Monday, January 23, 2017

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Naomi Saslaw

Dr. Naomi Saslaw, Professor of English
Q: How many years have you taught at Ashland?

A: 47 years

Q: What are some of the courses that you teach?

A: English 101 (Comp I) and English 102 (Comp II), Shakespeare (English 317), Readings in Jewish Literature (English 340), Literature of Crime and Retribution (English 360), Literature of Early England (English 401), Renaissance Literature (English 404).

Q: What are your favorite aspects of being a professor?

A: I very much enjoy discussing different interpretations of literature with the students. I have always loved learning and will always continue to learn. It is a privilege to interact with our students and to both help them to learn and to grow as people.

Q: What made you decide to become a professor?

A: I have always loved learning. The university is an ideal community in which to help students to grow and to continue to learn myself. When I was a senior at the University of Michigan, I was nominated for a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and encouraged to teach on the college level. 

Q: What scholarly projects are you working on?

A: I am working on a presentation for a conference in April in San Diego on Dax (a medical ethics case arguing for a severely burned individual’s right to die) and a memoir’s discussion of how a terminally ill individual learns how to live more fully.

Q: What else would you like to share with the readers of this blog?

A: I would love to hear about some of your interests, your plans for your future, your creative and literary interests, and some of your interdisciplinary interests.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Sharleen Mondal

Dr. Sharleen Mondal, Assistant Professor of English

Q: How many years have you taught at Ashland?

A: 5.5 years 

Q: What are some of the courses that you teach?

ENG 101: Composition I 

ENG 102: Composition II 
ENG 314: Literature and Gender 
ENG 316: Postcolonial Literature 
ENG 330: African Literature 
ENG 411: Victorian Period

Q: What are your favorite aspects of being a professor?

A: I enjoy participating in the scholarly community in my fields of expertise. This includes both producing scholarship and teaching in those fields. Scholars in Victorian, South Asia, and Gender Studies in particular have created vibrant intellectual hubs through various societies and associations and it is a pleasure to partake in the exchange of ideas in those circles, and to cross-pollinate those spheres of my thinking with the classroom teaching that I do at AU. I also derive deep satisfaction from assisting my faculty colleagues and College of Arts and Sciences undergraduates in improving their research/writing productivity and work/life balance through my role as the Director of the Ashland University Research and Writing Community (AURWC). Together, these various strands have given me the opportunity to form very close relationships with fellow faculty and students with whom I exchange manuscripts-in-progress, brainstorm future projects, and collaborate on the construction of exciting new scholarship.

Q: What made you decide to become a professor?

A: My father is a retired chemistry professor who had a long and fruitful career. While his encouragement led me to entertain the idea of becoming a professor, it is my parents’ example that fuels my choice to do this every single day. My father’s humble beginnings in a village without running water or electricity in Bogra, Bangladesh; both of my parents’ survival of the 1947 independence and partition of India and Pakistan; their survival of the 1971 genocide and liberation war in present-day Bangladesh (and the horrendous loss of family members and friends in that conflict); their immigration to Australia and later the U.S. and the blatant, extraordinary racism they survived in both places; and the fact that they began their lives all over again in the U.S. at the age of 40 in a country halfway around the world in which they knew no one, cut off from all of their family and friends, are remarkable enough. Yet their response to these challenges is even more extraordinary, including my father devoting his life to scientific inquiry and mentoring promising, underrepresented students, and my mother being an obstetrician and gynecologist, especially significant because she first practiced in a country in which rape had been a weapon of torture during the genocide. 

For my parents, pursuing an education and doing everything in their power to help others through their teaching and training became their way of enacting the sacred work of justice in the world, even in the bleakest of circumstances. They are the strongest examples I have ever seen of Nelson Mandela’s famous statement that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Every day that I sit down to write or set foot in a classroom, I know that I am here because of the enormous sacrifices of these two amazing individuals, to whom I owe a debt that I can never repay. I feel heavily the gravity of the fact that I continue to be entrusted with the same sacred work of education to which they have devoted their lives. My practice of this work is of course imperfect and I have much room for growth. But in those precious moments in which a student finds in a text or a class discussion a deeper meaning that helps them recognize something about their own ethical commitments or their own sense of responsibility in the world, I often remember my parents’ faces and send them a quiet word of thanks for modeling what it means to do this work—and then I choose to do it another day.

