Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies Symposium Focuses on “The Future of Teaching Shakespeare”

When the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies began in 1990, the University of Alabama and the discipline of literary studies were very different from what they are today. At that time, UA had a total enrollment of under twenty thousand students. Now commonplace scholarly methods like, the digital humanities, were either unheard of or just emerging. The majority of literature faculty were tenure-stream, both here and nationally. Much has changed in thirty years. UA has doubled to nearly forty thousand students. Literary studies encompass a wide array of approaches, many of which, like queer theory, are spearheaded by early modernists. The majority of faculty are off the tenure stream, and the students we teach come from a far more diverse range of racial, sexual, socio-economic, and geographical backgrounds than previous generations of students. It is with these historical transformations to our scholarship, institutions, and teaching in mind that Michelle Dowd commences the Strode Program’s 30th anniversary.

Since arriving at UA in 2016, Dowd has worked with the Department of English’s diverse faculty to make the Strode Program more responsive to — and reflective of — our rapidly changing profession. Accordingly, Dowd sees the 30th anniversary of the Strode Program as a chance not merely to commemorate the past, but ultimately to reimagine our scholarly futures. For Dowd, upcoming Strode events look forward to the future of Shakespeare studies and our broader discipline. “At this moment,” commented Dowd, “pedagogy represents a concrete and practical way to rethink the future of our field.” Hence, the Strode Program’s 2020 symposium, “The Future of Teaching Shakespeare,” is scheduled for February 21-22, 2020, at the Hotel Capstone.

Such a forward-looking mindset thoroughly shapes the symposium program. At its core, the upcoming symposium centers on innovative and inclusive pedagogies. For instance, Matthew C. Hansen’s keynote addresses service-learning approaches to Shakespeare, while panels will focus on race and diversity in the Shakespeare classroom as well as teaching Shakespeare to non-majors. Moreover, Dowd has designed the 2020 Strode Symposium to be more interactive than typical symposia featuring an endless stream of lectures. Alexia Alice Joubin and Peggy O’Brien (from the Folger Shakespeare Library) will offer audience-engaged teaching workshops focused on the use of digital tools in the classroom. Joubin’s hybrid keynote/workshop, in particular, brings together two innovative trends in our discipline—the global turn and the digital humanities — to explore how digital tools might help us teach Shakespeare’s global reach.

“The Future of Teaching Shakespeare” will do more than just cover a wide range of innovative pedagogies. Dowd’s program puts into practice her commitment to inclusivity. Speakers and participants span academic institutions and ranks. Such a slate of participants more accurately reflects the shifting nature of higher education within and beyond Shakespeare studies. The wide range of institutional affiliations — public and private Research I universities, small liberal arts colleges, regional public universities — promises to broaden the conversation about teaching Shakespeare in the contemporary American college. The diversity of faculty rank – endowed professors to non-tenure line instructors – likewise widens the scope of pedagogical and curriculum perspectives. Altogether, for Dowd, “The Future of Teaching Shakespeare” aims to thoroughly take stock of the numerous approaches to teaching Shakespeare. Symposia participants will explore the incorporation of service learning and digital humanities in early-modern studies. Presenters will offer pedagogical approaches ranging from courses at community colleges to Research I universities and from the first-year general education surveys to graduate seminars.

In emphasizing such diversity of approaches to Shakespeare in the 21st-century, Dowd hopes to make the symposium appeal to a wider audience than Shakespearean specialists and early modern scholars. By organizing the symposium around questions of teaching rather than literary and historical scholarship, Dowd hopes to promote “more cross-field conversations both here at the University of Alabama and across our discipline.” Likewise, events like Improbable Fictions’ staged reading on the Friday evening will appeal will appeal to those with interests in theater and performance. Improbable Fictions, a staple of the Strode Program’s community outreach, will cap the first day’s events with a performance of selected scenes from Shakespeare that center on teaching and pedagogy. According to Dowd, this event grows out of Improbable Fictions’ 2019-2020 slate of staged readings drawing from Milton, nineteenth-century adaptations of Macbeth, and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Ultimately, Dowd sees this event as speaking beyond the boundaries of the early-modern field. Given the centrality of general education courses, Shakespeare becomes a useful focal point for innovative pedagogies. Even if faculty never teach the Bard, the symposium’s workshops, panels, and keynotes featuring global literature, race, service learning, and the digital humanities will offer enlivening approaches to engaging students in contemporary American classrooms.

Symposium attendance is free, but registration by January 31 is required.




–Michael Martel