Wreading Wednesday

I am pretty sure that Wreading Wednesday isn’t really a thing, but this week, I’m going to make it one. I’ve just heard that I was invited to teach a graduate reading class in the English department here at UND next spring.

My class will be tentative titled “Readings on Things.”

The class will be partly based on a couple of chapters from my book manuscript that explore the growing interest in things in the humanities and social sciences more broadly. I obviously don’t need to put together a syllabus yet, but I thought it would be fun to put together a bit of “back of a napkin” thought about the class.

My initial thoughts are to divide the class by disciplinary approaches. For example, we would read some Bill Brown and Tim Jelfs when considering the role of things in literature (and maybe Jameson and I’d love to bring in some queer theory and am currently reading Kara Keeling and liking it and feel like Maia Kotrosits’s recent book would fit here as well.) I would then spend some time with Danny Miller, Bruno Latour (any excuse to read Aramis again!), and Tim Ingold to get the sense for thing studies in sociology and anthropology. For history and archaeology, I could imagine reading Bjørnar OlsenTimothy LeCainDan Hicks, and González-Ruibal (plus some Rathje!). Then I could look at some of the great work being done in the area of heritage studies on decay, by Caitlin DeSilvey, for example. I might also add some works on media archaeology such as KittlerErnst, and Parikka. Discard studies is becoming a thing as well.

This would offer a pretty conventional survey of thing studies across multiple disciplines. I could supplement it, of course, with some reading maybe Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine, some Philip K. Dick, some DeLillo, some Pynchon, and perhaps some Raymond Carver. I wonder how I might interweave some fiction with my much (much!) firmer grounding in material culture studies without overstepping my expertise. After all, I haven’t even taken a college level class in English language literature. 

I also wonder what I might do to make this class less of the traditional, read-report-discuss style seminar, and more of a dynamic space where we can learn from each other (and our authors!). It seems like the asymmetries in our expertise—with the students knowing more about literature and the ability to read and analyze texts in a sophisticated way and me knowing more about objects and contexts—might open doors to new ways for both the students and myself to think about our worlds. The question then becomes how do we negotiate this? 

Do I create a class that’s a series of exercises where I offer some text and they present some evidence?Do I do some things to draw the students out of their academic and intellectual comfort zone (for example, transmedia comparisons, dancing about architecture?). Do I lean on my colleagues across campus to inject some “real” interdisciplinarity into the class? For example, what if one of our material science faculty came and talked about his or her favorite material, an artist on how metals or clay shape their craft, a historian who has focused on sculptures, and a biologist who focuses on a particular species?

Needless to say I have a good bit of work to do to figure out not only what this class will look like in terms of the reading, but also in terms of the class itself. Stay tuned!

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