The Teaching Archive: A New History for Literary Study
by Rachel Sagner Buurma and Laura Heffernan
University of Chicago Press, 2020
Cloth: 978-0-226-73594-8 | eISBN: 978-0-226-73627-3 | Paper: 978-0-226-73613-6

The Teaching Archive shows us a series of major literary thinkers in a place we seldom remember them inhabiting: the classroom. In Rachel Sagner Buurma and Laura Heffernan’s literary history, we watch T. S. Eliot and his working-class students revise their modern literature syllabus at the University of London’s extension school during World War I. We read about how Caroline Spurgeon, one of the first female professors in the United Kingdom, invited her first-year women’s college students to compile their own reading indexes in 1913. We see how J. Saunders Redding taught African American memoirs and letters to his American literature students at Hampton Institute in 1940. I. A. Richards, Cleanth Brooks, and Edmund Wilson figure prominently in Buurma and Heffernan’s study, as do poet-critics Josephine Miles and Simon J. Ortiz. Throughout, the authors draw on what they call “the teaching archive”—the syllabi, course descriptions, lecture notes, and class assignments—to rewrite a history of literary study grounded in actual practice.

With this innovative study, Buurma and Heffernan give us an urgent literary history for the present moment. As English departments look to an uncertain future, they also look to their past. In The Teaching Archive, they will find a revelatory history of the profession.

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