The Magazine of the English Subject Centre
September 2010 • Issue 4
English Subject Centre 10th Birthday Edition In Conversation with Ben Knights and Philip Martin
The Good of Criticism Prizewinning Student Essay
Teaching Digital Writing
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WordPlay Issue 4 â€˘ September 2010 ISSN 2040-6754
WordPlay is published twice a year by the English Subject Centre, part of the Subject Network of the Higher Education Academy. The English Subject Centre provides many different kinds of help to lecturers in English literature, Creative Writing and English language. Details of all of our activities are available on our website www.english.heacademy.ac.uk Inside WordPlay you will find articles on a wide range of English-related topics as well as updates on English Subject Centre work, important developments in the discipline and across higher education. The next issue will appear in April 2011. We welcome contributions. If you would like to submit an article (of between 300 and 2,500 words), propose a book or software review (perhaps a textbook review by one of your students) or respond in a letter to an article published in WordPlay, please contact the editor, Nicole King (email@example.com). Views expressed in WordPlay are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the English Subject Centre. Website links are active at the time of going to press. You can keep in touch with the English Subject Centre by subscribing to our e-mail list, www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/ english-heacademy.html, coming to our workshops and other events or exploring our website. WordPlay is distributed to English, Creative Writing and English language departments across the UK and is also available online at www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/wordplay. If you would like extra copies, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org The English Subject Centre Royal Holloway, University of London Egham TW20 0EX T 01784 443221 F 01784 470684 E email@example.com www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
The English Subject Centre Staff Jane Gawthrope
Website Developer and Learning Technologist
Liaison Officer for HE in FE
Design: John Gittins
28 The Subject Centre and me
03 Events Calendar
30 A Tale of Two Projects: using technology to change teaching practice
04 News 06 IT Works!
Features 10 In Conversation with Ben Knights and Philip Martin
32 A year in the life of Ms E-Mentor 34 English and Creative Writing Student Numbers 2004/05 – 2008/09
18 The Good of Criticism The value of literary studies
38 Student Competition
22 Digital Writing and Pedagogy How do we teach, what do we teach?
26 Making connections: between and beyond teaching and research
44 Reading Science Fiction 45 The Poetry Toolkit 46 Stage on Screen DVDs
Endnotes 50 Desert Island Texts 52 The Last Word
Recycle when you have finished with this publication please pass it on to a colleague or student or recycle it appropriately.
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Welcome Nicole King Anniversary edition We are celebrating 10 years of the Subject Centre with this issue and in one way or another our articles are balanced between looking back and thinking ahead. Despite the current uncertain times we feel it is important to celebrate and capture some of the stellar work that the English and Creative Writing subject community has done around teaching and learning over the decade. Throughout this issue you will find short 10th anniversary reflections, from colleagues who have worked with the Subject Centre from its earliest days or discovered us more recently. These are gathered under the heading of ‘The Subject Centre and me.’ We are equally embarrassed and delighted at the number of responses we have received and many more can be found in the ‘About Us’ section of the website, by navigating to the 10th Anniversary page. You will also notice a new-look ‘IT Works!’ column. With seven years of writing this column under his belt, for this special issue Brett Lucas has chosen some of his favourite bits of technology and programmes which are essential for the subject community. He also bravely anticipates the technologies and applications that will impact our teaching, our students’ learning, and on which we will become reliant in the coming months and years. The Interview features the Subject Centre’s current and former Directors, Ben Knights and Philip Martin (now Sheffield Hallam University). Together they reflect on their own teaching and learning experiences and ponder what challenges lie ahead for the subject and for the Humanities in general. If you are curious about the early years of the Subject Centre and partial to opinionated and erudite exchanges on teaching in higher education turn immediately to page 10. Simon Dentith, (University of Reading) continues in a reflective mode in an article that reports on a conference he organised last spring, ‘The Good of Criticism: the value of literary studies’. Simon asks what rejoinder is available to us in English studies when it was always and remains the case that, ‘the humanities are cast as a supplement to the more essential business of earning a living.’ Among other points made he argues that it is ‘a permanent obligation’ for us, as a subject, to make clear what it is we do, ‘given the changing social and cultural contexts in which we work.’ Advanced PhD student Matt Hayler explores some of the knotty theoretical issues attached to teaching digital writing which require us to think deeply about what makes a book a book. And Alice Bennett, a ‘newly minted PhD’, writes about the ‘overlapping, and tricky to reconcile connections’ between an individual’s research and teaching identities, which are all the trickier for early career lecturers who often take up contract posts with particularly limited roles (e.g. teaching only). The undergraduate student experience is captured with great verve and creativity in two essays written by Phoebe Bown (University of Glasgow) and Lara Clayton (Blackpool and The Fylde College) who are the winner and runner-up respectively of our 2010 Student Competition.
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Phoebe and Lara address the notion that they have chosen a ‘softoption’ degree and answer the question ‘what is difficult about English Studies or Creative Writing?’ Survey Results Over the past few months we asked WordPlay readers to participate in a survey to help us tailor the magazine more closely to your needs (Is WordPlay what you want?). 83% of respondents appreciate and see as ‘very worthwhile’ our feature length articles while 64% made changes to how they teach or otherwise interact with students as a result of something they read (or possibly wrote) in WordPlay. Here are three indicative responses: ‘The recent summary of the students’ responses to undergraduate English has informed curriculum design at Levels 4 and 5, and our own research into the student experience. It was good to see it done on a large scale.’ ‘It was refreshing to see an article that encouraged effective pedagogical use of sources found on You Tube.’ ‘The recent article about genetic criticism has made me think about how to involve manuscript analyses in classes and lectures.’ We were also pleased to learn about ways that readers were inspired to try new things with their students. Often such experiments involve an aspect of e-learning. One reader said they were ‘inspired to develop an e-learning package for teaching poetry in part thanks to a couple of excellent articles in the Newsletter.’ Survey comments were not without criticism and you urged us to highlight the fact that WordPlay can be read online, despite the fact that you voted overwhelmingly to maintain the magazine in print too. So, please note: every issue of WordPlay, as well as it’s predecessor The English Subject Centre Newsletter is available as read (or download) in PDF format or it can be read on our website in HTML format (great for clicking on links) or in the new e-reader format. We were also politely informed that we do not run enough articles about teaching English language or address issues to do with teaching and supervising postgraduate students. We would welcome articles on both topics for future issues. The prize for doing the survey goes to Jess Moriarty (University of Brighton) and thank you to everyone else who took the time to send us your thoughts. The prize for simply making us feel wonderful goes to the respondent who captured our journalistic ambition in a nutshell when they wrote: ‘I enjoy reading WordPlay: it makes me feel part of a larger community of scholars passionate about important academic issues which are at stake in the teaching of English today.’
Nicole King Editor
Events Calendar English Subject Centre
Autumn/Winter 2010-2011 For further details about any of these mainly free events please visit our website www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/explore/events
Subject Centre's 10th Anniversary Celebration 17 September 2010, King's College, London The English Subject Centre is 10 years old this year. To mark our anniversary we are inviting the community to join us at this informal celebration. The evening will include a re-launch of the 'Teaching the New English' book series which the Subject Centre edits for Palgrave Macmillan and a panel discussion on the theme of 'What will English and Creative Writing teaching look like in ten years time?' Do come and join us!
A Study Day on the Politics of Teaching Literature and the Teaching of Political Literature 24 September 2010, University of Brighton What relevance do the arguments that were once so fierce in literature and cultural studies have in the current climate for academics and students? As educational policy moves towards the teaching of skill sets and research is required to have social 'impact', what are the politics of teaching literature? And how should the curriculum deal with political texts? Literature tutors, educationalists, policy makers, and students are all invited to attend.
Teaching English Literature and Creative Writing: A Workshop for Early Career Lecturers 19-20 November 2010, King's College, London Have you recently begun your first full-time post? Do you teach Literature or Creative Writing? Would you like to discuss and develop your teaching with your peers in English Studies? If the answer is ‘yes’ to these questions, then this two-day event, aimed at new full-time teaching staff with less than two years experience, is for you. The event will also be useful to experienced staff embarking upon their first permanent post.
Teaching Adaptations 1 December 2010, The Higher Education Academy, York Film and television adaptations of literary and other texts continue to prove a highly popular and expanding area of study for undergraduate students, both in the context of literature and film and media studies programmes. An increasing number of modules are dedicated to the specialist study of adaptations, while adaptations also act as valuable teaching aids in the context of period or author-based modules. As an interdisciplinary field of study, adaptations present specific challenges and rewards; this study day aims to explore emerging and innovative pedagogic practice in this field.
External Examining in the Humanities 13 February 2011, University of Sheffield The object of this one-day networking event is to bring together experienced external examiners and colleagues who are undertaking external examining for the first time. We are working on the principle that external examining is an important and highly valued process, but that its importance is by no means fully captured in the contemporary public rhetorics surrounding standards. Rather, external examining (like all assessment) is a form of dialogue, here one carried on between institutions and programmes.
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NEWS NEWS NEWS NEWS New Publications Good Practice Guide to Online Discussion This new Good Practice Guide provides a long overdue introduction to the use of one of the most widely available and easy to use elearning tools â€“ the discussion board. The Guide provides a wealth of practical advice about how to start using discussion boards effectively in the higher education and further education contexts. Advice is given on how to design meaningful tasks, how to moderate the boards to ensure smooth and effective communication between students. Solutions to the question of whether and how to assess contributions gets a chapter of its own. The final chapter deals specifically with the use of discussion boards in a Creative Writing context. The guide will inspire and encourage both you and your department to get involved in using discussion boards to enrich the student experience. Available in print from firstname.lastname@example.org or online at http://tinyurl.com/3y6qeh3
Good Practice Guide to Work-Related Learning in English Studies This Guide is intended to help anyone introducing, or expanding, work-related learning in an English degree. It discusses the benefits of work-related learning and gives plenty of practical advice about the costs, collaborating with employers and coping with assessment. Case-studies sharing the ideas and experiences of those who have introduced work-related learning into their curricula are also included. Available in print from email@example.com or online at http://tinyurl.com/3y6qeh3
Call for Papers Language and Literature Special Issue on Stylistics and Pedagogical Research Language and Literature is known for publishing research on pedagogical applications of stylistics. Together with Dr Richard Steadman-Jones (University of Sheffield), the English Subject Centre is editing a special issue focussing on the use of stylistic methods in researching learning and teaching. If you are interested in submitting a short proposal (deadline 24th September 2010) please go to http://tinyurl.com/3a3fxqd
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New on the English Subject Centre website
Resource area on Community Engagement These new pages celebrate and explore some of the ways in which ‘English’ as a subject relates to and works with communities of readers and writers beyond higher education. The area brings together all the existing resources throughout the site and contains many new ideas about how your students can become engaged in work in the wider community. There is also a useful reference area for additional reading.
Bringing the Outside In: case studies in environmental engagement The English Subject Centre is launching a call for case studies Prison Reading Group
and a student competition to encourage students and lecturers to engage with the environment
Curriculum Area profiles teaching of Victorian Literature As part of our expanding Curriculum Area, we have just added a set of pages on teaching Victorian narrative. These pages reflect on some of the challenges of teaching Victorian literature and foreground the resources available to teachers on this site, as well as providing selected links to external sites.
beyond the classroom. In order to enrich both academic learning and environmental awareness, we want to motivate staff and students who teach and learn primarily indoors to go out and experience the places which form the context for the subject of study. So if you are a humanities lecturer who takes students out of the classroom and might consider writing a paidfor case study, or a humanities student whose learning has been inspired by a visit somewhere offcampus, read more on the ‘Funding Opportunities’ web page. http://tinyurl.com/33yszd4
Detail from: 'The Railway Station' by William Powell Frith, RA courtesy of Royal Holloway University of London
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IT Works! In this anniversary issue I look back over past IT Works and select seven software tools that I can't do without! Then I do some crystal ball gazing at the next generation of software, apps and technologies that may just make teaching a lot more flexible and fun! Brett Lucas is the Website Developer and Learning Technologist at the English Subject Centre.
Play all kinds of media without all the hassle
The VLC player is an absolute must on any computer. It is an open-source (i.e. the software and code are freely available) media player that plays DVDs, Audio CDs, DivX movies, in fact, just about any odd, strange or non-compliant video file you throw at it! No more worrying about whether a file will play or whether you have the right software or code. Good for: playing all the strange and weird media files that no other software seems to like. PC and Mac agnostic. www.videolan.org/vlc/
Look after your health
We know that long periods of time spent on your computer without taking regular breaks can have serious long-term health repercussions. It is important to relieve your muscles when making repetitive movements when working on laptops or desktop PCs. Stretch Break is a great piece of software that can be programmed to appear on your screen at a predefined interval inviting you to take a stretch break. The software contains a series of animated stretch exercises for you to follow. It costs £28.00 (there's a 10-day trial – Windows only) Good for: saving your wrists from RSI and your vertebrae from collapsing! www.paratec.com/homepc.htm
Encourage studentcentred learning
If you are looking for a web-based collaboration tool for student groups, projects or teams, then you can't beat the ease-of-use of the free online Wiki – PBworks. Use Wikis much as you do a website with easily editable pages, create annotated texts in groups, class or course glossaries, project websites and much more. Blogs can be used to encourage student reflection, provide a record of research progress or insights. They are widely used by students, reflecting on their course content, and academics on their research and/or teaching and personal interests. WordPress can be a blog or a complete publishing platform and there are lots of templates and add-ons to customize it to suit your exact needs. These two products are leaders in their field and offer free hosted solutions.
Good for: Getting content onto the web very quickly without the need for techies, encouraging reflection and fostering collaboration. http://wordpress.org/ http://pbworks.com/
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IT Works! Communicate with students in a less formal way
Audacity allows you to record then edit an audio file of your voice. This can then be uploaded to your VLE which can be useful when you want to communicate with your students remotely but do not feel that text would suffice, or you have a lot to say. English lecturers are also using Audacity to create mini-lectures, provide audio feedback for classes or individuals on assessed work and for providing audio course introductions on external facing websites.
Promote group discussion in a novel way
Voicethread is a nifty web-based tool that allows you to post an image, a document or a video into a shared space where other invited users (e.g. your students) can then come and comment on it using a variety of media. e.g audio, video or text..Its a great way to promote discussion across a variety of media to suit individual tastes.
Save on time and travel with online meetings
Share your bookmarks with students and colleagues
Delicious is a social bookmarking tool. With a small browser app you can save all your favourite websites and connect your own tags to them. Your students could also tag sites into a joint account. The tags or sites can then be shared with others to create a dynamic collection of links. Good for: keeping track of all your bookmarks from any computer and developing a collection of sites for your VLE course. http://delicious.com/
Streamline your social networks...
Good for: Running a multimode debate or discussion around a text image, video or idea.
Good for: easily accessible method of broadcasting information in the era of the mobile music player. http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
And for some crystal ball gazing...
Skype one of the pioneers of internet telephony, is a cheap and easy way to communicate with students, research colleagues or project partners at a distance. It is simple to organise one-to-one or group conference calls and the quality is usually very good. If you are looking for a more comprehensive videoconferencing tool try DimDim or BigBlueButton. Good for: Avoiding the need to travel across the country for a meeting or providing 'office hours' for those students who can't access the campus easily at certain times. www.skype.com/intl/en-gb/home www.bigbluebutton.org/home www.dimdim.com/
Love them or hate them social networks have taken the world by storm. Many course teams are already using Facebook to connect with incoming freshers, others for group work. Microblogging with Twitter has also come of age recently. Set up a feed to inform your students of news and updates to courses or timetables, set tasks for students to focus on topics (in 140 words), post questions in large lectures then display the twitter feed of their responses on the screen. There are lots more examples online. Try this one for a start: http://bit.ly/WtaV. TweetDeck is a smart desktop application that enables you to simultaneously view, search and post to and from your Twitter and Facebook accounts. Good for: Quick ways to communicate with students through informal networks. Saves having to login to multiple websites and enables you to feel the pulse of the internet quickly! www.tweetdeck.com/ www.twitter.com
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It Works! Access and manage all your notes
D you h Do have random d notes spread around pieces of paper, notebooks, diaries and bookmarks? Evernote helps you organise information from multiple sources in one central webbased location. Imagine it as a place where you store sticky notes with all the things you want to do, your favourite weblinks, documents a quick cameraphone image of a book you like all categorised the way you like (by subject, date, tags etc.). There is a nifty web-clipping service too that works through a browser plugin. Builtin OCR software means that text in images is also searchable across your notes. There is a free version but if your file sizes start to grow they have paid for editions. Good for: Managing all the bits and pieces we collect, notice, need to do ... in one place
Organize and share your research with new audiences...
There's been quite a buzz around this tool which basically connects your research outputs to a growing social network of like-minded researchers from around the world. There's a desktop and web-based component to the software which organizes your research paper collection and citations, along with a bibliography generating tool. You can then access your library anywhere, share documents in groups and much more. The social networking aspect of the program means you can connect easily with other like-minded researchers. Good for: Generating a conversation around your research. Connecting with colleagues who share your interests and checking out the hotnew topics! www.mendeley.com/
Create and share your teaching resources
I've introduced you to the HumBox collection of freely available teaching resources which offers a wide variety of inspirational material for educators and students alike. Collections such as these are growing nationally and worldwide and enable both educators and students to access high-quality learning materials for teaching ideas, reworking to suit your needs etc. Alongside these great developments have been a series of free authoring tools that enable educators to package their learning materials into cohesive units. Three UK ones which are growing in popularity are LOC, GLO Maker & Xerte. Good for: Creating professional online learning experiences without sophisticated technical knowledge http://loc.llas.ac.uk/ www.glomaker.org/ www.nottingham.ac.uk/xerte/
Track all your interests on the realtime web And finally ...
Access course materials on the move Personal dashboards or startpages like iGoogle Netvibes or Microsoft Live are the best way to see at a glance what is going on around the internet on the subjects of your choice. You can bring together all of your favourite newspapers, blogs, weather, email, photos, social networks, RSS feeds into one place..then you can share anything from it with your students or friends. Good for: Bringing all your information and communication together and not having to visit multiple pages when you logon. www.netvibes.com/en www.google.com/ig
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The next few years are going to see the exponential growth of new access mechanisms for course materials online. Smartphones and Tablet PCs will be linked to VLEs enabling students to work from anywhere. Course readers will be created by educators from multiple sources and downloaded to tablet or e-reading devices and students will be able to annotate texts and store and/or share their notes. The enhanced access potential that these devices provide open a wealth of new teaching possibilities.
