Teaching Philosophy

My primary goal as a teacher is to help students cultivate critical and creative practices that will enable them to succeed in academic, professional, and personal settings.  I believe that formal education should not be approached as a series of academic exercises, but as an opportunity to enhance and expand students’ individual capacities so that they may live intellectually and creatively fulfilling lives. 

From the outset of my courses, I often emphasize some of the ways in which courses and selected projects do not exist in a black hole but rather illustrate how the skills involved relate to various other fields’ and professions’ activities.  I value students’ opinions and work to break down barriers that privilege one theory, narrative, or discourse over others.  Disrupting domains that often separate the personal, professional, disciplinary, and popular/cultural fosters conversation in a safe environment where students feel comfortable and are trusted to raise questions and concerns and to reconsider and share their own experiences and interests, and to critically engage in sometimes difficult conversations. Because of the nature of digital projects, I work not only as lecturer, instructor, reviewer, and moderator but also as advisor and consultant.  Good advisors listen and refer.  It is crucial that they are aware of a range of resources available to students: online, at the library, at an office or another department on campus, or in the community. 

My courses require students to describe, analyze, invent, design, produce, and revise in a variety of different modes. Compelling students to produce digital works or use technologies with which they are unfamiliar creates a situation in which students cannot be passive learners.  Instead, they are active participants, each responsible for figuring out a set of specific problems.  This attempts to simulate real-world, professional problems and collaborative assignments and scenarios that students might encounter in future professional settings.  Like in most professions, my courses require students to wear multiple hats. 


 

Recent / Featured Courses

  • Mulberry, Mummies & Marshes: A History of Paper

    The Chinese and Japanese devised ways to use mulberry bark as paper.  Ancient Egyptians learned how to use papyrus from the marshes to form scrolls on which they wrote.  In Massachusetts, a printer advertised that his linen rag paper was obtained from the linens of Egyptian mummies that had been purchased for their rag content only.  This course addresses the development of writing, writing materials, and written communication technology from 3,000 BC to 1800 AD.  It specifically examines similarities and differences between the development of writing and paper across Africa, Southwest Asia, South Asia, East Asia, Europe, and the Americas.  Students will engage in hands on activities as a way of learning in addition to traditional classroom techniques.  The course takes a thematic approach to comparing development in the East versus the West by choosing a specific human activity and comparing its development and uses at different places around the globe.
     
  • Origins & Issues in Design

Origins & Issues in Design surveys the history of design from the time of Gutenberg through contemporary practice, discussing the interrelationships between textual, graphic, industrial, interior, and architectural design.  While this course examines the work of various individuals and design movements considering their place in history, an emphasis is placed on discussing the underlying principles and available technologies in relationship to each particular design movement. This course will help students develop a working knowledge of past and contemporary designers who creatively responded to the needs and challenges of their time.  Lectures/seminars, readings, and writing assignments will enable students to construct their own critical perspective on the designers, the artifacts, and the movements covered. This course is designated WI (Writing Intensive).

  • The History of the Book

This course is an introduction to the field in cultural history known as The History of the Book.  Although we will explore major developments from scroll to web, this course will focus on the printed book in the West from the eighteenth century to the present.  Serving as bookends for our studies, we will investigate shifts from orality to literacy, from writing to print and from, print (or analog) to digital media.  Themes of our study will include political, religious, economic conditions; technological developments; notions of authorship; and transformations in readership.  We will also examine the creation, production, distribution, and reception of books, serials, and ephemera.  In our seminars, we read books not only as a record and an artifact, we will also read it as literary studiesas a medium and as cultural symbols.  This course is co-listed as an English and History elective.

  • The Rise of the American Novel

This is a course in literary history, tracing the development of the American novel in the nineteenth century.  We will explore the diverse themes, social contexts, and intellectual backgrounds of the American novel from its beginnings in romantic tradition through the realist and naturalist movements of the late nineteenth century. We will consider themes such as domesticity, race, gender, nationalism and transnationalism, the frontier and expansionism, romance and realism, sentimentalism, and social class. We will also investigate social, cultural, political, economic and technological changes facing both the nation and the publishing industry.  Readings will include works by Susanna Rowson, Charles Brockden Brown, James Fenimore Cooper, Catharine Sedgwick, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Fanny Fern, Louisa May Alcott, and Henry James.

  • Bob Dylan

This course explores the astonishing body of songs written by Bob Dylan–over 600–and charts his evolution as a songwriter/performer from the early 1960s to the present day. We’ll historicize Dylan’s revolutionary engagement with the 60s acoustic folk movement and examine his lyrical and performative genius in the crucial electric albums later in the decade. The class traces Dylan’s career as the most influentially transformative musician of the rock era, who, at 75, continues to perform over one hundred dates a year and who received the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. We’ll also explore Dylan as a reluctant cultural icon, a unique poet, and a virtuoso performer, who remains a polarizing figure.

  • American Culture of Nature

This course will examine some of the ways Americans have encountered, portrayed and changed (and been changed by) nature from the colonial era to the present. Whether physical, intellectual, spiritual, economic, or political, these experiences and interactions offer a variety of useful historical prisms. In this course, we will explore how the concept—the invention—of nature has evolved in American history; how Americans understood the role and place of nature, civilization, and their own identities; and how writers, historians, and artists have depicted these experiences and activities. Readings will connect a variety of differing views of nature deriving from religion, science, visual art, philosophy, and literature to developments in exploration, nation building, agriculture, manufacturing, preservation, and the daily lives of individuals. We will focus on the ways Americans have narrated these encounters, and how their perspectives have changed over time.  This course is interdisciplinary at its core, and will involve you in historical, literary, artistic, political, religious, and philosophical analyses.

 

 
 
Wisniewski SU Lecture
 

Recent Courses (2012-2017)

(a complete list of courses is available on my C.V., upon request, as teaching dates back to 2004)

General Education

  • Technical Writing / Professional Writing
  • Introduction to the Digital Humanities
  • Introduction to Mass Communication
  • The Art of The Novella
  • Survey of American History I & II
  • Survey of American Literature I & II
  • Introduction to Literature & Literary Studies
  • English Composition

Upper Division

  • Origins and Issues in Design
  • The History of Print Media and Printmaking
  • Scribbling Women and the American Periodical
  • Mulberry, Mummies & Marshes: A History of Paper
  • Bob Dylan
  • The History of the Book
  • Digital Publishing
  • American Culture of Nature
  • Composition: Theory & Practice
  • The Rise of the American Novel

*Course syllabi / sites, representative assignments, and sample student work are occasionally posted on my blogIn the future, some of this work will appear on this site.  In the meantime, I am happy to share my work and experiences with interested parties upon request.