Academic journal article Antipodes

Teaching "English with a Twist": Australian Literature in the United States

Academic journal article Antipodes

Teaching "English with a Twist": Australian Literature in the United States

Article excerpt

AS AN AUSTRALIAN TEACHING AND RESEARCHING IN THE United States, I am aware of the extent to which Australia and its literature are neglected here1. Despite the popularity of Australian actors such as Nicole Kidman, Heath Ledger, Geoffrey Rush, and Gate Blanchett, Australian musicians Kylie Minogue, Midnight oil, INXS and Men at Work, the antics of the Crocodile Hunter (Steve Irwin), and the common perception of Australia as "a great place to visit," most Americans know little about Australia, despite a long history of cultural, political, military and economic ties. The information Americans receive about Australia is largely transmitted through popular culture and consists mostly of exotic stereotypes perpetuated by Crocodile Dundee, the Crocodile Hunter, Foster's and the Outback Steakhouse. However, American students can learn much about Australia by studying the country's literature, film and music, which are highly accessible for the simple reason that the vast majority of Australia's cultural productions are in English. In this essay, I discuss my experience teaching Australian literature in the United States for three main purposes: to encourage other scholars of Australian literature outside of Australia to offer courses in Australian literature; to provide some insight into the issues faced during the process of establishing and teaching an Australian literature course; and to share some of the responses of American students to Australian literature.2 This essay does not seek to make a detailed argument about why Australian literature should be taught in the United States or engage in a discussion of the overall state of Australian literary studies in this country.3

THE ORIGINS OF ENGLISH 389: AUSTRALIAN LITERATURE AND CULTURE

During the fall semester of 2005, soon after I began teaching at Albion College,4 my department chair asked if I would like to teach a course in Australian literature. I replied that I had a syllabus prepared and had been thinking about teaching the course for some time.5 My chair was eager to begin the approval process, as the English Department did not yet have a course meeting the requirements for the Global Studies category (all Albion students must take at least one such class). I quickly began the process of gaining approval for the course from the Registrar and the Global Studies committee. While the process required the completion of paperwork, it was not difficult, especially as I had the support of my chair, and I did not encounter any resistance from the faculty or the administration. As I am a visiting faculty member rather than on the tenure-track, the course received a special topics designation, which means it can only be offered twice under its current number.6

Part of the process involved selecting a course title. Although "Australian Literature" seemed logical, I wanted a title indicating that the scope of the course would extend beyond literary texts. Therefore, I named the course "Australian Literature and Culture," hoping the title would encompass novels, short stories, non-fiction prose, poetry, film, music, visual art and cultural practices. I explained the course title on the first day of class and stressed that the students would learn about Australia through a variety of cultural productions. By the middle of the fall semester, the course received Global Studies category credit approval and was listed in the schedule of classes for the spring semester of 2006. Before registration began, I created flyers for the class, unabashedly using images of kangaroos and phrases such as "fair dinkum," and posted them around campus. Once registration began, the class quickly reached its cap of twenty-seven students. As both the class and I were new on campus, I did not know whether there would be sufficient interest in the class; I was delighted that the class filled, and when a twenty-eighth student asked to be admitted, I unhesitatingly obliged. Before the spring semester began, the Institutional Review Board of Albion College approved my application to conduct Human Subjects research and write about the students' responses to the material. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.