Q: What scholarly projects are you working on?

A: I have a lot of “back burner” projects, but my most immediate project is a book about a late nineteenth-century Indian feminist, Pandita Ramabai, who converted to Christianity and sought to improve the plight of much-oppressed high-caste Hindu widows (of which she herself was one) through her own brand of proto-feminism. I contend that some of her most critical work has not received fair scholarly attention because of various methodological and theoretical quandaries in the disciplines of gender studies and religion. New work in the area of post-secularism helps scholars to seriously consider how feminism and Christianity need not be opposed, especially in colonial contexts, and I am using a post-secular framework to reread both well-known and lesser-known writings by Ramabai and other social reformers of the period.

This book project has had a few related articles that I have published, are under consideration, or will be submitted in the next year or so. This project has many connections to my teaching, particularly Literature and Gender and Postcolonial Literature. Because the project is interdisciplinary, it has taken quite awhile, as I have had to read widely in multiple disciplines outside of my primary fields in order to treat the material fairly.

Q: What else would you like to share with the readers of this blog?

A: Producing scholarship, teaching, and participating in service to one’s colleagues and students has been an extraordinary experience at Ashland University, where not only students but also faculty are encouraged to proceed with a sense of purpose and a commitment to their local and global responsibilities. The English Department in particular offers an incredible community of readers, writers, and thinkers who seek to bring out the highest caliber of work in every individual, which means encouraging each person to proceed with a deep sense of purpose. I encourage any student interested in the majors or minors offered in the department to speak one-on-one with one of the faculty.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

From Confusion to Clarity: One Major's Journey Through a Busy Semester

By Madison White

When I came to college back in the autumn of 2014, I knew that I had wanted to double major in Creative Writing and English. I knew that double majoring in these two fields would mean a lot of writing classes and a lot of English classes; that just made sense. What I did not anticipate was the confusion I experienced in my first semester of junior year here at Ashland University. This confusion, though, was bittersweet; my intellectual growth challenged me in many ways. In order to understand each course and what the professor is lecturing about, one has to pay a greater amount of attention to the lectures and thus increase understanding of that class and its content.

I had graduated high school with possibly more than nineteen English classes under my belt. I was not new to taking multiple English classes in one semester and honestly did not think anything of it while scheduling my classes each year. In high school, my English classes were vastly different from one another so there was no room for confusion. In one semester I was taking Brit Lit, American Lit, Intermediate Composition, and Yearbook Journalism. Those are all different topics in the English spectrum, but this past semester, I was challenged to the core trying to separate each class and understand the different themes of each.

Deciding it was a good idea to sign up for five English classes at the same time with a core class thrown in, I chose to take American Literature I and Eighteenth-Century Literature among others. One class dealt with American literature (as seen by the title of the course) and the other class dealt with British literature. Since I had basically done the same thing in high school, I did not see the problem. But high school and college are not the same, so I definitely saw the problem that arose by taking both at the same time: I was confusing the readings.

American Lit dealt with the novel Hope Leslie by Catharine Maria Sedgwick, which is set in the seventeenth century, though written in the nineteenth century (1827 to be exact). And in Eighteenth-Century Literature, we were reading Evelina by Frances Burney. Though a century apart, these two novels have similarities that are a little too close, which caused me to honestly forget which plot line I was reading. Though I was holding Evelina in my hands, I started to read it with the plot line of Hope Leslie in my head. This caused some difficulties when trying to remember what was happening in each book. However, this raised the idea that there were certain plot lines that American novelists gained from British novelists and themes that each wanted to explore. Both novels deal with women and coming into the world. While Evelina depicts a seventeen-year-old woman’s coming of age, Hope Leslie also deals with a young woman who acts as her own person. Hope Leslie shows that being a strong woman is possible. The ideas in both these time periods shows the condition of women back then and how far women have come. Relationships are explored in each novel, and both family and
romantic relationships are included. It seems though that family plays an important part in the lives of those back then and the ideas of what it meant to ‘be of age’. Because two of my classes were dealing with these ideas, it stressed that the idea of family is important as well as being able to speak and think for oneself.