Teaching the New English An invaluable series for new and more experienced teachers alike Teaching the New English is an innovative series concerned with teaching English at degree level in the UK and elsewhere. The series considers new and developing areas of the curriculum as well as more traditional areas that are reforming in new contexts. It is grounded in an intellectual and theoretical concept of the curriculum, but is also concerned with the practicalities of teaching in today’s higher education classrooms. Published in association with the English Subject Centre | Series editor: Ben Knights
Save £5 on all paperback titles already published in the Teaching the New English series (RRP £18.99) Just use the code WTEACH10a when you order online at www.palgrave.com
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In Conversation with
Ben Knights and Philip Martin In July Nicole King interviewed Professor Ben Knights (Director, English Subject Centre) and Professor Philip Martin (Pro Vice Chancellor for Learning, Teaching and the Student Experience at Sheffield Hallam University). Ben Knights Professor Philip Martin was the first person in his family to go
Martin began his career as a lecturer at Exeter while Knights
to university and describes his entry into the profession as ‘an
started out as a college lecturer at Cambridge, quickly followed
accident.’ In contrast, Professor Ben Knights describes himself as
by a long stint in the Department of Adult and Continuing
a ‘cradle Leavisite,’ having grown up, as it were, with University
Education at the University of Durham. I asked if, at the start of
English as his father was a professor. While both Martin and
their careers, they had imagined they would be in the leadership
Knights had other ambitions before and during university (for
roles they now occupy. Martin responded, ‘No, absolutely not. I
Martin it was art and for Knights it was history) each has devoted
think when I began my career I just thought I would be a teacher
their working lives to higher education and are passionate
and a lecturer for life, really. That is what I aspired to and I think
advocates of English and the Humanities. Their paths literally
there is still an element of regret or loss whenever I have close
converge at the Subject Centre. As former and current Directors
encounters with an English department – I think what a great
of the English Subject Centre respectively, it was my pleasure to
place to be. In a sense my first instincts and my aspirations when
interview them together for this anniversary issue of WordPlay.
I started are still somewhere inside. To be an academic, to be
What emerged from our conversations at Martin's former
somebody who writes, engaged with the subject and teaches –
university, De Montfort was a fascinating history of experiences
seems to me is a very fine aspiration. I just kind of wandered down
with various collectives of academics, their perspectives on the
various by-ways at various points and bumped into opportunities
work of the Subject Centre, and their opinions on the challenges
that I didn’t expect to come my way. I found that at some point I
which lie ahead for English studies and higher education. What
was reasonably good, at organising things. And I guess that’s how
is difficult to capture in this print version is the lively exchange
I fell into being the director of a programme and the head of a
between the two of them, the shared laughter, and the genuine
department and then a dean and a research director, and then the
pleasure each took in listening to the other’s narratives.
director of a subject centre and then another dean, and then a pro vice chancellor, which is how I got here.’
Remember Adult Education Departments?
Knights: How does a subject that spends its time brooding on words cope where the model of knowledge is the rapid transfer of information? 10 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
Knights agreed, stating that the very idea of the Subject Centre being around at the start of his career was ‘almost unimaginable’ because the university world he entered in the late 1970s was just such a different place. He explained: ‘One of the difficulties in comparing these things in one’s mind, among other things, is the different cultures. But I do think, for all sorts of 1968ish reasons,
Features ‘The system is still catching up with what the OU invented in the 70s’ adds Knights. ‘Yes,’ agrees Martin, ‘what happened to the aspirations of and the way in which universities understood their responsibilities? … What happened to all of that? Well we know what happened to it because of the financial constraints but actually that was, in a sense, a thin end of a wedge, that really began to understand education in a purely utilitarian and financial terms, without understanding, without realising perhaps, or without wanting to realise that the broader benefits, if you like, the social and individual benefits of learning – were just not considered to be as important or relevant – maybe just something you could do on your own.’
English – where scepticism begins at home Martin was the first Director of the English Subject Centre (20002003) and Knights has been in the post since then. Did they have particular expectations of the role? What were the challenges they encountered? Both men highlighted the intrinsic wariness that English studies people have regarding university management (as opposed to departmental management) and quality assurance. ‘When I took it on at the beginning,’ confessed Martin, ‘I was so anxious to win the confidence of English departments that I wasn’t necessarily terribly confident about what we were doing in the Subject Centre. But actually now, having seen what can be done, Philip Martin
and certainly having seen what’s happened in recent years and the way that the Subject Centre is recognised as an important
I think I went into it all with a kind of idealistic and radical and,
resource, I think that I would have been more confident about
as we’d now say, “outreach agenda,” which is why I fairly rapidly
what it is that we could do at that time. There was quite a lot of
made my way into Adult Education. And one great thing about
suspicion around at the time: What is it? Who are these people?
Adult Education, in those days, before university Adult Education
What are they doing? And, most commonly, are you something
was closed down, was it was one of the places where, to a limited
to do with the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA)!? So I spent a lot
extent, people did actually study higher education, they studied
the time trying to win the confidence of people, largely by saying,
teaching. So big Adult Ed departments like Leeds, Southampton,
“we are not the QAA but we may be able to help you with that!”
Leicester, were places where people did actually think about
There was scepticism and I understand fully the reasons. English
and talk about and study, and write about education. And so
academics have always been seen as independent-minded, very
one of the things I was able to do with colleagues from very
independent-minded. Their resistance, if you like, to centralism
different subject backgrounds – because one of the joys of it was that it was a multi-subject department so one was working with archaeologists and biologists and historians and so on – was that we actually set up a seminar on adult education at a meta level. So in a curious way we were trying to invent something, it wasn’t a subject centre, but it was about how you teach and it was about pedagogy. We were inventing or working together on the
Martin: I think that we are entering a far more utilitarian understanding of higher education – I mean this time we really are.
idea that pedagogy wasn’t just about the idea of transmission, it wasn’t just about more effective ways of getting knowledge from
and to Management with a capital M, is often well-founded. It is
A to B, but pedagogy was actually an intellectually respectable
well-founded I think because those people who are closest to the
and generative thing to be involved in. And I suppose that thread
scholarship of the subject and the students themselves carry not
has remained for me, constant all the way through.'
only a massive kind of commitment but also the best knowledge
Knights’ discussion of working in Adult Education prompts Martin to recall his own early teaching experiences as a part-timer at the Open University. ‘The OU was a very, very rewarding teaching environment. And I think actually, as the OU went on, it was a place that took some aspects of teaching, and in particular marking, very, very seriously, so I was marked on my marking and marked on my feedback.’
about what they are doing. And actually the way not to manage is to have somebody come and tell you what to do. The Subject Centre facilitates ways in which people can share the knowledge that they themselves have and are producing in that generative way that Ben referred to earlier on. And that’s one of the things I learned at the Subject Centre. It’s to do with dialogue. And I carry some of that stuff with me that Ben does, from our early careers,
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 11
Features and that is that you do see education as being a transformative thing, a form of liberation, a way in which individuals find themselves and find their way around complex situations and cultures.’
Taking the Subject Centre forward/the status of teaching Knights agreed emphatically about the Subject Centre’s approach and reminded us of the different political and financial environment that saw the launch of the Subject Centre in 2001: ‘It was the moment wasn’t it, when universities were benefitting enormously from the postDearing settlement and the amount New
Knights: My favourite metaphor for the way the RAE and now the REF regimes work is putting nitrogen fertilizer on an Alpine meadow
Labour was willing to shell out –‘ Martin: ‘Absolutely –‘ Knights: ‘And now we’re suddenly realising that the tap is being turned off so that the Subject Centres, like the National Teaching
over the Subject Centre, as it were, was
‘– its internal contradictions!’ chuckles
that it was working, it had recognition,
people had an idea of what it was. There are still people who are suspicious.’
Fellowships and all the other initiatives of
Martin: ‘And that’s how it is and will
that period were in a sense riding a wave,
always be, it’s kind of a generally healthy
scepticism of “the tribe” of English,
Martin: ‘They were.’
people have that scepticism about them, it’s just an intrinsic and important part of
Knights: ‘There was something exciting
their training and their understanding of
that was happening, but it was also being
how things are – nothing is quite what
it seems to be’ quipped Martin, ‘which
Martin: ‘That’s right, absolutely right.’
is actually the persistence of practical criticism!’ which makes us all laugh. ‘It’s not
Knights: ‘I think our challenge in this
what you think it is, it’s something else – ‘
present moment, and for obvious reasons, we talk about this a lot, is how to continue
‘There’s a subtext you can get at if you
when the assumptions of that era no
spend long enough with it – bring out its
longer hold. So my experience of taking
ironies, its ambivalences’ added Knights.
Starting out, before the Subject Centre Joking aside, there are several threads I want to try to pick up, especially in terms of each man’s entry into English, which they had both mentioned was an unexpected pathway. After a young Martin acknowledged that he couldn’t draw and therefore Art College was not on the cards, he started looking at the possibility of reading English. ‘I discovered, of course, that in terms of A Levels and O Levels as they were called then, GCSEs now, I didn’t have the right combination: I didn’t have Latin, I didn’t have a modern foreign language at O Level and that meant I could apply for hardly any universities to read English at that time. Quite seriously, the restrictions and the assumptions about the cultural capital you had to bring with you were such that I ended up applying to to a very new university, Stirling in Scotland. So my first degree is in English with Sociology. It was the making of me really. I spent four happy years as an undergrad learning about English literature and in that time the scales fell from my eyes. Something happened and I sort of woke up academically or intellectually and I just couldn’t get enough of it. After that I didn’t really know what I was going to do, I’m terrible at planning, I had no idea, couldn’t think of anything else to do, I
12 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
Features strategic plans, strap lines, it just brings
I thoroughly enjoyed teaching children
You don’t have to be an English subject person to be a leader, but it helps
in schools but I wasn’t very good at it.
We all laugh heartily at this, but also note
So I went and did a PhD. But, again, not
laughing now] ‘It is quite hard working at
that there is a great deal they have each
necessarily believing that I would become
corporate level in universities now because
carried over from their early university
an academic, but I did, very gradually,
of the predominance of those things,
experiences and interactions with
one step at a time. I’ve always felt a bit
although I think we might be winding
dedicated teachers and, in particular, ways
of a fraud and somebody would find out
back a bit.’
of seeing, evaluating and questioning the
that I wasn’t really supposed to be doing
world that inform their own careers as
The challenges which English faces
this stuff: I remember my first class at
lecturers and as champions of the craft
Our conversation moved on to the current
Exeter, feeling very nervous and saying
climate for higher education and what
just thought I might go and do a PhD but I went and did a PGCE before that.
to the students, “Well the Seventeenth Century really isn’t my period’ and one of
Martin: ‘Getting back to that sense
them said “Well don’t worry it’s not mine
that what you have to do in English is
either!” Which I thought was wonderful.’
read beyond the surface- that has been massively influential for me. The situations
out irony in us at 500 metres!’ Martin: ‘It does, it does’ [we are all
Martin and Knights felt the subject should brace itself for in terms of challenges and shifts in the financial and ideological landscape.
Knights, on the other hand, read
which seem simple or appear to be simple,
Martin: ‘I think currently the demand for
Modern History at Oxford, and didn’t
those things are usually illusions. Beneath
English is still high but I think the financial
make the switch to English until after
every apparently simple issue there lies
disincentives may grow and that worries
his undergraduate degree but he cites
a complexity that is made up of people,
me because I think that we are entering a
similarities with Martin, like a lack of
usually. So I would say I don’t pretend to
far more utilitarian understanding of higher
planning: ‘Well yes,’ he mused, ‘the
be any kind of terrifically subtle analyst
education – I mean this time we really are.
sense that things happened, and then
in terms of what I do but understanding
This coalition government is hard to read
not knowing subsequently whether the
the complexity of things, definitely. Most
in that respect because it carries within it
narrative that emerges is subsequently
things need some kind of subtle approach.
both sides of the coin. It carries within an
imposed or whether there was really
And I think I have developed quite a lot
old-fashioned and rather pleasing high
something that was unfolding in history
of patience in having to develop and
regard for traditional academic values ...
the whole time. In some senses I grew up
to recognise that other people in other
but it is a government driven primarily by
with university English, and I spent some
subjects doing other things – academics
the bottom line with an emphasis such
time Oedipally trying to shed it by going
and administrators and other people who
as we have never seen before. So, for
to do things like reading history instead
work in the universities – if you have the
example, in terms of policy, the recent
of English which was a silly way of getting out because it obviously wasn’t getting
Martin: what you have to do in English is read beyond the surface
out. I wanted to teach in schools, or so I believed, wrongly, and Cambridge at the time was offering a one-year postgraduate certificate, and Raymond Williams was running this post-grad diploma on Literature and Rural Society. That was an amazing conversion experience from being a historian to being an English person. I think I still have trouble with that because you have a different view of data and text. I had Tony Tanner as a supervisor for the
curiosity of mind to work out what it is they do, you will work much better. I am not saying that in order to be a successful leader you have to be an English subject person but there are things in the subject that train the mind, that seriously train the mind.’
dissertation I did, and it was while doing
Knights: ‘Of course this is also related to
that that I got hold of, with Raymond’s
what we were saying about sceptics in the
help, the subject of the Clerisy in the
profession because we, all of us I think,
Nineteenth Century. I got hooked, went
probably share an intolerance for things
and did a PhD and then went into Adult
that look prescriptive, –‘
Ed and it goes from there. I guess in some
curious way, and we read these things for irony, but having fought, as it were, to
Knights: ‘– for taxonomies,’
get out of English, I end up as one of its
national guardians!’ Knights: ‘For big large polystyrene labels that haven’t been examined, you know,
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 13
Features funding council consultation document
has been a contested subject, I think
Rose’s book The Intellectual Life of the
on funding raised the possibility in my
the economic pressures are immense
British Working Classes (2001). That could
mind that there might be no funding at all
and those would be interpreted through
happen; I don’t think it has to happen. But
for Band D or classroom-based subjects
parents, peer groups, sixth form teachers,
I do think that tendency for literature to
from the Funding Council. Now I don’t
whatever. I think there are simultaneous
up-market itself is to some curious extent
think that will happen but there is a sense
pressures and I also want to bring the
colluded with by the current research
in which you could read that document
web into that and social networking and
funding culture and greater selectivity in
and think that was what it was saying:
general web savvy-ness. How does a
research. My favourite metaphor for the
Government will only fund those courses
subject that spends its time brooding
way the RAE and now the REF regimes
which it sees as quick routes into office-
on words or taking time on words, cope
work is putting nitrogen fertilizer on an Alpine meadow: a whole lot of things grow big and lusty and succeed but they then
Knights: what the subject has to do, to gain a wider constituency, is something to do with how it teaches and how it interacts with its students
take the living and shut out the light from all sorts of lesser and more interesting things that might have grown under them. That RAE and REF money and the whole architecture of applying to the AHRC, all the kind of competencies and skills that go with those ambitions – okay they are
ready employment or whatever the ghastly
where the model of knowledge is the rapid
very good for the professions as such –
term is now. But, of course, there are
transfer of information? One thing that
but they do, I fear, tend to squeeze out,
inherent contradictions in this, the biggest
worries me very much is the notion that
block the light out from all kinds of other
one being we need graduates for the
we might see – particularly with English
things. And I fear if that all emigrates into
knowledge economy, we need graduates
literature and I think less so with Creative
a relatively few high-ranking institutions
with flexible understanding, who are quick
Writing and English language – is the
then all of the things about word study,
and creative. We need, at least they are
balkanization and sector-ization whereby
literature study and cultural study we’ve
saying at the moment that we need to
literature flees to sort of high ranking,
been mentioning are then drawn away
keep participation rates up, but then at the high-prestige institutions. Where it attracts
from a wider access population who are
same time there are people standing there
generally well-heeled students who can
given the employability stuff. I see one
with banners saying there are 70 graduates
afford to take risks with careers because on
role for the Subject Centre as going on
applying for one job every year. So I think
the whole they are going to land on their
fighting for English as a democratic subject
what I am trying to say is it is shot through
feet or mummy or daddy will help them.
not as an elite subject. I actually rather
with all kinds of contradictions at the
Where literature ceases to be everything
passionately believe that.’
we were talking about in terms of Adult
Knights: ‘Yes, well I think I agree with all of that. I think [English] is and always
Education and the wider public and community readers and all the things that are to some extent delineated in Jonathan
Building on the idea of English as a democratic subject, I ask if there was anything that heads of departments and Deans of Humanities could be doing to pursue an agenda for increasing the democratization of the subject, given that English studies is currently a subject taken by mostly white, middle class, female students. Their answers strike at the heart of the utilitarian education argument: Martin: ‘I think it’s very difficult. I think it’s something all heads and all deans think about. One of the difficulties is, and this is a difficulty that I think the subject and organisations like CCUE and the English Association have discussed for years and that is, do you take on the language of government and policy and, if you like, utilitarian philosophy, do you take that on and argue quite cogently and coherently that actually English is a useful subject and may be a useful subject. Do you take
14 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
Features technologies within higher education and the way new technologies have been taken up by English. Martin offered this: ‘I think technology has revolutionised research in the subject and it has taken away, to some extent, the tedious boring and sweaty business of searching through texts for particular words, themes, subjects, and whatever because you can actually instantly find them’ he snaps his fingers. ‘You don’t have to spend five years writing an article about Wordsworth’s use of the word virtue or beauty, because you can just’ (snaps fingers again). ‘And so I think that undergraduates can now do rather wonderful things outside of the classroom and outside of the library where previously they couldn’t.’ Knights agreed, ‘People can get at archives in a way that only a handful of research students or scholars could in the past,’ but cautioned that the national situation regarding innovative pedagogy and the use of technology in English
Martin: in a sense my aspirations when I started are still somewhere inside: to be an academic, to be somebody who writes, is engaged with the subject and teaches
departments reveals ‘huge variation’ between institutions and disparity regarding how students are helped to use the digital archives and the concordances and even VLEs. He adds, ‘The more worrying thing to me does go back to something about the nature of reading in an information society. I still entertain what
that on and argue on those terms or do
might do in terms of collaboration and in
is now a very old-fashioned idea about
you stand by the principle that actually
getting involved in the ‘impact agenda’
the materialities of reading and dwelling
education is a value in its own right,
but I think the larger question is also about
in books and slow reading and that
the benefits of which can’t necessarily
teaching, actually. And that in terms of what
something about deep processing may
be traced in short-hand terms? In other
the subject has to do, bit by bit, to gain a
be (though this starts to get into ‘decline
words, once you take on the terminology
wider constituency, is actually something to
of the west’ territory) being lost through
of the language and the vocabulary so you
do with how it teaches and how it interacts
the click, click, click, continuous partial
might also compromise and concede. My
with its students. A lot of the signs at the
attention society we live in.’
own position is that I am a pragmatist so I
minute are of narrowing – the people who
As if to underscore this last comment,
am prepared to do that. I am aware of the
can now afford to do an MA, therefore
when I ask each of them to tell me a
risks and dangers in so doing as equally I
the people who can afford to stay on to
personal teaching anecdote and reveal
am aware as a pragmatist that if you just
become post grads – after a period of
their favourite text or author both Knights
stay on the outside all the time you will
gentle expansion outwards socially, English
and Martin gravitate towards that which
isolate the subject and you can’t afford to
is actually contracting again. I think there
was difficult and time consuming: both
do that, it’s not responsible.’
is countervailing tendency, a potential
remembered teaching failures that
ultimately improved their pedagogy and
Can technology save us?
humbled their approach to students and
Knights: ‘I also think it is a problem the clerisy has struggled with for 200 years now. But in its own particular form in our moment, yes we do have to be pragmatists but I think it’s not just a question of what we as, so to speak, leaders in the subject
Both Knights and Martin noted the rather ominous implications of English being relegated to elite territory and reflected upon the democratising impact of digital
both named deliciously long 19th Century novels that suggest each was always destined for literature: Anna Karenina (Knights) and Middlemarch (Martin).
