Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Comment Regarding Textbook Selection

For the section of ENGL 2543: Survey of British Literature I I am teaching at Oklahoma State University in the Spring 2014 term, I am using the second edition of the Broadview Anthology of British Literature rather than the traditional Norton Anthology.  That the text is not the "usual" selection for such a course is known to me (as is the unfortunate additional cost), but there are reasons that I prefer it.

One of them is tied, I think, to the increased cost.  Compared to the edition of the Norton Anthology available to me when I had to select the textbook for my course, the Broadview offers a broader view (please forgive the wording) of the literary history of the British Isles.  It includes more authors and works outside the traditional canon, and I am making a point of extending my class outside the canon.  This is in part due to comments in Tim William Machan's January 2012 Speculum piece “Chaucer and the History of English" and Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch's entry on Robert Southey in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography that argue against the use of celebrity figures as the representatives of their times; I am convinced by the line of reasoning that holds that the very exceptionalism from their contemporaries influences celebrities' celebrity.  Thus, to offer a more detailed image of what earlier British literatures were, I look to the anthology that reproduces more of the non-canonical, traditionally transmitted works (although I do not shy away from treating many of the old standards).

Another reason has to do with the versions of the texts presented, my views on which follow from my own coursework during my graduate schooling.  I inherited from my professors there views on the translation of Beowulf conducted by Nobel Laureate Seamus Heany (excellent poet but not the best translator), which is in the Norton Anthology, and of Marie Boroff's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (one of the better if not the best done yet), which once was but is no longer.  That the one is present and the other absent argues against the Norton.  Also, I like Liuzza's Beowulf as a piece of poetry and as a reasonably accurate philological representation of the text in Cotton Vitellius A.xv, and I like James Winny's work with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight--and both appear in the Broadview Anthology of British Literature.

Yet another is a result of my own scholarly focus.  My MA and PhD were awarded by a department whose mission is explicitly generalist.  Within that literary generalism, however, I focused my attentions on medieval English literature and the ways in which it has been transmitted and appropriated; more narrowly within that, I have attended to Arthurian legendry.  Both my master's thesis and doctoral dissertation explicitly concern themselves with Arthuriana, as do one of my earlier scholarly publications and a number of my conference presentations.  That I am an Arthurianist is fairly well established.  That I would therefore focus my teaching in a survey of earlier British literature on Arthuriana therefore makes sense.  I think that the Broadview Anthology of British Literature does a better job treating Arthuriana than does the Norton, and for that reason, as well as the others I name, I selected it as the textbook for my Spring 2014 section of ENGL 2543: Survey of British Literature I at Oklahoma State University.

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