Junior Faculty Teaching Fellow Spotlight: Gabriel Briggs
The courses I teach reflect my broad interest in the intersection of race, gender, class, nation, and ethnicity in nineteenth-century American and African-American literature and culture. I want students to use literature as a lens through which to view the transformation of America and American identity between the early national period and 1900, and to engage moments of crisis that are unparalleled in the nation’s past. I ask students to wrestle with difficult questions and ideas and to develop the critical sensibility required of academic study. Literary texts play an important role in shaping those historical conversations, and it is my responsibility to help students understand how writers use their work to preserve, disseminate, and analyze the social, cultural, and political issues of their day.
I believe in inquiry-based assignments that require substantive rhetorical considerations. The classroom environment should be thoughtful and lively. Research should not be blind or bland, students should describe, define, evaluate, analyze, propose, and discuss. For instance, I supplement novels with a variety of primary texts. These texts help steep students in the period and allow them to recognize the critical conversations generated around a particular historical moment. I often require students to workshop on assignments as a way to promote camaraderie, and to provide a less formal or intimidating venue for generating ideas that lead to contemplation, discussion, and written communication. I use journal assignments as a way for students to establish a dialogue with the ideas present in the words of historical people and documents. I think it is important that students not only summarize these materials, but that they analyze particular strategies within each document, and provide personal reactions to each piece as a way to deepen their understanding of textual analysis. Once they become familiar with the terms and concepts within literature, students are better prepared to engage new texts, and to situate their own arguments within a larger critical debate, which, in turn, helps to foster class discussion and to generate enthusiasm about each text we discover.