Your SlideShare is downloading. ×



Published on

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total Views
On Slideshare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

Report content
Flagged as inappropriate Flag as inappropriate
Flag as inappropriate

Select your reason for flagging this presentation as inappropriate.

No notes for slide


  • 1. ‘That is what we doisn’t it?’ The Productionof University EnglishSusan BruceInvestigating CreativeWriting: studentperspectivesSteve MayBooks Were My Liberation:an interview with Alan RiceNicole KingUp Close: a round tableon close readingBen Knights and Jonathan GibsonReading and Writing Society:the role of English subjects inEducation for SustainabilityArran StibbeDeveloping Careers Servicesfor English StudentsJane GawthropeEnglish Subject CentreNewsletterIssue 14 • April 2008ISSN 1479-7089
  • 2. This newsletter is published twice a year by the English Subject Centre, part of the Subject Network of theHigher Education Academy. The Subject Centre provides many different kinds of help to English lecturers– more details are available in this Newsletter and on our website ( At theheart of all our work is the view that the higher education teaching of English is best supported from within thediscipline itself.As well as updates on the Centre’s activities and important developments (both within the disciplineand across higher education), you will find articles here on a wide range of English-related topics. The nextissue of the Newsletter will appear in Autumn 2008. We welcome contributions. If you would like to submitan article (of between 300 and 3,000 words), propose a book or software review (perhaps a textbook reviewby one of your students) or respond in a letter to someone else’s article, please contact the editor, NicoleKing ( or visit our Newsletter web page at the meantime, you can keep in touch with our activities by subscribing to our e-mail list at–heacademy.html. The Newsletter is distributed to English departments throughout theUK and is available online at along withprevious issues. If you would like extra copies, please e-mail us at English Subject Centre StaffJackie Fernandes: AdministratorJane Gawthrope ManagerJonathan Gibson: Academic Co-ordinatorKeith Hughes: Liaison Officer for ScotlandNicole King: Academic Co-ordinatorBen Knights: DirectorPayman Labaff: Website and Systems Development AssistantBrett Lucas: Website Developer and Learning TechnologistRebecca Price: Administrative AssistantCandice Satchwell: Project Officer for HE in FEThe English Subject Centre,Royal Holloway, University of London,Egham TW20 0EXT• 01784 443221 F• 01784 Image: Clifton Suspension Bridge, © iStockphoto.
  • 3. Newsletter 14 April 2008 0102 WelcomeNicole King03 Events CalendarArticles04 ‘That is what we do isn’t it?’The Production of University EnglishSusan Bruce10 Investigating Creative Writing:student perspectivesSteve May16 Books Were My Liberation:an interview with Alan RiceNicole King21 Up Close: a round table on close readingBen Knights and Jonathan Gibson24 Reading and Writing Society:the role of English Subjects in Educationfor SustainabilityArran Stibbe30 Developing Careers Services for English StudentsJane GawthropeBook Reviews34 Teaching & Learning English LiteratureEllie Chambers & Marshall GregoryReviewed by Peter Barry35 Doing Creative WritingSteve MayReviewed by David BausorNews, Reports & Opinions36 Event Round-Up40 Digital Resources at the British LibraryJoanna Newman41 Desert Island TextsChris Ringrose42 IT Works!Brett Lucas44 The Last WordMick ShortContentsCert no. SA-COC-1530Contents
  • 4. 02 Newsletter 14 April 2008WelcomeNicole KingAs this issue of the Newsletterlands in your pigeonhole, springwill have arrived, howeverbeleaguered by late frosts,storms or even snow. Whetheror not the forsythia or daffodilshave now faded, you’ll knowthe seasons have turned asyour students beat a path to your door in fretful (orperhaps languid) preparation for their exams andessays. As your teaching winds down and you begin tothink about exam boards and the summer conferenceseason, take a moment to regroup by immersingyourself in the pages of Issue 14. In Arran Stibbe’shelpful overview, you can find out about Educationfor Sustainable Development, and why it is centralto how we teach Creative Writing, English literatureand English language. Consider the challenge ofunderstanding the first-year experience, as SusanBruce transports us to the scene of a classroom, wherelearning is analysed through speech, gesture and gaze.Dip into the interview given by National Teaching fellowAlan Rice, whose American Studies work as a teacherand researcher joyously and forthrightly exceed thebounds of ‘English’ – indeed he reminds us what a richgroup of subjects ours is. Steve May details his researchinto the degree expectations and experiences ofCreative Writing students around the UK and beyond.He tells how his own practice has changed as a result ofwhat he discovered. Ben Knights and Jonathan Gibsonreport back on a round table discussion on the topic ofclose reading and where it figures in current teachingpractice. As you read these varied articles you maynotice how the idea of practical criticism makes repeatappearances. Indeed, this foundation stone of Englishstudies in the 20th century (and beyond) gets critiqued,admired and casually referenced depending on whichof our authors you read.Further on in the issue you will find our regularfeatures, including Brett Lucas’s column IT Works!where you can learn about some of the latest web-based technologies to support and animate yourteaching; Book Reviews contributed to this issue byPeter Barry and David Bausor; Desert Island Texts with‘castaway’ Chris Ringrose and the new commentarycolumn The Last Word. In this issue’s The Last Word,Mick Short, a new member of the Subject Centre’sAdvisory Board, provocatively questions the forkedpath that now seems to divide English literature fromEnglish language.Since the last Newsletter, it has been a busy period forthe Subject Centre. You can quickly catch-up on someof the many events we have held over the past eightmonths in our Event Round-Up, while more extensiveevent reports are available on our website. Thereare also several new mini-projects which have beenfunded, that we’ll report on in the next issue, but youcan find out about them now on our website’sProject pages. We are delighted to report thatTeaching Holocaust Literature and Film, edited byRobert Eaglestone and Barry Langford, has recentlybeen published; it is the sixth volume to appear inthe book series we edit for Palgrave Macmillan,Teaching the New English.Do you have an opinion about our subject? Perhaps youhave an idea for a Last Word commentary? Do you havea book on teaching you’d like to review or an article ina previous issue of the Newsletter you wish to respondto? If so, please get in touch. The Newsletter’s success,like our work in general, is down to your generosity andcommitment to working with us. Good luck with thoseexam boards and conference papers.Nicole KingEditorRecyclewhen you have finished with this publication please pass it on to a colleague or student or recycle it appropriately.Welcome
  • 5. Newsletter 14 April 2008 03Events CalendarSpring/Summer 2008EVENT: The Future of the Taught MA in EnglishDATE: 25 April 2008LOCATION: De Montfort University, LeicesterThis one-day event will focus on the changing context of,and pressures on, the taught postgraduate degree in English.Participants will be able to discuss how their departments, andthe discipline as a whole, might respond to the different demandsof students, funding bodies and employers. There will beopportunities both to consider strategic issues and to share ideasand experiences of practical responses in terms of pedagogy andcurriculum design.EVENT: Creative Writing: Teaching and TechnologyDATE: 30 April 2008LOCATION: Manchester Metropolitan UniversityThe aims of this one-day event are to provide a forum fordiscussion and debate. Topics and presentations will explore thepedagogies of Creative Writing and technology. The purposeof the day is not only to showcase new developments and sharepractice, but also to provide ample discussion time to thinkabout what issues we are facing.EVENT: Learning on the Language/Literature BorderDATE: 1 May 2008LOCATION: UCLAN, PrestonThis one-day event will look at how students learn andexperience English language and English literature in theundergraduate curriculum. The aims of the day are to interrogatethe underlying assumptions of the way we approach Englishlanguage and English literature learning, and to develop anunderstanding of how we can ensure students get the bestlearning experience.EVENT: Teaching: An Improviser’s ArtDATE: 1 May 2008LOCATION: SOAS, LondonThis event, led by Kevin McCarron, Reader in American Literatureat Roehampton University, will draw on the parallels betweenteaching and stand-up comedy, to suggest techniques andstrategies to reduce the burden of seminar preparation.EVENT: What is Literacy in HE Today?DATE: 13 May 2008LOCATION: London, Bedford SquareThe English Subject Centre is pleased to introduce the first of itsLondon Evening Discussion Groups. The purpose is to share ideasabout teaching with colleagues from across London in an informalatmosphere. The first session will query the definition of literacyin higher education today: Are our students literate enough?How do we identify literacy in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd years? Is oneperson’s literacy another person’s skill set?EVENT: Networking Day for HE in FE English LecturersDATE: 13 June 2008LOCATION: SOAS, LondonIf you teach English at higher education level in an furthereducation context, we hope you will join us at this networkingevent. The event will give people from different parts of theUK a chance to share experiences, curriculum content, ways ofworking, frustrations and delights. The English Subject Centre willreport on work it has been carrying out in the higher education infurther education sector, looking at the various models of Englishhigher education in further education, and issues which haveemerged as of particular interest or concern to teachers.EVENT: Teaching and Research in English:Making the LinksDATE: 13 June 2008LOCATION: University of EdinburghBringing together subject-specific current practice and theoryin the area of teaching-research linkages, this workshop willencourage teacher-researchers (including postgraduate students)from the areas of Creative Writing, language and literature toshare ideas about topics, such as the effect teaching has onresearch practice, the importance of diverse research interests incurriculum development and provision and do our students careif we are experts in what we teach?EVENT: Networking Day for Humanities’ Careers AdvisersDATE: 16 July 2008LOCATION: University of BirminghamThe English Subject Centre, in collaboration with Anne Benson(Head of the Careers Service at UEA) is convening a thirdmeeting for higher education Career Advisers with an interestin the humanities. The meeting will provide a forum for careersadvisers to discuss and share ideas and experiences, and this yearthe theme will be engaging employers. Several Careers Serviceswill be showcasing their English Subject Centre-funded projectsto enhance services to English students.For further details on any of these (mostly free) events please visit our website Calendar
  • 6. 04 Newsletter 14 April 2008I suppose … debating is one of the big parts ofEnglish isn’t it? It’s being able to express yourselfand using language and what you know fromliterature, and listen and stuff; I suppose that is,that is what we do, isn’t it? (Anna1, Third YearCombined Hons English student April 2007)Something gets lost in the translation of Anna’sobservation onto the page: what doesn’t emergeis the sense of discovery that inhabits her sentenceas she speaks it. It’s not just what she says, it’s theway that she says it: her speech is punctuated byhesitations difficult to reproduce in writing, butintrinsic to its significance as an instance of theprocess (not merely the product) of thinking as ithappens in the university teaching space. Anna wasanswering a question we had put to her class on ourthird visit to her university (which we call Baxter),as part of TPUE, an English Subject Centre-fundedproject in which Anna’s class had first participatedsome months earlier. Detailed more fully in the recentissue of Pedagogy, edited by Ben Knights and NicoleKing, TPUE pools the expertise of educationalists2and English academics3to examine how Englishis ‘produced’ in the everyday exchanges of theclassroom. Relatively neglected as a focus of research,these exchanges are an obvious proving ground forsome of the claims English has made about itself: thatit demonstrates a ‘continuous concern with socialinclusiveness’ (Holland, 2003); that it is ‘oppositional’(Rorty, 1982) or particularly ‘democratising’ (QAA,2000) or, conversely, that its role has traditionally beento preserve the orthodox and defend hegemonicideologies from subversive attack (Eagleton, 1983).Such scholarship on English is one context of ourresearch. The other is educationalist enquiry intothe changes currently besetting higher education(increased audit, standardisation, larger studentnumbers, the employability agenda – among others).Some have argued that these changes reshapetraditional disciplinary priorities and/or have adisproportionate effect on less privileged students.But (again), there has been little examination of theireffects at the level of the classroom. So we are trying,then, to examine the interconnections that do (ordon’t) exist between the subject matter and self-conception of English and its pedagogic form, and alsoto assess the relation between the nature of classroominteractions and the differing levels of resources withinwhich they occur. To this effect, we record and analyseEnglish classes in three ‘types’ of universities: ‘post-1992’, ‘pre-1992 non-Russell Group’ and ‘elite’. We payattention to a variety of modes of communication– gaze, tone, silences, ‘body language’ – considerationof which can sometimes foreground issues other tothose which arise from analysis of language alone.From these recordings, we identify key momentswhich we isolate as clips and/or multimodaltranscriptions (figure 1, ‘At the End of the Day’).These we then use as the focus of our investigations,and also as a mechanism of testing our owninterpretations against those of the students whoseinteractions we are analysing.In The Production of University English (TPUE) project, English academicsand educationalists together investigated how English is ‘produced’ in theeveryday classes taking place in a variety of British universities. Here,Susan Bruce describes the project and shows how its methods can be usedto shed new light on the interpretative tools which we teach to our students.‘That is what we do, isn’t it?’The Production of University English1 Names of participating individuals and institutions have been changed.2 Ken Jones (Keele University) and Monica McLean (The University of Nottingham).3 Also participating is David Amigoni (Keele University).Susan Bruce isSenior Lecturer atKeele University,where she teachesEarly Modern and20th-century literature.She is co-editor (withValeria Wagner) ofFiction and Economy:New Essays onEconomics andLiterature (Palgrave,2007) (
  • 7. Newsletter 14 April 2008 05On the occasion referred to above, wehad returned to Baxter to show thestudents two clips of a seminar devotedto The Merchant of Venice, which we hadrecorded earlier in the year, during whichthe tutor, Barbara, had asked the studentsto conduct a ‘trial’ of the play itself.Dividing them into two ‘teams’, Barbarahad instructed each to ‘choose a Portia’who, with the help of her team, wouldrally and present arguments concerningthe text’s politics: was it, or was it not, ananti-Semitic play? The clips we showedon our return to Baxter were clips wewere subsequently to use to investigatetwo sets of questions. One (addressedin our Pedagogy article) involved theinterface between English and issues ofdemocracy and authority. The other (thefocus of this essay) was that studentssometimes use their interpretationsof texts, and their seminar discussionsof those interpretations, to articulateobservations which are as much aboutthemselves as they are about the texts– which are ostensibly the subject oftheir discussion. In returning to Baxter,we wanted to ask the students what theythought was happening in the clips thatinterested us. And, for what it is worth,our Baxter students articulated theirunderstanding of the nature of ‘English’ interms which broadly underscored the waywe’d begun to think about the issue in ourPedagogy essay. Thus for Anna, Englishis not only about learning to articulateher own opinions, but also about learningto listen to other people’s. Interestingly,she and her classmates maintained thatEnglish offered them ‘a lot more freedom’than did other subjects they were taking:History but also (surprisingly, given thedegree of autonomy one might expecteach discipline to allow its respectivedisciples) Creative Writing. Both of thesewere characterised as wedded to a ‘rightand a wrong way to look at the text,’unlike English, which was a subject ifnot of infinite variety, at least of infinitehospitality: ‘in English lit,’ one studentsaid, ‘it’s like, your opinions are validand you can sort of say what you feel’.There are shades here of the familiarstudent claim that English is entirelysubjective, that interpretation has nointrinsic delimitation. ‘What, then, if I saidto you that The Merchant of Venice wasabout a train crash?’ Susan asked, in anattempt to challenge this ‘interpretation-as-absolute-free-for-all’ version of Englishlit. This perennial (mis-) characterisation ofEnglish deserves further research. What dostudents really mean when they reiteratethis ‘anything goes’ claim about English,and what underlies that utterance?Excitement? Delight? Vertigo? And towhat degree is it intrinsically associatedwith the perception we took this studentto be articulating here: the propositionthat English offers a particular space notmerely for self-expression, but for a kind ofself-validation?That correlation between the articulationof ideational observations and a processof self-validation, dovetailed with ourhypothesis that students’ comments abouta text may sometimes act as a vehicle forthe articulation also of observations aboutthemselves, of which they themselvesmay not always be conscious. In the clipwe showed the students, Lisa begins byarguing that the play establishes a criticaldifference between Antonio and Shylock– that this difference is value-laden – andthat that value is signalled to the audienceby a poetics which aestheticises Antonio’slabour and debases Shylock’s. Her tone isa mixture of hesitancy and conviction, thelatter quality most pronounced in the finalclause of her first intervention:Lisa: But though they are bothmerchants, what they are involved inand how they are, um … Their work isdescribed as very different, Um, like,Antonio’s worries over his ships aredescribed in very eloquent and s- s-sublime language about spices, the …spreading out of/on [?] the waves, andthe waves enthroned … enthronedwith his … uh … silks. But, uh, Shylockis the/a [?] rat sneaking in the dark andthe, the … sort of, it’s the, … It’s thedifference between the sort of gloryand beauty of ships and … the pettytrafficking that Shylock does: they’renot the same.Rhianna counters with an appeal tothe prestige conferred on Shylockby his ability to access wealthimmediately when wealth is needed.She speaks more forcefully than Lisa,and appears impatient, both with anargument which valorises Antoniowhen all he is able to do is ‘waitaround for a ship’, and – perhaps –with a discourse that tacitly privilegesfigurative language over the power ofthe event within the plot:Rhianna: But, at the end of the day,the amount of money, as he says ithimself, as he says somewhere, um,would a, would a dog have 3,000ducats to give you? Obviously he’sproving it, the fact that the amount,fair enough, Antonio has these shipsfull of spices and silks, but at the endof the day it’s, it’s Shylock that canjust grab 3,000 ducats and give themlend them ****. So obviously Shylockin some ways has, is of, of higher levelof, I can’t describe, commerce, thatsort of thing because he has more, hehas the more money available to him.[Lisa: Sh-]Rhianna: Whereas Antonio is waiting …around for a ship. And fair enough, if itcomes back he’ll have a lot of money,but … whereas Antonio, Antoniohas no money at the minute so hecan’t – he can’t lend Bassiano [sic] themoney and he has to go to Shylock inthe first place. And it’s Shylock that canjust give this money away –[Lisa: Sh-]Rhianna: without really noticing, so<trails off>Rhianna had arguably drawn the shortstraw here, in having to defend the casethat the immediacy of Shylock’s accessto money trumps the cachet afforded toAntonio and his ships.What do students really mean when theyreiterate this ‘anything goes’ claim aboutEnglish, and what underlies that utterance?Excitement? Delight? Vertigo?‘That is what we do, isn’t it?’ The Production of University English
  • 8. 06 Newsletter 14 April 2008Time Talk Action Gaze29.48B: And the fact that they are bothinvolved in commerce, they areboth merchants, Shylock is a kind ofmerchant as well. I think that’s …. ****B: Sitting with legs crossed. She isresting her elbows on the arms ofthe chair and clasping her fingerstogether at her chestGesturing in circling motion with handRH: Nods, rubbing arm, then keepsarms foldedLH: Resting hands on books, left footcrossed over right kneeB: At RHThen around room – right hand sideRH: DownwardsLH: At B29.54 LH: But though they are bothmerchants, what they are involved inand how they are, um …Their work is described as verydifferentLH: Right hand straight up from knee,holding pen in hand. Flicking penin right hand and making a circulargesture with penB: At LHLH: From RH to teacherLH: At teacher30.04 Um,like, Antonio’s worries over his shipsare described invery eloquent and s- s- sublimelanguage aboutLH: SwallowsRH: Raise of hand to gesture at boyin her group like a silent agreementabout a point he made earlier?LH: Looking across room, possibly toRH: ThinkingRH: Initially looking down then toboy, then to LHLH: Down at paper then to B30.14 spices, the … spreading out of/on? the waves, and the wavesenthroned …LH: Circling hand gesture with righthandB: Nods LH: To B30.20 Enthroned with his … uh … SilksBut uh Shylock is the/a? rat sneakingin the dark and the, the … sort of,it’s the,LH: Flips pen over, then points itdownwards as if pointing at wordLH: Changes grip on pen so thumb ispressing on top of itLH: Down then to RHLH: Down then at B30:30 It’s the differencebetween the sort of glory and beautyof ships and …Points pen in air, thumb pressed ontop, wrist pointing outwardsMoves pen to left hand, lifts righthand with fingers spread, thenbrushes hair away from left hand sideof forehead, then pulls at hair slightly.LH: B, then to RHLH: At B30.41 the petty trafficking that Shylockdoes, they’re not the sameLeft hand out to emphasise pettyRight hand pointing a fingerIn this transcript from the Baxter University class, the details of both verbal and non-verbal communication become evident.Key:B: BarbaraLH: ‘Lisa’ – woman with curly hair on left-hand side of BarbaraRH: ‘Rhianna’ – woman on right-hand side of BarbaraAW: Arabella – woman with American accentTimings from transcription taken from the second recording.Figure 1 ‘At the End of the Day’‘That is what we do, isn’t it?’ The Production of University English
