about the department and fostering a better sense of community among our majors. I asked Rajiv to compose a short paragraph of introduction, and this is what he offered:
I’m currently a rising junior majoring in English and International Affairs. I am originally from Houston, and though I was originally attracted to GW for the Elliott school, after taking a few classes in the English department, I was sure that English was the right path for me. I’ve greatly enjoyed my experience with GW’s English department and I’m happy that I have the opportunity to pursue my interests in Postcolonial and Asian American literature. I’ve really happy with the sense of community with this department, and I look forward to working as the communications liaison.

Welcome, Rajiv. We all look forward to working with you in the year ahead!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Rachael Baird in China

Rachael Baird, our inaugural (and wonderful) Communications Liaison for the English Department, is now living in China. Check out her blog and get a glimpse of her life post-GW.

Here's an invitation to other English majors, current and former: if you have a blog, drop me a line and let me know. We'll feature a list of them here at the GW English site.

Calling all research geeks: MLA goes full article

Yes, I know: it's summer, and most of us have turned our brains off (I am just back from a family vacation at Disney World, and if that doesn't constitute adequate proof of cranial de-activation, I do not know what would). Here, though, is some exciting news, courtesy of Cathy Eisenhower at the Gelman Library: the MLA database that we all know, use, and adore will contain article-level records soon.

OK, you may whisper your small "yahoo" and go back to aestivating.

Folger Seminar at CCAS website

To all current and prospective English majors: you too can live the glamorous life of the archival researcher at the Folger. Follow this link to learn a bit more about our GW-Folger Undergraduate Research Seminar, which will be accepting applications in spring 2009.

Can you spot which of these dapper persons in the photo at left (taken in the Folger's beautiful reading room) is the department chair?

More on the Wang Gift

Follow this link to GW's press release (which quotes no one from the department that actually received the gift).

Follow this link to the GW Hatchet story (which was written by one of our own majors, contains one small typo, and gives departmental context for the gift).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wang Family Gives $700,000 to GWU English Department

On behalf of the students and faculty of GW's Department of English, I would like to thank the Wang family, whose generosity has resulted in the single largest gift our department has ever received. Creating a visiting professorship in contemporary literature and a series of annual lectures, this gift will change the department profoundly.

We are also pleased to announce that our first Wang Visiting Professor in Contemporary Literature will be Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Known World. He will be in residence in the department during the spring semester of 2009. More information soon.

The official press release:

Wang Family Gives $1 Million to The George Washington University

A leadership commitment of $1 million to The George Washington University by Taiwanese businessman Albert Wang and his family will enhance the school’s English Literature program and create a permanent library collection focused specifically on the study of Taiwan.

“Education is an important foundation for a successful and rewarding life,” said Mr. Wang, whose father was a Taiwanese high school teacher. “It is an investment that I am privileged to make.”

Mr. Wang, whose two daughters attend GW, is the founder of Ever Rite Corporation, a manufacturer of women’s and children’s shoes for the U.S., European, and Asian markets.

“We are deeply appreciative of this generous gift by Mr. Wang, a loyal donor and friend of the university,” said GW President Steven Knapp. “As a scholar of English Literature, I am particularly excited about the opportunity to further strengthen the status of our Department of English. It is also an honor for this university to house the Taiwan Resource Center, the only specialized library collection of its kind in the United States.”

Mr. Wang’s gift represents one of the largest philanthropic commitments to the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of English. The gift will endow an annual series of lectures by prominent authors and scholars of English Literature and Literary Studies, as well as support a visiting professorship in Contemporary English Literature.

“This is a strategically pivotal time for the Department of English,” said Peg Barratt, Dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. “Having the opportunity to bring renowned literary figures to our campus and to our students nurtures literary research, and scholarship.”

Mr. Wang’s investments in GW’s Gelman Library to establish the Wang Taiwan Resource Center Endowed Fund will create a variety of initiatives including both curatorial work and the expansion of the special collection. “Students, and scholars from GW, the region, and the nation will benefit from the Wang family’s leadership,” said University Librarian Jack Siggins. “Their generosity will have strategic and permanent impact as we establish and nourish this important resource at GW."

