While many students think of literature as “old,” “dry,” “boring,” and “pointless for my career goals.” This may be a function in part of having been force-fed literary texts in high school without the texts being framed so that the interplay between text and context is clear. Or perhaps it is inherent in the canonization of a select few texts by a rarified group of scholars that students feel disengaged, or even disinclined to engage, with these texts. (Confession: This was most certainly how I felt about having to read early US-American literature in high school.) More than twenty years ago, the German program at the College of Charleston decided to move away from standard model of teaching the classics – whether students were proficient enough to read them or not – and to negotiate a way to embed literary texts, like vegetables, into classes with topics that were attractive and were/seemed relevant to our students, i.e., full of cheesy goodness. In my presentation I will offer strategies I have used in developing two different courses, both in English and in German. The first involves designing a class around a genre – in my case, the detective/crime novel or Krimi –that presents students with a familiar paradigm and then de-familiarizing the genre through the readings and discussions of an array of texts – including literature. The other strategy has been to build literary texts into courses focusing on issues that are of interest to the students. In particular, I have been building texts by Black Germans and Austrians into courses where they are both the central topic of the course as well as one of a variety of topical issues. Introducing students to the political and activist potential of literature provides them with a context in which to witness the power of literary texts both as self-expression and as discussion-starters.
College of Charleston