  • 9. Newsletter 14 April 2008 07And, however artificial it is to extract a clipfrom the fluid, porous space of the seminar(we all know how discussions in seminarscirculate and return and are, almost bydefinition, inconclusive), Lisa seems toget the last word. With quiet convictionshe restates and synopsises her case,concluding with what we take to be (despitethe ostensible affirmation with which it isintroduced) a correction to the teacher’sattempted gloss on what she is saying:Lisa: Shylock is a necessary evil. Itdoesn’t necessarily mean he’s at allrespected or gains anything otherthan the money, whereas Antoniohas a lot of respect for, um, hismerchanting and his adventuring.Barbara: Because it’s moreextravagant …?Alannah: And …Lisa: Yeah, <quieter, trailing to finish>It’s more beautiful.Lisa never explains what she meanshere by the claim she finally, after twosuccessive attempts, (‘[Lisa: Sh-]’) managesto utter: that ‘Shylock is a necessaryevil’. Perhaps she means that capitalpresupposes usury; perhaps she wants tosuggest that one of the roles of Shylock’senterprise is to throw into relief thenobility of Antonio’s. What she is clearabout though, is that Antonio’s cachetderives not from the relative ostentation ofhis enterprise, but from its beauty.There seems to be quite a lot at stake inthis brief exchange. The ground contestedis essentially an argument over the relativemerits and status of liquid versus culturalcapital: the two students don’t usethese terms, but those appear to be theconcepts they are invoking. But what isnot apparent from the transcript was thatthe content of this argument may mirrorthe respective social positionings of thestudents conducting it. All the studentsin this seminar were white; all bar onewas apparently British; about 80% werefemale. But although the cohort was inmany respects homogeneous, the nuancesof the language employed by Lisa andby Rhianna seemed to befit not just thearguments each made, but somethingexpressive of a more profound differencebetween the two women. Lisa, defendingthe notion that social standing may begenerated by and communicated througha plethora of factors of which liquid capitalis only one, often uses two adjectives orexamples where one might suffice, andis much more hesitant and exploratoryin articulating her claims than Rhiannais. Rhianna, convinced by the claim thatmoney not only talks, but talks louderthan any other kind of capital, cultural orinvested, employs a language which seemsimplicitly to reflect her confidence in thematerial reality of the power that controlof liquid wealth confers: ‘at the end of theday’, she keeps repeating, it is Shylockwho can produce the readies.The phrase, ‘at the end of the day’ isone which accepts and validates onefactor as determining. Designed to cutthrough nuances and hesitations and toforeclose on the possibility of multipledeterminations, it is often, as it is here,used in connection with an asseveration offinancial motives or contexts as ultimatelydetermining and (tacitly but no less‘obviously’) rational. The same mightbe argued of the phrase ‘fair enough’,whose employment often functions toclose off alternative explanations evenas its speaker apparently admits them.And again, insofar as the locution, as it isused here, acknowledges the rationalityof Antonio’s behaviour, rationality is againconflated with the pre-eminent importanceof material gain: what seem to be otioseactions on Antonio’s part may, in the end,(but only uncertainly) issue in profit, andto the degree that they may, they arerational.The differences between the two students’lexical choices, then, might signal morefundamental differences between them:their respective interpretations of thetext apparently overlap with their ownsocial positionings. Drawing attentionto our interest in the relation betweenthe ‘ideational’ aspects of discussionand its ‘interpersonal’ qualities, Susanpointed out that although this seminar,formulated as a role-played debate, raisedspecial issues surrounding the relation ofthe students’ arguments to their actualbeliefs, both, nevertheless, appeared inthis clip to be personally committed tothe arguments they were making. Susandid not say explicitly that each seemedwedded, herself, to the value systemshe was attributing to the play, but shedid ask what they considered were themost important ideas in the clip they hadwatched. Rhianna replied:Actually, there’s quite a lot about ithere, the role of, sort of, the value ofRhianna’s account of the convergence ofinterpretation and self appeals then topersonality, not to class or social positioning,or ideological affiliation.‘That is what we do, isn’t it?’ The Production of University English©RoyalHolloway,UniversityofLondon
  • 10. 08 Newsletter 14 April 2008commerce and the value of what weclass as more valuable sort of thing,like, money-wise or even like person-wise as well: there’s quite a lot ofquestion about that sort of, that sortof, scale of things.Here (‘what we class as more valuable sortof thing’) there may be repeated the claimthat ready money trumps the promise offuture wealth, an assertion Rhianna thenreiterates:Antonio has no money; Shylock hasthousands and thousands of ducatsthat he can hand out and not evennotice, so therefore Shylock’s kindof the one who has the value at theminute really: you know, it’s all verywell saying the ship’s going to comein: that’s like saying, ‘I’m going to winthe lottery one day, yes I’m going tobe rich’ – but at the minute you’re ontwo pounds fifty a day … Not quitethe same thing essentially.The closest we came to getting any ofthe students to address the possiblecorrelation between their socialorientations and the arguments theymade – or, at least, the terms in whichthey made them – came with Rhianna’saffirmation that underlying both herargument and her self-perception was avalorisation of what she characterised asthe direct and unadorned: ‘as my friendsall know as well, that’s what I’m like, I’mjust a very, very blunt straightforwardperson’, she said. Rhianna’s account ofthe convergence of interpretation andself appeals then to personality, not toclass or social positioning, or ideologicalaffiliation. But her implicit impatience withthe extravagant or over-interpretative,and her implicitly ethical valorisation ofthe ‘straightforward’, rehearses a contestover language and truth that has beenplayed out before, in the text she hasbeen studying, in the verbal jousting ofLancelot Gobbo and Lorenzo. Lorenzo’ssimilar ethically charged conflation ofthe honest and the straightforward isencapsulated in his frustrated instructionto the clown to ‘understand a plain manin his plain meaning: go to thy fellows; bidthem cover the table, serve in the meat,and we will come in to dinner’ (Merchant3.5.52–5). His deceptively simple appealto the plain, the obvious, the direct, hasrecently been associated with a classinterest counter to that embedded inLauncelot’s witty extravagance4; certainly,for Lorenzo, his own plainness operatesas a salutary corrective to the suspiciousrhetorical extravagance of the Clown. ‘Ohdear discretion, how his words are suited!’Lorenzo remarks of Launcelot’s wit:The fool hath planted in his memoryAn army of good words, and I doknow A many fools that stand inbetter place, Garnished like him, thatfor a tricksy word Defy the matter.(Merchant 3.5.60–65)Of Lisa, we were unable to enquire whatshe thought about the relation betweenwhat she argued and the more personalaspects of herself: she came in late, andmissed the showing of the clips. But if herlexis differed to that of Rhianna, so toodid her method: she paid more implicitattention than Rhianna to the way in whichthe ‘tricksy words’ of the text may beemployed in it to ‘defy the matter’. Moreof what Lisa says in At the End of the Day– her references to the waves enthroned, tothe silks, to rats sneaking in the dark and tothe petty trafficking – weaves into her owndiscourse close paraphrases of, or directquotations from, the play itself. She is alsoaware that this is her interpretative strategyof choice: while the others are explicitabout their preferences for reading for theplot, or for characterisation, Lisa says thatshe looks first at ‘the actual words the textis using, the choice of diction’.Lisa is, in other words, a close reader, andclose reading allows her here to articulatesomething about the text that Rhianna’saccount cannot encompass: that there isa correlation in it between the politicaland the aesthetic – that the latter is not aninnocent quality. ‘It’s more beautiful’, shefinishes, and she is arguably right that therepresentation of Antonio’s merchantingat the opening of the play is not onlymore extravagant, but more beautiful,than the representation of Shylock’s usury.But this observation leads us to a moretendentious proposition, and to a paradoxwith which we will, for the time being, end.Close reading is not a strategy that wouldcome naturally to someone wedded tothe virtue of the speech of a plain man inhis plain meaning; close reading assumes,on the contrary, that meaning is anythingbut plain, even when it pretends to beso. Close reading may embrace valuesdiametrically opposed to those embodiedin the phrase ‘at the end of the day’ (forexample), which insists on the ultimatereadability of action, presupposing a ‘lastinstance’, by reference to which thingswill become intelligible, justifiable andclear. We don’t want to align differencesof lexis or method in any blunt, one-to-one relation to particular ideologicalinterests – to insist, for example, that anappeal to ‘plainness’ must be connectedto non-elite class positions, or only evercharacteristic of discourses that seek tolegitimate particular forms of market-orientated behaviour. But we do wantto begin to raise the possibility that ifrespective attachments to ‘plain meanings’and ‘armies of good words’ are, like theaesthetics of The Merchant of Venice itself,not innocent either, that may be somethingwe should bear in mind when we teach thetools of our discipline to a body of studentswho originate from an ever wider socialspectrum. And if here, we have illustratedthe methodology we’ve developed, whichextends the methods of close reading tothe rather different ‘text’ of the seminaritself, in future writings one of the thingswhich we may have to think about further,is that close reading might be as inherentlypolitical as any other kind of aestheticmethodology is – however much onewould wish to think that it was not.Close reading is not a strategy that would comenaturally to someone wedded to the virtue of thespeech of a plain man in his plain meaning; closereading assumes, on the contrary, that meaning isanything but plain, even when it pretends to be so.4 See Margaret Tudeau-Clayton, ‘Shakespeare’s Extravagancy’ Shakespeare (1: 1–2), 2005 June–Dec, 136–53.‘That is what we do, isn’t it?’ The Production of University English
  • 11. Newsletter 14 April 2008 09Newsletter 14‘The Teaching the New English series is a welcome and timely contribution to the changing canon,curriculum, and classroom practice of English in higher education. Imaginatively conceived andprofessionally edited, the series will be required reading for instructors in English studies worldwide.’– Professor Elaine Showalter, Professor Emerita of English, Princeton University, USA, and Authorof Teaching LiteratureNEW!This innovative new series is concerned with the teaching of the English degree in universities inthe UK and elsewhere. The series addresses new and developing areas of the curriculum as wellas more traditional areas that are reforming in new contexts. Although the series is grounded inintellectual and theoretical concepts of the curriculum, it is concerned with the practicalitiesof classroom teaching. The volumes will be invaluable for new and more experienced teachers alike.Published in association with the English SubjectCentre.Series Editor: C. B. KnightsAll titles in the Teaching the New English series are available at the specialdiscounted price of £12.99 each + postage and packing (RRP £16.99).Just enter the code WTEACH08a into the promotional box on thecheckout page when you order from
  • 12. 10 Newsletter 14 April 2008The starting point for this project was simple andpractical. Creative Writing is a relatively new subject.It has developed in different ways in different places.There’s no consensus about what it is, or what it’s for.However, it’s increasingly popular with students1. Itstruck me that I had been teaching Creative Writingin universities for 12 years, had been running a largeundergraduate Creative Writing department for three,but I had no clear idea of why students were choosingour courses, what they expected from them, howtheir experience matched (or failed to match) theirexpectations, nor, taking a broader view, how theirattitude to the courses changed during their time atuniversity.It’s true, for a previous English Subject Centreproject2, I had visited various institutions and,wherever possible, talked to students and recordedthe conversations, and equally true that at Bath Spawe routinely carry out a questionnaire survey of newstudents. And of course all tutors administer moduleevaluation forms to students, and summarise (or aresupposed to summarise) these responses in terms ofchanges in structure or content for individual units.However, none of these gave me quite what I wanted.Module evaluation forms are all very well, but canbe treated as a tedious admin chore, and even attheir best are course based, not student based, andperhaps, most significantly, take for granted thekey factors of motivation and expectation in which Iwas particularly interested. The surveys of incomingstudents throw up some fascinating insights, but againrun the risk of lack of motivation and involvement forparticipants (herded into computer rooms in order toenforce compliance). Oral discussions permit a morepersonal involvement, but also tend to accentuate theloud and diminish the withdrawn. Group dynamicsmay obscure the subtleties of individual response.So, I tried to develop something different, somethingthat avoided:• a tickbox or questionnaire approach• local and limited responses to do with individualcourses, modules or tutors• responses that were tied to purely academicconcerns• an oral basisSteve May is Head ofDepartment, CreativeStudies, at Bath SpaUniversity. DoingCreative Writing, hisbook for CreativeWriting students,was published byRoutledge in 2007(see page 35 for DavidBausor’s review). Heis currently workingon his 45th dramacommission forBBC radio.InvestigatingCreative Writing:student perspectivesAn English Subject Centre funded mini-projectWhy are students flocking to Creative Writing courses and degrees?What’s it like to be on one? What do students expect to gain from them?Steve May investigates the student experience of Creative Writing toget answers.1 See the English Subject Centre Survey of the English Curriculum and Teaching in UK Higher Education (2003), Halcrow Group Limited,with Jane Gawthrope and Philip Martin, available at (accessed 6 December 2007).In the Higher Education Statistics Agency statistics ( ‘Imaginative Writing’ first appears as a subject in its own right in2002/2003 with 775 full-time undergraduate students. This rises to 2,250 in the most recent (2005/2006) figures (accessed 6 December2007).2 For a full range of student (mainly oral) quotes, see Steve May, “Teaching Creative Writing at Undergraduate Level: Why, how and doesit work?” (Report on English Subject Centre sponsored research project, 2003, available at, accessed 26 January 2006).Investigating Creative Writing: student perspectives©iStockphoto
  • 13. Newsletter 14 April 2008 11I wanted to encourage:• a sense that I cared about whatparticipants said• a sense that what they said could makea difference, if not to their course, tocourses in future• an environment where they felt free tosay (or not say) whatever they wanted• responses which involved them aspeople, including their aims andaspirationsSo, I transcribed some key quotesgathered in the aforementioned EnglishSubject Centre project, and took theminto a class of first-year Creative Writingstudents at Bath Spa. The quotes I usedwere mostly related to motivation fortaking, and expectations of the course:I definitely want to be published,that’s why I’m here.I think all the lecturers maybespuriously all think that everyone onthis course wants to be a writer.I don’t want to be a writer, I don’t wantto learn anything, I just want a 2:1.I was desperately looking throughclearing, cos originally I chose Englishand History, but I didn’t get thegrades.I wanted to do something as well asCreative Writing, because peopledon’t take it seriously.My flatmates, writing? They go,“that’s not a real degree”.I didn’t know what to expect and Iwas very naïve to everything, likeseminars, was someone going tocome and talk at us? I had no ideawhat to expect at all.I then led a discussion of the quotes– neither in order, nor exhaustively – tryingto follow the interest of the group aswe moved from topic to topic. Soon thediscussion was progressing energetically– perhaps too energetically. When I invitedthe students to write down anything theywanted, to do with their experience ofCreative Writing, the results were a littlecursory and mechanical. I realised that thediscussion had been too full: the studentshad said all they wanted to say orally, andrepeating it on paper was tiresome. So,I did the experiment again, and limitedthe discussion, rousing interest but movingon quickly before people had a chance tosay all or most of what they wanted to say.The results seemed much more interesting.The students were eager and wrotequickly – and (as we will see) weresurprisingly articulate.I now had a crude methodology, whichI applied across the years at Bath Spa,taking the first-year responses in tosecond-year students, and second-yearresponses in to third years. The exercisetook about 20 minutes, split into 10minutes introduction and discussion of“seed” quotes, and then 10 minutesof student writing.I found the resulting responses fascinatingand informative. Certain key themesrecurred, especially to do with confidence(or lack of it), expectations and lack ofclarity about the purpose of workshopexercises. It occurred to me that (giventhe wide variety of auspices of CreativeWriting in higher education), it might beeven more interesting and informativeto repeat the process in a cross sectionof institutions, to see whether Bath Spastudents were representative, or if therewere variations depending on institutionand kind of course. Coincidentally, atabout that time applications were invitedfor a new series of English Subject Centremini-projects. I applied and, after a moreor less painless process of discussion, peerreview and revision, got funding of £5,000,mainly to cover teaching relief, travel andaccommodation.The next question was, why on earthwould any sane course director let anoutsider (and in many ways a rival atthat) loose on their students? Surely notan attractive prospect, to have someJustice Overdo prying about looking forenormities? Perhaps some felt like this, butI was pleasantly surprised by how positivemost people were whom I approached.And I was offering something they allvalued: a snapshot of their own students’attitudes, presented in a way they hadn’tbeen presented before.The project was (rather grandly) titled“English and Creative Writing: Coherence,progression and fitness for purpose- student perspectives”. I have to confessthat the “English” bit was inserted tomake the proposal more appealing to theEnglish Subject Centre. To have limitedthe survey only to institutions (andstudents) doing both subjects would havebeen both impossible and undesirable.Part of the richness of the gatheredresponses indeed lies in the wide varietyof subjects the students are doingalongside Creative Writing.I was offering something they all valued: a snapshotof their own students’ attitudes, presented in away they hadn’t been presented before.Investigating Creative Writing: student perspectives©RoyalHolloway,UniversityofLondon
  • 14. 12 Newsletter 14 April 2008The institutions that were kind enoughto host these visits were varied, thoughperhaps not as varied as I would haveliked: several institutions unfortunatelyhad to drop out during the course ofthe project. Participating institutions wereLancaster, Chichester, Winchester, Brunel,Northumbria, Columbia College Chicagoand, of course, Bath Spa. My thanks to allthe course leaders, tutors, administratorsand especially students who gave theirtime and energy in helping me to carry outthe project.Geographically the split was:London 1South-east England 1South-west England 2North-west England 1North-east England 1USA 1The location of Creative Writing withinthe institutions ranged from self-standing(without film and poetry), throughinextricably conjoined with English, towithin English and within Drama. My firstvisit took place in October 2006 and mylast in May 2007. I gathered contributionsfrom 237 students, totalling over 23,000words.Generally, when I showed studentresponses from one institution to staffat another, they pronounced theminteresting, but would add something tothe effect that “but of course our studentsare different”. However, on each occasion,it turned out that their students werenot materially different, and echoed theconcerns and attitudes of their peers inother institutions. Yes, there were somedifferences: perhaps the Northumbriadrama/script students (in fact scriptstudents everywhere) were more focusedand practical, and show a more confidentunderstanding of the purpose of theirwriting; and the Chicago students showedgreater awareness of what to expect,perhaps because of the unique ColumbiaCollege Story Workshop method. Butthese are differences of emphasis. It is fairto say that, for these seven institutionsat least, similarities of response faroutweighed differences.This survey reveals a broad spectrum ofmotivation, ranging from the dedicatedand committed would-be writer (withvarying levels of experience and ability),through people with interest in or talentfor writing, including also those who wantto teach and those who want to expandthemselves as people, people who wantto do English in a different way, and (let’sbe honest) a proportion of free-loaders.Perhaps I’m being harsh here: thoserespondents who are honest enoughto confess that they chose CreativeWriting just because it sounded like aninteresting subject (or in one case “for abet and to reduce my workload”) are nothugely different from many other studentschoosing many other subjects – exceptin one respect. Few of our students willhave had any experience of doing CreativeWriting in any kind of formalised way beforestarting the course. Perhaps, for this reasonif for no other, it behoves us as teachersto make as clear as possible at the outsetto our students how our courses work,what they are expected to do while on thecourse, and what they’re supposed to beable to do after successfully completing it.What students sayFirst, I must note the weight of positivecomments. Students praise their coursesfor a variety of reasons: as interesting,exciting, fun, as giving a chance to usetheir imagination; because of tutors whoare experienced, professional and funny;because of the chance to mix with like-minded peers; as developmental in termsof writing and character: in short, as onefirst-year student sums it up:This class has sparked somethinginside of me, an inspiration, amotivation I have been unable tofind anywhere else.Another student, coming to the endof their course, perhaps sums up theexperience for many:Coming towards the end of theCreative Writing degree, I feel that thecourse has really worked for me. I havebeen encouraged to experiment, whilealways being given support in mypreferred genre. The first workshopsession was a horrible embarrassment,but as everyone is thrown into ittogether, a group dynamic forms. Inthe best Creative Writing groups youfeel a real desire to help everyoneachieve their own goals, as well asfollow your own. I don’t see myself asa professional writer yet, more of adabbler. However, writing is somethingthat I will always do and who knows,when I’m an old lady in purple, maybeI’ll read the grandkids my publishednovels. (Year 3 student)This (fairly representative) student hasbeen empowered, enabled to workcollaboratively, will continue to writewithout the overt aim to publish, butharbours semi-secret aspirations in thatI was terrified about the creative writing module– I had to do it as part of English studies.Investigating Creative Writing: student perspectives©RoyalHolloway,UniversityofLondon