The Wang family’s philanthropy to GW also includes a $1 million gift made last year to the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration to fund a faculty chair and a fellowship for graduate students.

The English Department of GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences has 400 undergraduate majors and an award winning faculty. It is nationally known for its strengths in both literature and creative writing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

English Department Annual Report 2007-08

Each year I am asked by the university to compose a report on the goals and achievements of the English Department. I thought that readers of this blog might be interested to see the document I've sent to the dean. It's been a good year!

English Departmental Annual Report (2007-08)
Prepared by Jeffrey J. Cohen, Chair

Major Accomplishments
This academic year is likely a high water mark in departmental history. Success has come in many forms, and through much hard work. We are especially proud of our faculty, who have:
  • published books at well respected presses (Margaret Soltan, Jennifer Green-Lewis, and Jeffrey Cohen have new books at Palgrave Macmillan; Jane Shore’s poetry volume came out at Houghton Mifflin; Jonathan Gil Harris has a monograph forthcoming at the University of Pennsylvania Press; Kavita Daiya is publishing her book with Temple University Press; Beacon Press has just issued Gayle Wald’s Shout, Sister, Shout! in paperback; Chris Sten has an edited collection at Kent State University Press; Jennifer James has a collection of essays placed at Rutgers University Press)
  • won prestigious awards for their research (Robert McRuer garnered the Alan Bray Memorial Book Award for his book Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability)
  • placed essays in prominent journals (most members of the department had at least one essay appear in a peer-reviewed forum this year)
  • given a lengthy list of invited talks, including plenary and named lectures
  • wandered the globe in their research and conference travel.
We are in short a very strong research department.

We are also a community of excellent teachers as well: five of us were nominated for the Trachtenberg Prize this year, and almost all of us enjoy the highest marks in student evaluations of our courses. The number of undergraduates declaring an English major continues to grow. This year we registered 100 new majors and 26 new minors, for a pre-commencement total of about 399 English majors and 36 minors.

We continue to serve our colleagues in the department, in CCAS, and in the university more generally through our committee work. Our students have also been thriving, giving papers at professional conferences and graduating to attend prestigious graduate schools or to accept admirable jobs.

Four of this year’s achievements will together have a profound and enduring impact upon our department:
  1. adoption of a mission statement that clearly articulates our values and our sense of community
  2. translation of that mission statement into the faculty accomplishments mentioned above
  3. major fundraising to support our ambitions
  4. securing the kind of research money that will enable to us to begin to build enduring structures for interdisciplinary humanities research in which the English department can take the university lead.
Our mission statement is concise and (we believe) cogent:
The English Department of the George Washington University is a research-active community of scholars and creative writers. We prize excellence in teaching, publication, and service. We engage with a diversity of texts within a global and transnational context. Our creative writing and scholarship contributes to and critiques this capacious literary world. Our teaching fosters in students a rigorous and informed critical reflection on literature, connecting reading practices with writing and argumentation. As a humanities faculty, we are especially interested in the artistic exploration of identity, community, cultural conflict, and history.
We refer to this statement when making choices that impact the department’s future, and are grateful to have a consensus view of who we are and what we hope to achieve.

We realize that in previous years the department has not done as good a job as it might in creating a philanthropic community to support its endeavors, especially among its alumni. We have taken four steps to initiate this process of community formation:
  1. maintaining a blog which focuses in part on the achievements of our students and alumni, and allows alumni a window into the life of the department
  2. sponsoring, in tandem with Alumni Relations, events that will draw alumni to our activities and reacquaint them with the department (e.g., a dessert reception following a reading by our GW-British Council Writer in Residence)
  3. direct outreach to alumni who seem especially well suited to supporting our mission
  4. better communication to our potential benefactors of what their contributions will enable.
The blog has been instrumental in all these endeavors, and is connected to some significant gifts that we hope to announce shortly.

