The Teachers Who Mattered Most

[This post is cross-posted on the NINES blog]

Following last week’s symposium here at UVA, I found myself recalling Roger Lundin’s essay in Pedagogy from a few years ago: “the teachers who mattered most to me did so because of what they loved,” writes Lundin. “As I taught, in other words, I learned I had come to love what my most effective teachers had loved, and they had taught me how” (137). Lundin, riffing on Wordsworth’s Prelude – “what we have loved, others will love, and we will teach them how” – offers a viewpoint that I think was implicit in many of the discussions. The symposium marks in the inauguration of Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures, and Steve Ramsay began his talk by praising institutes like this one for providing an opportunity for scholars to live an intellectual life in community with others. Community – which means, people – is as important to academic fields as the theories and methodologies that were the symposium’s explicit focus.

Lundin again: “For the past several decades in the humanities, our discourse has been theory-rich, perhaps theory-saturated, and we have developed explanations for everything from the nuances of différance to the needs of the subaltern. But when have we thought about love?” (134). Love of our work, Lundin means, and in a real, non-theoretical sense. A flurry of recent posts (like Natalie Cecire’s and Jean Bauer’s) has considered the place of theory in digital humanities. And perhaps the most important argument to arise from symposium (besides the institute itself, of course) will be Bethany Nowviskie’s call for reform of graduate training, to match the methods and questions that will form the future. But in the words of the Black Eyed Peas, where is the love?

For digital humanities, the response to the Black Eyed Peas comes from the Troggs: love is all around. At THATCamps, at MLA sessions, on Twitter – digital humanists seem to have a fondness for their work, an emotional connection to their theoretical arguments. Panels play to packed houses, in a way that other fields seem not to. This isn’t to say that everyone always agrees with each other, or that theoretical conversations don’t happen. The teachers who matter to us, Lundin is careful to state, are not necessarily the ones with whom we always agree: “my most influential teachers had religious commitments, political views, or theoretical understanding that differed sharply from my own” (137). Disagreement of course fosters insights. Responding to Bethany, Ryan Cordell hopes to reform undergraduate teaching as well. Ted Underwood, though, is “not yet sure about the implications at the undergraduate level. Maybe ten years from now I’ll be teaching text mining to undergrads … but then again, maybe the things undergraduates need most from an English course will still be historical perspective, close reading, a willingness to revise, and a habit of considering objections to their own thesis.” In considering how our pedagogical goals might change, Ted gives what I think is the best and most concise list of what those goals are now (at least the best I’ve heard).

Academics are teachers, and I’m excited to see that teaching has become a center of the conversation in digital humanities, with both graduate students and undergraduates involved in digital scholarship. We can say, to the leaders in the field, what you love we will love: teach us how.

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