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 15
Beyond the Workshop: The Creative Writing MA and the Market 24 February 2010 This symposium, hosted by Edinburgh Napier University, and organised by Sam Kelly (Edinburgh Napier University), the English Subject Centre, literaturetraining and the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE), set out to explore the tension between student expectations and the realities of what MA courses in Creative Writing do and what they can deliver. As both an MA student in Creative Writing and an Adult Education tutor I shifted between these two roles as I compared my teaching and student experiences with that of the other delegates. The symposium centred around three provocations and a keynote address, punctuated by multiple small discussion groups. English Subject Centre
David Miller, Director of Rogers, Coleridge & White Literary Agency offered the first provocation: ‘Achieving a Balance: The Craft and Business of Writing’. Addressing the question of whether people outside universities were influenced by the fact that a writer has done a Creative Writing course, Miller suggested that fledgling writers could just as well work in a literary agency or spend their fee money on subsistence living while writing. Rather than counting on a course to open doors to publication Miller exhorted students to simply write a book that demands to be read. The discussions which ensued were polarised between those who felt that students should see their fees as an investment in learning for the sake of personal development and those who felt that students needed professional skills (editing, abridgement, adaptation and reviewing) in order to make their way as writers after the course. In ‘The Student Experience’, Andrew Cowan (University of East Anglia) warned that students’ expectations of an MA course, often fuelled by the advertised success of alumni, have to be managed so that publication is not seen as a definite consequence of taking the course. Students can be advised about this at interviews and encouraged to see that an MA offers a hospitable ‘climate’ for a year in which to take writing seriously amongst other writers. Cowan admitted to having been a ‘disgruntled graduate’ of the same programme in which he now teaches. (Read more about this in ‘The Anxiety of Influence’ in WordPlay 3.) Delegates considered recruitment strategies and programme identity, effective teaching, creative pedagogy and issues of aftercare once students have graduated. In the final provocation, ‘The Workshop and Beyond’, Graham Mort (Lancaster University) returned to the idea of the student experience with a focus on distance learning. Mort’s experience of teaching students in nine African countries via the internet, made him realise that Creative Writing and literature can re-negotiate particular social conditions and relationships. The epistolatory nature of the exchange between student and tutor keeps the text ductile and interventions are possible in real time. Mort compared this process to a music or art teacher looking over the student’s shoulder and making suggestions for trying things in a different way. The distance learning programme at Lancaster encourages ‘transculturality’ and interdisciplinary work and in doing so it challenges the entrenched modes of delivering ‘English Studies’ in Literature departments. The discussion afterwards revealed that while some lecturers are reluctant to spend more hours in front of the computer others saw real advantages to the immediacy and effectiveness of online feedback. Professor Sean O’Brien (Newcastle University) who prefers the term “writing” to “Creative Writing,” delivered the keynote speech, artfully weaving together the debates and discussions from earlier in the day. Not only do MA students need a climate where they can test the extent of their abilities and learn about being a professional writer, he asserted, the most important lesson for new writers to learn is that the world is indifferent to their labours. Workshops should be about students and lecturers thinking together about how writing works. Students’ writing should be subject to a critical response within the course just as it will be outside the course. He argued forcefully that the MA should be just as academically rigorous as any other course, that students must read more widely and deeply and, as lecturers, we must tackle student reluctance to study form which can be wrongly attached to a fear of elitism. Although the day was primarily about the student experience, it was clear from all the discussions that Creative Writing lecturers need more support if they are to deliver that experience with confidence. Alison Summers, Edinburgh Napier University
Want more? Read Alison’s longer event report at www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/explore/events/event_ detail.php?event_index=276
Graham Mort in a small group discussion
16 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
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T3 is at www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/explore/resources/t3/index.php WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 17
The Good of Criticism The value of literary studies Using the context of a conference held at the University of Reading in March this year, Simon Dentith considers the effects of serious engagement with the idea of 'impact' in relation to English studies.
Simon Dentith is Head of Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Reading where he contributes to modules on nineteenth and twentiethcentury literature and convenes a module on William Morris. He is a member of the English Subject Centre Advisory Board and his most recent book is Epic and Empire in NineteenthCentury Britain (Cambridge UP, 2006).
A conference aimed at ‘articulating the public value of literary criticism and scholarship’ – readers of WordPlay won’t need to be told that the need for such an ambition is as great now as it was a year ago, in the summer of 2009 when the conference was planned: the Public Spending Review and the massive downward pressure on public finances have only added to the sense of urgency that informed planning for the event. The aim was not without an element of hubris; yet it seemed to the conference organisers that we could jointly find ways of expressing the value of what we do that might have some purchase on the world beyond the English or Humanities Departments of the academy. There’s no denying also that the most public and managerial form of public accountability for what we do, the ‘impact’ requirements of the REF, played a part in our thinking about the event, though we were determined not to limit our discussions to this. At our most hubristic we hoped that some kind of check-list of arguments – like New Labour’s famous five promises in 1997 – might emerge from the conference so that we could all call upon them when challenged to justify the value of criticism and literary studies. The organisers were also conscious that many of the issues facing us in English press equally strongly on the Arts and Humanities more generally. If there is a case to be made more explicitly and publicly in relation to English in all its forms in the Academy, then the same needs to be said about other subjects – let us say those which currently fall under the aegis of the AHRC. And it’s not as though ‘English’ itself is monolithic, as readers of WordPlay will be the first to point out. We all know that what we do is very diverse, draws on very different intellectual and cultural histories, and takes place in very different institutional contexts with very different students.
It is necessary to think hard about what we do so that the public articulation of its value can be more securely grounded 18 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
So our decision to focus on the ‘good of criticism’ gave a necessary focus to the conference but also inflected the debate in particular ways. One such inflection was towards the changing perceived value of criticism in a world in which widely diffused forms of criticism take place daily in the apparently nonhierarchical blogosphere: clearly criticism cannot have the same authority in such an environment. This was the aspect of the conference agenda picked up by the (very welcome) report in the Times Higher Education. Yet it seemed to us that a range of interrelated issues were illuminated by our particular stress on criticism. Several themes in the event dominated the conference discussions, partly anticipated by the conference organisers, but partly of course emerging in unplanned ways over the course of the two days, with the input of the speakers and the other delegates. One theme was the extent to which claims for the value of criticism – and of literary study more generally – depends on an intrinsic notion of literary value itself. Another concerned the ways in which the canon itself has been transformed by criticism conducted in feminist and post-colonial guises. Yet another theme of the conference was no less than the value of a literary education in itself, necessarily mediated by criticism in all it forms. Speakers and delegates naturally addressed these interlocking topics from different ideological but also institutional positions; the effects of different locations within the academy, in situations of greater or lesser stress, were evident in many of the contributions. The title of the first session, ‘The Function of Criticism at the Present Time’, indicates at least one question for debate: how far an Arnoldian or post-Arnoldian rationale for what we do can be maintained in the incessantly market-driven and in that particular sense more democratic contemporary cultural world. Papers by Stefan Collini, Ben Knights and Ronan McDonald naturally suggested different answers, and to some extent informed subsequent discussion at the conference. The first speaker in particular was sceptical of that fond ambition of the conference organisers, that it would be possible readily to articulate a sense of what we do that would have real purchase in the public sphere beyond the academy.
Features The question of literary value partly informed the second session of the conference, which sought one answer to the good of criticism in the transformation of the canon over the last thirty years or so to include marginal and silenced voices, defined in the usual shorthand as the colonised, women, sexual dissidents, and the labouring classes. ‘Literary value’ has been notoriously difficult to manage in relation to the non-aesthetic urgencies that have informed that transformation. Papers by Jo McDonagh, Elleke Boehmer and Patrick Williams revealed especially strongly the sometimes bruising institutional pressures that can weigh upon these debates. Derek Attridge, Isobel Armstrong and Helen Small were the speakers for the next session, which asked to what degree the value of criticism is related to the 'value' of literature. An especially powerful and even moving paper by Derek Attridge e dwelt on the value of the literary-aesthetic experience itself, the particular act of attention which is specific to the experience of reading. Helen Small’s account of the act of criticism partly concerned the ways it seeks to mediate between the private actt of reading and more generally shared experience, while Isobel e Armstrong made a characteristically powerful case for the value of ‘perlocutionary’ ways of understanding the reading process. Another set of issues were broached in the following session, ‘the self in civil society’: issues to do with the capacity of literature, as articulated in criticism, to provide stories or models which allow readers to understand themselves as social beings inhabiting particular societies at particular times. Dinah Birch, Jeff Wallace and Simon Dentith presented papers which n argued in different ways for the value of an education based on other than utilitarian grounds, though the very use of the word de d e ‘utilitarian’ and its antonyms can suck us in to inhabiting one side of a dichotomy that we might rather hope to overcome.
provided an entertaining account to the meeting of academic literary criticism with journalism and broadcasting. A final session sought to bring all these different strands of the conference together. In what already seems like a different world, ‘Peter Mandelson’ was the metonymy around which many anxieties about public funding for the Universities, marketdriven university education, and a perceived utilitarianism driving government policy, seemed to condense. I leave readers to replace this figure with any other which now seems appropriate. But even in this changed environment, the question addressed remains salient: how far is it possible or even worthwhile to add to the to h ccurrent he urrre ent n ‘he ea ap po wo ord ds’ tthat h t ha ‘heap off w words’ ccu urrrrentl en e ntl tly su ssurround rrrou ound dw ha h at we at w currently what do d o? Y Yo ou w ou wi illl p errha e aps p n ott o do? You will perhaps not be b e ssurprised urrpr p iissed ed tto o he ea arr hear tth hat at n o co cconsensus onsen nssen enssu us that no wa w as re as rreached eac a he h du up pon on was upon th his. iss. N eve ev errth thel heles e s, s this. Nevertheless, I hope ho op pe e ttha ha h hat at th tthe he that co onfer nfer nf eren re en ncce em ad a de conference made ssome so om me e rreal ea al p pr rog ogre re ess s progress ttowards to ow wa ard ard rds ccl la arrifyi iiffying g clarifying the pa th the p arrttic tic iciip pa an nts ts’’ participants’ tth h hiiin nkkiing ng o n tth he thinking on the cch hal allle enges ng ge ess tha h t challenges that facce face fa eu s s. us.
A fifth session on ‘Living together: culture and community’ on n returned the conference to the issues relating to the contribution that criticism can make to communal self-knowledge and mutual understanding: Abdulrazak Gurnah, Susheila Nasta and Alison Donnell gave papers addressed to this theme, with both historical and contemporary dimensions. Literature surely has a capacity to speak beyond the confines of social being understood narrowly as an affirmation of identity; this familiar oth h insight took on a particular polemical edge in the context of both ng contemporary identity politics, and in Sushelia Nasta’s fascinating account of the AHRC project in which she is engaged, ‘Making Britain: South Asian Visions of Home and Abroad 1780-1950’. The final formal session was addressed to the one topic that actually features in official documents relating to the value of the humanities: the quality of life. Edna Longley, Andy Mousley and Santanu Das gave papers with very different takes on the meaning of this elusive phrase. Perhaps its elusiveness is to do with the antinomy to which its usage testifies: its very use recognises that not all of what universities do can be measured in quantitative terms, yet it seems necessary to persist in such measurements anyway. Important perspectives were provided on all the joint sessions of the conference by two free-standing ‘case studies’, led by Regenia Gagnier and John Mullan. The former provided an essential international dimension, showing how Chinese understanding of the work of John Stuart Mill had transformed the concepts which informed Mill’s work; while the latter
British social reformer and philosopher, John Stuart Mill.
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 19
Features The ‘impact’ agenda of course presses directly upon the value attached to our research. But a wider utilitarianism in relation to education equally challenges what we do; after all, it was Britain’s most famous utilitarian who famously failed to see any difference in value between poetry and push-pin. In that context, the conference was addressing challenges that have been made to the humanities for a long time, though the point of the conference was to address them in the particular forms which they take now. If it is possible to distinguish two different kinds of answers they would be these. On the one hand there were a group of papers which sought, in one way or another, to explicate more fully the intrinsic value of the literary itself,
It was always the case that the humanities were cast as a supplement to the more essential business of earning a living or the range of ways literature might act upon readers. This emphasis may not address the superiority of poetry to pushpin, but it certainly seeks to explicate the value of the activity in itself. Another kind of paper sought to explicate the social value of criticism, in articulating more fully the conditions of mutual social understanding, especially in relation to the transformations
20 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
of British and world society. One big question left hanging by the conference, for this delegate at least, was how these two kinds of answers might be related. Since these are some of the oldest questions in aesthetics, no conclusion was likely. But the conference brought home to me at least how some of these familiar questions have re-posed themselves in the particular urgencies of the present moment. I think we all recognize the kind of argument which asserts that the problem is one of ‘communicating’ more clearly what we do – an argument that is complicated for those of us who work in the academy by the distance in idiom (to put it no more strongly) between us and other areas of the public sphere. But it is also the case that this kind of argument can sometimes be an evasion, of the necessity to think hard about what we do so that the public articulation of its value can be more securely grounded. The knot of issues in relation to criticism, education, literary value, the canon, personal development, social good, mutual social understanding, and the quality of life need careful and constant address to be disentangled ‘at the present time’ – a time so unlike that which faced Matthew Arnold, Cardinal Newman, John Ruskin, John Stuart Mill and others one hundred and fifty years ago, when they pronounced so powerfully some of the founding tenets of our discipline. As one of the conference organisers, I was deeply grateful for the seriousness and engagement which the speakers and delegates brought to the conference, and I found the discussions to be remarkably suggestive. I do think that the conference managed to re-articulate some crucial aspects of what we do in our work in English, and, to a real extent, in the Humanities more generally. I don’t think we were re-inventing the wheel, or were suffering under the delusion that we were announcing to a breathless world truths which were all along familiar. We do nevertheless need to re-articulate a sense of what we do in the changing social and cultural conditions in which we work; I presume this to be a permanent obligation for us. Our responsibility in this respect is especially important if we feel that we cannot continue to express the importance of what we do in terms ultimately derived from the great nineteenth- and twentieth-century creators of our subject, and yet feel that the work on which we are engaged is important and indeed deserves public support. Even resort under pressure to those Arnoldian pieties perhaps no longer carries the conviction that it once did, certainly not for us and not for our interlocutors either; or to put it another way, since it was always the case that the humanities were cast as a supplement to the more essential business of earning a living, the rejoinder to a case made now in a time of perceived economic crisis was always at best going to be that this is a luxury that for the moment we cannot afford. That indeed would be the most depressing conclusion to be drawn from a conference such as this: that the positions in which we might conduct our discussions are already laid out and that everything we can say has got a rejoinder in waiting. But actually this was not the sense with which I emerged from the conference; quite apart from the extraordinary articulacy of its list of contributors I was struck by the wealth of argument that is available to us. Yet these are arguments that need to be made; the conference may not have produced a landslide of New Labour proportions but it at least contributed to articulating a crucial set of arguments.
Is your department looking to diversify its assessment practice, introduce some innovations in small group teaching or offer a form of work-related learning? If so the English Subject Centre could run an internal workshop on these and other topics to get you started. As part of our programme of activities and services for the 2010-2011 academic year, will be running a limited number of workshops within departments to help staff enhance their teaching. These workshops are free of charge, but applications must be received by the 24th September 2010.
Workshops Direct English Subject Centre internal workshops for academic departments
We will consider providing an internal workshop on any theme where we have staff expertise, but particularly welcome applications relating to: • Assessment and feedback • Student writing • Student study groups • Work-related learning
• Innovations in seminars and lecturing • Inclusive teaching • Teaching effectively using the VLE
More details are available on our home page: www.english.heacademy.ac.uk If you would like to take advantage of this opportunity, please email firstname.lastname@example.org by the 24th September giving: 1. Your name, department and contact details 2. The theme of the workshop you would like and what you would like it to cover. It may be helpful to give any contextual information, such as a requirement to respond to NSS scores. 3. Roughly when you would like us to run the workshop (nearest month). WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 21
Digital Writing and Pedagogy how do we teach,
22 WordPlay â€˘ www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
what do we teach?
Features This article, originally presented as a paper at the Subject Centre’s Teaching Digital Writing event (2010), seeks to explore what a university level tutor might appropriately include in teaching digital writing. I work in an English department, mostly teaching critical theory, and in this paper I’d like to look at a deceptive question, one which I’m going to increasingly face in the discipline I’ve chosen: ‘how do we go about teaching examples of digital writing?’ Now this is not a simple question. Before we can get to the ‘how’ of teaching something, we need to at least approximate what it is we are about to teach, if only to propose an appealing course. I’d put it to you that many students are just not certain what a digital text is, or what digital writing is, not really, and yet I feel that the worst thing we can do, as tutors, is attempt an exacting definition. Now this might seem oxymoronic, but what I actually think it is, is potentially exciting. Digital texts, digital literatures, digital writing, these still somewhat ineffable things represent a rare chance for us to teach the ‘contemporary’ in the thick of it. English Studies has only rarely been about hunting for, or rote-learning, the proscribed meaning of texts. Often, ideally, it has instead existed as a way of identifying the jumping-off points where written texts allow us to explore our own state of being-in-the-world - how we might think, how we might understand, how we might strive. Unlike contemporary English literature classes I’ve both taught and attended, which seem to think that the ‘contemporary’ must end in 1960 if we’re to have any chance at critical distance, ‘digital’ offers another way, and I would say a compelling way, for our students to see how their subject wraps around them, to feel that they can live what they learn, and to think that ‘contemporary’ can actually mean ‘right now,’ and ‘tomorrow,’ as the story of the way we receive written material unfolds before their eyes. In this spirit I would like to consider a number of disciplines which I believe the digitisation of the written word opens up to the English classroom. This doesn’t represent an attempt to define the borders of the subject, but instead to ignore past delineations and see where productive exploration, symbiosis, and downright theft might allow us to teach better, and to get students feeling and realising what is being taught. To begin then, how might we sketch a definition of digital work? If I hear the words ‘digital text’ then the frenzy of images that spring to mind, the substance of what I’d like to teach remember, leaves me baffled – are we talking about any written work which appears on a screen? And any screen? Will a television or a mobile phone do? Or must it be a computer? Is a Kindle or an iPad enough of a computer to qualify? And why? Do we really read differently on these things? And once we’ve settled on a carrier medium does a digital text include scans of a paper document? .pdfs? Photographs of existing texts? And are we just talking about Katherine Hayles’ (2008,
passim) ‘digitally native’ literature here, works made on, and for reading on, a pixelated screen? Because that seems to include most things now that we’re all word processing every document we produce, and then consuming a lot of it online. And what of books about digitisation, or that use digital forms remediated back into print? Or instead are we talking about books, any books, which interrogate, or have shaken off their material bodies… Ah! But that seems to hit somewhere closer to the nail’s head doesn’t it? It’s this change in bodies which is causing all the fuss after all. Because if popular media has taught us anything about digital and digitised books, it’s that they don’t ‘smell right’, and that they don’t ‘feel right’, and that you certainly can’t read them on the beach or in the bath. For the record that last one’s actually not true. Jeff Bezos, the founder and president of Amazon.com, apparently reads his Kindle e-reader in the bath. He puts it in a one gallon see-through zip-lock bag. The touch screen works and everything (Solomon, 2009). But the body of the book, and we might as well talk about the book because that’s what the majority of the popular debate surrounds, the body of the bound paper book, the codex, is changing, and the new forms we are experiencing are not the product of a kindly received metamorphosis. There have been increasingly frequent attempts to begin ‘e-reading’ over the last ten or so years, prior to the watershed of the Amazon Kindle’s release in late 2007, and numerous commentators have lined up to warn us of the dangers of digital, particularly its lowly status in comparison to print. Sven Birkerts is perhaps the totemic example here, with his exhortation in the Gutenberg Elegies, that: ‘this may be the awakening, but it feels curiously like the fantasies that circulate through our sleep. From deep in the heart I hear the voice that says, “Refuse it!’’’ (1994, p.229).
