Shakespeare as Sci-Fic: New Honors Course on Proto-Science Fiction

Shakespeare as Sci-Fic: New Honors Course on Proto-Science Fiction

Faith Diaz Contributing Writer

    Professor of English Misty Krueger will be offering a new English Honors course, HON 377: Proto-Science Fiction, this upcoming Spring 2020 semester. The course is an examination of British and American literary texts prior to the 20th-century and more importantly, before the label of science fiction was placed on these texts.

    Students may be attracted to this course because, “you get to do things you wouldn’t do in another class, that’s one thing. Texts come together that don’t normally come together,” Krueger said.  “Like you don’t normally read Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, alongside Margaret Cavendish’s  “Blazing World” or Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travel”s or “The Strange Adventures of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. . .that’s interesting because they are across centuries.” 

    Krueger continued, “The other thing is that you get to read something that maybe you actually have read but from a new point of view or a new genre to you. So there will be students that have said, ‘Yeah, I’ve read Shakespeare.’ And I ask, ‘Well, have you read Shakespeare as sci-fi?’”

    Krueger describes the way we differentiate each piece of literature into categories and how those categories are not as set as scholars thought. “If we take canonical text that we say is highbrow ‘literature’ and we put the lenses of scifi to it, then I think sci-fi is also raised up. . . because of the way we are thinking about the class,” she said. “So it raises that stuff up but it also brings the high stuff, like Shakespeare, down. Because it’s like Shakespeare, he’s not up there anymore, he’s just down here with everyone else.”

    Kruegers’ aim is to teach students how these genres that we thought were so distinctly different, as scholars, actually have an immense overlap. Having taught this course once before, in the Spring of 2017, as a request to bring in a new Honors course and after approval by the Honors Director, then Eric Brown, Krueger is excited and prepared. 

Misty Krueger (Photo Courtesy of Misty Krueger)

    The emphasis on the blending of genres is carried out throughout the course to what will be, the students final project.  “The final examine is not a paper, it’s not a project, it’s a game. So that’s what we did. So we spent a month creating a game and everyone in the class worked on it. Its an entire class project,” said Krueger.

    Each piece of the project was individually created and produced by a student, each working on a separate entity of the game to bring it all together in a playable fashion. “Some people wrote the narrative, some people designed the pieces we played with, some people did the art for the project, some people created the booklet that would come in the game,” said Krueger, “It was like a D&D game.”

    With this game as a final project, “The most important part is that we get to create our own world, with the game, and each of these texts are creating their own worlds, which is a basic tenant of sci-fi,” said Krueger. This project allows for students to replicate the creative mental process that is happening on paper into a tangible and playable object.

    “What’s important is that they learn how to work together, students, in that they can create a game out of our course materials and they have fun. We will play the game and announce the dates and times to the university,” Krueger said.

    This course is now available in time for pre-registration on My Campus.

Reinventing the UMF Honors Program

By Darby Murnane Contributing Writer

The new Director of the UMF Honors Program, John Messier, plans to bring new life to the program by working to increase student engagement, bolster involvement in community service, and foster a better cohesion throughout the program as a whole.

   The current Honors Program is facing a number of challenges in trying to create a meaningful experience for its students, the foremost of which is a distinct lack of student involvement.

   “We have a lot of students who aren’t really active in the program,” Messier said. “A lot of students come in their freshman year and they’re quite excited about the program and they take a course or two but then over time, there’s not a draw to bring them back in.”

   To combat this issue, Messier intends to increase the number of required credits as the current requirement is a minimum of 12. To ease of the burden of accumulating the requisite credits for students with larger majors, more general-education honors classes may be created so students can fulfill core requirements while also gaining honors credit.

   Messier is also exploring ways to give students more autonomy over their honors experience. “I’m really thinking about focusing the Honors Program on a project-based learning model, so that students have more agency and ownership over their learning and are doing some of it outside the classroom,” Messier said.

   Students would have a great deal of flexibility over what these projects could be–a presentation on a study abroad experience, research, or even working with a volunteer organization. The hope is that the projects could be a culminating piece of the students’ honors experiences that give them a specific goal to work towards.

   Messier defines the idea as something that’s “intensely personal about finding a meaningful project for the students but that they’re doing outside the classroom so they have to figure out how to solve problems, how to be autonomous, how to achieve their ends.”

  Steven Pane, a professor of music and honors instructor at UMF, supports this idea as it aligns with his goals in honors courses. “I see myself trying to encourage student-oriented projects for the campus,” Pane said. “For example, I was an active member in a student run philosophy group in which the students selected their own readings to discuss and debate.”