I say all this to bring light on the fact that when scheduling classes, you may want to make sure you have a variation in what you’re learning in each class—otherwise, there may be confusion within the course and what knowledge you’re gaining from each class. Of course, if you have to take five or more English classes in one semester, the heavy workload may encourage you to cultivate a more sophisticated approach to the readings, thus increasing your intellectual growth and capacity.

Throughout this past semester, I’ve read different themes and messages from different eras and centuries and have, quite honestly, learned a lot more than I thought was possible, and made connections with contemporary literature to today’s world. So though it was a heavy workload, I didn’t mind taking five English classes at once. As long as the confusion is sorted out, it’s doable. And English is a most exciting subject to learn, don’t you agree?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Welcome Our New MFA Director, Dr. Christian Kiefer

The English Department is thrilled to announce that Dr. Christian Kiefer will join Ashland University as the new Director of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Associate Professor of English, effective January 1. Dr. Kiefer holds a B.A. from the University of Southern California, an M.A. from California State University, Sacramento, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis. He is the author of The Infinite Tides (Bloomsbury), The Animals (W.W. Norton), One Day Soon Time Will Have No Place Left to Hide  (Nouvella Books), and Kingdom of Wolves (forthcoming from Liveright / W.W. Norton), in addition to other works in poetry, fiction, and drama. Kiefer's scholarly publications focus on American literature. A professional musician, Kiefer has released a number of albums primarily in the folk rock and avant garde traditions. He comes to Ashland from American River College in Sacramento, California, and has taught fiction in the Sierra Nevada College low-residency MFA. Kiefer is excited about directing the program and becoming part of the Ashland University community. He exudes the kind of warmth and openhearted collegiality that we value so much in the MFA and the department at large. Please take some time to welcome him!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Hamlet in Cleveland: A Review

By Corinne Spisz, Integrated Language Arts major

On November 20, students and professors from the English, History, and Political Science departments traveled to the Cedar Lee Theatre, a historic movie theater in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. The department watched a filmed version of The National Theatre Live London’s Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. The running time of the film was three hours with a twenty-minute intermission. During intermission and on the way back to Ashland University, students and professors discussed the interpretation, the acting, and the relation of the performance to the written play. It was unanimous that Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance was extraordinary and emotional, and that he drew the audience into his performance. The rest of the cast performed well, but were overshadowed by Cumberbatch’s excellence. No one was really able to relate to the character of Ophelia, and yet no one was quite sure why. In terms of costume choices, the color of clothing that Hamlet wears changed throughout the play, representing his grief, insanity, and innocent death. Hamlet began to the play wearing dark clothing, and then alternated between red and black until the end of the performance when he was wearing white. Another interesting aspect of the play was the set design. Before intermission and after the completion of Claudius’ monologue, something that looked like dirt or dried leaves was blasted onto the stage.

In the second half of the play, both the inside and outside scenes were acted in this “dirt,” making the audience suspend its disbelief even further than normal. It added an interesting touch. The music options that the theater company chose made uncomfortable scenes even more uncomfortable because of its ominous tone. Another criticism was that the actors made some of the lines from the play funny, when those lines were not meant to be laughed at. There was too much comic relief in this interpretation for a Shakespeare tragedy, which made several of us unhappy and slightly uncomfortable. In some cases you had to laugh in order to stop the feeling of discomfort with the interpretation. Overall the play was fantastic and enjoyable with only a few criticisms.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Fifteen Students Welcomed into Sigma Tau Delta

On Monday, November 14, fifteen students carrying a G.P.A. in English courses of 3.0 or above were welcomed into Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honor society, at the new member induction. Dr. Russell Weaver delivered an address on the subject of literary interpretation. Congratulations to our new members!

New Members:

Maggie Andrews
Natasha Arnold
Sarrah Betz
Maria Cardona
Emily Cardwell
Jessica Frichtel
Emily Holp
Ariel McCleary
Bethany Meadows
Alexandra Newhouse
Madelyn Rumbaugh
Corinne Spisz
Alyanna Tuttle
Madison White
Amanda Wise