Matt Hayler is a final year Ph.D. student at the University of Exeter where he primarily teaches Level 1 courses in Criticism and Theory. His thesis, Resisting the Digital: Technology, Books, and Bodies, is an investigation into popular discourses of resistance surrounding the digitisation of the written word. His most recent article, 'Translating to Digital,' will appear in a PEER English special edition in 2010. You can find more of his work at www.4oh4wordsnotfound. blogspot.com.
What should we make of Birkerts’, and others’, resistance? I’m not sure. But we should teach it. We should teach it now, and we should teach it when all the journals are online, and when all the books are online, and we should continue to teach it when every student is doing their homework on a digital device. Because this resistance, whilst presumably futile, is all about bodies, those bookish-bodies holding books, and those bound-book bodies being held. And bodies books certainly have; books have chapters, from the Latin for head, ‘caput’, whilst pages have feet for their footnotes. The book’s body has a spine, and their contents can have an appendix. Even references to sections being ‘above’ or ‘below’ rather than ‘shallower’ or ‘deeper’ within the text suggest that it should be standing on its feet.
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 23
Features And where there are bodies there are interactions; nothing knows it even has a body until it starts to resist the world. Birkerts, in an article for The Atlantic, discusses codex reading as existing as part of such an interacting system. He describes the system of libraries and filing
a cognitive system in its own right.’ In a very simple example they discuss the use of pencil and paper to jot down lecture notes, to do a hard sum, or to take a long list, all tasks which the human mind alone could not perform accurately. Cognition, at this point, is spread onto the paper
if popular media taught us anything about digital books, it's that they don't smell right that have grown up around the boundbook form, but he also describes how our bodies gain access via participation: ‘[t]hat system,’ says Birkerts, ‘stands for the labor and taxonomy of human understanding, and to touch a book is to touch that system, however lightly’ (2009). He knows what it means to touch a book. I don’t think he expresses it that well here, but he is beginning to get to the root of all the ‘it just doesn’t feel right’ type of arguments. Birkerts suggests that we can interact with ‘the labour and taxonomy of human understanding’ haptically, via our tactile interactions with objects. This seems to ring true; we interact with the world via touch, and always have. From primates becoming one with the forest canopy as they travelled, each brachiating limb extending out and amalgamating with the drooping liana, to the invention and mass deployment of hammers and other simple hand tools which extrapolated the skills of the naked arm, our species’ evolutionary history is based around touch and what the neurologist Frank Wilson describes as ‘incorporation’. To incorporate something into ourselves requires that we treat an external object as if it was part of our flesh. Heidegger would have called this ‘ready-to-hand’; the sociologist Andy Pickering might describe it as a temporarily stable interaction between two subjects in a ‘dance of agency’; an evolutionary cognitive psychologist like Merlin Donald might look at how ‘incorporated’ objects allow us to actually extend our cognition; and a philosopher, such as Andy Clark, might even see it, at times, as an extension of our minds. Andy Clark and David Chalmers demonstrate how our interactions with objects might alter the focus of cognition from a place inside our heads to somewhere out there, in the world, forming a ‘coupled system’ between human and object ‘that can be seen as
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and pencil, it forms an extension of the brain’s own short term memory. For Merlin Donald, if the notepad is a prosthetic short term memory, then a library represents much more long term storage.
se, but cognition offloaded, cognition, to use Edwin Hutchins’ term, in the wild. Part of what Birkerts, and others, might be mourning then, is that it may seem that we are taking our hands out of reading through digitisation, removing our ‘tactile observation’, as it were. We see the most important aspects of our world with our hands, our skin. No wonder that so many avid readers, so many holders of printed books, feel that they must speak out – perhaps they subconsciously fear that the new technology might make us haptically blind?
It’s not my intention here to lay out how we should respond to these changes in the book form, whether we should receive them in a positive or negative light, whether Along with these extensions it is important we should receive them at all. But I do to note that our hands’ interactions and want to say that we should start to take brains’ contemplations are intimately these kind of changes seriously, not writing linked. Frank Wilson’s study in The Hand, off any resistance as doom-mongering is an excellent entry point to this field, or Ludditisim, and certainly not saying but contemporary research into gesture what might actually amount to such, that and pedagogy has provided compelling these changes will never come, that the evidence of this symbiosis in action. book will always remain in its present Psychologists from the University of comfortable form. This last assertion Chicago studied a class performing basic seems the most problematic of all in some mathematics problems such as 3+2+8 = ways; it does a profound disservice to the BLANK+8. The students had to learn to rich studies of book history and textual resolve the equation by finding the single criticism, disciplines, incidentally, which digit which is equivalent to 3+2, i.e. they should certainly be used to contextualise must understand the concept of ‘grouping’ the digital, which have demonstrated the – adding numbers together to produce profundity of the changes the form has an analogue which balances the sum. In experienced over the course of its 2000order to teach this act of ‘grouping’ tutors some years of evolution. But it also ignores, were getting students to draw a little ‘v’ once again, the contemporary experience shape with their finger under the 3 and of interacting with the written word; as the 2, physically tying them together. Stuart Moulthrop has said: ‘[t]he book Sure enough students understood the concept significantly faster than when the technique was not deployed. But the researchers also found, over the course of the study, that it didn’t matter where the students drew the ‘v’ at all, it was the very act of making the gesture which introduced and sublimated the concept (ScienceDaily, 2010). So our touchings of the world can have a profound effect. Both Clark and Donald suggest that what makes humans distinctive is not consciousness, per
Features is already ‘dead’ (or superseded) if by ‘alive’ you mean that the institution in question is essential to our continued commerce in ideas’ (1991, p.698). We are, potentially, on a road to no longer needing books, which is why we need to be able to articulate just why we might want them. When we are talking about what they do best, when we are teaching how the words on their pages are different to their words on the screen then we need to fully appreciate aspects of the form that we have often previously taken for granted. The page space, its borders and typography, its footnotes and endnotes, its indexes and contents lists, the covers which separate it from the world, the opacity of its leaves, its linear order, all of which make up the book as we have come to accept it, are reconfigured into articles to discuss, rather than invisible facets of the gestalt we know as the codex. Now, it seems I’ve said a lot in defence of the traditional book form here, but what I really wanted to emphasise is that digitisation reinvigorates our discussions of the materiality of texts. When we take seriously the fact that books, digital or bound, have bodies, then we can start to get to the heart of the effects of the changes which we are seeing. If, as humans, we have extended our minds onto our artefacts in the past, then isn’t it likely that we will continue to do so? What better way to try to understand how we might put aspects of ourselves into digital reading, than to consider how we have used the bound-book form to do the same thing? In this way a course on digital writing could very well be based, ironically, around the bound book, taking a part of its anatomy each week, and then exploring it and seeing how digitisation might turn the effects of each element upon their heads. The footnote could be paired with the hyperlink, linearity with the internet, or codexical materiality with a perceived digital incorporeality that Matthew Kirschenbaum’s forensic studies might certainly justly refute (2008, passim). Although I’ve tried to gesture toward a number of disciplines which I think have a logical place in the digital writing classroom, I’ve consciously resisted the term ‘interdisciplinary’. Interdisciplinarity suggests, or I think should suggest, the adoption of alternative discourses, something which only comes either from embedding yourself within a discipline which differs from that in which you have previously trained, or by collaborating with a practitioner from another discipline and allowing your voices to merge. At this point it is perhaps not appropriate, at least as far as teaching these changes is concerned, to attempt either, and for the most part this stems from the sheer range of disciplines required to interpret these events; to be interdisciplinary at this time, for these changes, would necessarily be to attempt polymathism. However, specialisation is the privilege of established discipline, and we do not yet have that luxury, either in the Digital Humanities or in whatever subsection of such digital reading may provoke into existence. Any discussion of digital reading devices and their associated texts can no longer afford to ignore the diversity of fields required to begin mapping the effects of these early days, and whilst the study and pedagogy might not be truly interdisciplinary, it can be outward looking, generous, and deferential where appropriate.
I have alluded here to Philosophy, Evolutionary Cognitive Psychology, Biology, Neuroscience, Forensic Investigation, Copyright Law, Sociology, Textual Criticism, and Book History. All of these, for me, seem a natural, and logical fit alongside English Studies as it comes to focus on the objects and bodies of digital and digitised reading. Devices such as the iPad and the Kindle represent potent sites which, without a discipline of their own,
a course on digital writing could very well be based, ironically around the bound book at least as yet, must mark a coming together of scholarship, and a concomitant adjustment to our pedagogy. Students can then begin to contribute to a variety of fields after an exciting period of education, the tools of which they can very swiftly put into practise, instantaneously in the case of observation and reflection on the story which is unfolding around them. We obviously can’t teach everything, but that’s always been true. A large part of university English study is about opening doors to new ways of thought via literary works. The same is true when we encounter digital texts, but the doors to more disciplines, whose effects might then be felt in all aspects of English Studies as we relearn the materiality we so often neglect, become, perhaps, easier and more logical to open.
References Birkets, Sven, 1994. The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. Boston: Faber and faber. Birkerts, Sven, 2009. ‘Resisting the Kindle’ [Online] (updated 2 March 2009) Available at: www.theatlantic.com/doc/200903u/amazon-kindle [Accessed 30 June 2009]. Clark, Andy, and David J. Chalmers, 1998. ‘The Extended Mind.’ Analysis, 5, pp.10-23. Hayles, Katherine, 2008. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame, ind: University of Notre Dame. Kirschenbaum, Matthew, 2008. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press. Moulthrop, Stuart, 1991. ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Hypertext and the Laws of Media.’ The New Media Reader. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press, pp.692-704. ScienceDaily, 2009. ‘Gestures Lend A Hand In Learning Mathematics; Hand Movements Help Create New Ideas’ [Online] (updated 6 March 2009) Available at: www. sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090224133204.htm [Accessed 9 July 2010]. Solomon, Deborah, 2009. ‘Book Learning’ [Online] (updated 2 December 2009) Available at: www.nytimes. com/2009/12/06/magazine/06fob-q4-t.html?_r=1 [Accessed 2 July 2010].
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 25
Making connections: between and beyond teaching and research Alice Bennett considers the forces that mould teaching and research identities today.
This was a paper originally presented as part of a round table discussion in the context of a conference given at Durham University for teachers of English Literature at GCSE and A Level. The context here is important, with the discussion being predicated on the idea that the audience were teachers and the panel were researchers, introducing and exploring the topic of the movement “from research to teaching”. As a newly-minted PhD, whose role in my department is solely as a teacher, this was a rather awkward dichotomy for me, and prompted me to start considering the relationships between my identities and activities in teaching and research.
Alice Bennett is a part-time tutor in the Department of English Studies at Durham University, where she contributes to modules on the novel and on modern drama. Her most recent publication is "Anticipated Returns: Purgatory, Exchange and Narrative After Life", Oxford Literary Review 31.1 (2009).
From my students’ point of view, their first introduction to me is probably as a researcher. If they look up my departmental web-profile before meeting me for the first time, they will find out about my research and recent publications. When we meet face-to-face, I introduce myself by talking about my research interests and how these relate to the module content. In some ways, therefore, my classroom identity (and my classroom authority) is based on my identity as a researcher. The corollary to this, though, is that introducing my own interests becomes a way of asking the students about their interests; the periods, forms, concepts or authors which excite them, and urging them to draw out threads of connection between them. Expressing my identity as a researcher becomes a teaching tool for engendering this identity in students. However, at this post-doctoral point, I also do not get paid for my research, so my professional identity is as a teacher. One thread in my research interests is issues of temporality, so the temporal relations attached to teaching and research are particularly intriguing for me. We framed our panel discussion as a movement ‘from research to teaching,’ and the characterisation of research as primary or originatory is something that is easy to slip into. There is a sense in which the research that takes place in the university becomes,
26 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
later, the material which is taught, not just in the universities but in schools as well, as the knowledge somehow trickles down to be taught by other people in the classroom. Is one of the functions of my research to inform not just my teaching, but the teaching of others? In the context of the teachers who attended the conference at Durham, the time spent hearing about current research was additional to their ordinary teaching roles; something extra, perhaps for enrichment, or even an unrewarded obligation. In this sense, research comes after teaching, as something secondary and also supplementary. The status of the link between teaching and research is a highly charged topic, with the implications of separating the two meaning different, and potentially damaging, identities for individuals and for whole institutions. The English Subject Centre is very clear on its position, and has previously offered well-evidenced and persuasive arguments for the inseparability of research and teaching, and against concentrating research in a smaller number of institutions. One of the observations made by Ben Knights on the English Subject Centre website illuminated the issue quite powerfully for me, when he observed that researchers who were taking on more teaching activities at the expense of research “will want to go on reading and debating their subject. That is what humanities academics do, though of course they largely do it in ‘their own’ time” (Linking Teaching and Research). This is a state of affairs that is by no means confined to humanities academics. From traditionally female (often caring) professions being paid less because of an unspoken assumption that women would ordinarily do this work for free, to the expectation that today’s new graduates should be prepared to undertake unpaid internships to secure one of a decreasing number of graduate jobs, there is a pervasive expectation that doing something you would do if you weren’t paid means that it is acceptable for your labour to go unrewarded. The other factor associated with the potential for humanities research to be conducted as a supplementary activity in our ‘own time’ is the force
Features of the internet as a power for making information freely available. This ‘free’ information is of the same order in some ways as the researcher’s ‘free’ time. Digitisation of resources, ideas and materials, however, also substitutes a model of connections for a unidirectional flow of information from research to teaching. In terms of research, digitisation has already changed scholarly practices, through things like digitised archives, databases and searchable texts. The channels for the flow of research out of the closed group of researchers are wider, with open access journals, academic blogging and even social networking making new associations between people more flexible and diverse. It is easy to overplay the levelling potential of the internet, though, and suggest that accessibility
automatically means access to scholarly material. If we think of the internet as an enormous text to which we are all contributing – editing, reading, writing – then the opportunities and responsibilities for us both as researchers and as teachers of text become almost overwhelming. The quantity and variety of information online also reinforces the need to teach research skills in processing and synthesising ideas, as much as locating and recording information. As part of the process of thinking about the place of research in my teaching, I have tried a few experiments with my classes. The example I want to give here is of a class that I taught in spring 2010 on E.M. Forster’s Howards End. The context of the class was a second-year group on a course called the Literature of the Modern Period, which takes in a range of early-twentieth century writing. One of the things I have been trying to develop in my own teaching this year has been to make some distinctions in my approach depending on the stage of the students. Perhaps because my research background is in narrative theory, first-year classes often tend to involve hammering home points about how texts are working and achieving their effects, and I was trying to think of a way to make the approach different and to nurture some new ways
of approaching texts, particularly for the students who had signed up for a second year of tutorials with me.
cubes, and the novel itself as a synthetic substitute for real life, offering a critique of nineteenth-century realism.
This led me to thinking about what satisfaction I get from my own research, and whether there was anything there I could do to identify and reproduce the processes and also the pleasures of research for my students. As well as teaching research skills, I wanted to be able to demonstrate how research actually feels.
The class went pretty well, and everyone went away enthusiastic, and I didn’t get fired for using jelly as a teaching aid. However, the more I reflected on this, the less self-congratulatory I felt, and the more this pineapple jelly ended up suggesting some of what I had tried to achieve with the class, but couldn’t actually realise. I had created an artificial situation for my students to experience something of what research meant to me, but which was really more of a synthetic version of research; a copy that reproduced my own experiences afterwards and at one remove. I had set the parameters,
Appropriately enough for the text we were discussing, the main pleasure that I identified for myself was the moment of connecting concepts and synthesising unexpected ideas. So this was what I identified as what motivates my
research: things fitting together unexpectedly and maybe not even very comfortably, but suddenly being able to explain and conceptualise something in new terms. When I had read Howards End for the first time, I’d come across a passage when Leonard Bast sits down to a pretty horrendous meal of reconstituted soup and pineapple jelly, which comes to signify a whole tangle of changes associated with modernity; mass production, homogenization, gender roles, office work, imperialism, time, capitalism, urban life and so on. In the context of my research interests on time and narrative, this jelly square was something I stored away for the future, as a useful metaphor for thinking about temporality and modernity. This concentration of so many important contemporary factors into this one image opened up the text in a new way for me, and I set out to reconstitute this research experience for my students. When I came to class with a real packet of jelly they were fairly tolerant, and they did seem to reproduce the experience I had, using this single concept as a way of uniting lots of disparate ideas in one place, and exposing points of friction and lack of cohesion. They even went on and analysed the syntax of the passage in terms of jelly
and identified the questions they were going to address, even if they did some pretty surprising and impressive work of investigating them. My attempts at teaching research are always going to come after the research experiences I have at first hand myself. When it comes to the complexities of the relationships between teaching and the research – as with the new permutations of research and teaching engendered by the internet – saying “only connect” is not really sufficient. These connections are overlapping, unwieldy and tricky to reconcile: their origins and destinations are obscured or misleading, and they are dependent on shifting identities. There is no way for us to get outside teaching and research, and our attempts to understand the links between the two are always going to have to come, at least in part, from personal experience, reflection, and transformation.
References Knights, Ben ‘Linking Teaching and Research’ (2010) English Subject Centre website. www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/ explore/resources/linking/index.php [Accessed 1 July 2010].
