Teaching

I teach a wide range of courses related to Russia, including both language and culture courses. You’re welcome to look at my statement of teaching philosophy.

During my time at Tulane I added a new course on Russian film to the department’s curriculum, covering the late imperial period through the Stalin era. As someone who teaches a lot of language and literature, I enjoy the chance to focus on a visual medium of creation while diving into such a culturally and politically volatile period. We study the melodramatic, mystical and Decadent trends of pre-revolutionary film, the utopian visions and groundbreaking formal experiments of the 1920s and the turn to Socialist Realism against the backdrop of Stalinist terror in the 1930s and 1940s. Students also enjoy learning about the main elements of film style, which gives them the ability to respond more insightfully to any movie they watch. Here’s the latest version of the film syllabus.

My primary research field is nineteenth-century Russian aesthetics and prose literature. My course “Romantics, Realists and Revolutionaries” surveys the major cultural trends of this rich and productive period. We focus on the perennial tensions between the exotic and the everyday and explore how engagement with social reality coexists with political and artistic utopianism. Since I work on nineteenth-century criticism, I always spend a day or two on Belinsky and Dobroliubov (although I often have to translate the best passages from Belinsky myself). The writing of these critics is so closely interwoven with the formal and thematic concerns of the period that covering them really helps students gain a holistic sense of nineteenth-century culture. I’ve also taught a course on Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, introducing students to the unique philosophical and artistic intensity of Russian Realist prose. Here’s the syllabus for the most recent iteration of the 19th-century survey.

In spring 2015 I taught a course on Russian poetry for third- and fourth-year students, conducted in Russian. It’s a joy to help students engage with the amazing work of Pushkin, Mayakovsky, Akhmatova and others while developing their ability to express themselves in Russian. Although poetic texts are challenging, they are short enough to feasibly work through in a single class session and they add immensely to the cultural literacy of our students while cultivating their ability to parse the intricacies of the Russian language. Here’s the poetry course syllabus and an extensive glossary of useful poetry-related terms that I compiled.

Language teaching: Russian is such a rich and complex language (as Turgenev wrote “великий и могучий”) that it’s a pleasure to introduce it to students. Language courses are some of my favorite courses to teach. I think the difficulty of the Russian language generates a camaraderie among those who study it that isn’t quite as strong with more commonly studied foreign languages. I’m serious about moving my students toward proficiency, but I temper that with lots of enthusiasm, good humor, reasonable pacing and clear expectations. My first-year students record themselves speaking as part of their regular homework, which helps their oral proficiency and pronunciation. I also put together a useful guide of Russian language tips and resources for my students. You’ll find the guide at the end of this second-semester Russian syllabus from my time at Tulane.

I had the chance to teach twentieth-century Russian literature at UC Berkeley. Bely’s Petersburg and Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita were particularly rich texts to work with. I also taught a few films.

I taught a lot of “Reading and Composition” at UC Berkeley, i.e., courses specifically designed to fulfill the freshman/sophomore writing requirement. I compiled a writing-focused reader and curriculum for these courses and became practiced at communicating the principles of good writing, providing examples and giving substantive feedback on papers. This experience still serves me well in all the culture courses I teach, which always include a significant writing component. As I tell my students, good thinking leads to good writing and good writing lead to good thinking!