I have not taught an upper-level literature seminar since Spring 2019. Pre-pandemic, it had already become evident that many students were not thrilled by literature—especially its examination and analysis. I always gauge student interest before selecting topics, and my last seminar was on Literature of WWI. Although my students at The Citadel responded well to the topic, the class itself was pretty old-school. Students turned in question sets on the texts they were reading, took a midterm and a final, and submitted a short analysis of a text in the target language. In class I aimed at guided discussion in German; realistically we often spent more time deciphering the language. The assigned texts included several poems, two plays, short stories, a children's book, and Remarque’s Im Westen nichts Neues (both film and novel).Like many of us, I studied literature because I love to read. Although I do have the occasional student who reads literature for the joy of it, most of our students must be coaxed. We can’t force our students to love literature. Lately, in culture courses and even intermediate language courses, my approach has been to show students how to read texts as artifacts. Our practical, 21-century students can often be tricked into a close reading by being directed to collect, compare, and contrast in order to answer some larger question.
I did not use an assignment like this in my Literature of WWI seminar, but I wish I had. Not only does it force a closer reading of a text, it also lends itself well to guided discussion. I offer the panel an example of such an exercise based on a reading from my seminar on Literature of WWI.