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 27
Creative XXXXXXXXX Pedgogies
The English Subject Centre...
In celebration of our birthday we have asked some of the academics we’ve come to know over the years to reflect upon their engagement with the Subject Centre during the last decade. Although we carefully archive events, publications and projects on our website, often ‘outcomes’ are intangible and the ‘impact’ of talking about teaching with colleagues is significant but protracted and iterative. The narratives below go some of the way towards capturing those more elusive interactions and successes and they also provide an unexpected trip down memory lane. Here, and throughout this edition are a few of the responses we received; you can find more on the anniversary page of our website: http:// tinyurl.com/2w8a4nn.
Mary McNally University of Derby I'd like to wish the English Subject Centre all the best for the future and thanks for all you've done for me, personally, over the past ten years. I've really appreciated the day-schools you've organized—they've helped immensely in my day-to-day practice. Particularly useful and memorable ones were Teaching Tudor Literature, Teaching Shakespeare, Teaching Renaissance Literature, Computer-Aided Assessment in English, Networking Day for Admissions Tutors and the excellent Renewals Conference in 2007. I also remember Thinking Outside the Box: English Film and New Media at Hull in 2005 where I was able to publically showcase my e-learning module Shakespeare Today. I received lots of useful feedback from Brett Lucas, in particular, and the module has gone from strength to strength ever since! That colloquium helped to sharpen the focus about how I could improve my module by adding specific types of technology-enhanced learning, like wikis and blogs, in order to make the module more interactive. I've always been keen on the way ESC events are informally set up to include everyone and to encourage the sharing of ideas; no-one need ever feel left out. I've liked, too, that if you suggest a topic for an event, it's always acted upon and you feel as if you can be an active part of a widespread, yet committed, teaching network. Here's to the next ten years - you're an invaluable resource!
Arran Stibbe University of Gloucestershire Over the last five years I have been involved with the English Subject Centre in a variety of ways – I have written up my teaching practice in case studies published in the Centre website, written a feature article on Education for Sustainability for the newsletter, and was lucky that a member of the Centre staff came to facilitate an away day for our course team. My involvement with the Subject Centre has been extremely helpful in giving an extra sense of legitimacy to my teaching innovation. In a sector that can be quite rigid in reproducing disciplinary identities and quite intolerant of those who question whether those identities are appropriate in the changing conditions of the world this has helped me gain acceptance for new ways of doing things. There is always the question of whether institutions like the Higher Education Academy exist to mould the academy to the badly thought-out whims of the government, and this is a danger I recognise. My experience, however, has been that there are enough layers of academics between the government and actual lecturers on the ground to minimise this danger, and the Subject Centre has acted as a catalyst for reflection on practice, evaluation of teaching methods and carefully thought out innovation that responds to real needs. The English Subject Centre, and the Academy's Education for Sustainability Project which I have also worked closely with, have helped me change my professional identity. I have moved from being a researcher who occasionally disseminates research findings to students, to a reflective educator where my research and educational practice are integrated. I now approach the deep question of what my role as an educator is under the conditions of the 21st century with as much rigour as I approach the research questions in my specialist area. 28 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
Teaching English Grammar 3 July 2010 It was a beautiful summer’s day in Winchester. The town centre was buzzing with the magic and English Subject Centre
excitement of the Hat Fair, and Argentina was about to play Germany in the World Cup. That 22 teachers, lecturers, researchers, and postgraduate students chose to spend the Saturday indoors at a symposium bears witness to the drawing power and relevance of the subject: Teaching English Grammar.
The day had developed out of a perceived lack of communication between different levels of education and across different disciplines, and its main success was the opportunity to ‘build bridges’, as one of the participants named it. In particular, the breaks and the final round-table gave delegates the opportunity to talk to ‘professionals from other sectors,’ gain insight into other linked areas, and ‘listen to other perspectives’. Participants and speakers played an equal part in this ongoing discussion, with voices from English Language Teaching via English Language and Literature in sixth-forms and at universities, as well as other disciplines such as sociology, and concerns such as widening participation. The discussion was motivated, directed, inspired by the presentations of the day. Three talks in the morning introduced us to issues concerning English Grammar in different teaching environments: Shaun O’Toole (Itchen College) spoke for the sixth-form colleges. He noted the challenges which subject criteria and assessment objectives present and how these can be mastered within a sixth-form teaching space. His practical examples demonstrated how fruitful the exchange of good practice can be, and he opened the general discussion with a list of issues that were reiterated throughout the day (i.e. do students get bored of grammar? Is it just for the language subjects?). Devon Campbell-Hall (Southampton Solent University) spoke for the HE sector, but from the perspectives of widening participation and as a teacher of English Literature. If the previous presentation focused on grammar as a means of analysis, Campbell-Hall considered it as tool for language production, leading straight into the third presentation by Peter Watkins (University of Plymouth) on English as a Foreign Language. The necessity for some form of grammar has lead to much experience within this field, but even here we find very different perceptions – from those students who complain if they are not taught enough to those for whom the word ‘grammar’ better be avoided. Whether grammar is a ‘bad’ word or should be positively embraced by us and thus stripped of negative connotations remained another of the main points of discussion throughout the day. Our first afternoon speaker, Colette Gordon (Royal Holloway, University of London), used Milton to bring the importance of this issue for other subjects to our attention and raised the question whether unpopularity of grammar spreads to unpopularity of subjects in need of it. Bas Aarts (UCL) and Dan Clayton (UCL) introduced us to a new platform which uses the International Corpus of English for fun and effective grammar exercises.
Participants at the event
Overall it was felt that one day was not enough. So watch this space for Teaching English Grammar 2 or join the TEG mailing list at http://bit.ly/bPnl0K. Thank you to the English Subject Centre, the University of Winchester’s Learning &Teaching Unit and its Centre for Research into Language. Carolin Esser, University of Winchester
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 29
A Tale of Two Projects using technology to change teaching practice The Subject Centre was the partner in two projects over the last year that have focussed on the use of technology to change the way a department has traditionally operated. At Bath Spa University, the Creative Writing team have been experimenting with an online collaborative writing tool used in real-time to enhance the workshopping of students' stories and screenplays. At Blackpool and The Fylde College, a small team drawn from HE English is developing a set of VLE materials to assist the transition from Further Education to Higher Education. Both projects present new pedagogical approaches, tackle the scepticism of colleagues towards technology in the classroom and develop new assessment criteria. After receiving a small amount of seed funding, each project took advantage of the ‘Change Academy’ framework, a wellestablished programme and support system offered by the Higher Education Academy. ‘Change Academy’ has been successfully used in institutional benchmarking and Pathfinder projects. It involves a formal approach to the development of project plans, assembling a team, completing a risk analysis and includes consultancy support from the Subject Centre and a 'critical friend' based at another HEI for the lifetime of the project. Participation in a series of events, including two residentials, helped each project team to think through how the planned changes would affect staff, students and the wider ecosystem around the courses themselves. Change Academy 'CAMEL' events also provided the teams with an opportunity to interact with peers doing similar projects and have proven to be an integral and valued part of the research process.
Bath Spa University, Project Leader Steve May Creative Writing: Using Technology for On-Screen and Online Workshopping Workshopping, the standard model for the teaching of Creative Writing at all levels, involves intensive use of paper, printing and making multiple copies of student work (which is then annotated by peers and tutors). This process is limited in the interaction between participants: generally speaking only the student whose work is under scrutiny will see all the comments. Others will be "blind" to all input but their own. The Bath Spa project explored new and more flexible ways of workshopping, involving online and on-screen sharing of documents.
Bath Spa University's Newton Park campus.
30 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
The project has piloted use of the document sharing tool Etherpad (http://etherpad.org/) with a group of year 3 undergraduate scriptwriting students and later with an MA group. The results have been positive: the undergraduate students immediately took to the technology, and quickly developed their own protocols for its use. The postgraduate students were initially more suspicious and not as wholly convinced of the superiority of the method over use of paper, but did report positively on the speed of editing and the extra level of feedback. You can find out more about this project on the Subject Centre website: http://bit.ly/atSL8I
Blackpool and The Fylde College, Project Leader Candice Satchwell Developing online materials to support progression from FE to HE English Programmes Blackpool and The Fylde College has an excellent record in students progressing from FE onto HE programmes incorporating English. The College has delivered a BA (Hons) English Language, Literature and Writing programme for over 10 years, and more recently has developed a BA (Hons) in English: Communications at Work, and a Foundation Degree in Writing and Media Production. All of these courses are validated by Lancaster University. Although the College is clearly successful in encouraging students to progress, there are still issues which present problems in relation to progression, particularly from level 3 to level 4, and from Foundation to Honours level. The team has an understanding of what these issues are, and recognise that the issues are common to many HE in FE institutions. However, the College has not yet developed a comprehensive means of addressing the problems in a practical sense. The Blackpool and The Fylde Change Academy project is developing online materials that will be made available for students throughout their time at the College, but targeted at problematic transition periods in their learning career. For example, the project will provide supporting materials to provide a bridge into English language study at level 4 for students who lack an English language/linguistic basis at level 3. Similarly materials will be developed for those who have studied English language but not English literature, or for those who have not studied Creative Writing previously. For some students this may comprise a compulsory unit to be completed before the course begins; for others it could be an optional revision activity. Project materials are being written by subject specialists from the College, who have an understanding of the students’ difficulties, supported by teaching and learning specialists and learning technology experts from the College, the English Subject Centre and JISC. Find out more about this project on the Subject Centre website: http://bit.ly/cKVsnG
Students at Blackpool and The Fylde College participate in focus groups to inform the development of the materials for the project.
Brett Lucas, English Subject Centre
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 31
A year in the life of Ms E-Mentor Many readers may remember that we profiled the role of Rosie Miles, senior lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton, in WordPlay 3. Rosie, who had been one of our highly successful e-learning advocates and is also one of the e co-authors of the English Subject Centre Good Practice Guide to Design, Moderation and Assessment of Online Discussion, was taking on a new role providing bespoke workshops for English departments as well as regularly updating a blog charting a year in the life of her work as an e-tutor on courses where she had incorporated a discussion forum component.
'Staff are already suggesting ways of adapting the good practice that was made evident through the presentation, and were really thrilled to meet you.'
In all Rosie visited seven English departments
'Rosie has produced some excellent assessment guidelines and criteria which she discussed on the day and then sent round as an e-document â€“ these are really useful as a basis for future development on our own modules.'
w a variety of teaching contexts including 2 FE with c er Surrey colleges teaching HE English Courses: Exeter, Surrey, Yeovil, Cumbria, Falmouth, Blackpool and The Fylde and Winchester. All of these departments were new to her, in the sense that she had had no previous contacts on an e-learning front with colleagues there. Certainly the offer of someone coming (for free!) to discuss e-learning within English in a very practical way seemed much appreciated, and the call for expressions of interest from departments in the autumn term was taken up very quickly by some. Rosie has agreed to continue her consultancy role into the academic year 20102010-11. This means she will continue to update her popular blog and will carry out
'We very much enjoyed the session and all involved found it extremely interesting. It has already begun to influence our ongoing development of the programme.'
l a limited number of departmental visits from January onwards. If your department is seeking some ideas about how to develop online activities using a Virtual Learning Environment or is interested in seeing 'live' VLE use in an HE English course, has some questions about what is or isn't working in terms of e-learning in your classes or for other colleagues in English, then a visit from Rosie might just be what your department needs.
For more details, see the English Subject Centre's e-learning pages: http://tinyurl.com/3a798xy or Rosie's blogsite www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/mse-mentor
32 WordPlay â€˘ www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
Creative Pe Pedgogies
The English Subject Centre...
Chris Hopkins Sheffield Hallam University (Member of the Subject Centre Advisory Board from 2003-8) On the 1st January 1991 I was appointed to my first full-time lectureship in English, at Sheffield City Polytechnic. By the 3rd of January I was also responsible for a new first-year English module laconically named 'Skills', which, I gathered, arose from a well-intended institutional policy. When I enquired what the content of 'Skills' was, I got the distinct impression that no one was very certain. Nineteen years later and I'm still module leader for what is now called 'Introduction to English Studies' at Sheffield Hallam University. I do think it's a much better module than 'Skills' ever was, but it still does, indeed, try to help students understand and deal constructively, practically and intellectually with the transition between school / college and degree level learning and simultaneously with the transition between A Level / Access English and University English. This double-focus on how learning works (or might work) at university and on what and how we learn when we study English is the key development from Skills days. One of the things which intervened in the twenty years between the naivety of 'Skills' and the still unfinished project of Introduction to English Studies was the English Subject Centre's establishment in 2000. There must surely have been places to discuss such things in 1991, but on the whole I don't think I knew about them. The English Subject Centre provided me with a forum over the period where I and colleagues could test our conclusions about what and how we should be teaching first-year English students and compare our strategies and problems with other people's in other departments. Thus in the period between 2000 and 2008 in particular, I attended in one capacity or another numerous English Subject Centre Events or related events which fed and informed what was now a minor obsession with teaching first-year English students. The English Subject Centre through encouraging speaking and listening at events, and inviting writing for its newsletter or web-site, has helped English academics not only to share and borrow theories and practices on specific English topics such as this one, but also to develop their own partly subject-specific ways of thinking and talking about learning and teaching, discourses which have been used to articulate and reflect on current practices and assumptions and to develop better, or try alternative, practices (as well as to resist or refine overly-generic institutional expectations).
Christopher Ringrose University of Northampton What the Subject Centre means to me: (a) two fine Directors over the past decade (Philip Martin and Ben Knights) possessed of energy, integrity and ideas; (b) a great team, always quick to respond to queries; and (c) a fund of ideas for developing English and Creative Writing. Personally, two things stand out. The Centre’s E-Learning Advocate Project was based on the premise that the way to develop technology-enhanced learning was to recruit small teams of lecturer- enthusiasts, get them together with Brett Lucas to share ideas and techniques and learn some new ones, and then have them encourage others in their home institutions. It has had lasting influence at those universities, and more generally through Rosie Miles’s entertaining and informative Blog on the Centre website, and the recent Good Practice Guide to Online Discussion. The Renewals International Conference at Royal Holloway in July 2007 was another highlight, full of inspiring ideas, and with a memorable plenary talk from Richard E. Miller. In fact, thinking over ten years of the English Subject Centre sent me back to its website. Each year it is hard to see what one might squeeze in there that has not already been covered in some way – but it keeps generating new angles. One can discover in T3 new ways of approaching texts one is teaching, or read one of the excellent good practice guides, from Part Time Teaching to Work Related Learning. You can also order Why Study English? , an unassuming little pamphlet that ‘flies off the shelves’ at university Open Days, or something from the scholarly and up-to-date book series (‘Teaching the Gothic... Teaching Children’s Fiction etc.). But for me the Centre is more than a bank of professional materials; through its meetings, one-day events and project teams it has helped me to meet up with English lecturers from all over the UK, and share ideas about learning and teaching that don’t often find a space in standard academic conferences.
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 33
English and Creative Writing Student Numbers 2004/05 – 2008/09 Jane Gawthrope, English Subject Centre The table below was commissioned by the English Subject Centre from HESA in order to provide a breakdown of all English subjects as identified through JACS codes. (In the public data on the HESA website only the single heading ‘English studies’ is used.) It also gives the figures for Creative Writing (JACS code W8 ‘Imaginative Writing’ which includes script, poetry and prose writing.) The table below updates by one year the one published in WordPlay Issue 3 (table 7 on p.32), which contained a transposition error in the 2007/08 figures for Imaginative Writing, an error which also affected the data in table 8.
Jane Gawthrope English Subject Centre manager
There is a larger version of the table below on our website at http://tinyurl.com/3932usr which shows student numbers by origin (EU, UK, non-EU) and by gender. HESA warns that it is possible for some institutions to code certain subjects generically at this level of detail. For example, some students studying Q321 ‘English Literature by Period’ may actually be classified as Q300 ‘English Studies’.
All HE Students with a specified subject of study by academic year, subject of study, mode of study, level of study, domicile and gender 2003/04 to 2008/09 Academic year
4 digit subject of study
Total HE Students
Full time Postgraduate
Full time Undergraduate
Part time Postgraduate
Part time Undergraduate
(Q300) English studies
(Q310) English language
(Q320) English literature
(Q321) English literature by period
(Q322) English literature by author
(Q323) English literature by topic
(Q330) English as a second language
(Q300) English studies
(Q310) English language
(Q320) English literature
(Q321) English literature by period
(Q322) English literature by author
(Q323) English literature by topic
(Q330) English as a second language
(Q340) English literature written as a second language (Q390) English studies not elsewhere classified (W8) Imaginative writing 2008/09 Total 2007/08
(Q340) English literature written as a second language (Q390) English studies not elsewhere classified (W8) Imaginative writing 2007/08 Total
34 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
Creative Pedgogies Academic year
4 digit subject of study
Total HE Students
Full time Postgraduate
Full time Undergraduate
Part time Postgraduate
Part time Undergraduate
(Q300) English studies
(Q310) English language
(Q320) English literature
(Q321) English literature by period
(Q322) English literature by author
(Q323) English literature by topic
(Q330) English as a second language
(Q300) English studies
(Q310) English language
(Q320) English literature
(Q321) English literature by period
(Q322) English literature by author
(Q323) English literature by topic
(Q330) English as a second language
(Q300) English studies
(Q310) English language
(Q320) English literature
(Q321) English literature by period
(Q322) English literature by author
(Q323) English literature by topic
(Q330) English as a second language
(Q340) English literature written as a second language (Q390) English studies not elsewhere classified (W8) Imaginative writing 2006/07 Total 2005/06
(Q340) English literature written as a second language (Q390) English studies not elsewhere classified (W8) Imaginative writing 2005/06 Total 2004/05
(Q340) English literature written as a second language (Q390) English studies not elsewhere classified (W8) Imaginative writing 2004/05 Total
Source: HESA Student Record 2004/05–2008/09 Hesa does not accept any liability for any inferences or conclusions derived from the Data by the Client or any third party. Copyright Higher Education Statistics Agency 2010 Note: It is possible for some institutions to code certsin subjects generically at this level of detail, eg some students studying Q321 'English literature by period'. 'Postgraduate' includes both PG taught and PG research students.
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 35
The English Subject Centre...
