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Around the Columns

Bringing 19th-century England to life

elizibeth chang

Chancellor Brady J. Deaton and a cameraman interrupted Elizabeth Chang’s senior capstone course to give her a Kemper award. Photo by Rob Hill

Engaging students in a discussion about Victorian literature, especially a novel that stretches to 600 pages, takes skill. But Elizabeth Chang, an assistant professor of English, says the key to her classroom success isn’t just instructional technique.

“It always helps to have a good story,” says Chang, one of five MU faculty members to receive a 2011 William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence in April. “We’ll start with a popular genre novel, such as Dracula, or an adventure novel with an exciting plot. Then, we’ll explore the intellectual, social and historical themes of the era.”

Compelling stories were, after all, what attracted Chang to 19th-century British literature. Influenced by her Anglophile mother, she devoured classic British children’s literature, Jane Eyre and Upstairs, Downstairs, a television drama set in early 20th-century London.

She knows many students don’t approach period literature with the same passion she does, but she sets out to illustrate the similarities between 19th-century British culture and modern American culture. Chang’s students also immerse themselves in the Victorian era by exploring period magazines at Ellis Library.

“They see the context, and sometimes it helps start them on a path to individual research as they begin posing their own questions.”

Chang describes her teaching style as practical and personal. “Teaching happens through conversation,” she says. “We’re all interested in asking questions about how the written word can represent the human experience. We’re equally interested in thinking about the hard questions and how might we answer them.”

Each spring, Mizzou honors outstanding teachers with Kemper awards. They come with $10,000 prizes. The other 2011 winners are:

  • Deborah Hanuscin, associate professor of science education and physics;
  • Mike McKean, associate professor of journalism;
  • Etti Naveh-Benjamin, visiting assistant professor of psychological sciences;
  • Bethany Stone, assistant teaching professor of biological sciences.