   While the independence over larger projects can be daunting, Pane is highly confident with the students he’s worked with. “[Honors] students are really self-motivated and there’s in intensity about what they do,” Pane said. “They’re not afraid to go off into a weirder area which is often where brilliance lies. Students really need to be given space to find their own way.”

   When students are not in the classroom, Messier is hoping to increase the community service aspect to the program in order to give back to those in need as well as to keep students more involved.

   “A change for the program could be that students have to accumulate so many hours or do so much community service,” Messier said. “And perhaps during semester’s where they’re not taking an honors course, the expectation is that they’re going to do some sort of community service or involvement, to keep them active and engaged in the program.”

   Honors student Rowan Burns, a Junior Early Childhood Education and Psychology major, is eager to partake in volunteer service, however as a busy student, she is worried that reaching a set amount of hours may be difficult.

   “I think the volunteering idea is good as a concept, but not so great as a practice. It leaves little to no room for Education students who need to do student teaching and internship, students who transferred and don’t have a lot of extra time, or students who enter the program later on and are already struggling with time by taking extra classes,” Burns said in an email interview. “If exceptions and adjustments could be made for those students then I think it will work, but if not then it’s only going to further limit opportunities.”

   There are also service-oriented travel courses in the works. Messier is currently working on setting up a trip to the highlands of Guatemala to build stoves for the Mayan families living there. The service aspect of the trip would greatly cut down on the cost as it would not be for credit, therefore students would not have to pay for tuition.


UMF Honors Henry David Thoreau with Bicentennial Symposium

By Eryn Finnegan – Assistant Editor

UMF recently hosted a symposium to celebrate the legacy of author Henry David Thoreau in honor of his 200th birthday. The event featured guest speakers and UMF professors presenting a roundtable discussion, scholarly and creative works and a documentary.

Thoreau was an environmentalist and transcendentalist who most notably authored the book Walden and the essay Civil Disobedience. Thoreau’s works often investigated the environment and politics, and how people interacted with both.

Kristen Case, a UMF English professor and mastermind behind the symposium, believes Thoreau is still a relevant voice in society today. Upon realizing that UMF had nothing planned to honor the revolutionary writer, Case embraced the task of putting together this symposium.

“[The symposium] was an occasion to introduce the community to ideas and scholarship and activism that is still happening around his work,” Case said. “I wanted to show students that this stuff isn’t just [something to] read for a class, but it’s a real conversation that is happening out in the world.”

Case joined music professor Steve Pane for a collaborative performance that showcased their connections to Thoreau’s work and ideas. Case read her poetry, inspired by Thoreau’s journal entries, and Pane accompanied her on piano. Pane also performed a solo piece.

Filmmaker Huey, director of the documentary Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul, shared many of Case’s thoughts, particularly about bringing Thoreau to a contemporary audience.

“In so many documentaries about historical figures, you never make it much past when they die,” Huey said. “I didn’t want to do that… I wanted to talk about the impact he had today.”

Surveyor of the Soul featured interviews from The Walden Project,  a youth group aimed at teaching high schoolers Thoreau, Thoreau scholars and a fitting soundtrack comprised of “tunes Thoreau would have sang around the fire.”

Guest speaker James Finley, a Thoreau scholar and English professor at Texas A&M University, echoed similar sentiments about Thoreau and his legacy.

“He sees that environmentalism and social justice are very much related to each other,” said Finley. “I think in this era of climate change, [he’s] more relevant than ever.”

Case stated that she seizes any opportunity to teach Thoreau, saying, “he’s a great and timeless writer,” and that “he has a particularly resonant message for people who are college aged, who are thinking about how to spend their lives.”  

Huey and Finley both attested to this point with their own experiences of how Thoreau came into their lives.

“He was the real deal to me,” Huey said. “Even though he had been dead for over 100 years, when I read [his poem] Smoke in college, everything just clicked.”

Huey went on to add that “he [wrote] about things that concern young people.”

“I first read Thoreau in high school,” Finley said. “Walden got me thinking in ways I hadn’t before. I needed that as a 16-year-old.”

Case was overall thrilled with how the symposium went and considers it a success.

“People have stopped and talked to me and sent me emails,” Case said. “I’m glad it was a diverse day, a lot of disciplines and a lot of different forms of presentation [were represented]. I wanted it to have something for everybody.”

Kalyn Grover, a sophomore Rehabilitation Services major, said that although she was required to go to the event, she still found it interesting and enjoyable.

“I went to see Steve Pane’s performance. I thought it was interesting how he related his art form to an entirely different kind of art,” Grover said.

Case stated that she will be traveling to Paris and Sweden to take part in more Thoreau celebrations, and noted that similar events are happening all over the world.

“I think Thoreau is relevant for a lot of reasons, and I hope the symposium highlighted some of those things,” Case said.