Ben Bascom, a specialist in early and nineteenth-century American literature, comes to the English Department from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he recently finished a dissertation on early U.S. life writings. His research and teaching combine a queer studies approach with material text methodologies to reimagine the relation between archive and canon. His scholarship has appeared in Early American Literature and is forthcoming in Common-Place: The Journal of Early American Life.
How would you describe your perspective on teaching?
I would describe my teaching as messily Socratic. I try to frame class with a series of questions or provocations that encourage students to engage with the reading material at a variety of levels. Since I teach a lot of material that feels remote to most students—from seventeenth-century sermons to nineteenth-century picaresque novels—I first urge students to understand the complex and unfamiliar language before they levy a critique about what they find as the text’s limitations. I discover myself being drawn to think with students about their experiences reading particular texts—beginning, perhaps, with whether something was pleasurable or difficult, easy or frustrating to read—to then prompt them to think about how their expectations, experiences, and interests influence them to consider certain texts as being more intellectually available or compelling than others. Continue reading