Back to the Classroom

12Sep12

Summer is over (even though it remains in the 80s in Vermont this week), which means my sabbatical is completely over. It was a great one, with a wonderful fellowship in Germany, a lot of writing, travel for lectures & conferences, and lots of quality family time. But yesterday, I returned to the Middlebury classroom for the first time in 16 months, officially marking the return to normal professional life (and a reminder of how exhausting a day of teaching can be!).

As I always do, I want to share the syllabi for my classes publicly – the two courses I’m teaching this semester are “classics” from my teaching repertoire. I’ve taught Television & American Culture every one of the 10 years I’ve been at Middlebury (excepting sabbaticals), and it formed the basis for my textbook of the same name. Most of the changes for this time involve updating readings & examples throughout, although for the first time I’m serializing a single season throughout the semester. This is something that many colleagues at Middlebury and elsewhere have tried in other courses to great success, as it builds strong semester throughlines and students hopefully get invested in the series collectively. I’ve never found a series to use for this course, as the range of topics are hard to connect to one fictional program. But this year I’m going with the first season of Homeland, not only because I think it was a great stretch of television, but because it speaks to issues of citizenship, democracy, and television coverage of politics much better than other series I’ve considered using, plus we can talk about the significance of President Obama being a fan when we discuss television consumption!

The other change this semester is that I’m incorporating one of the research projects that I worked on during my sabbatical – together with Ethan Thompson, I coedited a book called How to Watch TV that is forthcoming from NYU Press (hopefully to be released next spring in time for Fall 2013 teaching). I’ll have more to say about the book in future posts & will release some excerpts pre-publication, but the premise is that it offers 40(!) new essays from a great lineup of media scholars, each offering an analysis of a single television program from a particular critical perspective. The essays are shorter than journal articles (around 3,500 words), and designed as models for the best type of writing we might hope that our students will produce. The topics are wide-ranging – my own contribution is on Phineas & Ferb and how it offers narrative complexity for kids – and hopefully speak both to student and faculty interests. Although the book’s not available yet, I’m exercising editor privilege and assigning eight of the essays in manuscript form.

My other course is Storytelling in Film & Media, an advanced class on narrative theory as applied to film, television, and videogames. The big addition is that I’m having students read the manuscript-in-progress of Complex TV, working through my ideas about television storytelling (and getting another source of feedback on the project). I’m also trying a new screening, watching both the film and TV miniseries versions of Mildred Pierce, while bringing David Bordwell to campus in November to lecture about the film and its relationship to classical Hollywood storytelling. I always love to teach this course, and this version is particularly exciting to me.

Add my continued duties as department chair, my attempts to finish writing Complex TV, and the regular demands and joys of family, and it’s looking like an extremely busy, but fun, semester. Hopefully I’ll have a few chances to write some blog posts and watch new TV!

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