  • 15. Newsletter 14 April 2008 133 Steve May, Doing Creative Writing (Routledge, 2007) p.117.direction. Others have been convertedfrom “dabblers” to something more drivenand serious:I also now have found the courage tothink about being a writer and not justan enthusiastic amateur or – the mostdreaded – ‘a simple jotter’.(Year 2 student)However, other students have moved inthe opposite direction:I set out with the course thinkingthat I’d like to become a professionalwriter. The course has taught me that Idon’t have it in me.(Year 3 student)I would contend that this is by no meansa sign of failure, either for the student orthe course they have taken. As I’ve put itelsewhere3:There are too many people whoharbour an untried (and probablyunrealistic) longing to write. If youhave tried, and can reflect on yourexperience, and analyse why youdon’t want to pursue writing further,you will have learned a great deal,both about writing and about yourself.Further, if your course has been a goodcourse, and you’ve made best use ofit, you should have a fairly clear idea ofhow ‘creative industries’ work, and howwork gets sold. You should also, moregenerally, have learned how to managea project from initial idea through tocompletion, and to work with otherpeople in a flexible, supportive andintelligent way. These aren’t negligibleaccomplishments. They should placeyou well whatever direction you decideto take.Apart from those who have decidedthat writing is not for them, there arealso recurring doubts, reservations andanxieties, expressed by students across allinstitutions. The “horrible embarrassment”of the student quoted above, and fear inanticipation of starting the course, are byno means uncommon:I was very scared coming to my firstseminar, because I wasn’t sure what toexpect. I had trouble finding the roomand getting there on time combinedwith the uncertainty made me verynervous when I sat down.(Year 1 student)I was terrified about the CreativeWriting module – I had to do it aspart of English studies. My interestwas much more about studying ‘goodpublished literature’ than attemptinganything of my own. However, so farit has been fine, and I am actuallyenjoying the exercises.(Year 1 student)The following student’s expectations interms of the peer group seem to havebeen confirmed:Although my initial fears wereof a class full of pretentious,psychologically damaged rich kids,and generally annoying wankers,I have learnt to put up with them.(Year 1 student)The same student touches on anothercommon theme – a lack of clarity about thepurpose and benefit of in-class exercises(however much fun they might be):Although I enjoy writing in my owntime and having the chance to readother people’s work, I’m glad CreativeWriting is only one module on myEnglish course.Even the student quoted above who,because of the course, has found courageto think of themself as a writer prefacesthat affirmation as follows:Although the exercises seem like awaste [my emphasis], they help me toopen myself up to other writers andexplore other points of view. With themastering of such exercises comesa certain sense of confidence – I nolonger fear the dreaded workshopsand the scrutinous gaze of otherwriters. I look forward to having mywork torn apart as it allows me to buildupon it. I also now have found thecourage to think about being a writerand not just an enthusiastic amateur or– the most dreaded – ‘a simple jotter’.(Year 2 student)It is extremely common for students not torealise what they’re learning:I don’t really think the exercisesenhance my writing but I assumesome people find it a benefit to them.(Year 2 student)Generally I enjoy the course, but I feelthat sometimes the exercises that weare asked to do are not beneficial tome as I feel I write better and havemore ideas when I am alone and in acreative mood.(Year 1 student)Generally, as students progress throughthe course, they do come to understandbetter the purpose of what they’re askedto do in class:At first I was embarrassed with someof the Creative Writing class exercises– I found them hokey and ‘touchy-feely’. As I’ve gotten used to them,I now feel much more comfortableand participate enthusiastically.(Level 2 student)While some of the above students findthey work better when alone, outside ofclass, perhaps equally represented arestudents complaining about the difficultyof motivating themselves without thestimulation of the workshop environment:I have one lesson on a Friday and therest of the time I’m expected to bedoing work in my own time. I find it hardto get motivated when sitting at homeand prefer to be in uni more often withspecific lessons to sit and write.(Year 2 student)There are clashes also between thestructure of courses, and some students’sense of individual freedom of expression:I enjoy my personal Creative Writingprocess, but resent the formalisedstructure. Ultimately, this course is ameans to an end, although I am keenI have been encouraged to experiment, whilealways being given support in my preferredgenre. In the best Creative Writing groups youfeel a real desire to help everyone achieve theirown goals, as well as follow your own.Investigating Creative Writing: student perspectives
  • 16. 14 Newsletter 14 April 2008for it to become more than just that,less laboured. Undoubtedly I will gainfrom it, however quite what that will beI’m unsure. Reading this back, perhapsI should be paying more attention.(Year 2 student)It is not uncommon, in a minority ofstudents, to see a dislocation betweenwriting-for-the-course and “real” personalwriting:Before uni, I wrote a lot on my own.The workload quickly took that awayfrom me, and now, over two yearslater, I’ve lost a lot of confidence inmy prose work, and a lot of, shallI say, raw, unmanaged talent.(Year 3 student)“Confidence” crops up again and again– often as something that Creative Writingcourses give to students, but equally assomething that students lack, both inthemselves and in Creative Writing as adegree course:I would have to agree that peopleseem to almost look down on CreativeWriting – I know people who call it the‘Mickey Mouse’ part of my degree.(Year 2 student)I think the moment I had to produce apiece of creative work for a workshopI knew I wasn’t a writer, especially ifmy work was the last to be looked at,because I just felt out of my league.I feel that I write just enough to passthe course and for that reason alone.(Year 3 student)It is remarkable how many students withinany given group think of themselves as“the worst writer” – perhaps a quarter ora third. And it would surely be absurd toexpect students not to experience somesense of competition in the workshop:I’m not keen on reading out my work… actually I despise reading out mywork in fear of being criticised as,generally, I feel that it’s not as good asothers in the class.(Year 2 student)There’s always someone in the classwho I hate and whose writing Ihate, there’s also always a rival whoI respect and fight with to find outwho’s best and then there’s a bunch ofpeople I don’t really give a shit about.(Year 3 student)I used to write all the time before Icame to university, and never triedvery hard because it was just for fun.Here, I have to try really hard everyweek, and it takes up so much ofmy time. But it’s all in a quest to notbeing the worst writer.(Year 3 student)It does seem somewhat strange thatwe, as writers or experts of literature,whose business involves the intricaciesand complexities of human relationships,perhaps subscribe (on the surface at least)to a rather simple model of workshopinteraction, based on equality, giving ofconstructive feedback, taking of same ingood measure and co-operation towardsmutual improvement. Not all students seethings quite that way, nor have unqualifiedfaith in their tutorial input:I am less confident with my writingnow, as tutor feedback has proveddetrimental to my progression. Ifind the writing modules slow andfrustrating. I thought I would be agood writer one day, now I just thinkI will finish my degree bitter andslightly twisted.Having one tutor praise your workand then another almost failing youwhen marking it, suggests to methat it isn’t what your write but whoyou are writing for. I will continueto write but for me only, and I feel acompletely new career path will haveto be chosen. I haven’t given uphope though.(Year 3 student)My preliminary conclusions andsuggestions are as follows:• to make sure that from their firstworkshop or lecture (before if possible)our students are aware of the way ourcourses work, what they will be asked todo and why. (I will also try to make sureour staff are aware of these things)• to make students aware of the purposeof individual exercises and workshopactivities, both in terms of their writing,and of “transferability”, both to otherwriting genres and activities outside ofwriting• to make students aware of the changingdemands of our courses as they movethrough the levels, and the progressionfrom directed to self-directed work, andfrom private experiment to public display• to be aware of the pervasive lack ofconfidence among a sizeable minorityof students in almost every workshopgroup, and work to build confidence ineach individual• to be aware of the “competitive”element that students’ private self-evaluation entails• to be aware of (and respect) the rangeof motivation underlying students’decisions to do Creative WritingPostscriptFinally, I need to stress something:these students’ contributions, written inhaste, spontaneously, without warning,planning, or the opportunity to edit,are overwhelmingly articulate, clear andpersuasive. I’ll leave the last word to thisthird-year student, whose eloquence andability to draw the reader into their storyfor me belie the surface negativity:This exercise sums up my feelingsabout the course. I sit and think for awhile about what I should write, andwhen I put pen to paper it confirms tome that I am no writer. If the truth beknown, I started the course as a betand to reduce my workload.Our students do learn from our courses:for me the next step is to make surewe make them aware of what they’relearning, and what use it will be to them,and alongside this to work towards aconsensus concerning the nature of thesubject of Creative Writing in highereducation, including (and especially) adefinition of research.these students’ contributions, written in haste,spontaneously, without warning, planning, orthe opportunity to edit, are overwhelminglyarticulate, clear and persuasive.Investigating Creative Writing: student perspectives
  • 17. Newsletter 14 April 2008 15At last …a resource for teaching Creative Writing inhigher education created by creative writers.This developing online resource will include: peer-reviewed scholarly articles, book reviews, practitionerinterviews, a discussion forum and helpful links to other sites, online articles and other resources tohelp colleagues to reflect on their own teaching practice. The resource aims to be particularly relevantto lecturers new to the field and students taking modules on Teaching Creative Writing. It will also beinvaluable to those who teach modules related to the pedagogy of writing.We need your help. Let’s share our views and our knowledge on how, why and what we teach, when weteach Creative Writing …In the first instance, we invite scholarly articles which consider the following topics.• Are there theories of Creative Writing? If so, what are they?• What constitutes knowledge and research in Creative Writing?• Why do we teach the way we do?• What skills do we teach our students?• Creative Writing & Pedagogic Research: how do they fit together?Join the debate!First deadline: 31 August 2008, with rolling deadlines thereafter.Send articles and all enquiries by e-mail toDr Nigel Lecturer in Creative Writing, University of Gloucestershire English Subject Centre Project HolderVice-Chair, National Association of Writers in Education Committee Member, NAWE Creative Writing inHigher Education NetworkFor further info Writing: Teaching, Theory & PracticeNewsletter 14
  • 18. 16 Newsletter 14 April 2008Books WereMy Liberation:an interview with Alan RiceOver the winter, Nicole King met with Alan Rice,a scholar of the Black Atlantic who teaches Englishand American Studies. He spoke of the rewards ofinterdisciplinary teaching and of taking his subjectexpertise, as well as his students, outside the classroom.‘To shoot hard labour’ is an Antiguancolloquialism that means to work hard,very hard. It came to mind when I metup with Alan Rice last December, inLancaster. Rice is the sort of lecturer weall wish we had or perhaps strive to be: heis immediately warm, stridently positiveabout his subject(s) and (a very few minuteswill evidence) an intensely serious scholar– the type around whom you immediately,willingly, raise your game. Instead of justthe interview, he invited me up to Lancasterto spend the day, have lunch, and do aspecialised tour of Lancaster; indeed hedoes not do half measures. He also, bystealth and by proclamation, reminds oneof the privileges and pleasures of being auniversity lecturer.Rice is Reader in American Cultural Studiesand English at the University of CentralLancaster, where he has worked since1995. He did his undergraduate workat the University of Edinburgh, his MAat Bowling Green State University andearned his PhD at Keele University in 1997.He is the author of Radical Narrativesof the Black Atlantic (Continuum, 2003)and co-editor (with Martin Crawford) ofLiberating Sojourn: Frederick Douglass andTransatlantic Reform (University of GeorgiaPress, 1999). As these titles suggest, Ricecontributes to many subject areas, but,more than anything, he sees himself asan American Studies scholar and teacher.Always a ‘really interdisciplinary animal’ hisundergraduate studies at the Universityof Edinburgh helped him to understandhis passion for American Studies per se:‘The most interesting people teachingat Edinburgh,’ Rice told me, ‘were eitherdoing drama or American Literatureor History.’ From the beginning of ourinterview to the end, Rice gave a collectivenarrative: continuously citing the work andmentorship of others in telling the storyof his own development. At Edinburgh,‘there were these giants of Americanhistory – Owen Dudley Edwards, RhodriJeffrey-Jones and Sam Shepperson,’whilst in literature, ‘Colin Nicholson andRandall Stevenson managed to convinceme that English wasn’t all bad.’ These menand women, such as Faith Pullin, inspiredRice, who decided then and there that hewanted to be a university teacher. Withonly a ‘very moderate 2:1’, however, it wasan arduous process to get funded for aPhD, and eventually required a detourto the US.In what he described as his ‘hiatus period’,Rice doggedly, but unsuccessfully, pursuedpostgraduate bursaries. To get by heworked a variety of jobs, usually morethan one at time: ‘I worked as a homehelp, worked cleaning cafes and workedin the afternoons at the National Libraryof Scotland.’ The idea was, he explained,‘to keep my eye in research, mainly aboutjazz music and politics … I eventuallygot published in the Edinburgh Reviewbut still couldn’t ever get funding to doa PhD’ It was at this early moment in theinterview that I thought of that Antiguanphrase. For in addition to working forwages, and doing research on the side,Alan also became involved in local andcommunity politics. Friends thought hewas punishing himself, and after twoyears of unsuccessful funding applicationsthey tried to convince him to go forsomething else. ‘I was like Sisyphus; I wasjust going to carry on pushing that rockup that mountain till I got there.’ Onthe recommendation of Mary Ellison, theprofessor he hoped to work with at Keele,he was offered a job as a graduate teachingassistant at Bowling Green State University.Although it was a long way to go, Ricenevertheless reasoned that it was perhapsthe only way to get started towards thePhD, and he was proven right: he did atwo-year MA in American Cultural Studiesin just one year while teaching six hours ofEnglish Composition ‘to farmers’ sons anddaughters – totally unreconstructed kindof Midwesterners – it was very, very busy, itwas very strange, but I loved it.’ Again, thephrase ‘to shoot hard labour’ came to mymind. Armed with excellent grades for hisMA, he applied for the Keele scholarshipa third time, got it and went on to write adissertation on the jazz aesthetic in ToniMorrison’s novels, while teaching AmericanStudies to undergraduates. ‘It was awonderful American Studies departmentwith brilliant, collegial teachers like RichardGodden, Mary Ellison and, the late – andmuch lamented – Charles Swan, and veryinterdisciplinary – very much jazz andmusic and literature and history, all kind offeeding off of one another.’Books Were My Liberation: an interview with Alan Rice
  • 19. Newsletter 14 April 2008 17Given Rice’s postgraduate experiences, itis not surprising that teaching and researchhave remained symbiotic elements overthe course of his career. I was curioushowever, about what drove him to keepgoing for the Keele scholarship, andhow did he know, as an undergraduatein Edinburgh, that he wanted to be auniversity lecturer? For Rice, to reflect onhis role as a teacher included reflecting onhis upbringing, his undergraduate yearsand the evolution of his research interestsin black Atlantic and radical narratives.In the following extracts, from our 90minute formal interview, I received somefascinating answers.Becoming a teacher‘I think I just thought that it is a reallyimportant role and it’s somethingwhereby you can make informationwhich is really important, accessible toa group of people who can hopefullygo on and do something important withthat information. I suppose a lot of itcomes from being someone for whombooks were my liberation. I was born andbrought up on a council estate in Surrey.It’s great being born and brought up ona council estate in Manchester – there’s aworking-class culture up there! We don’thave a working class culture [in Surrey],well there is one, but in fact it was at thedog ends of Thatcherism … There was thishorrible consumerism all around you andnothing to hold up against it, you know,just in terms of getting a handle on thatworld around you. You had working classpeople just gagging to buy their councilhouses! For me, what had saved me hadbeen books. I really wanted to give thatto other people, I really wanted to beinvolved in the world of ideas. But also Ilove performing … I really like the banterof being in a class, taking them on andmaking them think beyond the box, that’swhy I do it.’The pull of black American cultureNearly all of Rice’s publications have eitherblack Atlantic or black American culture attheir centre. Where did his interest beginand how did it develop?‘I think the most important moment forme was probably getting into jazz. Myfriend Nigel used to bunk off school andsit in his room and play jazz music. Hewent to a different school than me withdifferent holidays, so I could pretend thatI was bunking off school with him but Iwasn’t – because I would never do that.I used to sit in his room listening to jazzmusic from all ages and all periods. I didn’tget into it straight away at all but once Igot into it, I really loved it. When I wentaway to university at Edinburgh, I used tospend most of my time in record shops,just buying more and more jazz. And then,when I went on to do American literatureand American history, I gravitated towardsblack American literature and blackAmerican history spaces ... When I thinkabout it, the reason I did it was because Iwas wanting, I think, to study a differentculture, (and one that spoke English,because my languages were never goingto be good enough) and also I wantedto study radical culture. I did do lots ofwork on the Levellers and Diggers andall that good stuff, doing history, and Iwas interested in it, but it was almost, itwas always too close. I am very interestedin working-class histories, but I’m reallyglad I’m interested in them now, havingcome back to them from African Americanhistories, and through that black Atlanticprism.’In the classroomWhen asked what words he would useto describe himself in the classroom thequick fire answer was, ‘chalk and talk!’and I wasn’t surprised to learn that Riceis quite mobile and energetic, but whilehis lectures are now ‘very improvised’ thiswasn’t always the case:‘When I first went to Preston I actuallywrote out all of my lectures, longhand,that was partly because I didn’t have ayear beforehand to kind of sort thingsout, I was just thrown in the deep end,and I really needed [the script]. But now,especially in the Black Atlantic class,there won’t be a note in sight usually …I tend to do mini-lectures now; 20-minutelectures and then encourage questioningand debate … I am very traditional – I’veonly just started to use PowerPoint – I’vealways used overheads and slides. And I’mnot really that keen on it, but increasinglyyou’re forced into it by the technologicalworld around you. I tend not to put texton [PowerPoint], it’s just a way of showingillustrations with the odd quote. If you’redoing PowerPoint in the way everybodywhat had saved me had been books.I really wanted to give that to other people,I really wanted to be involved in the world of ideas.Books Were My Liberation: an interview with Alan Rice©iStockphoto