Matthew Day Newman College How do they do it all? Hosting international conferences on pedagogy, supporting projects on e-learning, organising topic-specific conferences, hosting events for Heads of Subject and early-career lecturers, disseminating Teaching Tips from the academy, publishing Good Practice Guides and disseminating pedagogical research through its Teaching the New English volumes are just some of the more formal ways that the Subject Centre advocates and actively promotes excellence in the subject. Yet, useful indicator as it is of the opportunities the Subject Centre provides just listing the events, activities, publications and projects that it actively promotes doesn’t do justice to its vital role in enriching the teaching and learning of English across the academy. That’s because the impact of the Subject Centre transcends the immediate activity, event or publication. Some examples help to manifest this. The e-advocates scheme brought together academics interested in promoting e-learning within our own institutions. Yet we ended with not only research-led pedagogy within institutions but also across organisations of different ilks as our networks developed and then diversified. The impact of the project went well beyond – and continues to do so - its official ‘completion’. My colleagues who attended the Early Careers Lecturers Conferences speak not only of the value of the event itself but the long-lasting and ongoing relationships they have established with colleagues who are at a similar stage in their career. Other lecturers in our team have returned to the department invigorated and enriched with ideas from attending subject-specific events. They share with other team-members the new examples of good practice they have seen in relation to their own research specialism and their new knowledge and expertise are applied to a much wider spectrum of staff and specialisms than the conference theme ever envisaged. The diversity of the Subject Centre’s approaches, its carefully targeted and well-organised events, its understanding of the way academics work and are enthused and encouraged have meant that student learning and staff teaching have been enriched in ways that exceed the merely measurable.
Jan Jedrzejewski University of Ulster Remember the Subject Review? Back in 2001, with the RAE just out of the way, it was perhaps the hottest topic of discussion in university common rooms the length and breadth of the UK. Feared and loathed in equal measure, the Subject Review caused many of us sleepless nights, not least because English departments, with all the diversity of the teaching we offered and with the discipline-specific spirit of critical questioning informing everything we did, not to mention the almost proverbial eccentricity and sheer bloody-mindedness of some of our colleagues, particularly when faced with what they considered to be a bureaucratic encroachment upon their academic freedom, were never going to be easy to bring into line with what the QAA expected. At this difficult point, enter the Subject Centre: the four Subject Review seminars, three in London and one in Glasgow, were, for many of us, the first taste of what the Centre was to stand for over the years: a place where we could discuss the practicalities of what we did in our day-to-day work, be reassured that we were not the only ones who faced problems, get useful tips from colleagues who may already have found ways of dealing with this or that difficulty or addressing this or that issue. And it is, to this day, this sense of collegiality and sharing that provides the most important feature of what the Centre does: it is a place where you can always drop in, whether to participate in an event or as you visit the website; an academic home from home where you can be sure of meeting like-minded people who can help you deal with whatever aspect of your pedagogic practice you are trying to do something about, whether you want to update the range of electronic resources you recommend to your students, or get tips about devising a format of assessment for that rather unusually structured module you are planning to introduce, or find an external examiner for that new course you have just developed. The Subject Centre is therefore, above all, a community - it is there for us, but it could not exist without us, and we need to ensure it remains with us, for another 10 years and beyond. Ad multos annos!
36 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
http://projects.oucs.ox.ac.uk/woruldhord/ Do you have any of the following related to Old English and Anglo-Saxon history, art, archaeology, and culture? • a photograph of an Anglo-Saxon building (e.g. the church at Deerhurst) • a photograph of an Anglo-Saxon 'site' or reconstructions (e.g. West Stow) • a photograph of an Anglo-Saxon object (e.g. the Bewcastle Cross) • a reading list used in teaching • a set of slides used in a lecture • a workbook of grammar exercises • an article on Anglo-Saxon England or Old English • a video of a re-enactment from the Anglo-Saxon period • an audio recording of some Old English • a work inspired by Old English • and so on ...
Would you be willing to share any of this with other lecturers and teachers? If so please visit Oxford University’s Project Woruldhord and submit your material online. Deadline for submissions: 14th October 2010 This is an academic initiative led by Oxford University Computing Services, to gather together and preserve, in digital form, digital objects to do with the understanding, teaching, and research of Old English and the AngloSaxon period. It is an example of a community collection whereby all the items collected will be submitted by the international community (e.g. the general public, historical groups, learned societies, school teachers, academics, collectors, etc). We will then make these digital objects freely available on the Web for teaching and research in schools, colleges and universities, both in the UK and worldwide.
Project Director: Stuart Lee Project Researcher: Anna Caughey Project Submission site: http://poppy.nsms.ox.ac.uk/woruldhord News about the Project: http://blogs.oucs.ox.ac.uk/woruldhord/ Contact: email@example.com
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 37
The Student Experience
T N DE N
U TITIO STM PE CO
The English Subject Centre’s student competition now in its 5th year, was a great success with fifty entries, a new Subject Centre record! This year's topic really enlivened students. Congratulations to Phoebe Bown (University of Glasgow) who wrote the best essay submitted by an English Literature, Creative Writing or English language student. You can read her essay below followed by runner-up Lara Clayton’s (Blackpool and The Fylde College). They each won £300 and £200 respectively in gift vouchers. The competition is an annual Higher Education Academy event in which all Subject Centres participate.
38 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
The Student Experience
WINNER Phoebe Bown, University of Glasgow I dimly remember that wonderful time before I was an English literature student. I would sprawl in the garden in summer or on the sofa in winter with a book always on the go, my constant entertainer and guide. Eagerly I followed every plot twist and obediently absorbed whatever lessons had been prepared for me while scattering the pages with biscuit crumbs. How long ago those days seem now, as I sit enclosed in my labyrinthine stacks of books, literary journals, print-outs and notes, armed only with my trusty highlighter. Before me the Text lies, taunting me with its apparent docility. Around me critics whisper in my ears, each suggesting a different tactical approach to beat it into submission. I begin to advance warily, but suddenly the looming, omnipotent figure of the Author appears with a whoosh and starts pushing me this way and that, waving contradictory notes in my face and laughing at my confusion. Struggling, I manage to shake free and frantically begin to write.
As such, reading becomes a means of engaging with the wider world. You are taught to examine not only the explicit messages of the text but also some of the implicit ideological assumptions it makes. In the course of my degree I have been repeatedly forced to reconsider some of my own and society’s unexamined beliefs on topics such as gender, religion, capitalism, colonialism and race while unpicking the attitudes towards them expressed by the texts. These subjects, so easily reduced to single catch-all words, open up into a vast and complicated living entanglement when examined in literature. For example, science fiction works such as Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed or George Orwell’s 1984 allow us to see fleshed out models of otherwise abstract philosophical or political ideas, as well as exploring the importance of language in shaping our thought. Comparative questions and themed modules encourage us not to look at these texts in isolation as definitive works, but to compare and analyse a wide range of approaches.
Hours later I emerge, panting. My complexion is pasty, my clothing dishevelled and my lips sticky with Red Bull and chocolate, but none of this matters because before me lies the Essay: 3000 words of clear, logical insight and orderly analysis. With head held high and a small smile of satisfaction on my face I stand in line with the other sleep-deprived students, the combined smell of our unwashed bodies somehow suggestive of glorious battle. I hand in the Essay with proud nonchalance and retire to regain my strength. A week later the Essay comes back to me. ‘Not bad.’ The marker writes, ‘Although your focus on feminist critique has made you neglect some of the relevant contextual issues. Maybe next time you could spend longer on secondary reading. And planning. And re-editing. But well done.’ Beside me, the Text sniggers quietly.
The evaluative skills that we laboriously acquire over the course of many botched essays are undoubtedly useful. Albert Einstein said, ‘Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.’ It seems to me that English Literature as a discipline teaches you never to use reading as a substitute for thought, but rather as a stimulus to it in ever more robust forms. Indeed, it might cheer the detractor of English to know that even the value of the subject itself is routinely scrutinised, both through theory and in the texts themselves. I am currently studying Nabokov’s Pale Fire in which critical analysis and the ‘reader’s interpretation’ are twisted to construct an entire novel through the deranged explanatory notes to a 999 line poem, making analysing these notes a curiously self-aware and shaky process. As well as this constant analysis of the texts, literary theories and of one’s own methods, there remains the challenge of self-expression; presenting any insights attained in a way that is clear, thorough and persuasive. Thus you are forced to turn your developing critical faculty inward as well and constantly reappraise your own style.
It is after such struggles that the idea of English being a ‘soft option’ seems particularly ludicrous. As an English Literature student, reading is not a pleasant piece of escapism. Contrary to what fresh young first years may think (as I, too, once thought, before I had developed writing calluses on every finger and a disbelieving squint on encountering daylight) you cannot simply let the author take you by the hand and lead you on a little adventure, then write gushingly about what techniques they used to enthral and enrapture you. Unfortunately for us, English is not a subject with a simple set of rules that you can learn and then measure a book up to; there is nothing so simple as good and bad, right and wrong. Rather, you have to navigate through a mess of conflicting ideologies and approaches, somehow finding and, even more daunting, explaining the route you take.
So what is left at the end of all this decidedly un-soft work? Hopefully, the years of effort and practice turn us into clearsighted, open-minded thinkers whose skills would be welcome in most workplaces. But that is not all. Although this critical approach to literature may at times seem completely at odds with the simple ‘love of reading’ which we seek to instil in children and which can bring so much pleasure and comfort, I’ve found that studying English has brought other benefits. True, there have been a few favourite old books which I have flung to the floor, disillusioned at what I now see, but the amazing thing is that anything that remains, any fragment or voice or image that still speaks to me, or speaks now for the first time, is all the more valuable for doing so because it appeals to my brain and not just my heart. Those moments of revelation are worth the struggle.
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 39
The Student Experience
RUNNER-UP Lara Clayton, Blackpool and The Fylde College Nine hundred and twenty-eight days ago I made a decision. It was different from the other decisions I’d been making, or rather not making... This decision was about life, reclaiming it and proving people wrong. I wanted to be somebody else, to hide the labels that had been pinned upon my skin since I was sixteen, and to not be judged or pitied for my past. There was a box on the UCAS form I could have ticked; I paused... and left it blank. Nine hundred and twenty-eight days ago I took a difficult step. My legs wanted to be an unmovable tree stump; roots sprouted from feet, burrowed into the carpet and planted me firmly within the soils of hesitation. An erratic butterfly was caged within my chest, dusting bloodstream with doubt and pumping the poison directly into mind. It would have been easier to have taken a step backwards; the existence that waited behind me didn’t include expectations, essays or exams, but it was also void of purpose. And never to find my meaning scared me far more than the door that led into a lesson about stylistic analysis... My hand shakily depressed the handle, pushing against uncertainties, deracinating feet and forcing self to enter the English Language, Literature and Writing degree. Nine hundred and twenty-eight days ago my life was allowed to begin. However, none of those days has been simplistic or uncomplicated; each has been a challenge both emotionally and intellectually. There were moments when I considered quitting, but that would have meant I was choosing the soft option, while staying, studying and making it to the third year – 101 days until graduation – was an option that required me to climb a mountain, covered in hawthorn bushes, that never promised to be effortless, pain-free or unproblematic. Over the last nine hundred and twenty-eight days I’ve completed twelve essays, eleven exams, four writing portfolios and one dissertation. I’ve written over 75,000 words, and have spent an uncountable number of hours reading and studying and worrying... And then, 75,000 words are threatened by unsubstantiated comments, and generalisations that attempt to shadow English studies and Creative Writing in cynicism. Individuals standing on the outside of the English degree, believing they have a right to judge, to deem the subject pointless, and to label it as a “Mickey Mouse” course. The Feminist Critics I have studied, would revolt at such a claim: firstly, they’d probably wonder why Minnie Mouse was missing and then secondly, like anyone who has studied or is currently studying English, “What?” would transcend with bitterness and hurt from their mouths. I’m not studying Language, Literature and Creative Writing because I believed it would be easy; it means something to me, so important in fact, it feels like an assault upon my own identity when individuals cast negative assumptions upon its merit. When it is inferred that Literature is inferior in stature to Mathematics, that Language isn’t as beneficial as the Sciences, and that Creative
40 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
Writing has little academic value, my ideas and thoughts suffer the same branding: They’re inferior, meaningless and without value. However, I have spent the last nine hundred and twenty-eight days learning. I have been taught by lecturers who believe in their respective subjects, and who have the ability to inspire minds with their knowledge. And I’ve listened to them; taken notes and read every handout I’ve been given. By the second year, my lounge had unintentionally transformed itself into a study; academic books had started to build themselves into towers, and I now gaze upon a cityscape of textbooks. Amazon no longer recommends works of fiction, but instead suggests books about Deconstruction, Pragmatics and Poetics. Its recommendations are frighteningly accurate, highlighting that English isn’t just about improving one’s collection of ‘great’ literature, and that as English students we need to acquire skills that extend beyond an ability to read. I’ve been asked to discuss, analyse and consider – thinking and questioning, while ensuring I can validate ideas with appropriate theoretical models. Therefore, this degree requires my time, attention and commitment, not just during lessons but outside of them as well, and thus, it has affected my priorities and my life. Nine hundred and twenty-eight days ago I entered into an unwritten agreement, and I have given every hour possible to ensuring that it’s fulfilled. I’m cursed (or maybe blessed?) by perfectionism, which demands and expects more than I feel capable of giving – but I try. The nights are usually wide eyed; a chance to use hours that others dreamily waste. I’ll sip coffee at 3am, searching an essay for mistakes as an internal voice insists, “It’s not good enough... you’re going to fail.” The voice has a tendency to provide narration to accompany my studies, pushing me to discover that independent thought that might enable me to reach the higher classifications. It forces me to produce an excessive amount of drafts for a poem or a piece of prose; first drafts are merely a myth. Good writing is only attainable through constant rewriting, causing drafts always to be more substantial in volume than the finished 5,000 word portfolio. During the last nine hundred and twenty-eight days I’ve waited and worried for grades to be returned. I’ve sat there as though a judge has just passed sentence on my life, convinced I will soon stare failure directly in the eye... Thus far our eyes haven’t met, but the relief doesn’t remain. “You’ll have to achieve that mark again, you’ll have to better it,” says the internal narrator, and I become concerned by ‘What if...?’ A panic attaches itself like a barnacle to a rock, waves of doubt batter and then the tide fails to ebb; they all think I’m waving. Perhaps they haven’t read Stevie Smith’s poem... However, for nine hundred and twenty-eight days I’ve been determined to climb the mountain. I’ve been accompanied, for most of the days, by self-doubt: worrying I’d fail, that I was incapable of achieving the expectations I had placed upon myself, and scared that I wasn’t strong enough to make it. But as the days progress closer to the summit, to the day when I hold three years of hard work in my hand, I realise that the things we fight for are far more important than those that have been acquired without struggle. And when somebody asks: “What’s difficult about English and Creative Writing?” I reflect upon the last nine hundred and twentyeight days, and I think to myself: What’s easy about it...?
Networking Day for Subject Leaders of English and Creative Writing 22 April 2010 The sixth annual Networking Day for Subject Leaders of English and Creative Writing, took place at a moment of unusual uncertainty and stress in the sector. Structured around small group and plenary discussions one of the main goals of the day was to explore the dimensions of the role—the nature of subject leadership at this historical moment and the possibilities for influencing change contained within that role. Another goal was to facilitate the exchange of information among peers and help them to form a richer picture of what is happening across the sector. There was significant agreement among the 28 delegates as they spoke of similar frustrations in their role as balanced by similar motivations and joys. On the up side people spoke of the satisfaction they derived from helping colleagues and students to progress with research and promotion and the gratification gained from being involved and actually working towards change and improvement within their departments, sections and schools. One delegate described the quiet pleasure he felt when every once in a while someone thanked him for his work as subject leader. These positives were counter-balanced by a host of negatives: leadership skills and abilities for strategic thinking and planning are woefully underused because so much time and energy is spent by subject leaders on administrative matters (often carried out by the subject leader in the absence of sufficient or indeed any administrative support). Rather than working towards improving their degree programs, subject leaders frequently find themselves tasked with the problem of ‘how can I make this degree cheaper?’ While perpetual reorganisations have left many subject leaders weary and worse off (reorganisations are often the moment admin support staff disappear or are spread across too many subjects to effectively help any of them), some delegates offered canny advice, such as hiring postgraduate students to do some of the administrative work, or guiding new Deans hungry for ‘small wins’ towards re-instating subject specific administrative support teams. English Subject Centre
In the course of discussions subject leaders acknowledged how the current work environment is characterised by top-down management regimes but also recalled that it wasn’t always this way. While avoiding nostalgia for ‘the good old days’ some discussion dwelt on the earlier custom of faculty fora and academic senates where the entire academic staff of a HEI had the ability and motivation to be far more involved in the strategic direction a university might take. After discussions devoted to leadership and the impact of funding cuts at their institutions, delegates were given the opportunity to nominate the topics/themes they most wanted to discuss with one another. Consensus evolved around the following six topics: assessment and external examining, coping with big change and leadership, curriculum and programme content, research issues (including balancing teaching and research, and encouraging colleagues’ research efforts), institutional engagement (particularly above subject level) and finally, student engagement and the NSS. Feedback forms confirmed that participants really appreciated the opportunity to meet colleagues, compare notes and share experiences and the Subject Centre plans to run a similar day next year. Nicole King, English Subject Centre
The Why Study English postcard with eye-catching metallic finish is great for Open Days. Copies are available free by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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Why Contribute to HumBox? • Showcase and share your learning resources with colleagues, potential students and the wider world. • Enhance your reputation and that of your institution. • Benefit from allowing others to extend and enhance the resources you develop, and to suggest different ways in which they may be used.
www.humbox.ac.uk HumBox is an open collection of teaching resources that makes it easy for Humanities lecturers to publish, share and store their materials online. You can upload things like seminar activities, lecture slides, podcasts and photos and download and adapt resources contributed by others. It’s all about sharing ideas, approaches and resources and saving you time. Sharing made simple.
• Create an archive of your work. HumBox is a safe, secure and easily accessible place to store resources. • Become part of a growing network of Humanities colleagues sharing and re-using resources. Why Download from HumBox? • Don’t reinvent the wheel – if someone else has already developed a learning resource similar to the one you need, then adapt it. • Diversify your teaching repertoire – use different approaches from your own and other subject areas to add variety to what you do. • Find a resource to help you cope with those little teaching emergencies. And above all... • It’s free!
Some examples of the more than 1300 individual resources now available in the HumBox collection...
A PowerPoint presentation on Creativity and Theory from Matthew Sauvage, University of Winchester
Seminar outline for HST115: The 'Disenchantment' of Early Modern Europe c. 1570-1770. Includes a handout/presentation on the printing press and associated photographs. by Matt Philpott, University of Sheffield
A PowerPoint presentation and lecture handout for Herman Melville's Benito Cereno (1855) from Will Slocombe, Aberystwyth University
Classical rhetorical devices - a quick 'ready to use' list from Lesley Coote, University of Hull
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Teaching Digital Writing 23 April 2010 English Subject Centre
The Subject Centre’s first event devoted entirely to teaching and doing digital writing was organised in collaboration with Kate Pullinger and Sue Thomas of the Faculty of Humanities and the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University and held at the state-of-the-art Phoenix Square Digital Media Centre in Leicester.
