Saturday, October 4, 2014

Introduction to Whaling: Melville

When it was time to pick classes for my senior year, I wanted to make a change from the traditional (hey, I wanted to challenge convention). I remember thinking, right around the time when registration was beginning for end-of-junior-year-me, This is my last-hurrah and I want to fill it with something personally meaningful. After some brainstorming, I decided that I wanted to make my own class on Herman Melville; or, my life’s obsession. So I approached Professor Neuman about helping me write a syllabus for a directed reading class that was Melville-intensive. I was met with great support immediately and I soon found myself enrolled in my own class. With the naming-suggestion by fellow English-major Jeremy Levine, I created “Introduction to Whaling: Melville.” I remember the happy-dance I did when the registrar told me “We have approved your directed study, to be named Introduction to Whaling.”
Herman Melville, Nick's Obsession

Now that I have been enrolled in this class for about half a semester, I have finally figured out what it is and what it is not. It is not a course where I will write long essays. Rather, Introduction to Whaling is a reading, discussion, and enrichment class. I am reading all of Melville’s short fiction and three of his more obscure novels by the end of the fall (Israel Potter, Pierre, and Redburn). Other than reading, the only other class requirement is the enrichment portion: field trips.
You might already be aware that Massachusetts is the perfect place for this Intro to Whaling class and for someone like me who has an unhealthy obsession with Melville. For one, my entire Capstone class (conveniently reading Moby-Dick…yes!!!) is taking a field trip in mid-October to the New Bedford Whaling Museum. I even went to the Nantucket Whaling Museum back in May to open up my Massachusetts Melville adventures. But one of the best trips ever was one Jeremy (remember him?), David Bertoldi (honorary English major for the day), and I took to David’s hometown of Pittsfield, MA back in late August to visit Arrowhead, Herman Melville’s home from 1850-1863.
Arrowhead, Melville's Home from 1850-1863

The day consisted of the three of us taking our first Saturday of the semester and driving one-hundred miles to Pittsfield, all the while filling the car with Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. We came across the mustard-yellow Arrowhead and were soon enthralled in learning the history of the property. We learned about Herman Melville’s life, including some of his lesser-known but hilariously awesome anecdotes, like his escape from a Tahitian prison, his work in a bowling alley, and his AWOL travels in the South Pacific. We also saw the view of Mount Greylock which apparently inspired Moby-Dick because of its whale-like shape.
Mount Greylock, Lookin' Like a Whale

We  saw Melville’s writing desk, his family’s chamber pot (not sure how to feel about that one), and Mark Twain’s sheet music holder, which to our disappointment was not given to Melville by Twain but instead was part of the Berkshire Historical Society estate. We followed up Arrowhead with a trip to the Melville room at the Pittsfield Library, which had a first-edition copy of Moby-Dick under inches of protective glass. The extensive Melville collection was enviable. I wanted to live there. Arrowhead was an amazing trip, and I know that there will be more adventures to come. Introduction to Whaling is proving to be an invaluable experience and I am grateful to the English Department for supporting (enabling) my obsessions (passions).

Jeremy also wrote on this for his Admissions blog, so check out his perspective:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Just What Can You Do With an English Major?

     It is a question that I get asked a lot: just what can you do with an English major? My answer: well, a lot of things. True, I want to be a teacher, the more "traditional" route (I am told), but there are a great number of opportunities for people who can write well, organize thoughts succinctly and cogently, and think critically about the outside world. These are qualities that often come with an English degree.
     But now for something perhaps unexpected; that is, what I did with my English major over the summer. This summer I spent some of my time completing a LEEP Project at the Worcester Art Museum (WAM), crossing over the English major that I know so well with an art history focus that I knew nothing about.
   I served as the Worcester Art Museum's Research & Writing Assistant for Educational Curriculum Guides. It was an opportunity that came to me via Clark’s Art History Department, though I found that my English major was very easy to carry over disciplines. Actually, it was essential, because of my limited experience in art history. 
    For WAM, I wrote a series of educational guides for the major galleries, to be used by visiting teachers and students. Before the project, teachers had no resources available to them on the Museum's website and only a few resources located inside permanent galleries. I researched, drafted, and wrote a series of targeted literature for teachers and their students to use while visiting the Museum. The guides allow students to have a deeper engagement with highlights of the collection. They provide students with images, discussion questions, and resource links so that they can better connect their content-area classrooms with art and art history. 
     For instance, one guide discusses Greek art with an emphasis on the literature of ancient Greece, including the early poet Sappho. Knowing that my research was interdisciplinary, I also wanted the guides to have an interdisciplinary emphasis.    
     Through my project, I was able to see the value of interdisciplinary study for the first time in my life because the project combined my interests in writing, photography/graphic design, education, and the arts. For example, I was often challenged at WAM not only to think about what I was writing, but also who I was writing for and why. I had to draw from English, education, art history, studio art, and philosophy classes. And the English major was the glue to hold everything together. My ability to write and think critically about what I read was invaluable to me while I was working. And as of a month ago, WAM published my fifteen-part curriculum guide series. The link is below!

