Tell us about your Signature Course.
The official title is “Jane Austen on Page and Screen”, although the winning class T-shirt design simplifies it to “Austen in Austin.” The so-called “Cult of Jane” has become, with the help of Hollywood over the last three decades, a phenomenon that is giving William Shakespeare a run for his money. Any educated person, whether bound for a life in the sciences or the humanities, should be informed about Austen’s work and her current literary celebrity. I help students to encounter Austen’s novels first and foremost in their original historical context, and secondarily in modern cinematic and digital forms. This class will make you conversant with one of the two most celebrated literary figures of all time.
What is your favorite part about teaching a Signature Course?
My smart and lively audience. The most recent iteration of this class involved 124 students, mostly freshmen, from a wide range of majors across campus. The palpable excitement in the room during discussion pulled from the expertise of all these students—their varying assumptions and observations. The class created its own online museum site from the historical research that the students did on seemingly ordinary objects mentioned by Austen in her fictions. One look at the site and you will see what I mean about building upon the vibrant expertise in the room.
What is your best piece of advice for first-year students?
Take a risk your first year and explore a course in something utterly new to you. College is about intellectual curiosity and exposure to new ideas, rather than mere credentialing. Do not take your first-year UGS experience for granted—savor and appreciate it. My class is not directed at confirmed Janeites but at the smart and curious in any discipline (many of my students are unaware of Austen’s big cult following at the start). This course, and many others on offer from UGS, are about introducing you to college-level resources, set new standards for college-level writing and research, as much as they are about field-specific content. Finally, and for goodness sake, read the entire syllabus (maybe several times). Professors actually put stuff in there that they think you will need!