Elizabeth Auran

First-Year Writing Teaching Statement

I’ve been teaching “First-Year Writing: Women and Culture” on and off since 1994 – back when it was called “First-Year English” – and steadily for the last decade. What a treat it is for me to welcome brand new Barnard students to the seminar table and watch them take off in new directions. I never tire of it.

In “FYW: Women and Culture,” we examine and deconstruct the categories around which much of culture is organized and received, specifically as they are reproduced in our literatures. We do this by asking questions of and juxtaposing a variety of literary texts, some ancient, some modern, some “canonical” – all in service of exploring the development, deployment, and often tendentiousness of the ideas about “woman” and female subjectivity that circulate in the world.

My FYW students are encouraged to take risks and think independently when making arguments (“claims”) about our readings, as long as they recruit and analyze textual evidence that convincingly supports their ideas. To this end, we will practice the art of “close-reading,” but just as importantly we will learn how to work with theory as a “lens” that will help shape an argument. In my classroom, students will have an introduction to a variety of theoretical methodologies, including feminist, psychoanalytic, anthropological, performance, and queer theory; for many students, these introductions will encourage them to study more deeply in the field as they continue their Barnard education. Conversely, one of the most exciting moments for me as a teacher occurs when students find intersections between their learning in their other Barnard classes -- political science, gender studies, psychology, art history, philosophy, to name a few -- and our conversations in Women and Culture. I believe such interdisciplinary thinking models the best of what a liberal arts education can offer, and it is a privilege for me each year to watch my students make such discoveries for themselves.