Check out my summer work: and scroll to "Guides and Instruction Sheets". There are fifteen PDF links available to download, share, and read.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Cooking With a South African Master Chef: A Cape Town Study-Abroad Experience

We squeezed out of the crowded van with barely an idea of what the night would have in store--only the hint that we would be experiencing something called a “food jam.” Our group of giddy service learners, RAs, and a couple elegantly dressed CIEE staff members walked down the quiet suburban street and through the gates of the unassuming residence where the mystery was to reveal itself. Curiosity shaped into wonder as we were seated at a banquet-sized picnic table on the candlelit, stone-tiled patio. Cucumbers, mint, pineapples, and lemons hung like tree ornaments from the ivy-covered trellis above us. The scene was of a fairytale, and into it bounced our effervescent host, whose unique presence and boundless energy made her too resemble something from a storybook. She was introduced as Jade de Waal, a former Master Chef contestant who would be guiding us through culinary adventure. But first, like many great evenings, ours would begin with a drink. With the butcher knives laid out before us, we were instructed to cut down any ingredients that gave us inspiration and use them to construct the cocktail of our choice. The only prerequisites were playfulness and creativity, attributes that would ultimately compose the central theme of our experience.

Jade navigated through the throng of amateur mixologists, stopping to chat and pass out name tags for our foreheads. On each was a place, person, or object famous to South Africa that we were to guess by questioning those around us. After we found our answers (some through a bit of cheating), the instructions for the Food Jam began and our name tags were given an additional purpose. Waiting for us inside were various cooking stations labeled by the names on our tags. Our host explained that while each station was stocked with ingredients for a specific recipe, we should feel free and even encouraged to make it our own with anything we could find in the expansive kitchen. The goal of the evening was to channel creativity, have fun, and find inspiration in the food and each other--with maybe a bit of help from a hefty glass of wine. With excitement high, we entered the house to find our stations and our partners.

Paired with none other than CIEE’s own Alecia Ludidi, I began to peruse our recipe. We got chakalaka--a red pepper salad traditionally served over a stiff porridge resembling mashed potatoes called “pap.” As this dish is often served alongside barbecued meat, I had tried it once before at the famous braai restaurant, Mzoli’s. Alecia set to work on the pap, and I began cutting veggies for the chakalaka. Using a portable gas range, I cooked a chopped onion to translucency before tossing in a few cloves of garlic and grated ginger. Next was a couple diced red bell peppers and jalapeƱos along with a handful of curry powder. Once everything was coated in spice, in went a can of diced tomatoes and two tablespoons of tomato paste. I spent the next ten minutes diligently stirring with one hand and sipping Chenin Blanc with the other. The atmosphere was buzzing with energetic music and the dancing aromas of at least ten different in-progress dishes.


With an extra handful of ginger and a pinch of sugar and salt, my dish was complete and I had the opportunity to investigate the progress of the others. Behind me was a bubbling pot of chicken stew, and in front, a pile of beautiful pink prawns. I walked around the boisterous kitchen space to find lamb kebabs searing, gatsbys assembling, and pasta dough rolling. My personal favorite was sliced baguette topped with bleu cheese, roasted mushrooms, and crispy fried sage. Jade mingled as well to offer her experienced assistance and words of encouragement. One by one, dishes were plated and placed on the banquet table in the dreamy outdoors, each acting as a brush stroke painting the image of our feast. The energy from the process of creation soothed into a calm contentment as we looked proudly upon our collective accomplishment. Success was confirmed by that silence unique to hungry bellies enjoying a spectacular meal, which in turn created the opportunity for reflection. The boundaries between our various roles in our shared program were allowed to slip away into the evening through a method that only collaborative effort and good food can facilitate, and many found reward in stretching the limits of their abilities. A Food Jam could be described in many ways--a cooking lesson, a party, a gem in my experience of Cape Town--but most importantly it’s proof that only one ingredient is necessary to create something beautiful: good people working together.