Thomas and Pullinger’s Transliteracy Research Group (TRG) unites communities of writers, librarians, practitioners and educators involved in developing teaching and defining the type of writing and reading that happens on screens large and small. Transliteracy, Thomas told the audience, is: the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, television, radio and film, to digital social networks. Thomas also spoke of ‘encouraging our colleagues and students in transliteracy’ as a key to making sure students in higher education leave with the necessary skills to navigate the digital world with high levels of critical thinking and knowledge. Pullinger, an academic and highly regarded digital author, sees ‘cross-media story-telling’ and the project of ‘connecting writers to readers’ as one of the particular missions of any digital author whose text is often more fluid and malleable than those which are paper-based. Pullinger also spoke of the potential difficulties of monetizing digital writing in an online world where 'free' is still the common model. Another digital author, Tim Wright, who joined Pullinger as part of the panel, ‘Doing Digital Writing’ emphasised the appeal of ‘mashing up’ classical texts for students who might otherwise roll their eyes in dazed boredom when presented with the prospect of reading a text like Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. Wright, created ‘Kidmapped’ by going to Scotland and literally walking the terrain of the text, reading passages out loud and allowing the world to do the journey and the reading with him via the internet. Digital writers explore what stories can be for readers by involving them in the process of creating and recreating them. They close the gap between author and reader by relinquishing control over certain areas of the text and inviting their readers to participate in the text’s creation or encouraging readers to become writers themselves by taking the original text as a starting point. Delegates pondered whether or not digital writing should be understood as literature or multi-media, and the consensus seemed to encompass both, with the greatest resistance being voiced about restricting digital writing to a narrow category as it borrows elements from gaming and film among other forms. One person commented that the presentations and discussions ‘reconceived my sense of Digital Writing’. A workshop led by Tim Wright emphasised the enormous number of ‘platforms’ we read and gain information from in the course of our daily routines, from our mobiles, laptops and radios, to shampoo bottles, cereal packets, and billboards. These are all texts digital authors can think about exploiting, exhorted Wright, as he talked about writing for smaller and smaller screens. The afternoon panel devoted to case studies about teaching digital writing featured Matt Hayler (University of Exeter) [see page 23], Will Slocombe (Aberystwyth University) and Ruth Page (University of Leicester) and her former student Hannah Chapman (Birmingham City University). Moving through the theory, the structuring of and the delivery of university courses devoted to digital writing, this panel raised questions about the sensory perceptions that are activated or possibly lost through digital writing, the challenges of both creating community and developing appropriate assessment mechanisms (which can contradict a notion of collaboration), and how digital writing may be the ideal mechanism through which to introduce students to literary theory and ‘ways of reading.’ In short, ‘teaching digitally’ raises all sorts of pedagogical issues of voice and style, assessment, plagiarism, and how students learn to conduct research and analyse online resources with sophistication. The spectre of a practice and theory divide (those who create digital writing versus those who teach it) led to calls for English departments to offer more creative modules and insure that our students learn a range of writing modes not just the essay. One delegate commented, that they ‘gained some exciting ideas for my pedagogy and my own writing practice’. The keynote address was delivered by Henry Volans head of Digital Publishing at Faber and Faber. Volans highlighted a different divide: as innovative and challenging as much of digital writing is, the challenge for publishers is, quite simply, the profit margin. E-books and the devices being designed for us to read them on are just one component of the discussion. As a business publishing is perhaps necessarily more conservative than the Creative Writing community itself. Volans did offer sound advice to any student hoping to work in digital publishing by suggesting that they balance their literary skills with coding skills, as job candidates with both of these assets are currently quite rare. During the day there were thought-provoking questions raised about how to prepare teachers for transliterate students, the issues of uneven access to technology, new mobile publishing platforms and involving students in content creation. Teaching Digital Writing is the sixth Creative Writing event sponsored by the Subject Centre over the past two years and specifically follows on from our ‘Creative Writing: Teaching and Technology’ event held at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2008. Nicole King and Brett Lucas, English Subject Centre
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Book Reviews Reading Science Fiction James Gunn, Marleen S. Barr & Matthew Candelaria (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) According to Reading Science Fiction, Hugo Gernsback tried to popularise the term ‘scientifiction’ with the launch of his 1926 magazine: Amazing Stories. It was not Gernsback’s first attempt to coin this neologism. He’d put the word in print a decade earlier. But ‘scientifiction’ never gained popular usage. Which is a shame because, staring at the word on the page, it comes across as one of those cleveryet-clumsy constructions which combine linguistic brilliance with a structure that borders on being unpronounceable. Consequently, instead of discussing the exciting and vocally challenging oeuvre of scientifiction, we’re left with the more easily pronounceable genre known as science fiction. There is sufficient anecdotal evidence in this book to suggest that science fiction has long been regarded as the ginger-haired stepchild of literary genres. The authors begin with separate introductions, each justifying their involvement with science fiction: as though enthusiasm, professional interest and personal affection need qualification. The text contains a variety of deprecatory illustrations as to how the genre has been repeatedly undervalued and misappropriated. Kurt Vonnegut, often struggled to have his science fiction rebranded as fiction in order to earn an extra three cents per word. This was at a time when fiction was paid at five cents a word and science fiction merited a measly two. Contributors Davis and Yaszek suggest that America’s earliest academic courses in science fiction studies were devices, appropriated from English departments, to resuscitate interest and enrolment within undersubscribed social science departments during the militant climate of the 1970s. However, such claims of persecution and misappropriation are not the exclusive domain of science fiction. Undoubtedly there are many exponents of other genres able to cite instances of literary prejudice and unwarranted social bias against their chosen milieu. Yet, aside from the minor quibble of its defensive stance, Reading Science Fiction provides an excellent collection of academic essays that address key elements of the genre’s relevance to the contemporary reader.
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The editors have been sufficiently insightful to include counterbalancing opinions that present a range of diametrically opposed viewpoints. Gunn expounds on the necessity for reading science fiction as science fiction, stressing the importance of the reader’s knowledge of specific genre protocols, variations on which he concedes would be applicable to the successful reading of other genres. Contrarily, contributors Vint and Bould present an argument contentiously entitled, ‘there is no such thing as science fiction.’ The book tackles various approaches to science fiction, including prototypical narrative structures as well as critical analysis through gender studies, Marxist responses and the application of postcolonial theory. The citation of historical precedents, from authors including Thomas Moore, HG Wells and Mary Shelley lends a gravitas to the argument that science fiction is neither new nor wholly undervalued as a literary genre. Of additional interest, rather than focusing solely on science fiction as a written medium, the collection of essays in this volume address the genre as a whole, including science fiction’s representation in graphic novels, TV, film, video games and the internet: a particularly pertinent extension given the symbiotic relationship between the genre and its archetypical presentation of advancements in technology. Reading Science Fiction addresses the current demand for a serious critical response to the genre. Edited by James Gunn, Marleen S Barr and Matthew Candelaria, the title includes contributions from a broad range of authors who have written, studied and taught science fiction at a variety of academic levels. As Gunn explains in his introduction: “It is our hope that this book will illustrate the many ways of reading science fiction and by illuminating its variety and practice will encourage and deepen its appreciation. What we all want, when we deal with a genre like this, is to allow new readers to share our experience of falling in love with this literature of change.” Gunn’s aspirations are an ambitious hope for any book. However, it’s certain that this title will have exceptional relevance for those who are studying science fiction at postgraduate level. It should also have a long-lasting appeal to any ardent aficionado of the genre. Ashley Lister Blackpool and The Fylde College
The Poetry Toolkit Rhian Williams (Continuum, 2009) In the wider world, poems seem popular: the shops are full of anthologies with titles like Essential Poems and Staying Alive, testifying to a shared conviction in poetry’s role as, in the words of archanthologist Daisy Goodwin, ‘the ultimate in self-help literature’. This is the approach reflected in last year’s poetry season on the BBC and the hunt for the nation’s ‘favourite poem’: long on celebrity enthusiasm and psychotherapy, short on academic analysis. According to some accounts, things are different in the academy. A recent article in English by Bill Overton, based on a survey of lecturers, paints a gloomy picture: both students and staff are much happier analysing prose texts; the formal elements in poetry play little part in syllabi. All this sits oddly with the shift in literary criticism over the past few years towards a new interest in close reading and prosodic analysis, a shift exemplified in recent books by Tom Paulin and Terry Eagleton, both of them aimed at a wide audience and infusing practical criticism with lessons learnt from literary and cultural theory. Rhian Williams’s The Poetry Toolkit, which, according to its publishers, ‘offers a practical solution to the difficulties of reading and writing about poetry’, might just help bridge some of the gaps between these contrasting constituencies, introducing both students and ‘general readers’ to some of the pleasures of academic textual analysis. The Poetry Toolkit is not the only such primer currently available. It is, in fact, jostling in a crowded market, and has a lot of different considerations, expectations and anxieties to juggle with: most saliently the question of what topics to cover and how to organise them. There are lots of different types of information useful for tyro readers of poetry – prosody, genre, literary history, social context, theoretical approaches – too many, clearly, for any one sensiblyproportioned book to hope to cover adequately. Twenty years ago or so, introductory books on poetry tended to focus particular attention on metre and rhyme. With the exception of books for aspirant poets (Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, for example), more recent examples included a mass of other things: Barry Spurr’s Studying Poetry, for example, includes a chapter-by-chapter survey of ‘Poetry through the ages’, movement by movement. There seem to be two main dangers in combining in one book an introduction to prosodic technicalities with more reader-friendly material on topics related more obviously to the subject-matter of poems. Siphoning off prosody into a single long section, with detailed definitions of terms, runs the risk of isolating it from the other topics in the book, detaching it from other approaches to a poem. On the other hand, introducing formal matters more holistically, embedded piecemeal whenever appropriate into analyses of specific poems (Ruth Padel’s method in 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem and The Poem and the Journey) make it hard for
readers to use the book as a reference source. They will either have to settle for a one-line definition of a given term in a short glossary at the end or reread a sizeable chunk of argument. John Lennard’s The Poetry Handbook (2nd edition), probably the most detailed and sophisticated guide to close reading available, maintains unity of focus by attaching a series of essays on different methods of analysis (from punctuation to feminism) to a little gang of set texts. This approach, however, can give the impression that that each perspective is to be considered in isolation from all of the others. In The Poetry Toolkit Rhian Williams ingeniously circumvents these potential difficulties, coming up with an internet-inspired structure of almost Byzantine complexity, rooted in copious cross-referencing. Part I (‘Introducing Poetry’) consists of a short sequence of essays on ‘Types and Traditions’ (broad generic categories that some critics might call ‘modes’): epic, lyric, ballad, love poetry, elegy, pastoral, light verse. Part II (‘The Poetry Toolkit’) contains a series of similar, slightly shorter, pieces on more nitty-gritty topics. The subsections are ‘Forms’, ‘Prosody’, ‘Rhyme’, ‘Stanzas’ and ‘Wordplay’. ‘Forms’ here refers to types of poem more closely associated than the ‘types and traditions’ described in Section I with specific prosodic features (e.g. haiku, ode, villanelle): there are little essays on 16 of these, marshalled into five categories. ‘Prosody’ zooms in for a closer view of textual detail, introducing individual discussions of the different traditional metrical feet with general introductions to stress and metre. The short section on ‘Rhyme’ includes essays on onomatopoeia and alliteration as well as on different types of rhyme per se. Part II ends by zooming out again, with sections on ‘Stanzas’ (essays on 16 different types, grouped by line-length) and ‘Wordplay’ (short, discursive pieces on nine tropes and six schemes). Part III (‘Practice’), much the shortest part of the book, includes some valuable hints on practical criticism, a set of ‘Exercises’ (a short anthology of poems linked to bullet points suggesting possible avenues of approach) and a couple of dense, slightly overwritten sample ‘close readings’. All this makes The Poetry Toolkit sound hideously complicated. In practice, however, it works brilliantly. Because of its comprehensive cross-referencing, users of the book do not have to master its structure. A long list of terms (‘acephalous line’, ‘haiga’, ‘metre’, ‘synaloepha’, ‘vehicle’, etc.) appears at the start of the volume. Wherever these terms occur in the text, they are in bold type. Bolded page references for them in the index take the reader to the point in the text where they are most fully defined: bold type thus functions as a sort of hiccupy (that is, two-stage) hyperlink. This makes it easy for a reader to go straight to the discussion of a topic they are interested in and use the bold type to find definitions of any other terms of which they are ignorant. It also means that Williams doesn’t need to pull her punches: she brings detailed points of social context and literary history into her essays on form, and steeps her essays on genre in formal analysis, aware that the structure of her book will never leave a casual reader feeling abandoned. I found that this worked particularly well in the sections on ‘Types and Traditions’ and ‘Stanzas’ where Williams consistently produces exciting and fresh readings (often keyed to the most recent scholarship and criticism) across an astonishingly wide range of poets, genres and periods.
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Book Reviews The impression of richness and diversity that one gets from the book is due partly to the system Williams uses for citing primary texts. Few analysed poems appear complete, and, apart from the ‘close readings’ at the end, there are no particularly long pieces of practical criticism: brilliant aperçus are very much the order of the day. Williams’s discussions seem to expect (though, crucially, they don’t absolutely depend upon) their readers taking the trouble to follow things up by finding a text of the poems under discussion for themselves. Many of the short essays are followed by stimulating suggestions of areas and texts for further exploration. The clear expectation is that the reader, using Williams’s bibliography, will be able to stalk most texts to their lairs, either in easily available print editions or on websites – perhaps not a completely unproblematic assumption, even today. A book as wide-ranging as this will always have points a reviewer can quibble with. I found the treatment of Petrarchism (parcelled out lumpily between ‘courtly love, ‘conceit’ and ‘sonnet’) peculiar, and some readings didn’t quite ring true. Williams’s approach to metre is more problematic, I think. Although she cites Thomas Carper and Derek Attridge’s Meter and Meaning, she ties her discussion of prosody religiously to the traditional foot-based system they so persuasively challenge. (Phil Roberts’ equally iconoclastic How Poetry Works isn’t mentioned at all.) I could have done with more on topics such as metrically ambiguous syllables, degrees of stress and the abstract nature of metre, and less on feet other than iambs, trochees, dactyls and anapaests.
There are some gaps: no overall history of poetic movements and traditions (terms like ‘Imagism’ and ‘Romanticism’ barely appear), and nothing specific on literary theory. Instead, the reader is thrust headlong into the details (and the formal, ideological and literary implications of those details) of specific poems. Perhaps in a book such as this, this is all to the good. It would be a handy purchase for any student or general reader of poetry – an excellent source of reference full of stimulating ideas and nuggets of information – but in a poetry module it might well need supplementing with other secondary works. The dependence of the book’s structure on traditional literary-critical terminology means that many of the examples Williams discusses are from the 19th century--a period which employed (and subverted) a very wide range of traditional forms in a myriad of different contexts. There is less space in this approach for modernism old and new – no Ashbery, no Prynne and barely a hint of Stevens. Williams nails her colours to the mast when in the section on free verse she writes: ‘[some] free verse can…paradoxically feel excluding: poems are so intensely focused on specific experiences, on images and symbols of obscured significance, or simply on resisting all hints at metrical regularity, that they can feel prickly, dismissive of the reader and entirely self-referential’ (p.127). The Poetry Toolkit will be a valued vade-mecum for many readers, both academic and ‘general’. Every reader will learn something from it – it is rare to have riches such as this in a single textbook. Jonathan Gibson, English Subject Centre
Stage on Screen: Special Edition Teacher’s Pack School for Scandal and Dr Faustus (2009) are provided with the Director, the cast and the production team to highlight some of the stylistic and interpretive choices made. Together this set of materials provides a welcome alternative to the house styles and performance assumptions enshrined in the work of Shakespeare’s Globe and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). It is perhaps useful to look for a moment at the context surrounding these resources. While the RSC has produced commercial videos for some time of particular productions, only occasionally have attempts been made to develop performance recordings specifically for teaching purposes. The Winter’s Tale: a case study/the Complete Edition is an interesting example to address. The 1999 Barbican production of this play was recorded for distribution on DVD along with a series of interviews with the cast and company. These two productions, admirably captured on three DVDs and one CD, provide a very good opportunity for teachers to introduce their students to two well-studied but not often performed classical texts. The Greenwich Theatre provides lively interpretations of both plays with a single ensemble cast. This set of resources provides ample material to instigate a discussion not only about performance styles in historic texts but also the impact of doubling parts across the two plays which both employ the same stage setting. Interviews
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Shakespeare’s Globe has recently joined the rush into the public market through the cinema broadcast and sale of their 2009 performances of As You Like It, Love’s Labour Lost and Romeo and Juliet on DVD. The largest and most successful theatrical experiment is the National Theatre’s NT Live season which, according to the NT’s website, hopes ‘to open the walls of the National Theatre and invite cinema audiences around the country and the world to share in the work we create.’ This cross-pollination of theatre and cinema is sponsored by NESTA, part of the Arts Council of Britain, which
Book Reviews already sponsors the National Theatre to quite a large extent. So is this an example of the centralisation of funding to larger and larger arts organisations at the expense of the smaller and less well placed art creators? I would suggest that it might be and it is in this context that I would like to consider with appreciation the two productions captured on DVD of the Greenwich Theatre by the Stage on Screen project. To my mind the real issue at stake here is what has Stage on Screen achieved and how have they done it? The DVDs present three quite different sets of resources. The central resource labeled simply ‘the DVD of the play’ presents an edited version of the production as shot from six camera angles. This adaptation of the staged play then mimics the professional cinema or television adaptation of the plays that the above examples provide a precedent for. The second DVD in each case presents interviews with the director and members of the cast and crew, again quite standard resources that are available with the other theatres recorded performances. These first two resources are both useful and illuminating, particularly since they refer quite often to the two productions simultaneously or as they are related to one another. So far so straight forward. What differentiates this set of materials is the third DVD which provides a single ‘Mastershot’ of the whole production and the ‘Interactive CD-ROM’ which provides all six camera angles for a single scene of each play. The usefulness of these two disks is neither explained nor explored and so I would like to take a moment to think through the implications of including these additional resources. The ‘Mastershot’ is a standard form of recording theatrical productions for posterity by the theatre company. Taken from the back of the house from a single fixed camera these sorts of recordings are not dynamic but they do mimic the experience of a single audience member. These recordings are often not well lit and the sound can be appalling but it is the only stable record we have of these ephemeral events. Equity (the trade union representing performers) has long resisted the possibility of making these resources more widely available since it insists that the actors are not paid additional broadcast rights for this form of recording and they do not show its members at their best. Both of these objections have prevented the wider use of existing recorded materials. So why include the old standard of theatrical recording in this Teacher’s Pack? For one thing it opens up the opportunity to discuss with students the process of capturing a live performance which would be seen from a single vantage point and differentiates this experience from creating a television adaptation which involves various camera angles and close ups of the actors. Undoubtedly this is a very worthwhile and important classroom discussion to have when addressing the adaptation of the live theatrical experience. The ‘Interactive CD-ROM’ however, causes me greater difficulty. In providing the user with six camera angles of a single scene the ‘Pack’ presupposes technical expertise and support, as well as time, that simply do not exist in higher education. While it might be possible in the school environment to assign the students to upload these Quicktime files into a movie editing programme to allow the students to create their own edited versions of the scene, this is not a possibility in many classrooms I have encountered in universities. But more importantly it seems very questionable what the outcome of such an exercise would be. Again it is an example of what is involved in the process of documenting performance rather
than directing performance since all six versions of the scene are the same and unalterable. It is not the first time that television editing skills have been confused with the textual interpretive skills of the director of a theatre production and I marvel at the way this confusion persists. Clearly the makers of these resources are interested in their own creative practices and want to engage others in this work. This is admirable but it is misleading to confuse this practice with the creative action that goes on in the rehearsal room long before the play has come anywhere near the stage. Also the activity presented is not really very interactive at all in that the outcome for each student would be a slightly different version of the same scene rather than a radically different interpretation of text by a different group of people. There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding here about the nature of what is taught in the drama and theatre classroom. I am aware that this review has veered away from the usual discussion of the ‘quality’ of the performance and headed towards larger issues that are raised by the form of presentation. However, I think it is essential in reviewing new materials of this kind to think carefully about what they are suggesting about what and how we teach. The two productions are lively and engaging. I would suggest that the modernised and stylised costume and movement which indicate from the outset who is to be trusted and who is not in School for Scandal rather undermines the humour of the piece since that is precisely what the audience is meant to discover on its own. The forced jovialness on stage in this production means the laughter that was heard during this usually very funny play did not come from the audience. The production of Dr Faustus, on the other hand, is admirably executed and engaged much more audibly the audience in attendance. Of course this is the one thing that live theatre has which recorded theatre can only acknowledge through sound, the response of a live and present audience. The NT Live cinema presentations highlight this so that when you enter the cinema you are immediately faced with the waiting NT audience. If one purpose of creating recordings of live performances is to provide an experience for home, school or cinema audiences which is ‘as seen live’ then the response of the audience present is tremendously important. Why is it that invariably these resources aim to push the user back into a passive position which both television and cinema have forced on audiences for such a long time? If this kind of resource is to truly make the user want to go to the theatre and understand its processes then there must be some inkling of what it is that the distant recorded audience is missing. Making theatre into television is not new and it is not terribly interesting. If these kinds of resources are to succeed they should encourage an appreciation of the gap between the theatrical experience and the recorded adaptation. I would suggest that this Teacher’s Pack achieves that with the inclusion of the ‘Mastershot’ DVD but then confuses this message with its televisually oriented ‘Interactive CD-ROM’. I would highly recommend these resources to any teacher if for no other reason than to engage with me in the questions I pose about the purpose of such recordings and the implications they have for our teaching of historical drama. Christie Carson, Royal Holloway, University of London
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 47
The English Subject Centre...