Last year the English Department sponsored a proposal to form a University Seminar on Medieval and Early Modern Studies. We were awarded $2500 for the seminar, which flourished so quickly (we have a mailing list of 70 participants in the DC area) that we submitted a proposal this year to turn the seminar into an institute. Again, we have been successful: the proposal was funded through the Research Enhancement Fund of the OCR for $40,000/year for three years. This is the largest humanities initiative ever funded through the OCR. The REF funding of our GW MEMS Institute will greatly boost our Medieval/Early Modern studies strengths, and the interdisciplinary institute it will bring into being will be housed in the English department. The REF money amounts to $120,000 over three years.

Gayle Wald was also successful in getting a $10,000 Instructional Technology Lab Curriculum Development Grant to add a new multimedia component to our gateway to the major course (“Literature of the Americas,” English 40W).

Listed below are some of our other important departmental achievements.
  1. The new British Council Writer in Residence started brilliantly. Nadeem Aslam, a novelist of international renown, spent the month of February at GW. Aslam visited many literature and creative writing classes; gave readings and appeared in panels; led a reading course with a small number of interested students; and participated in both the social and intellectual life of the department. The residency served as a bridge between our creative writing and literature strengths, as well as a reputation building event that garnered significant alumni interest. This was the inaugural year of a three-year pilot program.
  2. We grew the readership of our department blog by adding more content and updating the site more frequently. The average number of visits to the blog per day ranges between fifty and two hundred.
  3. We established a new gateway to the major course that will intensely mentor graduate students while demonstrating to our undergraduates the study of literature in a global age. The new English 40W has two versions: American (“Literature of the Americas,” taught by Gayle Wald) and British (“Myths of Britain,” taught by Jeffrey Cohen). Both versions proved remarkably popular: they closed at their cap of 80; student evaluations were consistently high. We also used the course to give our GTAs a closely supervised introduction to the art of teaching. Again, student reviews indicate we succeeded admirably.
  4. We deepened our ties with the Folger Shakespeare Library through the establishment of a first in the nation undergraduate research course that allows reader privileges there. The course met for the first time in Fall 2007, and introduced students to the handling and use of books dating back to the Renaissance. We see this seminar as a first step towards a deep alliance between our department and the Folger, a research library like no other and an underutilized resource for both our undergraduates and graduate students. A cover story on the seminar will run in the next GW Research magazine.
  5. We continue to make the English Department an intellectual community welcoming other scholars in CCAS -- especially young scholars whose departments are not as research active -- via our focus upon global humanities past and present. This fostering of intramural community has been done by the creation of a seminar and now an institute.
  6. We have encouraged faculty to apply for prestigious research grants. Gil Harris secured an NEH (funded for a year at the Folger), and Jim Miller received a Fulbright (funded for a semester in South Africa). Two faculty also applied for the ACLS and were not funded.
  7. Our graduate students continue to distinguish themselves through early professionalization and precocious achievement. This year they placed five publications and presented at eleven conferences.

Major Challenges & Obstacles
Our greatest obstacle is our meager budget. Some pressure has been alleviated through the influx of donor and research money, so that for the first time we can afford to sponsor visiting scholars. We do not, however, have a reliable source to pay for faculty travel, office equipment, or new initiatives.

Where our poverty in resources will impact us most, however, is our graduate program. We have so few GTAs assigned to the department that we cannot actually sustain a sufficient cadre of graduate students: we cannot, in other words, attain the critical mass that we need in order to become the program worthy of a Research I university that we know we could be. As things stand now, we will likely be able to support and therefore admit NO doctoral students in 2008-09, a catastrophe for a PhD program that has burgeoned in strength and quality over the past few years. This lack of GTAs will impact undergraduate education as well, compelling us to rethink our ability to offer the successful English 40W course since it relies upon GTAs for sections.

Goals for 08 - 09
We will continue working on many of the goals stated above for next year. Our primary focus will be upon enriching the intellectual life of our undergraduates via a thorough revision of our undergraduate curriculum, the establishment of extracurricular opportunities for undergrads to learn about the field and its scholars, and the growth of our ties to DC institutions like the Folger and the National Shakespeare Theatre. We will also spend a great deal of time better connecting the Creative Writing and Literature components of our department, and pondering what future we would like our creative writing program to have.

More personally, I want to ensure that the department is in as good and as stable a shape as possible as we prepare for a transition to a new chair in 2009 (my three year term ends at that time).