Photos by Won Joon Lee

Click here for more information about Food Jams

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What did you do on your summer vacation?

 English Major and Guest Blogger Sarah Wells shares what she has been doing this summer!

This summer I’ve been lucky enough to work with a group, as a publishing intern, that I used to be a part of in middle and high school. The group is a nonprofit for young writers based in Burlington, VT called the Young Writers Project. It is a community for elementary-high school students to come and share their writing, with other kids around the state as well as the staff at the nonprofit and mentors on the site. The goal of the project is to let kids know that their voices matter as well as to help them hone those voices.

The project works with local papers to publish students’ writing throughout the year and every fall the project releases an Anthology (a collection of the best student work from the previous year) at their “Celebration of Writing”. I started sharing my work on the site when I was in 8th grade and continued to do so through my senior year of high school and have been in three of their annual anthologies in years past.

This summer I’ve been working with the publishing coordinator and the other staff to create the project’s 6th annual Anthology. It’s been a process that has spanned many weeks -- pouring over 1,500+ pieces and narrowing it down to around 80 in the end. I’ve also been working with the kids this summer, in the site’s “Summer of Stories Challenge”, the goal of which is to combat the boredom of summer by challenging the kids to write everyday for at least 10 minutes on over 40 prompts given to them throughout the summer. The enthusiasm of the kids and their skill never ceases to amaze me.

I happen to be in the 2013’s annual Anthology on page 18 for anyone curious.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Welcome Professor Eric De Barros!

It seems only fitting that my final blog post for the English Department be to welcome someone who will be coming in to the department as I leave:  Professor Eric De Barros. As Senior Representative to the Chair, I had the pleasure of getting to take Professor De Barros on a tour of campus with Nick, our Junior Representative to the Chair, and to have pizza with him and various graduate and undergraduate English students. I was very excited when I learned Professor De Barros would be joining the Department and even more excited when he agreed to answer some questions for the blog.

Professor De Barros

Where did you attend college?
I’m a proud graduate of the University of Virginia (UVa).

How did you decide you wanted to have a career in academia?
I decided the first month or so of college. I’d always done well enough in school and enjoyed History and English.  However, because of the very practical and materialistic understanding of education that I took to college, I assumed I would do something that made economic sense to my family and community, something like law or medicine.  As I said, that all changed early in my first year of college, when I experienced how seriously my literature and philosophy professors took their disciplines. Somehow I had no idea that someone could make a career out of studying literature or other complex ideas. I loved everything about it—the reading, the research, the interpreting, especially the argumentative writing—and just went with it. 

What is your area of research?
My area of research is early modern (mainly sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century) English literature with an emphasis in educational theory and practice.  More specifically, I examine how early modern educational theorists and literary figures variously confront the tension between the body and discourse or nature and culture to re-think categories of embodied subjectivity such as race, gender, and sexuality.  

What do you like to do when you are not teaching/researching?
When I’m not teaching/researching, I’m spending time with my wife and daughter. 

      Who has most impacted your academic life and how so?
I’d have to say the late Richard Helgerson. I had an opportunity to study with him at UC, Santa Barbara for about two years early in my graduate education. More than any other scholar-teacher, he modeled for me that a commitment to students and a love for the classroom were not incompatible with research excellence.    

What is your favorite text? Why?
I’ve enjoyed way too many texts to select one as my favorite. However, I will say that George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was particularly pivotal to my early intellectual development. I read Nineteen Eighty-Four for the first time when I was about thirteen and was profoundly struck by the idea that complex, creative expression is itself a revolutionary act. After the protagonist, Winston Smith, begins his diary, a “thoughtcrime” punishable by death, he unearths the complex range of emotions and fragmented memories that the state has systematically attempted to destroy. Those emotions and memories initially come back to him in the form of a dream, during which he vaguely remembers things like familial loyalty, maternal love, and erotic desire. He wakes up from that dream with “Shakespeare” on his lips.  In other words, in an anti-intellectual, authoritarian world, the emotional richness of Shakespearean expression is nothing short of revolutionary. Though at the time I didn’t understand it as such, Nineteen Eighty-Four provided me a compelling defense of literary studies that perhaps explains the ease with which I was able to accept and follow my interest in literary studies in college.