Tracey Hill Bath Spa University I think I speak for my whole department at Bath Spa when I say that it’s always been very much ‘our’ Subject Centre. All the projects, events and other activities we’ve worked on together over the years have had that essentially collaborative, supportive dimension. What we have always especially appreciated is the responsiveness of the Subject Centre team, and the ways in which we pitch in together as equal partners. There are many examples I could cite; here’s just one… A passing conversation with Jonathan Gibson from the Subject Centre back in 2004 about the then-new database of early printed books, Early English Books Online (EEBO), prompted us both to decide it was about time for some sectorwide reflection on the impact of such online databases. Given that myself and a colleague, Ian Gadd, were already ‘early adopters’ of EEBO in teaching, we thought it timely to try to host an event to consider how resources like EEBO could transform – and indeed, in some quarters, already were transforming – the teaching of early modern literature. I do remember discussing with Jonathan and Ian the need to make our putative event focus on both teaching and research: it was still early days, and we needed the carrot of research to bring in the stick of teaching, so to speak. Less than a year later, and after volumes of email, considerable liaison with the Subject Centre, with ProQuest (the publisher of EEBO), the JISC, and some extremely helpful colleagues both at our own and at other universities, Ian and I found ourselves launching a two-day event in front of some fifty delegates from across the UK and North America, including academics, librarians, tech-y folk, postgraduate and undergraduate students, and representatives from ProQuest and – of course – the Subject Centre. I think I can safely say that ‘(de)materialising the early modern text’, as we called it, was a tremendous success: one delegate commented that it was such a good idea that they were surprised no one had ever done it before. It seems to me that this event serves an exemplary example of what the Subject Centre can bring about: a lively, enthusiastic, ego-free get-together of people with a shared interest in – well, in sharing, I suppose. Long may it continue.
Lesley Coote University of Hull Back at the beginning (which seems a very long time ago), I remember that there was what appeared to be a very good idea. And, like many good ideas – of which there were many in the HE sector at that time – I also harboured a deal of scepticism about whether it would take off, or become something less than what it was intended to be. My own personal ‘interest’ was the use of new technology and media in enhancing the experiences of students and tutors, so it was great to be invited to take part in events on precisely that. At the first of Michael Hanrahan’s C and IT (Computer and Internet Technology) Roadshows I met a small group of other practitioners (most of whom are still, like myself, involved with the Centre) with similar interests and a wide variety of experiences. The development of this area of the Centre’s work owed a great deal to the enthusiasm of Michael, and of Brett Lucas, Michael’s co-organiser of C and IT events. I was wrong to be sceptical; the idea – of invigorating, inspiring, connecting and supporting practitioners in English Studies – is still, amazingly and invaluably, going strong. Over the years, the ESC has expanded not to exclude, but to embrace, new developments within and without the subject, such as the recent expansion of Creative Writing, the development of new, creative methodologies and the media ‘revolution’. The Centre’s inestimable value is that it retains its original ideals whilst generating new ones, and bringing together practitioners in as many aspects of the subject as possible, rather than becoming exclusive or protectionist. The new interdisciplinary initiatives inherent in the HumBox project are great…more dynamic possibilities, yet still grounded in the quality and integrity of English Studies. The ESC is still a unique institution, serving a living community. What a great idea it was, how much more it has become, and how great is its potential for the future… long live the ESC!
48 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
What Works In Work-Related Learning: a networking day for humanities careers advisers 9 July 2010 English Subject Centre
The phrase ‘work-related learning’ (WRL) covers a diversity of forms of learning which might include the familiar ‘work placement’, but also ‘simulated work environments’, non-essay based forms of assessment and encouragement of group work. Helen Day, (ceth, University of Central Lancashire), author of the Subject Centre’s Good Practice Guide to WRL (see p.4) opened the day, hosted at the University of Surrey, by introducing some of the varied forms of WRL. Helen recognised that the employability agenda is challenging for humanities lecturers, who tend to be critical of profit-motivated enterprise and have rarely worked outside the academy. These attitudes are picked up by students: many careers advisers commented in the course of the day about the low take-up of services by English students. Furthermore, academic identities are closely linked to ‘lecturing’: this can discourage adoption of more diverse learning styles. Nevertheless, there is a policy push to incorporate more WRL in curricula, and Helen made a convincing case for how it can be introduced without compromising academic values. The ceth Employability Framework (see p. 28 of the Good Practice Guide) is a good starting point. Other speakers described how WRL worked in their organisations. Clare Dowding of the Surrey Centre for Excellence in Professional Training and Education (SCEPTrE) illustrated the considerable efforts they put into making the one-year work placement a valuable experience for students. Virginie Grzelczyk, from the University of Surrey Department of Politics, advocated work placements as a way of developing students’ communication and self-management skills and said that placements changed her students’ learning outlook. She also said that work-placements were a strong ‘selling point’ (especially to parents!) when it came to recruitment. Richard Carruthers described how the work placement scheme for postgraduate research students operated at the University of Southampton. This scheme is largely project-based, with the host organisation supplying a project brief and person-specification to which a student is then matched. Lots of ideas for WRL initiatives were exchanged and tested via a lively ‘lift pitch’ session where participants had 2 minutes to convince colleagues of the value of their idea. (Congratulations to Jo Moyle from Oxford Brookes, who won the prize for the best pitch.) Christina Hartshorn, from the South East England Development Agency, concluded the day by arguing that ‘enterprise skills’ are not synonymous with starting a business, but rather about building something from nothing in any sphere of life. She contrasted the academic skills of ‘describing/analysing’ with enterprising skills of ‘initiating/achieving’ and suggested that we need to give our students more opportunities to engage in the latter through WRL. Jane Gawthrope, English Subject Centre * Presentations are available on the Subject Centre website at www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/explore/events/event_detail. php?event_index=267 and Helen Day’s Work-Related Learning in English Studies: a Good Practice Guide is available at www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/explore/resources/careers/report.php. Print copies are available by emailing email@example.com
After English After English is a website is for students of English who may be unsure of their future career direction or panicked by the current doom and gloom in the press about graduate vacancies. Unlike students studying a vocational subject, the choices facing our students can seem unclear and challenging. After English has ideas, exercises to try and links to follow to help them start thinking about future possibilities and ref lect on their hopes and dreams.
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 49
Desert Island Texts
Since I can’t imagine life without Shakespeare, I hope to find his Complete Works on the Island. And what about reference works – perhaps this island has internet access... Reluctantly I’ve excluded books not written in English, even in translation, and there's no poetry or philosophy, and almost no history... sigh. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom Harold Short is Professor of Humanities Computing, with a primary interest in the application of computing technologies in the Arts and Humanities. He has been involved in the development and teaching of new programmes at all levels including MAs in Digital Humanities and Digital Culture & Technology, and the world’s first Digital Humanities PhD. A recent satisfying project was the online publication of Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England, featured on BBC2 on 10 August 2010.
Madiba’s life has a special resonance in Southern Africa, and has been an inspiration for millions around the world. His autobiography will provide essential soul food. With a remarkable group of like-minded people, including Desmond Tutu (a King’s alumnus), he made possible the ‘miracle’ of a largely peaceful transition from apartheid to an emerging democracy.
Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth Another life, a moving companion in its own terms as well as standing in some sense for the war poetry I might have chosen. Its selection is also in tribute to the phenomenon of Virago, and the substantial body of women’s writing it has brought to public notice. A strong contender in this slot was F Tennyson Jesse’s remarkable A Pin to See the Peepshow, which I would not have discovered without Virago.
Willa Cather, The Professor's House With my American background I might have encountered Willa Cather without Virago’s help, but that’s nevertheless how I met her, and this book is selected as North American counterweight to Vera Brittain, with its articulation of the fractures in US society after the First World War. It’s a particular favourite, or I might have chosen One of Ours, whose Nebraska protagonist is so reminiscent of my Kansas grandfather.
Doris Lessing, Children of Violence Actually I could have chosen almost anything by Lessing. Although I find her a far from elegant writer, her engagement with the human condition is profound. The first four books in this series portray a colonial society still very recognisable as I was growing up there. If I have to choose one volume, it would be the final one – The Four-Gated City – with its disturbing exploration of western post-colonial culture.
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart This may be a ‘cliché’ text, but it was seminal and my own introduction to imaginative explorations of identity and culture in a colonial context; it is still widely studied in schools throughout Africa. In my Joint Honours degree, our special subjects were ‘African Literature in English/French’ respectively, and this was a foundational text.
50 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
Desert Island Texts
Professor Harold Short is retiring after 15 years as Director and Head of the Centre for Computing in the Humanities (CCH) at King's College London. Under the banner of CCH Harold was an instrumental voice in the establishment of the Subject Centre. We would like to thank Harold for his pioneering work in the field of Digital Humanities and salute his success in building his department from the bottom up. As Technical Research Director in a large number of collaborative research projects, generating over £20 million in research funding, Harold has been highly influential in the development of ICT in the Arts and Humanities both nationally and internationally. We wish him well on his desert island...
Tom Stoppard, Arcadia No Shaw, Synge or any of a dozen current or recent playwrights? Stoppard would be in my list anyway, but this play is particularly resonant in its exploration of the intersection between science and culture, embodied in the life of Byron’s daughter Ada Lovelace who is the likely inspiration for Thomasina Coverley in Stoppard’s play. (Lovelace is regarded by some as the first ‘computer programmer’ for her work with Charles Babbage.)
George Polya, How to Solve It This was an important book for me not only for its practical approach to problem-solving, but in helping me understand that questions are much more interesting than answers and process more important than product, principles of considerable significance in my thinking about the Digital Humanities. (If I could smuggle in some books of mathematical puzzles I would certainly do so, to keep the mind alert!)
C J Sansom, Dark Fire There are any number of proper works of historical scholarship I’d like to include. What I’m choosing, however, is an example of historical fiction, with the imaginative licence it offers to the author, who must nevertheless carry out real research. In this case, the setting – London – and the period – 16th Century – are of particular interest.
John le Carré, Smiley’s People I read a lot of crime fiction, and might have included Dashiell Hammett not only for his pioneering crime novels with their presentation of the complexities of ‘truth’, but also his defiance of Joseph McCarthy. So I’m also drawn to the more subtle possibilities of espionage fiction, and must include le Carré. I’d prefer to take The Complete Smiley – though not as compressed for Radio 4 – but have settled for the last of the Karla trilogy.
Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit Some nineteenth century fiction of course, but how could I survive without Eliot, Austen, Hardy, Trollope, …? It was in part through Dickens in my very British colonial education that I came to ‘know’ London before arriving here 38 years ago, and subsequent re-reading of his work became a personal project affording great pleasure. This novel because of its associations with areas of the city I know well.
William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury Faulkner speaks to the southern US part of my heritage, and his novels were important in helping me come to terms with the racism embedded in this legacy, its parallels in the racist society in which I grew up, and the humanity somewhere beneath that may yet provide hope in the darkest of times and circumstances.
Alexander McCall-Smith, The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency For my final choice – if possible I'd like the whole series! – I must declare a personal interest, the author being a friend since student days. I’m including him nevertheless for his sympathetic portrayal of a part of the world important in my life, and for the gentle humour and sheer humanity of his writing.
WordPlay • Issue 4 • September 2010 51
The Last Word
Lyn Pykett, Chair of the English Subject Centre Advisory Board
We’re All in This Together – Another Fine Mess? It is a cruel irony that this issue of WordPlay celebrates the success of the first ten years of the English Subject Centre, just as its future – like that of the other HEA Subject Centres – hangs in the balance. As I write, the Higher Education Academy’s Executive team is responding to the 30% funding cut which has already been announced by preparing a cost-benefit analysis of three different models for restructuring the Academy. As each of these models envisages that the Academy will have fewer sites and operating units than it currently does, it seems unlikely that the Subject Centres will continue in their present form. The Academy does, however, remain committed to the principle of maintaining the continuity of a subject or discipline network approach to working with academics. Certainly, for most academics, the Subject Centres are the human face of an otherwise faceless organisation. The English Subject Centre has been particularly successful in engaging with its subject community and it would be extremely wasteful to unpick the networks of practice and practitioners that it has nurtured and to jettison the valuable work of the last ten years. Indeed, the approaches to sharing good practice and pedagogic innovation developed by the English Subject Centre will become even more important in the next few years as we all struggle to ‘improve the student experience’ and (to quote David Willett’s speech at Birmingham University on 20 May) ‘empower’ students (he neglects to say for what), whilst coping with severe reductions in resources.
a deep ideological commitment to reducing public spending and/or outsourcing public monies to private providers. Fewer and less well supported teachers working in more cramped conditions in more dilapidated buildings will be the norm. In such circumstances the innovations pioneered and disseminated by the English Subject Centre through its networks, events and the useful ideas and resources on its website will be invaluable as we struggle (yet again) to do more with less. This time round it seems unlikely that we shall be required to increase student numbers whilst reducing staff. Rather HEIs will be required to offer more – in the form of better teaching – to (probably) fewer students with (certainly) fewer staff, whilst, at the same time, playing a key role in delivering the government’s aim to ‘rebalance the economy by meshing enterprise and manufacturing with training, learning and research’ , as David Willetts put it in his Birmingham speech. As a student of Victorian literature and culture I was delighted to see David Willetts’s emphasis on renewing the UK’s manufacturing base and his affirmation of the value and importance of the crafts. I was also pleased to see that Willetts’s Birmingham speech, the first given by the new Minister for Universities and Science, offers encouragement and opportunities to those of us who teach and research in the arts and humanities. It is good see that the new Minister supports ‘diverse provision of a high quality’, and recognizes both the ‘enormous value in further and higher education which cannot just be captured by the utilitarian calculation’ and ‘the importance of all those courses and degrees which – through their rigour – increase the intellectual capability of the nation and its skills base’. It is also refreshing to note that the Minister is ‘all in favour of curiosity-driven research whose applications may take time to emerge, if at all’, and that he accepts the fact that although Birmingham University’s ‘excellence in Shakespeare studies has probably contributed to the tourism industry ... boosting the tourism industry is not what inspires an academic to study Shakespeare’. The Minister assured his Birmingham audience that he was not going to make the mistake, so often made by politicians of treating ‘the economic value which flows from much academic research ... as the only possible motive for research’. These are fine words and noble sentiments on the non-utilitarian value of education and research. We must hold him to them, as well as making sure that we continue to address, with rigour and depth, the issue of what we do and why we do it.
Thus far I have been unimpressed by the Panglossian rhetoric of those who would seek to persuade us that the current and forthcoming cuts in Higher Education funding present an exciting challenge and an opportunity for innovation. My intellectual inclinations and my sympathies are with the majority of Heads of Schools and Departments who responded to the ESC’s recent survey of the English Curriculum and Teaching in UK Higher Education, who, when asked what would most enhance learning and teaching, replied ‘more staff’. I have no doubt that one sure fire way of enhancing the student experience and empowering students to become self-motivated learners with good teamworking and communicative skills would be to provide them with more and better supported teachers who can engage directly with them and devote time to developing their abilities. At some level I am sure that most current cabinet ministers would agree with me – this is, after all, the model of education that they choose for their own children.
However, we live in desperate times, in which a real need to pay back the money borrowed to bale out a reckless finance sector has coincided with the emergence of a new government with
The text of David Willetts’s Birmingham speech can be found on the BIS website at www.bis.gov.uk/news/speeches/david-willetts-keynote-speech
52 WordPlay • www.english.heacademy.ac.uk
Teaching English Literature and Creative Writing:
A Workshop for Early Career Lecturers 19-20 November 2010 King's College London, Strand Campus • Have you recently begun your first full-time post? • Do you teach Literature or Creative Writing? • Would you like to discuss and develop your teaching with your peers in English studies? If the answer is 'yes' to these questions then register now.
What can you expect? • Lively debate and dialogue on teaching • Space to reflect on and develop your teaching practice • Structured sessions on topics such as: close reading, assessment, and lecture and small-group teaching And much more …
For more details, to view the programme or to register, please visit our homepage or contact the English Subject Centre at firstname.lastname@example.org
The English Subject Centre supports all aspects of the teaching and learning of English Literature, English Language and Creative Writing in higher education in the UK. It is a Subject Centre of the Higher Education Academy. www.heacademy.ac.uk
The English Subject Centre, Royal Holloway, University of London Egham TW20 0EX T 01784 443221 â€˘ email@example.com www.english.heacademy.ac.uk