  • 20. 18 Newsletter 14 April 2008else does it, which is, here are the threemain points, here are the other threemain points – that’s really constrictive,because actually there never are threemain points, and that’s my problem withit really – it makes (the lecture) almost aconsumerist thing.’The interdisciplinary wayIt was clear to me that Rice’s commitmentto interdisciplinarity stretched acrossthe various facets of his professionalidentity. So I asked him to talk aboutthe practicalities and consequences ofdoing interdisciplinary work and trainingundergraduates in English and AmericanStudies. His answer, a cross between alecture and a sermon, was intense andabsorbing. I gained a visceral sense ofwhat a student in one of Rice’s no-lecture-classes might experience.‘When I was an undergraduate in Englishliterature and history, I’d get the essaysback from the English literature peoplesaying “there’s not nearly enough practicalcriticism here – context is great but you’reover-selling your context.” And whenI’d get my essays back from historians itwould be ‘you’re taking far too long overthis source, this document, there’s contextthere but there’s not enough context.’And I was determined that when I was anacademic that I would never say, never say,those things to students. What they shouldhave been saying to me was somethingalong the lines of “actually, this is the waycriticism should be, but if you want todo something more to it you could bringthis in or that in.” So what my practiceis about, for instance, showing people aparagraph out of Beloved and then doingalmost a mind map but not literally, I don’tdo it of that paragraph. So, for instance,you’ve got that paragraph in Belovedwhich is about cannibalism.You know the one where Stamp Paid islooking at the window and he says “it’s notwhat racism has done to black people, it’swhat racism has done to white people.”Where they’re eating it up, they’re eatingthemselves up – it’s self cannibalism and itscannibalism and you know it’s a paragraph!And what I suppose I do is to say, in thisparagraph we could look at Freud here, wecould look at ideas to do with psychologyand the whole psychology aroundcannibalism, but you could also look atthe history of the cannibal in postcolonialdiscourse and the way in which this comesinto it. Then there’s the whole thing aboutAmerican history, and the way in whichthe black body which has been eaten inorder for the white culture to live andsustain itself, and then you would almostsay, well let’s trace that in this novel. Atone point in Beloved there’s the line thatsays the Ku Klux Klan are actually likecannibals – that image goes through thetext and each time it has a different kindof contextualisation which leads you tosomewhere else. So you can’t hold thistext in to a practical criticism – you don’twant to hold it in to a practical criticism,you don’t even want to hold it in to acontextualisation around history, you wantto have contextualisation around so manydifferent things. Then you might wantto say, well actually, let’s have a look atsome of these pictures of lynchings, to talkabout the way in which people took awaytrophies from those lynchings, cut-up thebodies. And that’s what Morrison’s talkingabout again and again. She’s not justtalking about slavery; she’s talking aboutpost-slavery as well. She’s not just talkingabout Reconstruction, she’s not talkingabout the 1950s, even. What she’s talkingabout is the way in which the history ofracism has impacted us all. So I supposewhat my teaching practice is about is, asan English teacher, and I do teach Englishstudents as well as American Studiesstudents, I don’t change one iota when Iteach English students. Not one iota doI go back to those days when I was – attimes – poorly taught at Edinburgh, beingforced into a very narrow view of textualcriticism as the be all and end all.’Escaping the ivory towerAlthough it is difficult to fathom where hefinds the time, a significant aspect of Rice’slife as an academic is the work he currentlydoes outside of the classroom and theuniversity. A key point however, and alesson to beginning lecturers especially, isthat each of Rice’s activities link up – theyfeed in and feed back into his courses andbooks, while what he teaches and writesgives him credibility as well as expertisein new environments beyond the wallsof HEIs. His passion for this aspect of hisworking life also has deep roots datingback to those days in Edinburgh.‘Even before I got into academia, I foundpeople who were working on ideas in abroad sense. We had a reading group,mainly people who were on welfare, onthe dole in Scotland, and we were allreading Derrida (this is the mid 1980s).When I was an undergraduate ... I’d get theessays back from the English literature peoplesaying ‘there’s not nearly enough practicalcriticism here’Books Were My Liberation: an interview with Alan Rice
  • 21. Newsletter 14 April 2008 19We were reading Derrida, and abouthalf of us were then going out on theminers’ picket line the next morning. Theother half were saying ‘No!’, and arguingabout Derridean ideas around it! But youknow some of us were doing both andthen we got very involved in the anti-poll tax movement. We were involved incommunity action but were also spendingall our spare moments in the NationalLibrary reading things like Bataille …One of the guys, a guy called Jack Fuller,actually managed to get some money fromthe Adult Education to run a Derrida class,and we all hauled into this Derrida class... that class sort of gave me a communityeven at that moment when there wasno community for me, in terms of therewas no department or anything like that.That gave me a real grounding in the factthat ideas don’t just happen in academia,they happen all over the place, and thatseemed to me to be a really importantlesson from that time in Edinburgh.’Rice was an early English Subject Centreproject holder, on the Americanisationand the Teaching of American Studies(AMATAS) project, and, more recently,he worked with Lancaster city partnerson the Slave Trade Arts Memorial (STAMP)project. He has also curated ‘Trade andEmpire: Remembering Slavery’ at theUniversity of Manchester’s WhitworthGallery (June 2007–April 2008). So Iinquired about the relationship betweenhis different working environments – hisknack for juggling them – and I solicitedhis opinion on public intellectuals.Let’s talk about the STAMP project,because I think that’s a really interestingmodel.‘One day in 2002 there was a trainingday for teachers to teach slavery. AndLancaster, to give it credit, was doingsome of this work because it is a slave portand they were grasping towards gettingit into the curriculum. There were about10 teachers there and we did a day withthem. I devised this slavery tableau – atableau of the Atlantic Triangle, and itworked quite well. I developed it for workwith schoolchildren as a way of explainingthe Middle Passage, the whole trianglein fact, with 18 different character cardsand they move round. The charactersare based on characters in my book,Radical Narratives … It’s a dynamic way ofteaching, and I use it in my Black Atlanticcourses with my own undergraduates, justas a means of a different way of showingpeople how things work. At the end ofthe workshop we all sat down – peoplefrom the council diversity group, themuseum, and the local non-governmentalorganizations like Political Link … We said,there’s a bit of a gap really, there’s thedisplay in the museum which we know isa bit tired, but there’s nothing much elsein Lancaster, and the only place peopledo go to think about slavery is Sambo’sgrave, which is tidal – you can’t get theresometimes and you can get cut off there,you know?! So we all sat there and saidit would be great to have a memorialwouldn’t it? We said, well maybe we cando this. A group to set up a slave memorialgot together … and suddenly we were onthe game and having public meetings andthen we got some funding which just cameout of virtually nowhere! And not just forthe memorial but for a whole educationalthing around the memorial, so we wentinto dozens of schools and us organisersspoke to nearly a thousand school childrenover the life of the project. We thencommissioned an artist – the council gaveus lots of support – and we now have thefirst ever memorial to the victims of theslave trade on a quay-side site in Britain.It’s a wonderful memorial but it’s also therepermanently, so there’s always a placepeople can go to find out about slavery.I’ve got somewhere to take my studentsnow, every single field trip. There’s amemorial right in the town next to me,to take my students to, to show themso they can discuss the issues aroundthat memorial. What they have tendedto do is stand by the memorial and startinterviewing members of the public aboutwhat they think about it and gettingdifferent views about it and then writingthem up and talking about these kindsof things. So it becomes a whole newmethod of how to work because of thatmemorial being there. I love that aspect ofit. [The curatorial work] is very importantto me as well, it means that I’ve been ableto translate a lot of my academic workfrom Radical Narratives and since into anexhibition, which means being able toBooks Were My Liberation: an interview with Alan Rice©iStockphotoIt gave me a real grounding in the fact that ideasdon’t just happen in academia, they happen allover the place, and that seemed to me to be areally important lesson from that time in Edinburgh.
  • 22. 20 Newsletter 14 April 2008bring a whole new community into thatwork. So it’s teaching in a different kindof way.The university gave me full support todo this, even though it wasn’t in Preston,which I thought was quite good, becausethey/we were saying this is aboutcommunity in the larger sense. But alsoit fed into my teaching as I started doingweeks, then developed a whole module,called ‘Monuments and Memorials of theBlack Atlantic’, for our MA course. I thinkit is a great shame there are not morepublic intellectuals among academics …It’s a disgrace that the RAE culture meanswe are not being public intellectuals,both in the sense of having the time tobe involved in community actions whichfeed into your academic work and havingthe time and energy to do curatorial work… Far too many academics are contentto talk only to one another, and I am notcontent to do that.’EndingsRice and I had started our day together,disregarding wind and rain, with a tourof places of interest and significanceregarding Lancaster and the Atlantic slavetrade. I was shown a private residencewhich is still home to the descendantsof a major slave trader, the magisterialLancaster Priory and parish church where,between the pews and stained glasswindows, prominent city fathers havetowering plaques detailing their goodworks, while history records their extensivedealings in human flesh and the profitsthey reaped from it. Most movinglyperhaps, was when I saw the memorial tovictims of the slave trade – the only onein Great Britain at present – the physicalmanifestation of the STAMP project. Weended the day in Rice’s home havingtea with his partner, perusing his libraryand welcoming his young daughters asthey arrived home from school. I havewritten elsewhere that we don’t oftenhave the opportunity to visit each other’sclassrooms, but my day with Alan Ricegave me that and more – I glimpsed a bitof the complex process of how we juggleour identities as teachers, researchers,members of families and tribes. It wasquite a day. My last question to Ricewas what he’d be doing if he weren’t anacademic (and a curator and a communityactivist). He replied ‘I wouldn’t want to doanything else. It’s about the teaching andit’s about the research and it’s about theproject thing. No, I don’t think I could doanything else, it’s in my DNA.’Save the Date:The sixth Annual English Subject CentreNew LecturersConference21–23 November 2008Registration will open soon on our Were My Liberation: an interview with Alan Rice
  • 23. Newsletter 14 April 2008 21This English Subject Centre round table in September2007 – instigated by Mark Rawlinson of the Universityof Leicester – was a response to the alarm expressedby many colleagues in the higher educationcommunity over the perception that the close readingskills of undergraduates are in decline. Alan Brownand Adam Piette provided short reflective talks, andthe day, which ended with a session in which threesmall groups each designed a ‘close reading’ module,included an intensive period of group work on specificpoems (Kipling’s ‘The Dykes’ and Simon Armitage’s‘Not the Furniture Game’). The opportunity to spendtime with colleagues practising the skills whichwere under discussion was a particularly warmlywelcomed aspect of a rich and productive event.This part of the day was an opportunity not just todo some close reading but also to reflect upon whatthat process involved – what presuppositions andknowledge (many of them not necessarily shared withour students) we’d brought to the task. It was also asalutary way of experiencing at first hand the anxietiesand excitement of a seminar/tutorial from a student’spoint of view.An underlying principle concerned the indivisibility ofsubject knowledge and pedagogic practice: that insharing with students our own working practices andintellectual strategies we take part in the perpetualactualisation of the subject1. Indeed, ‘close reading’has been predicated on a long-standing – thoughnow perhaps residual – insistence within Englishliterary studies that there is no gulf fixed betweenthe specialist knowledge of academics and whatstudents can work out from a text, given confidence,argumentative stamina and a modicum of knowledge.And yet, as Alan Brown forcibly reminded us, therehas, all the time, (and not least since practical criticismgave way to critical practice in the 1980s) been aparadox submerged beneath the apparent democracyof the text-focused classroom: that ‘English’ did infact have designs on the formationof the subjectivity of its students, and that its teachersand examiners did possess a hidden knowledge or‘true judgment’ to which students could only aspire toconform2. Many forms of close reading therefore leadto students attempting to guess what is in the tutor’smind, or, in some cases, adopting a stance designedto demonstrate their superiority to fellow students.The situation at A Level – and a lot of the time inuniversities – might be described as a kind of ‘culturalobedience’: inviting the production, in response tothe actual or implied question ‘what did you think ofthis, then?’ of formulaic appreciations of texts whichstudents had no intention of reading in their own time.Participants looked back frequently to the origins ofclose reading in the work of I A Richards and the newcritics, highlighting the embeddedness of the originalpractice of close reading in teaching. Alan Brownstressed the fact that Richards was interested less inthe establishment of criteria for ‘good’ interpretationthan in the close reading of poetry as a mechanismfor the ordering of the mind. Adam Piette looked atthe legacy of the American New Critics, whose workimplied a hierarchy of readers ranging from less tomore skilled, with themselves – an elite of poet-critics– at the top.Whether or not close reading should involvejudgments of literary quality was touched upon briefly.One participant described an exercise in which he andhis students analysed and compared ‘good’ and ‘bad’poems – and uncovered a striking unanimity aboutliterary value. Other participants tended to want todistance the critical act from value judgments, in anumber of different ways – indeed, it was argued thatthe encounter with a text in a seminar should engagewith the text beyond the issue of liking or disliking.Another colleague distinguished between differenttypes of value judgment, saying that while she foundasking students ‘Do you like it?’ in a seminar wasUp Close:a round table on close readingIs close reading a dying art? In this extended event report, Ben Knightsand Jonathan Gibson highlight current thinking about one of thefundamental processes of teaching and learning in our subject areas.Ben Knights is theDirector of the EnglishSubject Centre. Hismost recent book isMasculinities in Textand Teaching (Palgrave2007).Jonathan Gibsonis an AcademicCo-ordinator at theEnglish Subject Centreand also writes andresearches in the areasof Early Modern andRenaissance Studies.1 See, for example, Susan Bruce, Ken Jones and Monica McLean, ‘Some Notes on a Project: Democracy and Authorityin the Production of a Discipline’, Pedagogy 7.3 (2007) 481–500.2 Cf. Alan Brown, ‘On the Subject of Practical Criticism’, Cambridge Quarterly 28 (1999), 293–00327; Robert Scholes,The Crafty Reader (Yale UP, 2001).Up Close: a round table on close reading
  • 24. 22 Newsletter 14 April 2008counter-productive, asking ‘Is it good?’could be a useful starting point. Shepointed out that students’ enthusiasm fora text could wax and wane in the courseof a seminar. It was also quite possible forstudents to simultaneously dislike a textand enjoy analysing it – a practice, it wassuggested, that was valuable in teachingthem about the differences betweenreading for pleasure and reading as aliterary critic. Models for this approachcould be found in the analytical (ratherthan ‘appreciative’) approach to textscurrently taught at English Language ALevel. The importance of picking up andextending immediate student responsesto text was highlighted by severalparticipants: ‘not liking’ something ina text was often student shorthand fornot understanding something. Anotherparticipant described a dramatic contrastbetween two halves of the same module:the first half was taught in a very ‘top-down’, theory-heavy manner, with theresult that some students were completelyalienated; in the second half of the course,a second lecturer’s student-led approach– built on brainstorming sessions with thestudents – was much more successful inbuilding student commitment.A number of suggestions emergedfrom the module design exercise atthe end of the day. First of all, that weshould articulate (to ourselves and toour students) the skills and conceptualrepertoires on which we draw. If weare aspiring to build ‘disciplinaryconsciousness’ we should not ‘smugglein’ close reading, but foreground it, andoffer students ‘kit bags’ for thinking aboutfigurative language, device and linguisticchoice. Stylistics and systematic languagestudy are among the sources of suchequipment, and we need to bear in mindthat in many universities we have studentswho will have taken A Level EnglishLanguage. While we can and should askinitial open questions of the ‘what did younotice?’/‘what do you think?’ variety, wehave to do more work on how to build onthe initial responses we receive, on drawingin the less confident or articulate membersof the group, and on safeguarding co-operation. There was a plea for moduleswhich foreground close reading to betaught by experienced teachers. It isdispiriting for students if terminology thathas excited them in a close reading coursecannot be applied on modules taught byother lecturers. One group suggestedthat close reading should be thoroughly‘embedded’, playing a key role in everymodule on a degree. Another (Utopian)idea was for a year group to reassemblein a final-year module to bring togetherand interrogate, in unseen close reading,knowledge gathered in previous years.It was also strongly put to us thatthe close study of form, device andlinguistic choice could only benefit fromengagement with Creative Writing – itselfa form of close reading. Even if our goalis not the teaching of creative writingin itself, one way of releasing the gripof anxiety generated by the apparentlyauthoritative text is to use authors’ draftsor variant texts, or to engage in forms oftransformative writing – to invite studentsto write their own versions or variant textsas a way of getting to grips with style,genre and linguistic choice3. It was felt thatVirtual Learning Environments (VLEs) couldbe a potentially invaluable tool in enablingstudents to unpick texts at their own pace,or to supplement class activity in focusingon the effects of different approaches,students collectively building up layers ofinterpretations. The teaching of reading‘pencil in hand’ can readily be translatedto forms of annotation and hypertext. Itwas realised that many of the suggestionsmade implied making more use offormative assessment than recent regimestend to encourage, or teachers havetime to mark. But there was enthusiasticsupport for the portfolio of drafts withcommentary as a form of summativeassessment which could enable studentsto sustain and move through a cyclicalprocess of reading, writing and revisiting.Classically, of course, practical criticismand new criticism are characterised asapproaches brought to bear on context-Many forms of close reading thereforelead to students attempting to guesswhat is in the tutor’s mind3 Rob Pope, Textual Intervention: Critical and Creative Strategies for Literary Studies (London: Routledge, 1995);Ben Knights and Chris Thurgar-Dawson, Active Reading: Transformative Writing in Literary Studies (London: Continuum, 2006).‘not liking’ something in a text was often studentshorthand for not understanding something.Up Close: a round table on close reading©RoyalHolloway,UniversityofLondon
  • 25. The Higher Education Academy is offering grants of up to £2,500 for projects relating to Education forSustainable Development. Further information can be found on the Academy’s deadline for applications is noon on 23 April.Education for SustainableDevelopment – Small Grants©GettyImagesNewsletter 14 April 2008 23Up Close: a round table on close readingfree texts, usually poems (‘the wordson the page’). New critical readingsare, however, heavily dependent on awide-ranging cultural knowledge thatis arguably more inaccessible than everbefore for the majority of today’s students.It is clear, then, that the teaching of closereading must also involve the teachingof cultural contexts of various types.But, at the same time, as teachers wehave to try to find ways of providingor pointing towards historical andcontextual knowledge without skewingthe discussion. Sensitive teaching avoidsoverwhelming people with specialistknowledge, but equally should not hoardknowledge as though it were only suitablefor an inner circle of knowers.Communal close reading (as modelled inthe group exercise on the day) seemedto be something favoured by manyparticipants. The module plans producedat the end of the day involved severalexercises of this sort, for example, theuse of ‘peer-assisted-learning’ (tutorlessgroups of students). These plans alsoshowcased ways in which comparingresponses to a text with those of otherstudents can be powerfully aided bymodern technology: on a discussionboard, for example, or via an annotationexercise on a wiki.All in all, there seemed to be little appetitefor a ‘return’ to the practical criticism ofthe past. Rather, participants were keento embed the teaching of close readingwithin a 21st-century curriculum. Severalspoke of the need to apply the techniquesof practical criticism to ‘non-literary’ as wellas ‘literary’ texts. We were reminded howmuch close and careful reading – while wewere urged to be wary of the reductivismof treating it as a ‘skill’ – is actuallypractised in a variety of professions. Also,as Adam Piette pointed out, close readingis actually a core activity of many strandsof ‘theory’ (think of De Man, Derrida orthe New Historicists). There seemed tobe a drawing-back from the old ideathat practical criticism is something that,in zooming in on a student’s mind inisolation, is a good way of ‘sorting out thesheep from goats’. The feeling of the dayseemed to be, rather, that close reading isa desirable element in an English degreethat has been skimped on in recentyears and that can be incorporated intodegree structures without becoming aninquisitorial tool. Despite qualificationsand reservations, what emerged (notleast from the period of practice) was asense that ‘close reading’ is coming backto centre stage. That, in any case, it hasnever gone away as a core element in theteaching repertoire. And that participantsshared an enthusiasm for close readingas a pedagogic form, provided it wasconducted in a suitably generous spirit.In summary (and at the risk ofover-simplification), the followingrecommendations emerge.• Teach close reading, and from the verybeginning of the programme! But beexplicit about why and how you aredoing it.• Involve all your colleagues: practiceclose reading across the curriculum.• Don’t be purist. Don’t flinch fromdrawing on the analytical tools providedby stylistic analysis, or the use ofmethods of creative response, or fromthe medium provided by the VLE orthe wiki.• Theory and close reading are notincompatible.• History and close reading are notincompatible.• Support students in learning to movebetween wide reading and detailed,‘up close’ reading.the close study of form, device andlinguistic choice can only benefit fromengagement with Creative WritingSummaries of other SubjectCentre events can be found onpages 36–39.
