First time teaching a novel

Today was a big day, marking my first attempt at teaching a novel in my CHID (Comparative History of Ideas) course at UW. The class is called “Writing and Reading the City” and I developed the syllabus for it about 2 years ago in an effort to win a teaching fellowship at the UW-Bothell campus. I wasn’t successful in getting the fellowship but I ended up applying for a job in CHID later that same year, which I got, and am teaching this course for the second time. It has been an awesome opportunity to teach a course organized around Lefebvre’s tripartite framework for studying space, and to introduce students across campus to a compelling cross-section of ways to study cities. We range fairly widely, covering Haussmannization alongside Baudelaire (thanks to Marshall Berman), Jane Jacobs, Le Corbusier, Soja, Foucault, Mike Davis, Hardt & Negri, Kevin Lynch, Michael Sorkin, Sartre and Berman himself, among others.

Last year I gave students the opportunity to read Teju Cole’s Open City as part of their final project, but nobody took me up on it. This year I made it a requirement and our discussion today marked my first effort to teach fiction. Well, “teach” is probably too strong of a word — “facilitate a discussion” is more accurate. It was great to sit for almost two hours and share a book that nobody in the course had read or even heard of before (32 students). Some new voices emerged in the discussion, as did really excellent connections to material we had previously covered. I am now in my fifth year of my program and have been teaching almost the entire time, but this really was a new experience: to be there with students, trying to guide them through a book form that has not played any role in my formal higher education (I was trained as a structural engineer, for what it’s worth). We are finishing the book for Wednesday and I couldn’t be happier with how today went.

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