- Teaching Laboring-Class British Literature of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries ed. by Kevin Binfield and William J. Christmas
College-level courses increasingly include literary works by 18th and 19th century laboring-class British writers. While major publishers (i.e. Broadview, Norton, and Wiley-Blackwell) are incorporating them in teaching anthologies for eighteenth and nineteenth century studies and the Romantic and Victorian periods, there remains no major classroom anthology devoted to these laboring-class writers. In the absence of an established laboring-class canon, teachers pursue diverse and eclectic methods to bring these voices into the classroom. In this new volume, Kevin Binfield and William J. Christmas have collected thirtyone essays by professors and scholars who discuss their methods and inspire new pathways.
The comprehensive introduction offers "a celebration" (19) of current means of bringing laboring-class writers into classrooms and stresses that "the key is to replace nostalgia with reflection" (3). In a time of growing awareness for diversity, equity, and inclusion, educators and students may be more comfortable engaging the topics of race, gender, and sexual orientation. These topics often are communicated as intrinsic characteristics deserving inclusion, while socioeconomic class may be perceived more as an external characteristic to be transcended by hard work and a strong ethic. Because of this, students, learning in the college environment where success and graduation are tied to socioeconomic improvement, frequently respond to laboring-class literature through a lens that distances personal nostalgia. Instructors are encouraged to guide them toward more critical, intellectual reflection.
The collection's four major sections are all organized in rough chronological order: "Teaching Genres," with six essays; "Teaching Selected Authors and Works," with eight essays; "Pedagogical Strategies," with eleven essays; and "Types of Courses," with six essays. Binfield and Christmas ensured discussion on a range of literary genres, with nineteen total essays on poetry, ten on prose forms, and two on drama, a critical distribution that mirrors the creative distribution by [End Page 190] these laboring-class writers. Additionally, the collection's extensive final "Resources" section provides citations for finding primary texts, electronic sources, contextual aids, paintings, recordings, and sheet music, as well as annotations for the major databases Laboring-Class Poets Online and Digital Miscellanies Index to help scholars continue their engagement and course development.
This volume is a valuable asset to emerging and established instructors. Many will benefit from Moyra Haslett's essay on framing and questioning works and identities through course design, raising the stakes (and opportunities) of course and syllabus creation. Others will find useful Fiona Wilson's case study on teaching James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) as a work of experimental fiction to challenge students toward new insights, or Florence S. Boos's discussion of her course on the poetry of Victorian working-class women. Several contributors share experiences in pairing a more canonical writer with a lesser-known laboring-class writer, such as Cassandra Falke's pairing of William Wordsworth with Christopher Thomson under the theme of 'wandering,' and Stacey Floyd's pairing of Elizabeth Gaskell with Thomas Wheeler to teach Chartist fiction, providing new routes into working with these writers. For instructors who may already incorporate laboring-class literature, the nuanced discussion of Corey E. Andrews on teaching the Georgic poetry genre through laboring-class examples, as well as Anne Milne's application of a labor studies approach to poetry, could deepen one's existing engagement with these writers and periods.
Further, numerous contributors discuss how to include laboring-class works in courses beyond the upper-level literature seminar. Steven Epley shares his experience leading a service-learning course in rural Alabama that engaged eighteenth-century laboring-class poetry. Stephen C. Behrendt recounts his use of Romantic era laboringclass poetry to explore cultural archaeology. Vincent Caretta discusses teaching a cross-listed History and English course on Literature of the Early Black Atlantic. Numerous contributors, including Ellen L. O'Brien and Scarlet Bowen, share varieties of courses on literary production and...