  • 26. 24 Newsletter 14 April 2008Reading andWriting Society:the role of English Subjectsin Education for SustainabilityArran Stibbe explores the role that English language, English literatureand Creative Writing can play in the rereading and rewriting of society thatis taking place as the world adapts to the new realities of the 21st century.There has, quite rightly, been some suspicionabout the current high priority that Education forSustainability has assumed within higher education,and some questions about the relevance of Englishsubjects. Peter Knight, Vice Chancellor of theUniversity of Central England, wrote in The Guardianthat: ‘It is not the job of universities to promotea particular political orthodoxy; it is their role toeducate students to examine critically policies, ideas,concepts and systems, then to make up their ownminds’ (Knight 2005). However, the literature onEducation for Sustainability holds up exactly the idealthat Knight describes. The skills that students gainto become ‘sustainability literate’ are precisely theability to critically examine policies, ideas, conceptsand systems, and reflect on values in order to makeup their own minds about the role they will take insociety in the future. As an example, Engaging Peoplein Sustainability contains chapters on ‘Critical Thinkingand Reflection’, ‘Systemic Thinking’ and ‘Imagining aBetter Future’, but leaves it up to students to decidewhat that future is, and to discover paths for arrivingthere (Tilbury and Wortman, 2004).What Education for Sustainability additionallyrequires, however, is that systems are not examinedas if they existed in isolation, but examined in thecontext of the other systems they relate to andhave an impact on (Sterling, 2004; Dawe et al,2005). Without understanding the interconnectionand interdependence of economic, social, cultural,religious and biological systems, students will find ithard to live their lives or perform leadership roles inways which contribute to a more sustainable society.Discussions of what, exactly, ‘sustainability’ is, areoften marred by one sentence definitions whichcannot possibly encompass the range of social,economic and environmental concerns that the worldis currently facing. This article starts with a briefcharacterisation of sustainability in terms of energydescent and social adaptation, but there are manyother ways to characterise it. Indeed, Education forSustainability necessarily involves students in clarifyingthe concept for themselves in light of their evolvingunderstanding of the interconnection of systems,their ongoing clarification of values and the emergingscientific evidence.For English subjects, Education for Sustainabilityrequires an understanding of the role that languageand literature play in the construction of social,economic, cultural and religious systems, and theimpact of these systems on the larger systems whichsupport life. The outcome is sustainability literacy,which leading sustainability educator Stephen Sterlingdescribes as ‘the ability to understand (‘read’) andinfluence (‘write’) society’, (Sterling, 2005). He meansthis metaphorically, but reading (and listening) isone of the primary ways that we understand thesociety around us, and writing (and speaking) is oneof the primary ways that we influence that society.English subjects, therefore, have a key role to playin Education for Sustainability. This article gives oneperspective on what Education for Sustainabilityinvolves, before describing the important role thatEnglish subjects can play, and are already playing,within it.Arran Stibbe isSenior Lecturer inEnglish Languageat the University ofGloucestershire.He is founder of theLanguage and EcologyResearch Forum(,chair of the EAUCEducation forSustainability Groupand designer of thecourse Language &Ecology which washighly commendedin the 2007 GreenGown awards forits contributionto Education forSustainability.( and Writing Society: the role of English Subjects in Education for Sustainability©GettyImages
  • 27. Newsletter 14 April 2008 25Education for SustainabilityEducation for Sustainability is not abouthanding down technical information aboutthe environment or encouraging studentsto recycle or buy a hybrid car. Instead, itactively involves students in a fundamentalreconsideration of the direction in whichsociety is heading, given increasingawareness of the embeddedness anddependence of society on natural systems,and the current state of those systems.One way of thinking about the currentsituation is as a turning point in history, atransition between an ‘energy ascent era’and an ‘energy descent era’ (Roberts, 2005;Heinburg, 2004).During energy ascent, fossil fuelswere used in exponentially increasingamounts to create an enormous surgein consumer goods, transportationand food production in industrialisedcountries, with a corresponding rapidincrease in population, greenhousegas concentrations and ecosystemdegradation. In the rush for economicgrowth, little attention was paid to naturallimits, or even to whether the forms ofgrowth that occurred actually increasedpeople’s well-being. At the peak of theascent era, there was intense pressure onuniversities to equip students with theskills necessary for the UK to increaseits prosperity in a globally competitiveworld. The influential Dearing Report,for instance, included statements suchas ‘competitive advantage for advancedeconomies will lie in the quality,effectiveness and relevance of theirprovision for education and training’,(Dearing, 1997), but failed to considerthe impact of ‘competitive’ economieson the environment or on the long-termsustainability of society.We now have the ultimate imperativeto enter an ‘energy descent era’. Ifnot, then the imminent peaking of oilproduction, combined with populationgrowth, expanding resource requirementsfrom developing countries, the impactof climate change and ecosystemdegradation will make it increasinglydifficult, and ultimately impossible, tomeet basic needs of the world population.The consequences for other species wouldalso be severe, with a wave of extinctionpredicted on a scale not seen since thedinosaurs were wiped out. The changesrequired for sustainability are too largeto be achieved only through alternativeenergy sources, increasing technologicalefficiency, recycling, or other ‘fixes’which have minimal impact on ways oflife. Nothing can ‘fix’ or ameliorate anexponentially increasing consumption ofresources and production of waste withina finite planet. Instead, widespread socialand cultural change is both necessary andinevitable, either to rapidly change thedirection that societies are heading, or atleast to adapt to a very different, and lesshospitable, world if that direction cannotbe changed.Unlike the energy ascent era, however,there is still potential for energy descentto be handled in ways which take intoconsideration both the limits of naturalsystems and people’s well-being. It isstill possible for energy descent to beaccompanied by social and cultural ascentas some of the unintended disadvantagesof over-consumption (manufactureddesires, dissatisfaction, obesity, debt,stress, traffic, alienation etc) are reduced,and positive low-consumption alternativesembraced (meaningful connection withother people, community celebrations,cultural pursuits, physical exercise,engagement in and re-enchantment withthe natural world, etc) (see De Graaf etal 2005). In other words, sustainability isabout those who have their basic needsmet working towards being more ratherthan having more, so that all can meettheir basic needs and the ecosystemswhich support all forms of life can flourish.There are, of course, many other ways that‘sustainability’ could be characterised,but whatever the priorities and the pathto be taken, it is the current studentswho will be leading the world into theenergy descent era and living with theconsequences. There is now strongpressure on universities to help studentsprepare for new and emerging realities.The pressure comes from the UnitedNations via the Decade of Education forSustainable Development (2005–2014), theUK Government in the Securing the Futureplan, and both the Higher EducationFunding Council for England (HEFCE) andthe Learning and Skills Council via theirsustainability strategies. HEFCE states:‘Our vision is that, within the next 10 years,the higher education sector in England willbe recognised as a major contributor tosociety’s efforts to achieve sustainability’(HEFCE, 2005). While external pressurecan be threatening, the new priorityplaced on human society, culture andvalues gives humanities subjects a crucialrole in 21st-century education.The role of English subjectsEnglish languageWhile climate change, pollution,ecosystem degradation and injustice arethe symptoms of unsustainability, the rootcauses lie in population size, the powergained through advanced technology andthe social and cultural systems which directthis power towards overconsumption,waste and disregard of the natural world.Social and cultural systems emergethrough human interaction, and languageplays a primary role in that interaction.The study of English language canhelp students to understand howphonological, grammatical, semanticand pragmatic features of language cancombine together to form a wide rangeof discourses. These discourses modeland construct social reality in particularways, and hence influence how peoplebehave and how they treat the world theylive in. By critically examining discursiveconstructions, such as those of progress,success, development, consumerism,scientism, convenience, free trade andeconomic growth, students can gaininsight into the forces which have built andreproduce an unsustainable society.The following are some specific examplesof the kind of texts which students at theUniversity of Gloucestershire have withinan ecological framework (see Ecoling,2008).a) Financial advertisements’ promise ofspiritual fulfilment if readers take out aloan and use it to buy luxuries.Education for Sustainability is not abouthanding down technical information aboutthe environment or encouraging studentsto recycle or buy a hybrid car.Reading and Writing Society: the role of English Subjects in Education for Sustainability
  • 28. 26 Newsletter 14 April 2008b) The conflation of the size and speedof cars with the personality of theirdrivers in car magazines and televisionprogrammes such as Top Gear.c) Perfume advertisements’ promise ofself-transformation and romance ifreaders buy their scent.d) The animal industry’s use of languageto justify environmentally damagingintensive farms.e) Economic textbooks’ construction of thefictional insatiable consumer.f) Advertising’s efforts to make theinsatiable consumer a reality.g) Reductionist ways of describing thenatural world in environmentalist,ecological and conservation discourse.h) Representations of the natural world innature writing, television programmesand films.Students examine texts such as these inthe context of the larger discourses theydraw from, and the models of the worldthat these discourses perpetuate. The aimis for students to gain skills in exposingdiscourses which act against their interestsand the interests of what they value in theworld, and gain skills in resisting thosediscourses if they so wish. Resistance couldbe at a personal level (eg resisting thewidespread model that over-consumptionleads to happiness by consuming less),at a corporate level (eg resisting narrowdiscursive constructions of the ‘bottom line’and raising questions about the ultimateends a company is serving) or at a politicallevel (eg resisting discursive constructionsof the economy which represent increasesin GDP as positive, no matter what theirsource). Whatever forms of resistancestudents decide to follow, English languageprovides the analytical and rhetorical skillsnecessary to argue beyond the level ofthe truth or falsity of isolated propositions,to a deeper critique of the models of theworld which underlie particular forms ofdiscourse. Critical Discourse Analysis andRhetoric are already a standard part of theEnglish language curriculum, and Educationfor Sustainability merely extends thecoverage of sexism, racism, homophobiaand other human-only concerns to considerthe impact of social systems on the largersystems which support life.Sustainability literacy cannot, however,be simply a matter of objectively sortingdiscourses into the two categories of‘contributes to a sustainable society’ or‘contributes to the demise of humanity’.For one thing, discourses are relative.E F Schumacher, for instance, establisheda discourse based on the model of ‘Smallis Beautiful’, because the discourse of ‘Bigis Better’ was (and still is) over-dominantin society, not because of an intrinsicsuperiority of the small. Also, in a complexworld, any fixed, objective, algorithmfor categorising discourses would bepartial and contestable, and attemptsto impose criteria for dismissing certainforms of discourse could be interpreted asspreading political dogma.It is therefore necessary for students toconstruct their own continuously evolvingframework, updated in response towhat they discover through texts, directexperience of social and ecologicalsystems, values clarification and emergingevidence. It is this framework whichprovides students with a means ofevaluating discourses in terms of theirpotential to contribute to sustainability.It can never be a ‘perfect’ framework,but students necessarily conductanalysis within academic frameworks,and Education for Sustainability simplyrequires that the frameworks take intoconsideration the ecological systems thathumans exist within.In addition to discourse analysis, there isanother way that English language cancontribute to Education for Sustainability.Unlike many subjects, English languagegives consideration not only to writtenacademic English but to a wide diversityof forms of English, including oral English,informal English and regional varieties.This is important because, as sustainabilityeducator Chet Bowers points out, manyexisting social practices within localcommunities link people and place inways which contribute to sustainability.Examples include social activities basedaround family and friends, communityinteraction, appreciation of local nature,crafts, sharing of resources/labour amongneighbours and local cultural eventsand celebrations (Bowers 2001, 1993).These practices are communicatedorally and informally, and passed onfrom generation to generation throughlanguages and varieties of language localto the bioregion. However, there is atendency within education for specific localknowledge of this sort to bede-valued in favour of the abstract, theglobal, the technical and the academic.While global/scientific knowledge isessential in realising the scale of theproblems that humanity is facing, changingthe direction of society requires action atall levels, including the specific, local andconcrete level. English language, then,provides a chance to celebrate orality anddialectal variation, helping students torecognise that insights into sustainabilitycan come from geographically rooted oralsources as well as written, centralised,science-based sources.English literatureEnglish literature has a key role to play inSustainability Literacy. Books are, after all,an important source of discourses whichhave an actual or potential impact on thesustainability of society, from technology-glorifying science fiction novels to naturewriting so powerful that it helps readersto regain their lost enchantment with thenatural world. On one hand, the historicaldimension of literature helps students tounderstand from where some of the keydiscourses which have led societies alongan unsustainable path have developed.On the other hand, within the vast rangeof literature there is a wealth of diversediscourses to be explored. Some of thesediscourses could contribute to reinventingsocial reality and reorienting societytowards a sustainable future.The potential of books to contributeto more sustainable ways of being iscentral to the rapidly evolving area ofecocriticism (Garrard, 2004, ASLE-UK,2008). Ecocriticism started out as a form ofliterary criticism with an environmentalistReading and Writing Society: the role of English Subjects in Education for Sustainability©iStockphoto
  • 29. Newsletter 14 April 2008 27agenda, focused mainly on British andNorth American romanticism and naturewriting. How students approach naturewriting, and the criteria they use tocriticise it, depends on their own evolvingecological framework. Students could, forexample, critically appraise nature writingon the power it has to help its readersa) to move beyond reductionism, value-free disinterest, or utilitarian economiccalculationb) to discover alternative ways ofrelating with the natural world, suchas embodied, respectful, emotional,grateful, engaged, aesthetic, orempathic forms of interactionc) to iscover value within human andnatural systems and therefore work toprotect themd) to promote the kind of closeobservation necessary to learn fromproductive, yet zero-carbon andzero-waste natural, systemse) to fulfil higher human needs throughcontact with local nature ratherthan through the ultimately counter-productive accumulation of possessionsUnderlying all of these potential criteria isthe question of how much power naturewriting has to encourage readers to lookbeyond words and books and to interactdirectly with the natural world. As GilbertWhite wrote, ‘If I should have inducedany of my readers to pay a more readyattention to the wonders of creationtoo readily overlooked as commonoccurrences … then my purpose will befully answered’ (in Wood, 2007). On theother hand, students can also look forfactors which might be counterproductiveto encouraging more sustainablerelationships with the natural world, suchas piety, elitism, scientific inaccuracy,shallowness or tediousness.Criticism of nature writing alone,however, is not enough if the agenda isan environmentalist one. Many of thediscourses which have a negative impacton the environment have no explicitconsideration or mention of naturalsystems at all, which is why they are sopotentially destructive. For example,books and other cultural forms whichpromote lavish and extravagant lifestyles,reliance on inappropriate technologyor absorption in the human-only worldare just as important to criticise from asustainability perspective as those whichencourage communion with nature. Infact, the current trajectory of ecocriticsmis towards a broader focus, includingtexts such as science fiction, sciencewriting and cyborg writing as well as othertypes of cultural artefact such as films,television programmes, zoos, or paintings(Armbruster and Wallace, 2001). Criticismof books and other cultural artefacts whichpromote unsustainable social practicesis essential because it is provides a darkbackground against which alternatives canshine out and be discovered.When students do discover alternativediscursive models within literature whichcould help society to move towardssustainability (for instance, in the writingsof E F Schumacher, Rachel Carson, WilliamMorris, Gary Snyder, Gilbert White orVandana Shiva), several paths open up forputting these models into practice. Oneway is for students to apply the modelsdirectly to their own lives, for instancereflecting on the different quality ofexperience gained in watching TV or goingshopping to time spent talking with friendsor interacting closely with nature. Anotherway is promotion of the books themselves,as essential reading to prepare for life inthe changing world of the 21st century. Athird way, and a very important one, is forstudents to creatively weave aspects of thediscourses they discover, and the modelsof the world that lie behind them, intotheir own speaking and writing.Creative WritingThe recently updated Quality AssuranceAgency (QAA) subject benchmarks haverecognised a ‘striking increase in thenumber of programmes involving elementsof creative, imaginative and transformativewriting’, and have explicitly includedthese forms of writing within the subjectbenchmark statements (QAA, 2007).The growth and popularity of CreativeWriting as an academic discipline offersgreat potential for university educationto promote the creation of alternativediscourses which can help to open up newperspectives and directions for society.Very few other disciplines offer studentsthe chance to experiment with languageand create new forms of expression whichmove beyond the limitations of abstract/technical/academic language.Creative Writing, of course, does not takeplace in isolation, but involves studyingboth language and literature. Throughstudying language, students get anunderstanding of the way that featuresof language come together to formdiscourses, and the impact that thesediscourses can have on the sustainability ofsociety. Creative Writing offers a chance towrite ‘against’ destructive discourses, byincorporating but simultaneously satirisingand subverting them. Students can alsoseek out alternative discourses in worldliterature which are currently marginal inmainstream society but have a potentiallyimportant role to play in the transition to amore sustainable society. It is then possiblefor them to take up these discourses andcreatively rework them, mix them withother discourses they have discovered orcreated, and use them as a basis for theirown Creative Writing. In doing so, they canrevitalise forms of language from the pastwhich have taken on a new significanceand importance in the present.Perhaps even more important thanrevitalising newly relevant discourses fromthe past is the creation of completely newalternative discourses. If students have anunderstanding of the complex interactionsbetween human systems and the largernatural systems they form part of, and arecritically aware of the destructive powerof certain mainstream discourses, thenthey may be able to create new, radicallydifferent ways to write society. At present,we do not have the answers to what acompletely sustainable society or culturethe current trajectory of ecocriticsm is towardsa broader focus, including texts such as sciencefiction, science writing, and cyborg writing, aswell as other types of cultural artefact such asfilms, television programmes, zoos, or paintings.Reading and Writing Society: the role of English Subjects in Education for Sustainability