What are you most looking forward to next semester when you will be teaching here at Clark?
I look forward to everything, but especially the teaching. Once I’m done with this semester at SUNY Oswego, I will begin to develop the two courses I’ll be teaching in the Fall: Major British Writers I and Advanced Shakespeare. In both instances, I plan to engage students in a historicist, gender studies examination of a number of texts. More specifically, in the first course, I’m thinking of having my students examine selections from a range of texts— literary, educational, medical, military, travel, etc. — in the interest of developing a nuanced understanding of and appreciation for the complex ways in which gender— specifically masculinity—gets constructed. For the Shakespeare course, I plan to focus this critical orientation on what I term “the pedagogy of sexual violence.”  As a product of a grammar school education, Shakespeare inherited a classical tradition rife with scenes of male-defining violence and specifically violence against women. As I’m thinking about it, one of the governing questions for this course will be, “Why and how did Shakespeare, the most famous product of such a tradition, variously and creatively explore and even critique 'the pedagogy of sexual violence'?” I’m still thinking through both courses, but I’m really excited to explore these types of issues with Clark students. 

What advice would you give to any college student?
I guess the most important thing is don’t reduce your education (the major you end up declaring) to an uninspired matter of technical training deemed most employable or lucrative.  Follow what you enjoy doing—what you love, what you’re passionate about, what you would do for free—and then figure out how to get paid doing it or something as close to it as possible. You may or may not get rich this way, but you will definitely increase your chances of living a happy and fulfilled life.

Welcome to Clark, Professor De Barros! We are all excited to have you here next semester!




Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Guest Speaker Carl Keyes

"Disperse thousands ... in every direction or point of the compass":
Advertisements, Marketing Networks, and Late Eighteenth-Century Literary Magazines
Presented by Carl Robert Keyes

Friday, April 18, 3:00
Fuller Music Room
4th floor, Goddard Library

Advertisements printed on the wrappers that accompanied magazines in the late eighteenth century transformed  those periodicals devoted to poetry and historical and literary essays into utilitarian instruments for stimulating consumer demand for a variety of goods and services, thereby expanding commercial markets and maximizing profits for the publishers and advertisers.

Carl Robert Keyes is Assistant Professor of History at Assumption College. He is currently revising Early American Advertising:  Marketing and Consumer Culture in Eighteenth-Century America.  He is the author of "A Revolution in Advertising: 'Buy American' Campaigns in the Late Eighteenth Century<>," included in a three-volume anthology of essays exploring the history of advertising in America. His "History Prints, Newspaper Advertisement, and Cultivating Citizen Consumers:  Patriotism and Partisanship in Marketing Campaigns in the Era of the Revolution" will appear in the Fall 2014 issue of American Periodicals, the journal of the Research Society for American Periodicals.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Spree Day 2014

As a transfer student, I had never heard of Spree Day before last week. I only learned of the event, and what it entailed, when there were rumors circulating that it would be occurring on the coming Wednesday. I was told by experts on the subject that Spree Day involves being woken up at 6 a.m. by seniors rampaging through residence halls announcing the event with shouts and ultimately being surrounded by spectacularly drunk people for the entire day.

These things turned out to be undoubtedly true. However, there were a number of other things of which I was not informed ahead of time, such as what there actually is to do on Spree Day. It surprised me when I went outside (having slept another several hours after being woken up exactly at 6 by what sounded in my half-asleep state like a very angry invading army) and saw the green looking more or less like a local carnival. There were inflatables blown up on the grass, a stage constructed in Red Square, tables set up near the UC for an outdoor barbecue lunch, and plenty of little stations at which one could participate in activities, traditions, and overeating.

I partook in some of it, racing a friend up and down the slides, being willingly beaten up by a large, rotating sausage-like inflatable, watching guys and girls alike being flung off the mechanical bull in increasingly entertaining variations, and eating unhealthy amounts of fried dough and ice cream. The atmosphere was lively throughout the day, which culminated in an outdoors showing of Despicable Me, the movie which lent Spree Day its theme this year.

All in all, despite the (not-too-unexpected) insanity, I discovered that Spree Day is a fun event that gives us a much-needed, if brief, respite between spring and summer breaks. I look forward to being “surprised” by it again next year.