Incumbent dean inspects English language, pedagogy
Published: Friday, March 8, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 8, 2013 01:03
Tara Williams, an associate professor of English, was recently named the associate dean of the University Honors College (UHC) at Oregon State University.
Williams joined the faculty in 2004 after receiving her Ph.D. from Rutgers University. Currently, her areas of research include medieval literature and culture, along with pedagogic issues — pedagogy being the method by which something is taught.
“The UHC position will give me the opportunity to do more — and have a more practical impact — in [pedagogy],” Williams said. “One of my primary responsibilities will be to work with faculty across the university to coordinate the honors curriculum.”
Her interest in pedagogy was spurred by her passion for medieval culture and literature.
“I like to say that everything was invented in the Middle Ages, and that’s only a slight exaggeration,” Williams said. “Many aspects of contemporary Western culture can be traced back to that time period, including the English language itself. It’s fascinating to see how English develops and expands to accommodate new ideas and events, and to see the complex ways in which the experiences of people living centuries ago can resonate with our own.”
Williams published a book in 2011 through the Ohio State University Press, titled, “Inventing Womanhood: Gender and Language in Later Middle English Writing.”
“[The book] is about different words that are used to describe gender categories in the Middle Ages, because that’s the first time they start using words like ‘womanhood’ and ‘femininity’ and ‘manhood,’” Williams said. “So I was really interested in what those words mean when they start using them, and why they need them when they do.”
Williams pointed out that the concept of manhood was established two centuries before the concept of womanhood.
Currently, Williams is working on a project tentatively titled “Middle English Marbles.”
“[‘Middle English Marbles’] examines depictions of magic in the 14th century, like the giant green knight in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ or the dragon lady in ‘Lybeaus Desconus,’” Williams said. “What’s surprising is that those magical spectacles often have moral overtones, or offer a moral lesson to the reader.”
Williams recognizes the difficulty educators have when attempting to make topics appealing for the vast majority.
“I think the Middle Ages can be a little tricky to students,” Williams said. “So anything I can do to help bring it to life — the more interesting, engaging or relevant to students’ lives — is something I’m interested in.”
Williams did not originally plan to teach medieval literature and took an initial interest in 20th century authors like James Joyce.
“I was the the kind of student who didn’t talk a lot during class, but then I took a medieval lit class and I couldn’t stop raising my hand,” Williams said.
Overall, Williams is satisfied with her career choice.
“I love that I have a job where I can think about things like fairy kings and giant green knights from a scholarly perspective and that’s a part of my job,” Williams said. “I can talk about it in the classroom, and help students see what’s interesting and valuable about the Middle Ages, what’s relevant about the Middle Ages to their own lives — not usually green knights and fairy kings — but that they can think about those kind of connections.”
To Williams, these connections are greatly beneficial.
“I think it really enriches our experiences when we can connect back in history as far back as the Middle Ages,” Williams said. “So many things originate there, and if we are aware of that longer history it makes us better citizens and scholars.”
Williams is excited to assume her new position, which will start in July.
“I want to continue the excellent work that’s already being done with the UHC curriculum and scholarship programs,” Williams said. “Beyond that, I’ll focus on expanding the experiential learning opportunities for students and working with faculty who are teachers and mentors in the UHC, or would like to be. I’ve had wonderful experiences teaching honors colloquia in the past, and have seen how innovative and interdisciplinary formats — which the UHC encourages — can create an exciting and engaging atmosphere for both faculty and students.”
Kyle Reed, news reporter