I am a professor in the Department of English and also the Director of the Research Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University. I teach and do research in the literature and culture of the long eighteenth century, with a particular focus on Scotland and Ireland. My books include Acts of Union: Scotland and the Negotiation of the British Nation (Stanford, 1998); Music, Postcolonialism and Gender: The Construction of Irish National Identity (Notre Dame, 2005); and, most recently, Mediating Cultural Memory in Britain and Ireland From the 1688 Revolution to the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion (Cambridge, 2022). I have also co-edited collections of essays on Scotland and the Borders of Romanticism (Cambridge, 2004); Robert Burns and Transatlantic Culture (Ashgate 2012); and The International Companion to Scottish Literature of the Long Eighteenth Century (ASLS 2021).
My interest in teaching Embodied Humanities started a long time ago when I began to realize that the anthologies and books that I was assigning in my classes were missing a vital component of eighteenth-century life: music, singing and sound in general. I began to introduce ballads and singing into my classes, including inviting two fabulous ballad scholars, Jon Bartlett and Rika Ruebsaat, to come and share their knowledge and practice with my students. I realized that, not only did this fill a gap in my students’ understanding of the eighteenth century, but it was also engaging for them, and also created more of a sense of community in the classroom. Then, around 2014, my research shifted to focus on works of manuscript culture (manuscript newsletters and letters, for example), and I began to seek ways of introducing handwritten documents and techniques of writing into my classes as well.
In 2019, I I received a grant from the Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines at SFU to further explore an “embodied humanities" approach to teaching eighteenth-century culture. The big question I sought to test was whether providing students with learning opportunities involving hands-on experiences with three media platforms utilized in the eighteenth century (oral listening and performance; scribal culture; and letterpress printing) would enhance their engagement with and understanding of eighteenth-century literature and culture. I was interested in particular in how the process of “putting . . . bodies through the labors that other long-dead bodies have previously performed” (in Andrew Griffin’s words) might serve to boost four aspects of their engagement: “emotional engagement, physical engagement, cognitive engagement in class, and cognitive engagement out of class” (Burch, et. al., “Student Engagement: Developing a Conceptual Framework and Survey Instrument,” Journal of Education for Business 90, no. 4 [May 19, 2015]: 224–29). You can read the final report HERE.
Teaching that class using this format was a eureka moment for me. I had never seen such engagement from students—and such creativity! I was eager to teach the course again to see if that was just a fluke or whether I was onto something important. But, of course, the world was upended in March, 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, it occurred to me that it still might be possible to introduce some of the embodied activities remotely, so, in Fall, 2020, used a "New Ways of Teaching and Learning" grant from ISTLD to pivot some of the activities that I had used to a remote environment. In fact, teaching this course taught me that embodied humanities activities were more important than ever as they could actually be used to engage students and bring them together to share experiences during a time when all were suffering from an overexposure to screens. I implemented the pivoted techniques in two courses that I taught in Fall, 2020: English 420 (an upper division undergraduate course) and English 820 (a graduate course).
In 2021, I was awarded an Amundsen Fellowship to expand my researches into Embodied Humanities, including creating a network of individuals at SFU and other institutions who use different embodied techniques in their teaching. “Enhancing Student Engagement Through An Embodied Humanities Approach to Teaching” will explore theories, methodologies and best practices. I am hoping to discover more ways in which Embodied Humanities approaches can be used to boost student engagement in humanities subjects and also to work against the divide between humanities and science/technology courses. Stay tuned . . .