  • 30. 28 Newsletter 14 April 2008would even look like, never mind how toachieve it, so imagination and creativity,combined with futures thinking, are centralto Education for Sustainability.There is one important element in thecreation of new discourses which goesbeyond intertextuality (drawing patternsfrom previous texts), beyond creativity andbeyond imagination, and that is the abilityto draw insights from direct engagementwith, observation of, and participation inhuman and natural systems. Ultimately, ifwe follow the chains of intertextuality totheir end, all writing is rooted in the non-discursive world; it is in close observationof the reality beyond words that studentscan search for forms of discourse whichgo beyond the well-worn discourses ofan unsustainable society. In the same waythat daffodils impressed themselves intowritten forms through being observed byWordsworth, students can act as vehiclesfor human and natural systems to impressthemselves into the written world in wayswhich make people take notice of themin new ways. What is required is one ofthe three main aspects of Education forSustainability identified by Dawe et al,(2005): reconnecting with reality. By thisthey mean direct engagement with real-lifeissues and experience, local communities,other people and nature – an engagementwith the particular and real rather than justthe abstract and invented. The creativeside of Education for Sustainability, then,requires the development of new skillsin engaged, participative observation ofreality, skills which can only be gained inactive learning outside the classroom.There is, of course, no need for CreativeWriting to be associated only with novels,poems or plays – finding new directions forsociety in a rapidly changing world is goingto require creative rewriting of all aspectsof society. Students will leave university andgo on to take up a variety of professions,and in all of them there are possibilities forusing language in ways which contributeto sustainability, whether in businesspresentations, e-mails, parliamentarydebates, newspaper articles, textbooks,agricultural handbooks, social speeches orcasual conversation. With the benchmarksprioritising a wide range of assessments inaddition to essays, it is possible to providestudents with opportunities to practise avariety of ways to engage creatively withthe society they live in and contribute tothe sustainability of that society.ConclusionThis article has briefly discussed theimportant contribution that Englishlanguage, literature and Creative Writingcan make to Education for Sustainability,or more generally, education which helpsstudents prepare for the energy descentera of the 21st century. Although the threedisciplines were discussed separately,it is in combination that they have mostto offer. The ability to ‘read’ and ‘write’society can be gained through awarenessof how discourses have constructedan unsustainable society, through theexploration of a great variety of discoursesfrom world literature, through creativelyweaving aspects of the most promisingdiscourses into writing, and usingimagination to create new discourses, oneswhich open up more sustainable directionsfor society. In the documentary The 11thHour, Paul Hawken says: ‘What an excitingtime to be born, what an exciting time tobe alive, because this generation gets tocompletely remake this world.’ Educationfor Sustainability in the English Subjectarea is about helping students prepare todo exactly that.Acknowledgements: Thanks to Greg Garrardand Kate North for invaluable comments onthe first draft.Further ReadingArmbruster, Karla and Kathlee Wallace (2001) Beyond Nature Writing: Expanding the Boundaries ofEcocriticism. University of Virginia Press.ASLE-UK (2008), Chet (1993) Education, Cultural Myths and the Ecological Crisis: toward deep changes.Albany. State University of New York Press.Bowers, Chet (2001) Educating for Eco-justice and Community. University of Georgia Press.Dawe, Gerald, Rolf Jucker and Stephen Martin (2005) HEA Subject Network Consultation report:Sustainable Development in Higher Education: current practice and future developments.Available at Graaf, John, David Wann and Thomas Naylor (2005) Affluenza:the all consuming epidemic. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.Dearing, Ron (1997) The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education Report.Available at (2008) Language and Ecology Research Forum., Greg (2004) Ecocriticism. Routledge.HEA (2005) Questionnaire on Sustainability Orientation of Subject Centres: response of the EnglishSubject Centre. Available at (2005) Sustainable development in higher education. Available at, Richard (2004) Powerdown: options and actions for a post-carbon world gabriola:New Society Publishers.Knight, Peter (2005) ‘Unsustainable Developments.’ The Guardian, 8 February. Available at (2007). Subject benchmark statements: english. Available, Paul (2005) The End of Oil: the decline of the petroleum economy and the rise of a newenergy order: London: Bloomsbury.Sterling, Stephen (2004), ‘Higher Education, Sustainability and the Role of Systemic Learning’.In Peter Corcoran and Arjen Wals (eds) Higher Education and The Challenge of Sustainability,Dordrecht: Kluwer, pp. 49–70.Sterling, Stephen (2005) ‘Sustainable literacy: skills for living well into the future.’ Ethos 6 May.Available at, Daniella and David Wortman (eds) (2004) Engaging People in Sustainability. Zurich: UnionInternationale pour la Conservation de la Nature et de ses Ressources. Available at, Michael (2007) Michael Wood on Gilbert White. Available at and Writing Society: the role of English Subjects in Education for Sustainability
  • 31. Newsletter 14 April 2008 29Newlsetter 14English Subject Centre Advisory Board2007/2008Our Advisory Board meets twice a year and is chaired by Lyn Pykett.• Professor Simon Dentith, University of Reading• Professor Robert Hampson, Royal Holloway, University of London• Professor Liz Jay, Oxford Brookes University and Council for College and University English (CCUE)• Professor Vivien Jones, Leeds University and CCUE• Professor Peter Kitson, Dundee University and English Association• Dr Bethan Marshall, King’s College, University of London• Professor Lyn Pykett (Chair), University of Wales, Aberystwyth and CCUE• Professor David Roberts, Birmingham City University• Professor Rick Rylance, University of Exeter• Professor Mick Short, University of Lancaster• Professor Ann Thompson, King’s College, University of LondonSurvey on Accessibility adviceThe JISC TechDis service provides advice and guidance on the use of technology to achieve a moreaccessible experience for students and staff in higher and further education. In order to assess theirimpact in the higher education sector, and to inform their future work areas, they are undertaking aweb-based survey. They are seeking responses from anyone and everyone working in higher education,from a wide range of subject disciplines, role areas and institutions. They are offering everyone whocompletes the survey the chance to be included in a draw for one of eight £25 book tokens (usableonline and in stores), although it is also possible to complete the survey anonymously.As a JISC-funded service, TechDis must deliver what the sector requires in terms of advice and guidanceon accessibility, disability and technology. This is your chance to help ensure that the interests of yoursubject area or your role group are represented and your needs are met in this area. Even if you havenever heard of TechDis please tell us so using the survey – this is still very valuable information!The survey can be found at – it should take between two and 10 minutesto complete, depending on the amount of information you wish to include in your responses. TheTechDis team would like to thank you in advance for completing the survey.prizes forcompletion!
  • 32. 30 Newsletter 14 April 2008Developing Careers Services for English StudentsJane Gawthrope reports on how the Subject Centre is helping Englishlecturers and Career Services work together to enhance students’career development.Developing Careers Servicesfor English StudentsJane Gawthropeis the Manager ofthe English SubjectCentre.Three questions:• Do you know where your institution’s CareersService is? (1 point).• Have you ever been there or visited its website?(1 point plus a bonus point if it’s in the last year).• Can you name the careers adviser responsible forEnglish? (1 point).I suspect that most readers are struggling to scoremore than a point or two, which is why the EnglishSubject Centre has been trying to encourage Englishdepartments and Careers Advisory Services to workmore closely together for the benefit of students.Although, as an English lecturer, you may see yourselfas spending much of your time ‘unfitting [your] pupilsfor the lives they will eventually have to lead’ (JohnCarey in the Listener, 1974), they generally expect toobtain a graduate-level job. To obtain that graduate-level job students need to be competent not only intheir chosen subject, but have the self-confidenceto apply the generic skills and subject knowledgethey acquire at university to a changing workplace.(And before you turn over at the mention of the‘skills’ word, I should remind you that the ‘skills’ mostcommonly highlighted by employers include problem-solving skills, communication skills, analytical skillsand critical appraisal, exactly the sort of ‘skills’ youlook to develop in your students.) A common themerunning through my encounters with careers advisersis that English students have these skills in plentifulquantities, but are poor, or perhaps lack confidence,in understanding how they might be applied tothe workplace. When it comes to articulating to arecruiter what they have gained through three yearsof studying literature, many graduates struggle toget beyond, ‘Well, I’ve read a lot of Victorian novels,but you won’t be interested in that ...’. (The StudentEmployability Profile, published by the English Subject Centrehelps students to link the skills listed on the EnglishBenchmark Statement to those typically sought byemployers.)We know that most students who choose to studyEnglish do so because they enjoy the subject ratherthan to fulfil specific career ambitions, but they are nodifferent from other students in their expectation thathigher education study will enhance their chances ofgetting a good job (see perhaps explains the other comment frequentlymade by careers advisers, namely that English studentsare often reluctant to engage in career planning, areunder the misapprehension that their degree alone willbe sufficient to get them any job they want, and thatthey appear frightened by the employment treadmill.This is the backdrop to the Subject Centre’s workwith Careers Services: we wanted to bring academicdepartments into closer contact with Careers Services;to make the Careers Services on offer more tailoredto the inclinations of English students; and also toensure that student take-up of these services wasencouraged by the department. In the summer of2006, following a networking day for careers advisersworking with humanities students, we offered smallgrants of £750 to Careers Services for one-yearprojects that enhanced their services for Englishstudents. This attracted 25 applications, but budgetaryconstraints meant that we could fund only 10. Thisnumber of applications indicated to me the highlevel of commitment, enthusiasm and professionalismabounding in Careers Services, and I was disappointedthat we could not support more projects.Building bridgesIn some departments, English lecturers and careersadvisers met for the first time in order to put togethera proposal, so even some projects we were unable tofund benefited from the way that the grant createda focus for a joint meeting. Several of the fundedprojects initiated active collaboration betweenCareers Services and departments for the very firsttime. The projects running some sort of event had toinvolve departments simply because of timetablingarrangements, but careers advisers acknowledgedthat students were more likely to attend if invitationswere issued by the department through e-mails oron its Virtual Learning Environmental (VLE) pages
  • 33. or in lectures.“Buy-in from academicstaff is key,” said one adviser. In otherprojects, academic staff had a higherlevel of involvement. At Birmingham, forexample, they helped to recruit alumnispeakers through personal contacts, andNorthampton staff participated in thedelivery of workshops supporting thePersonal Development Pack (PDP) packthat was developed. The ‘Careers ActionDay’, run at the University of Reading, wasa co-operative endeavour between thedepartment and the Careers Service, andinaugurated a new era of collaboration.As with academic departments, the growthin student numbers has meant that CareersServices are trying to do more with less,and it is often the fitting of services to theneeds of particular discipline groups thathas been sacrificed. As well as buildingrelations between departments andCareers Services, several projects reportedthat being able to tailor an aspect of theservice specifically for English studentsraised the profile of the service as a whole.Stephanie Darking at Brunel said, “I haveseen more English students than formerlyas a result of the higher profile of theCareers Service and had more frequentcontact with students.”Student involvement andnew technologyGone are the days when Careers Servicesconsisted of rooms lined with ring-bindersstuffed with information on occupationsand companies. Most information is nowdelivered online, and supplemented bya battery of profiling tools and practicetests. And it’s not just a matter of replacingprinted with web resources: the ‘GraduateProspects’ project in Manchester rana series of nationally available onlinechats with careers advisers; although thenumbers participating in real-time weredisappointing (43 in total), over 800 haveaccessed the archive versions since.Several of the projects aimed to generateweb resources specifically for Englishstudents, and in somecases these resourceswere produced bystudents themselves.“Student commitmentand enthusiasm hasbeen inspirational,”said one projectleader. There isobviously a doublebenefit with theseprojects in that thestudents involved gainvaluable experience of teamwork,project management and using IT aswell as producing a resource of valueto others. English students at LiverpoolUniversity produced a set of podcasts oncommercial awareness based on interviewsthey conducted with employers. At the‘Careers Action Day’ at Reading, studentsexpressing interest in journalism wereasked to write articles and were thengiven feedback by a professional, so activestudent involvement was a feature ofseveral projects.Get ‘em earlyThree of the projects had the explicit aimof engaging students in career planningat an earlier stage in their universityexperience: a project at Edinburgh, forexample, delivered a careers workshopspecifically for first years. Although itmay seem burdensome to confrontstudents who have only just negotiatedthe bewildering university-choice-hurdlewith yet another set of dilemmas aboutcareers, it is necessary if they are to makethe best of their time at university. TheEdinburgh workshop informed studentsabout the skills and experience in demandin the job market and how they mightbe developed through work experience,voluntary and extra-curricular activitieswhile at university. A survey of second-and third-year students conducted by theHertfordshire Careers Service concluded:A significant majority of studentswere not well-established in theircareer exploration, and many wereplanning to enter careers in which theycould draw on the skills developedin their degree, but without clearunderstanding of the additional skillsand expertise they would need tocement their application in a highlycompetitive market.Funded Projects 2006/2007Institution Careers Adviser DescriptionBirmingham Melanie Billingham Alumni eventBrunel Stephanie DarkingCareers magazine andwebsite written by andfor studentsEdinburgh Janet ForsythCareers workshop andhandout for first yearsGloucestershire Nicki Castello Web resourcesGraduate Prospects John Bellerby Online chatroomHertfordshire Catrin DaviesSurvey, workshops andweb resourcesLiverpool Diane AppletonPodcast and printed guideon commercial awarenessNorthampton Andrea DuncanResource pack of PDPmaterialsReading Claire Jones Careers Action DaySheffield Hilary Whorrall WorkshopDeveloping Careers Services for English StudentsEng-zine, a website written by and for students at Brunel University.Newsletter 14 April 2008 31
  • 34. Developing Careers Services for English StudentsIn fact, only 8.7% of students surveyedhad any work experience in the sectorthey wished to enter. “This is worrying inparticular given the large numbers hopingto enter highly competitive sectors inwhich one works one’s passage throughunpaid or low-paid work for a lengthytime,” said Catrin Davies, although shegoes on to say, “those who did haveexperience linked to their aspirations andin a relevant sector had obtained highlyimpressive and serial experience”.Another 8.7% could report no work orvoluntary experience at all, even while atschool. Catrin said:Several of these students nonethelessassessed themselves as informed onthe requirements for entry to theirfuture career, and ... erroneously in myopinion, as prepared for entry (‘I haveresearched skills sought and haveidentified several examples of how Ihave demonstrated these’). Many ofthis minority appeared misinformedon the value of a degree alonewithout underpinning evidence ofapplication of their skills in the widerworld … Interestingly, in general,those students with more seniorwork experience were more modestin their claims to have the skills andexperience to enter it. Those studentswith little or no work experienceassessed themselves as well informedand prepared to meet the demands oftheir chosen field.Although we may resent the factthat students are placed under thesepressures at a time when we wouldwish they are focused on study, inorder to obtain a graduate-level job itis becoming increasingly necessary forstudents to demonstrate a blend of self-understanding, generic skills and subjectunderstanding and to be able to provideevidence to back up claims or assertions.In more leisurely decades, students wereable to provide this evidence in thenatural course of engagement in studentclubs and societies, but in today’s morepressurised environment careers adviserscan offer support in identifying gaps inexperience and suggest more structuredways of addressing them. PDP can bea way of guiding students through thisprocess: the project at Northamptonaimed to make clearer links betweenacademic study and workplace skillsthrough exercises aimed to encouragePDP processes piloted in workshops.In conclusionThe projects we supported in 2006/2007enhanced the range of resourcesavailable to assist in the personal andcareer development of English students.Notably, they were not narrowly focusedon crude targets, such as improving thefirst destination statistics. They generatedinnovative ways of delivering services,and these innovations and the widerexperiences of the projects were sharedat another Networking Day for HumanitiesCareers Advisers, held in July 2007. Oneof the aims of this day was to encourageother Careers Services to adopt someof the ideas pioneered in the fundedprojects. The bridge-building betweendepartment and Careers Services, whichthe projects initiated, will in many cases besustained beyond the life of the project,and several of the resources developedwill of course have a shelf life beyond theyear of funding. Because of the successof the last round of projects we aresupporting a further six in 2007/2008.I hope that this article encourages readersto make contact with their Careers Serviceor at least welcome any approachesfrom them. At the Networking Days it isevident that careers advisers are keento build closer relations with academicdepartments, as well as being full of ideasfor new ways of engaging humanitiesstudents. Very often, it is just endorsementand timetabling support they need fromthe department rather than any resource-intensive input. At the very least, youshould see if you can increase your score inthe introductory quiz!More information on all the 2006/2007careers projects can be found on the 2007/2008 projects Projects 2007/2008Institution Careers Adviser DescriptionPortsmouth Julie BushIdentifying anddeveloping employabilityskillsLondon, Birkbeck Diana OmololuPodcast for maturestudentsAberdeen Regina Jäschke Media vodcastSt Andrews Bonnie HackingEnterprising English– using your degree tostart your own businessSalford Peter IrelandEmployer-led workshopsfor Creative WritingstudentsYork St John Liz WhitakerResource for Englishlanguage graduatesWe know that most students who choose to studyEnglish do so because they enjoy the subjectrather than to fulfil specific career ambitions,but they are no different from other students intheir expectation that higher education study willenhance their chances of getting a good job.32 Newsletter 14 April 2008
  • 35. Here’s one of our entries:Topic Critical TheoryText Simulations by Jean BaudrillardActivity Brainstorming Baudrillard’s Four-Stage Model of the SignFollowing a lecture on or a set reading of the relevant parts of Baudrillard’s Simulations, provide the group with a handoutdetailing Baudrillard’s four stages of the sign as a reminder. Divide the whiteboard into four columns – one for each of theproposed stages. Brainstorm examples and get the group to attempt to classify each example into the appropriate stage ofthe model. As they do this, and find that some examples sit less easily within one category than others, they should be able tobegin to critique the model, by exposing its strengths and weaknesses through attempting to apply it. I find this a useful way ofnot only getting students to grapple with theory ‘hands on’, but also to encourage them to take issue with it where necessary.Submitted by: George Selmer (Anglia Ruskin University).T3 – Teaching, Topics and you’re wondering how to begin your seminar tomorrow, or have a fresh idea for teachinga particular text or topic, T3 is for you. Organised by text and topic, T3 is a growing resourceof teaching ideas designed by and for hard-pressed English, Creative Writing and EnglishLanguage lecturers. To encourage you to share yours, we’re offering a £10 book token foreach one (up to a maximum of £50 per applicant).Is that really you at thefront of the class?©GettyImages Newsletter 14Newsletter 14 April 2008 33
  • 36. 34 Newsletter 14 April 2008Book ReviewsEnglish has the largest subject cohort of A Levelcandidates, and there were 38,000 undergraduatesreading for English degrees in the UK in 2005/2006. Sowhere did it all go right? The answer must surely be ‘inthe classroom’, for it would be odd to assume that ourstudents are initially attracted to the discipline by ourresearch. Higher education teachers are now requiredto take courses on the basics of teaching (quite rightly),but the generic aspects of these training courses seempretty well universally loathed. If the training is to bemore in accord with what the trainees themselves seeas their needs (as it surely must), then there have to besubject-specific books like this one, for the training isgiven not before but while starting to teach at degreelevel, and that reduces the average trainee’s tolerationof generalised otiosity virtually to zero. This bookcertainly begins to meet the need for materials whichoffer tightly focused, practical, subject-specific support.There isn’t a great deal of competition, but ElaineShowalter’s Teaching Literature (Blackwell, 2003) is anoutstanding predecessor – lively, witty, quirky and wise.There is also the more genre-based collection TeachingLiterature: A Companion, edited by Tanya Agathocleousand Ann C Dean (Blackwell, 2002). The present book ismore ‘cross-cultural’ than these, in the sense that it is notbased mainly on teaching in the US, and I would classifyit as more an ‘informational’ than an ‘inspirational’ book.It opens with an overview chapter, ‘The discipline today’.We are not, surely, ‘in crisis’ any more, but workloadsare killing, the ‘quality’ machine goes on producingits paper cities, and the ‘grant capture’ beast devourswhat energy is left. The second chapter asks, ‘What isgood teaching?’ and uses a class on Joyce’s ‘Araby’ inanswering the question. The third considers the teachingof literary theory and of academic writing, and chaptersfollow on planning and course design, on specificteaching methods, on assessment and on the evaluationof teaching. A number of very helpful appendices areavailable, not between the covers, but on the book’swebsite (these days more and more books havewebsites, for increasingly – whether tutors or students– we read only primary texts on the page, and do mostof our critical reading on the screen). However, I couldn’tget to the website by the route given on page vi, but important chapter in a book such as this is theone called ‘Methods of teaching’, and here I foundthe material sometimes a little thin, with scope forexpansion in a second edition. There is little specific,for instance, on Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs),though the topic is briefly touched upon on page189. Specific commentary would have been welcomeon the use of products like the Blackboard ‘family’of ‘learning management’ systems (from the fiercely-corporate, Washington DC-based organisation) or themore recent Moodle (which is ‘free and open-sourcedsoftware’, so we have bad cop and good cop options).Like most of my colleagues, I use VLEs all the time,and see them wherever I go as examiner. The days ofbadly assembled photocopied handouts seem to beover (thank goodness). Further, putting JSTOR linkson a VLE is the only way I have ever found of gettingundergraduates to read articles in academic journals.The section on lecturing also seemed rudimentary – it’slittle more than a paragraph, in fact. Yet this is surely theaspect of teaching likely to provoke the greatest senseof anxiety and insecurity, and much more is needed ina book like this on how to shape a lecture and give itimpact, pace and interest. Increasingly, PowerPoint isthe norm – a great and powerful aid, in my view, andinfinitely forgiving as a system – but the term is notmentioned in the book. PowerPoint becomes unhelpfulwhen over-packed slides are presented in tricksy ways– phrases arriving on the screen accompanied by drumrolls and bullet noises, and the like. Why do people dothis? Because they can, is the only answer. Some basicadvice and principles for this kind of presentation wouldtherefore have been welcome.On the other hand, much else in the book is well judged– it says sensible things, for instance, about plagiarism,and points us in the direction of the most recentdetection aids, and is helpful on the topic of assessmentby portfolios, with examples of such tasks in the websiteappendices. Overall, this is a thorough and practicalbook in which new and not-so-new lecturers will find agood deal of valuable and thought-provoking material.Peter BarryAberystwyth UniversityTeaching & Learning English LiteratureEllie Chambers & Marshall GregorySage Publications, in the series ‘Teaching & Learning the Humanities inHigher Education’, 2006 (Abingdon: Routledge, 2007)
  • 37. Newsletter 14 April 2008 35Book ReviewsThere has been much debate over whether somethingas individualised and nebulous as Creative Writing canactually be taught. The recent boom in creative writingcourses at university level suggests that growingnumbers of students hope that at least some elementsof good writing can be. This book seeks to provide anintroduction for those prospective students, specificallythose contemplating one or more undergraduatecourses in any aspect of Creative Writing such asfiction, plays, poetry or scriptwriting. It offers areadable and informative overview of what studyingCreative Writing will involve, together with adviceabout how to get the most out of such a course.Hemingway once observed that the art of writing liesin applying the seat of the pants to the seat of thechair, and there is unfortunately no way around the factthat learning to become a writer inescapably involveswriting, and then writing some more, and then morewriting. But part of that process can usefully involvestudying the many aspects of learning how to write:beginning to read as a writer, how to manage to writeregularly, learning to edit (and re-edit) effectively andnowadays, of course, thinking about how to pitch workfor publication. All of these skills can be learnt froma well-designed Creative Writing course. The book’semphasis on how university study can develop theseskills makes it an excellent primer for undergraduateson the methods that will be used to teach themthese basic “tools of the trade”. The author is himselfa Creative Writing lecturer, and often uses incisiveexamples from his own teaching.The book describes the process of choosing andstudying a Creative Writing course clearly andsuccinctly. It is divided into three parts of two orthree short chapters each. The first part discusses thereasons why someone might want to study CreativeWriting, and what to look for when choosing a course.The second part explains what students will actuallybe required to do as part of a university course. Thethird part suggests ‘best practice’ working habits tolearn and apply the skills taught. Each chapter endswith a summary of its main points, and includes many“In Practice” writing exercises to introduce tasks thatstudents will likely be asked to do. There is a goodextended discussion of the format and requirementsof the Creative Writing workshop, which includessuggestions about how to read other students’ workas a writer, and how to provide critical feedback thatstimulates the editing process. This is valuable becausethe workshop is likely to be a new experience for manystudents, as well as a potentially daunting one for anywould-be writer. There are also welcome explanationsof the practical aspects of university study, such as themeans of assessment, which can often include studentssubmitting not just the expected creative pieces butalso self-reflexive essays on their own writing practice.The book stresses that both writing and universitystudy have to be undertaken systematically. Theapproach is particularly appropriate for this subject,since to succeed first as a student and then as a writerrequires developing work habits that involve writingregularly and editing work rigorously. The book is alsomindful that studying Creative Writing is, for many, thefirst step on the long, uncertain road to publication. Itstrives to remind students of the ongoing value of theskills being learned – so, for example, advice abouthow to best present writing for assessment will alsobe useful when later submitting work to agents orpublishers. The book concludes with some explorationof alternative career paths, and some insightfulcase studies of writers who also studied CreativeWriting. These also serve to apprise students of thedifficulties in studying a subject where career successis notoriously elusive. The appended Further Readingsection of additional resources is handy and up to date,although the relevant parts might have been betterplaced at the end of each chapter.The book will be most suitable as an introductionfor those prospective students who have no clearunderstanding of what it might mean to study writingas a university degree subject, since it sets out wellwhat to expect and what to prepare for. The simpleprose, together with a well-designed structure andlayout, makes the book ideal for undergraduates. Itwould be most appropriate for students to read beforecommencing an option or course, or else in its veryearly stages. The book could also be used as a basicintroduction for the growing numbers of MA students,particularly those who have no undergraduateexperience of studying Creative Writing.One minor drawback is the recommended retailprice of £11.99 – a slim paperback introductory textsuch as this might be more attractive to students atunder a tenner. Hopefully, the price will not provetoo discouraging, since anyone considering studyingCreative Writing at undergraduate level who reads thisbook will gain an accurate understanding of what willbe involved. Reading it will not guarantee that theywill go on to write as well as Hemingway, but it shouldcertainly make them better-prepared students.David BausorRoyal Holloway, University of LondonDoing Creative WritingSteve May(Abingdon: Routledge, 2007)Read SteveMay’s articleon the studentexperience ofCreative Writing,on pages 10-14.
  • 38. 36 Newsletter 14 April 2008EVENTROUND-UPEVENTEVENTEVENTROUNROUNROUND-UPND-UPEVENTVENTVENTROUND-UPTTROUNROUNVENTEEROUND UPEVEEVETeaching Confessions of a Justified Sinner(University of Stirling, 7–9 August 2007)This English Subject Centre sponsored workshop session took place at the From Ettrick to Empire: New Perspectives inJames Hogg Studies Conference. The session considered a range of approaches to Hogg’s best-known and most widelytaught work. The workshop format allowed participants to share classroom strategies and experiences, including the difficultyof framing the text historically, culturally and formally. Papers contributed byScott Hames (University of Stirling), Adrian Hunter (University of Stirling),Graham Tulloch (University of Flinders, Australia), Silvia Meganthal (Universityof Konstanz, Germany) and Caroline McCracken-Flesher (University of Wyoming)addressed topics such as how the text risks alienating students, the challengespresented by choosing whether to stress political and cultural contexts, the text’slinguistic diversity and how students engage with its characters. A lively andwide-ranging general discussion followed, in which further strategies – includingmaking topical connections between the text and current political events, egcomparing Wringhim’s ethics to those of a suicide bomber – were explored.Several contributors urged that the novel be presented in the context of Hogg’soverall achievement, rather than as the near-miraculous fluke of a rustic savant.The session was reminded that the latter impression tended to reinscribe(unfounded) contemporaneous suspicion concerning Hogg’s authorship ofthe novel.Event Round-upIn 2007 the English Subject Centre ran or co-sponsored 15 events. By the time you have read this, another six will have occurred in thefirst four months of 2008. Events are dedicated to a range of current issues and concerns relevant to teaching and learning in EnglishLiterature, Creative Writing, English Language, and frequently, quite specific curriculum areas. We are always interested in supportingor co-sponsoring events of interest to our subject community, so if you have a suggestion for an event or are interested in involving theSubject Centre in an event you have already planned, please let us know via the ‘propose an event’ page of our website at Supporting documents on these web pages tell you how the Subject Centre can help andgive guidance on designing events.The English Subject Centre also sponsors teaching-related strands or panels at research conferences by paying the travellingcosts of speakers. Again, for full details of how to propose an event or apply for sponsorship, please visit the Events pages of ourwebsite. Below you can catch up on a few of the events and panels which have taken place over the past eight months. This round-up was compiled with the assistance of Scott Hames, Adrian Hunter, Jane Gawthrope, Shoshannah Holdum, Jonathan Gibson andNicole King. For a more comprehensive sense of our rich events programme please peruse our Events archive web pages, whichhouse details of all the events we have run in the past along with associated materials.EVENTROUND-UP
  • 39. Newsletter 14 April 2008 37Teaching Contemporary Women’s Writing in the 21st Century(University of Brighton, 15 September 2007)This event was conceived by Gina Wisker (University of Brighton) and organised with theassistance of the English Subject Centre. The aim of the conference was to explore thevariety of contemporary women’s writing and the ways lecturers are currently making itaccessible through teaching and learning in higher education institutions. Papers explored agreat variety of topics, such as children’s literature (Dave Simpson, University of Brighton),using film, video and YouTube when teaching students how to be critical readers(Amy Palko, University of Stirling), using Postcolonial and African American gothic fictionto discuss ideology and interpretation with students (Gina Wisker), the enduring interestin Daphne de Maurier’s life and work among both scholars and students (Ella Westland,formerly University of Exeter) and the challenges associated with introducing feminism– ‘the F word’ – into a university’s writing curriculum (Siall Waterbright, QueenslandUniversity of Technology). Alice Rideout and Susan Watkins (Leeds MetropolitanUniversity) addressed the topic of ‘Mothers and Daughters reading and writing acrossthe generations’, with stimulating examples of curriculum initiatives and Marion Treby (The Open University) discussed thechallenges of carrying out postgraduate research on Toni Morrison. An afternoon keynote address and reading was deliveredby creative writer and lecturer Mimi Thebo (Bath Spa University). The day brought togethera great mix of senior and junior colleagues, and there were even one or two students in theaudience, all of which fed into a lively panel discussion at the end of the day. In conversation withthe audience, the panel, which included Clare Hanson (University of Southampton), Lucie Armitt(University of Salford), Alice Rideout, Susan Watkins and Gina Wisker, reprised and debatedsome of the day’s stand-out issues, such as the important differences between women’s writing,feminism and the study of gender; the relatively low status that some departments continue toaccord the teaching of women’s literature, and most contentiously of all, the perceived lack ofinterest by 20-something year olds with regard to feminism and its various histories. All wereagreed that more such conferences and opportunities to share practice with regard to teachingwomen’s writing would be very welcome.Event Round-UpBorderlands: Themes in Teaching Literatures of the Americas(University of Birmingham, 18 October 2007)This one-day conference, co-organised by John Canning of the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies andthe English Subject Centre, was hosted by Dick Ellis (University of Birmingham). The event brought together scholars from arange of disciplines including History, English, American Studies, Spanish and Latin American Studies, and the Visual Arts. Theconference aimed to identify and discuss burgeoning themes in teaching literatures of the Americas, an area characterisedby complicated boundaries and borders and a multilingual landscape. Presentations included film screenings (Marcus Wood,University of Sussex); a discussion of French Creole borderlands in Louisiana and KateChopin’s short fiction (Robert Lewis, University of Birmingham); the myth of Latin American‘boom’ literature and what tutors can do to counteract it (Phillip Swanson, University ofSheffield); Cuban literature’s ability to teach students to question singular linear histories(Luis Perez, Princeton University); how American literature captures the imagination ofBirmingham students doing research module work (Sara Wood, University of Birmingham)and the struggle behind convincing students and staff of ‘the point’ of teaching ChicanoStudies in the UK (Thea Pitman, Leeds University). In her closing remarks, Claire Lindsay(University College, London) stressed the centrality of language to any discussion ofborderlands, and that working on these themes usually entails working at the margins ofdisciplines. She reminded the audience that bilingual aesthetics and linguistic hybridity arekey characteristics of borderlands culture.
  • 40. EVENTROUND-UPEVENTEVENTEVENTROUNROUNROUND-UPND-UPEVENTVENTVENTROUND-UPTTROUNROUNVENTEEROUND UPEVEEVE38 Newsletter 14 April 2008Event Round-upHere be Dragons? Humanities, Enterprise and Higher Education(University of Leeds, 10 October 2007)The aim of this Subject Centre event, as the title suggests, was to weave together the hard-edged, entrepreneurial worldtypified by the BBC2 television series Dragons’ Den, (where hopeful entrepreneurs pitch new business propositions to a groupof wealthy, but sceptical, ‘dragons’ on the hunt for investment opportunities), with the world of humanities scholarship assymbolised by quaint and un-evidenced designations on ancient maps.This ‘weaving together’ succeeded, not least because participants came from a mix of university roles and various academicdisciplines. Val Butcher, formerly a Senior Adviser on employability for the Higher Education Academy and a veteran of the‘Enterprise in Higher Education’ initiative of the late 1980s, pointed out that complaints about graduates’ lack of businessawareness had been around a long time, in fact since the late-Victorian period. The authors of the recently published Herebe Dragons? report, which drew on interviews with enterprising humanities graduates, showed that far from shunningentrepreneurial careers, humanities graduates were often found in self-employment, freelancing or starting businesses.Although rarely motivated by money or status, they had been attracted to entrepreneurial careers by the flexibility, variety andinherent interest they offered. Several of the graduates interviewed referred back to their degree studies as times when theydeveloped the subject-related skills and intellectual and personal qualities that sustained their careers. Yet such recollectionswere often mixed with regrets about how their lecturers could have ‘done more’ to create opportunities to learn aboutthe practicalities of the business world and finding sources of funding. The report contains various suggestions for how thehumanities in higher education can do more to support and encourage students wishing to take this career path.Two Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) (The White Rose CETL for Enterprise based in Leeds and theCentre for Employability in the Humanities at the University of Central Lancashire) demonstrated just how they are doingthis by creating both intellectual and physical environments where students cangenerate and pursue creative ideas. Pauline Kneale of the White Rose CETL citedthe example of two Leeds University students who had set-up a mobile made-to-measure suiting service for women, visiting customers in their offices. ProfessorKneale’s point was that enterprising behaviour doesn’t have to be rooted in subjectknowledge: these were Business Studies students not Textile Studies students,as she had first assumed. (We were given to understand that the textile studiesdepartment was somewhat peeved that their students hadn’t thought up the idea!)Taken overall, the day presented evidence that many Humanities Students have allthe right attitudes, energy and creativity to become ‘dragons’ if they so wish, andhigher education can contribute in intellectual and practical ways to fostering thesequalities and helping students to build a future upon them.Presentations from the event can be found at A PDF of the Here beDragons? report is at or printed copies can be requested from
  • 41. Newsletter 14 April 2008 39Texts in Translation(Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield, 31 January 2008)Texts in Translation was another event jointly organised by the English Subject Centre andShoshannah Holdum of Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies (LLAS). Itwas hosted by the Humanities Research Institute (HRI, The event provideda welcome opportunity for lecturers working in both English literature and Modern Languages tocome together and discuss the challenges and opportunities of teaching literature using translatedtexts. The issues are different in the two subject areas. Literature teaching in Modern Languagesdepartments has to increasingly use translations (a practice previously frowned on) as a result ofshifts in the nature of its student intake. Many courses in English departments, meanwhile, haveused texts in translation as a matter of course over many years. Throughout the day, participantshighlighted the analysis of translation(s) in the light of knowledge of the source text. Less discussed– though arguably crucial for English departments – was the question of how (or whether) lecturersshould teach translated texts without themselves having expertise in the language of the original.A succession of stimulating papers was followed by a roundtable discussion-cum-question andanswer session led by Leon Burnett (University of Essex). In his keynote address ‘Discovery, annexation, foreignisation: worldliterature in translation’, Peter France (University of Edinburgh) gave a masterly overview of both the history of translation in thepost-Renaissance period and key issues in translation studies. Focusing on (and, in part, deconstructing) the critique of ‘invisibility’in translation practice undertaken by theorists such as Lawrence Venuti, Professor France highlighted the need for analysts oftranslation – both staff and students – to think beyond simplistic binaries. In an equally thoughtful and subtle analysis,Mark Robson (University of Nottingham) used Derrida’s and De Man’s engagement with Benjamin’s ‘The Task of the Translator’as the basis for reflections on the impossibility and the necessity of translation and the relation of the practice of translation to theteaching of ‘impractical criticism’.Two papers unpicked distortions, biases and peculiarities in translations of particular texts as examples of material that might bediscussed with students. Karen Seago (London Metropolitan University) looked at translations for children of a wide range of texts,including Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels and the Harry Potter books. While Valerie Henitiuk (University of East Anglia) describedan innovative compilation of 47 translations in 13 different languages (spanning 130 years) of one section from the Pillow Book bySei Shôna-gon Dr Henitiuk’s anthology will provide staff and students with a rich vein of material on orientalism, gender andsubjectivity as well as on the dynamics of translation.Detailed case studies of teaching practice were given in three papers. Margaret Tejerizo (University of Glasgow) explainedhow she is currently applying ideas from Alison Phipps’s book Learning the Arts of Linguistic Survival to the teaching of VasilyGrossman’s Life and Fate. One element involves bringing together Translation students and students working on the Holocaustin a joint session focusing on Raphael’s ‘Sistine Madonna’, an image of particular importance to Grossman. Penny Simons(University of Sheffield) showed how the shock value of modern four-letter words can be used as a pedagogical tool to exploreobscene French fabliaux, such as the ‘Lai du lecheor’. Inquiry-based learning methods – including an investigation into the themeof obscenity in online publication – and Creative Writing (the composition of obscene pastiches of later literary genres) are usedby Dr Simons to deepen students’ understanding of the functioning of scatalogical medieval material. Rhian Davies (Universityof Sheffield) spoke about an attempt to wean students off translation and to persuade them instead to use an online edition.The electronic text used in Dr Davies’s teaching, Galdós’s Torquemada en la hoguera, was developed as a scholarly resource.In teaching sessions in the ‘collaboratory’ at CILASS (the Centre for Inquiry-based Learning in the Arts and Social, Dr Davies’s students, working in pairs, explored the electronic edition, following exercisesmounted on the local WebCT VLE. Pedagogical leveraging of this sort – within a VLE – of online scholarly materials is a model thatcould be very productive for lecturers across both Modern Languages and English to follow.The last paper to be delivered, by Robin Kirkpatrick (University of Cambridge) was read inabsentia as Professor Kirkpatrick was unable to attend the colloquium. The paper describedthe experience of working with English Literature students, lacking a training in Italian, onDante in the original. With wit and verve, Kirkpatrick highlighted some of the ways in which thisapproach to teaching had fed into his new verse translation of the Commedia for Penguin. Heshowed that it is possible for committed students of English literature to work at an advancedliterary critical level on a text in a foreign language at the same time as developing basicexpertise in that language. There are important lessons here for English departments: teachingof the sort described by Kirkpatrick could perhaps involve closer collaboration between Englishliterature and Modern Languages departments – something that would surely be welcomed byall attendees at this successful event.Event Round-up
  • 42. 40 Newsletter 14 April 2008Digital Resources at the British LibraryThe British Library is conscious that making itsresources available online is crucial if it is to respond tothe demands of the ‘Google Generation’ and to retainits role in supporting the UK knowledge infrastructure.Lynne Brindley, DBE, Chief Executive of the BritishLibrary, said recently, “we have adopted the digitalmindset and have seized many of the opportunitiesnew technology offers to inspire our users to learn,discover and innovate.”Digitisation is bringing new opportunities toexplore sound and image archives, manuscriptsand rare materials in new ways, and opens up freshpossibilities for classroom teaching. The BritishLibrary is developing an ever-growing range of onlinecollections, providing a vital resource for teaching,learning and research, and some of these aredescribed briefly below.If you are already using one of these resources in yourteaching, the English Subject Centre would welcomea contribution to its database ‘T3 – Teaching, Topicsand Texts’ or a case (for which £150 is paid).Turning the unique treasures held at the British Libraryonline, leaf through ancient manuscripts and magnifythe details. Highlights include William Blake’ssketchbook, Jane Austen’s handwritten History ofEngland and glimpses of medieval life from theLuttrell Psalter.Hidden Treasures Brought to some of the treasures hidden in publiclibraries across the UK, which were revealed in 2007following a competition held by the British Library,in collaboration with the Society of Chief Librarians,Scottish library authorities and Microsoft.The winning entries include the Diaries of WilliamSearell of Beddgelert 1844–1846, which vividly depictWelsh rural life in the mid-19th century, as seen throughthe eyes of a 14-year-old boy. Also included are theDorset Federation of Women’s Institutes’ War Records1939–1945, a compelling snapshot of life on the HomeFront, illustrated throughout with photographs andbeautiful drawings by hand and containing storiesof evacuees, jam making, enemy air men, barrageballoons and the coming of the US Army.Sounds Familiar? the richness of regional and ethnic minorityspeech from across the UK, along with case studiesand learning activities geared towards A Level andundergraduate English language students.Collect thousands of items relating to the language,culture and history of Britain. Highlights includeextracts of regional dialects, documenting how wespoke and lived in the 20th century, illustrations frommedieval manuscripts and a selection of maps andimages dating from AD 800.Archival Sound to thousands of recordings of spoken word,music and environmental sounds from the BritishLibrary Sound Archive, available free online to UKfurther and higher education institutions. Fromperformances by African poets to sounds of steamengines to an interview with Margaret Thatcher,these recordings provide a rich resource for cross-disciplinary studies.Theatre Archive insight into British dramatic history throughthe Oral History of British Theatre 1945–1968, withover 100 transcripts of interviews with actors, stagemanagers, theatre goers and more.British Newspapers 1800-1900 and search through millions of pages ofhistoric British newspapers. New conservation andimaging techniques and a cross-searchable platformoffers unparalleled access and discoverability to thisvaluable archive. The website also includes essays andcontextual materials written by expert scholars to helpnon-specialist users with analysis.Electronic Theses Online ServiceA new resource, that will go live in summer 2008, isthe UK electronic thesis service, EThOS. EThOS willenable free access to the full text of electronic thesesthrough a single point of entry, and digitising theseson demand as required by readers.This collaboration between the British Library and thehigher education community will transform accessto the more than 14,000 theses produced in theUK each year, representing a rich and vast, but upto now almost invisible and untapped, resource forstudents and researchers. EThOS will also make UKtheses openly available for global use, providing aninternational showcase for some of the best ofUK research.Joanna Newman, Strategic Partnerships Manager of the British Library’sHigher Education Team, outlines some of the new services of interest toEnglish lecturers.Digital Resources at the British Library
  • 43. Newsletter 14 April 2008 41In this column, we highlight lecturers and theirfavourite books. In every issue we will invitesomeone who is registered in our Directoryof Experience and Interests highlight their favourite books.Sign up today, and your desert island textcould feature in the next Newsletter.Chris Ringrose isPrincipal Lecturerin English at theUniversity ofNorthampton, wherehe is Head of Learningand Teaching in theSchool of the Arts.Chris is involvedin the SubjectCentre’s E-LearningAdvocate Project, haspublished recently onchildren’s literature,contemporary fictionand life writing, andis ContemporaryLiterature Editorfor The AnnotatedBibliography ofEnglish Studies.Richmal Crompton: William the ShowmanOne of the funniest books ever written. Richmal Crompton is a great ironist. I remember reading this withour son Matthew when he was small, and we laughed till we cried. Literally.Henry David Thoreau: WaldenProphetic, inspiring and profound. Also, I love Thoreau’s sense of humour (though some say that’s anoxymoron). In 1995, when visiting Concord, I walked around Walden Pond; that was a moving experience,despite the sunbathers. There is little plaque on the shore, marking the site of the cabin that Thoreau builtwith his own hands in 1845.William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Lyrical BalladsI was sold on Wordsworth from the day I read a few lines from The Prelude: “Nor was this fellowshipvouchsafed to me/With stinted kindness” and of his going homeward “by the margin of the tremblinglake”. Visiting the bookseller in 1798 to buy Lyrical Ballads would have been a treat. Excellent value:you get The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as well.Charles Dickens: Little DorritAs graduate students in the 1969–1970 Dickens seminar at the University of Alberta, we read thecomplete works at the rate of one book per week – a great reading and discussion experience. I can recallevery student in the seminar, as well as Tony Ward’s inspiring commentaries. What a revelation Little Dorritwas when its turn came round.Vladimir Nabokov: PninWell, anything by Nabokov, really. Pnin is a great comic novel, but also a melancholy and touching accountof exile and the brutalities of history.Yvor Winters: Collected PoemsMajestic and underrated. The early free verse is haunting, too, as is the recording of Winters reading‘A Summer Commentary’– a luscious meditation on living and learning intoned in his characteristicallydour, steady tones.Brian Glanville: Book of FootballersOriginally published in 1978, then revised and reissued for the World Cup of 1982. Each of these portraitsis a prose poem; Brian Glanville really can write. The 300-word evocations of Puskas, Di Stefano and RuudKrol are terrific.Jack Kerouac: The Dharma BumsRolling odyssey that is a curious mixture of the carnal, the spiritual and haphazard poetry (if poetry canbe haphazard). When I was 18 I wanted to be Japhy Ryder. I don’t think I ever really wanted to be JackKerouac – he was too wounded and vulnerable, heading for an early ending.Gary Snyder: The Back CountryInimitable eloquent simplicity in poetry. Has climbing the Sierras, sharpening axes, chopping wood,making a campfire and cooking a stew ever been so stirringly written about? Gary Snyder had impeccably‘green’ credentials even back in 1965.Dorothy Livesay: The Two Seasons: Collected PoemsA great woman and a great radical Canadian poet. I’d like to think I would recognise her qualities as awriter even if I did not owe her so much as a person.Chris Ringrosedesert island texts©GettyImages
  • 44. 42 Newsletter 14 April 2008New Books• What Every Student Should Know About Researching Onlineby David Munger and Shireen CampbellPublisher: Pearson, 2007 ISBN: 978-0321445315• Internet Research Skillsby Niall O DochartaighPublisher: Sage 2007 ISBN: 978-1412911139IT Works!NewsThe Student Experience of E-learning and E-resourcesWhat exactly are the next generation of students like? Have youhad enough ‘PowerPoint puff’… would you like to uncover thetruth? Two fascinating reports have recently been released whichdebunk many of the myths about technology-enhanced teachingand provide some important food for thought. The JISC StudentExpectations Study, published in September 2007, looked at currentprovision levels at school/college and student expectations of ICT provision at second report, commissioned by the British Library and JISC, and published in January 2008, entitledInformation Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future, looks at how the specialist researchers are likely toaccess and interact with resources in 5–10 years’ is an interesting podcast to accompany the report Newspapers Resource LaunchedA new resource is available free of charge to all higher educationand further education institutions courtesy of the JISC. It offersnational, regional and local 19th century British newspapers, takendirectly from the holdings of the British Library. The collectioncontains over two million from 48 titles and unlocks extensivenewspaper content which is invaluable for the researching andstudying of 19th-century history. Fascinating Must-see PlenariesIf you weren’t able to come to Renewals, the Subject Centre’s 2007conference last year, then you certainly missed the interesting plenarysessions by Alan Liu (Knowledge 2.0?: The University and Web 2.0) andRichard Miller (Reading in Slow Motion: The Humanities and the Work ofthe Moment). Fortunately, you can view the lectures in the Subject Centre’smediaplayer … Lucas is theLearning Technologistand Website Developerat the English SubjectCentre.Brett Lucas casts his eye over recent developments in the world of e-learning.
  • 45. ToolsNingCan you see the educational potential of social networking tools for your students or yeargroups? … or would you like to set one up for your staff or research colleague or even as analternative to a website for a forthcoming conference? Ning is an online service that enablesyou to set up your very own network complete with personal pages, forums, video and photosharing, you would like to understand social networking a little better then navigate to this JISC document:Web 2.0 and Social Software: An web-based tool enables you to build up your favourite online video collections from aroundthe web (a browser plug-in enables you to save directly when you find web video you like) …organise them and then play your videos wherever you want to share them with your students byembedding them in a web page, class blog, Facebook, Myspace etc. you had the ability to upload an image or video to a webspace for your students to access and annotate by posting theirresponses to it, all viewable by everyone else who has access. Sound interesting? Voicethread is quite simply an amazing tooland one that has enormous potential. The software allows you to weave conversations around images, documents and videos.These conversations need not just be text; they can be video or audio messages presented viaa webcam/headphones. The visual layout is great and the outputs can be embedded in otherweb pages beyond the site itself. The creators have even set-up a site specifically for those withinstitutional software difficulties! Follow ‘Browse’ on the home page for lots of examples of howto use it or the educational version is a quick video converter – get it? Anyway, this useful piece of software allows you todownload video from YouTube and convert it for playback on a PC, iPod, mobile phone or PSP. A demo is available with limitedfunction (30 seconds only) but £10 buys you the program. No need to worry about the web connection anymore!90+ Online Photography Tools and ResourcesThe site names speaks for itself … definitely everything you ever wanted to know …’s Boot and NukeThis free resource which will completely wipe your hard drive … so this is a good way of preventingidentity theft and an essential tool if you are replacing old kit and don’t fancy taking a hammer toyour hard drive! It’s also useful for comprehensively cleaning your system of viruses and spyware on …Open Educational ResourcesPutting together online courses can be very time-consuming butit is well worth the effort. Until fairly recently, if you were lookingfor inspiration it has been difficult to find inspiring examples ofonline taught courses from other institutions because of passwordrestrictions. Now, thanks to the rise and rise of ‘Open CoursewareInitiatives’ (OCI) more and more e-learning materials are beingplaced online for anyone to peruse, download and use. OCI hasbeen pioneered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Have alook and check out their English literature offerings at The UK has recently joinedthe party with several high-profile launches, including the resourcesat the Open University’s OpenLearn ( Nottingham’s nascent Unow ( Works!Other bits and bobs …What is a Tiny URL?The URLs that you see on this page were generated by afree utility which takes long URLs and resizes them for you.Access the utility yourself at• Where possible I try to recommend software that isopen source, free of charge, copyright cleared,shareware or freeware.• All URLs on this page were last accessed inFebruary 2008.• You can access all the links on this page directlyin the online version of the Newsletter.Newsletter 14 April 2008 43
  • 46. The last word – not?You could have knocked me down with a feather when I wasinvited, last summer, to join the Advisory Board of the EnglishSubject Centre. ‘Flattered’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.I said yes immediately, before they changed their minds!As a stylistician, someone who researches and teaches the detail ofhow we interact with, understand and are affected by the languageof literary texts, I have always felt that I belong equally to theworlds of English language and English literature, even though Iteach in a department of Linguistics and English Language anddon’t have much contact with my literary colleagues these days.Part of my exhilaration came from the fact that English Studiesmust have noticed I was there. Many English departments,including the one at Lancaster, do not have colleagues working instylistics. Moreover, I live in a strange world where I interact mainlywith other stylisticians, a breed who feel occasionally attacked, butmainly ignored, by the two worlds, Linguistics and English, which,like Ted Hughes’s water lily, they fearfully inhabit.What most excited me, however, was that I now had the chanceto talk to people teaching English literature again, as I have lotsof questions to ask and things I want to debate. So I also blithelyaccepted the consequent ‘punishment’ of writing something forthis Newsletter, as it meant that I could begin to renew an oldacquaintance, hopefully through new friends. When I first came toLancaster I was in the English department, taught some literaturecourses as well as English language and stylistics, and regularlycollaborated with a small group of literature colleagues interestedin language as well as literature. I enjoyed this immensely butwhen, in the 1980s, the English department was deemed to betoo large (an unfashionable idea these days, of course) and wassplit up, I was assigned to Linguistics and the co-operation andcollaboration with my Literature colleagues gradually drainedaway. So, is there anyone out there who is up for co-operation anddebate? What I will try to do below is to raise some theoreticalissues which concern me and which I think have considerablepedagogical knock-on effects.Perhaps the biggest difference between the stylisticians andmost of the literary critics I have read concerns the nature oftextual understanding. From the perspective of most critics,stylisticians cling to the quaint idea that the range of reasonabletextual understandings (and also textual effects – which are to alarge degree dependent on understanding, as far as I can see) israther small. We don’t think, as is sometimes claimed, that textsmust have one and only one interpretation (indeed, I don’t knowany stylistician who holds that belief). In the 1970s my literarycolleagues used to say that there could be as many understandingsof a poem, say, as there were readers of it, and manycontemporary literary theorists have taken the idea of plurality ofunderstanding even further. Derrida’s ‘différence’, Stanley Fish’s‘interpretive communities’, the general ‘push’ in deconstructiveand postmodernist approaches to criticism, and the fondness for‘resistant’ readings in gender-, post-colonial- and cultural-studies-based approaches to literature come to mind.How can such a wide difference of view be understood? First of all,the stylisticians are more interested in understanding how we arriveat readings that, as Rob Pope has put it, go ‘with the grain’ ratherthan ‘against the grain’ of texts. Indeed, I find it difficult to see howone could have a ‘resistant’ reading if one had not first arrived ata ‘receptive’ reading to resist. I’m not against challenging currentsocio-political orthodoxy. Far from it. But I do wonder whetherliterature, rather than non-fictional reality, should be the site forthat kind of struggle. The reason I worry about this matter is thatI value the things which seem to get pushed aside in the processof struggle, namely the aesthetic and affective properties of textsthat make us want to read them in the first place (and keep themon our bookshelves and recommend them to others) and thepedagogical importance of helping students to engage sensitivelywith good literary texts and appreciate their special properties(something which involves close reading, at the very least, andarguably close textual analysis too). My students are pretty goodat emoting and disagreeing at the drop of a hat, but they seem tohave more of a problem with describing accurately the texts I askthem to interact with.Let us now turn to more ‘receptive’, non-resistant readings.Clearly, we are all different, and so can have different personalunderstandings of, and responses to, texts. But I am continuallystruck by how my stylistics colleagues (and my students) and I seemto agree rather a lot about how we understand and are affectedby particular texts, even though we don’t agree about absolutelyeverything. This is the thing which, in my view, most needsexplanation. The position that there are as many understandings/readings as there are readers (something which has never beenadequately tested in my view), does not, I think, distinguishMick Short is Professor of English Language and Literatureat Lancaster University (e-mail introductory web-based stylistics course is free for all touse at,and is available via links from the English Subject Centre andThe Poetics and Linguistics Association ( Last WordWe don’t think, as is sometimesclaimed, that texts must have oneand only one interpretation (indeed,I don’t know any stylistician whoholds that belief).44 Newsletter 14 April 2008
  • 47. properly between (a) two different interpretations of a text, (b)two minor variants of the same interpretation and (c) differentlevels of abstraction in apparently competing interpretations.And I think that the failure to make these important distinctionshas unfortunate pedagogical, as well as theoretical, consequences.When I was still in Lancaster’s English department, I was struck bythe fact that, in spite of their stated views, my literary colleaguesoften seemed to push their students towards a rather restrictedrange of meanings and (partly consequential) effects in seminars.It seemed to me that they acted more like I A Richards, WilliamEmpson and similar critics whose views had already become ratherunfashionable (but I still like!).I would like to know what happens in classroom discussionsof literary texts now. The stronger versions of plurality ofunderstanding I have read about in more recent critical andcultural theory (though I certainly wouldn’t claim to have readit all!) would seem to lead logically to a style of teaching whichwould be maximally ‘inclusive’, ‘accepting’ and uncritical of whatstudents say about texts in class. Is that true, or is there now aneven bigger mismatch between theory and practice? If there is,this is something Stanley Fish would approve of, I guess, as hehas argued that ‘theory’ has no practical consequences. But, likeacademics in other subjects, I think that theory and practice shouldbe intricately connected, that practice should test and inform, andso change, theory – and that we should teach how we preach.I think that students should be helped to understand that itimportant to be accurate about texts, even if they want to resistthem. If they do not develop adequately the ‘transferable skill’of analytical interpretative precision, how will they come toappreciate, with any accuracy, what makes great pieces of writingso valuable, or hold down those jobs in the media, the civil serviceor publishing, which they all seem to hanker after? I hope, in otherwords, that there is still a helpful inconsistency between whatstudents are taught ‘abstractly’, in the critical theory lectures I hearabout, and what happens in textual discussion in class.Is the inconsistency I saw still there? Have you all moved on somuch that your literary criticism and mine are so at odds as to becompletely different beast? (I recently heard a public lecture oncriticism by Terry Eagleton, applauded to the rafters, in which henever referred to, let alone examined, a single literary text, as hedeveloped his view of criticism as a branch of political struggleor what the linguists call critical discourse analysis.) Would yoube interested in working with stylisticians like me to understand,through co-operative, reader-based empirical work, what exactlycounts as a different interpretation or reading of the same text,what counts as a reasonable interpretation and what pedagogicalconsequences all this might have?I value the things which seemto get pushed aside in the processof struggle, namely the aestheticand affective properties of textsthat make us want to read themin the first placeThe English Subject Centre Report SeriesOur Report Series is now well-established. Copies of all reports are available on our website at and most are circulated in paper form to English Departments in the UK. Furthercopies are available on request, subject to availability. Send your request to Reports:Report no. 16Teaching the Teachers: Higher Education and the Continuing Professional Developmentof English TeachersReport no. 15 The Taught MA in EnglishReport no. 14As simple as ABC? Issues of transition for students of English Language A-Levelgoing on to study English Language/Linguistics in Higher EducationReport no. 13 Teaching Shakespeare: A Survey of the Undergraduate Level in Higher EducationReport no. 12 English at A-Level: A Guide for Lecturers in Higher EducationReport no. 11 Living Writers in the Curriculum: A Good Practice GuideNewsletter 14 April 2008 45
  • 48. English Subject CentreSupporting teaching and learning inEnglish Literature, English Languageand Creative Writing across UKHigher Education.The English Subject Centre,Royal Holloway, University of LondonEgham TW20 0EXT 01784 443221 • English Subject Centre supportsall aspects of the teaching andlearning of English in higher educationin the United Kingdom. It is a SubjectCentre of the Higher EducationAcademy one of its activities, the SubjectCentre gathers and disseminatesinformation to the subject community.