Many Hillsdale students have questioned why they are required to take three literature courses during their time at Hillsdale. The English department, in their biannual “Opening Charge” lecture series, seeks to explain why.
For the past four years, the Hillsdale College English department has hosted a lecture each semester that explains to students the importance of studying literature, a practice started by Professor of English Stephen Smith.
“My undergraduate program had a nice tradition of opening charge lectures, and I thought we might try such a thing in the English department here, with a focus on poetry, poetics, and the importance of studying great literature,” Smith wrote in an email.
English faculty are invited by the chair of the English department to deliver the lecture.
“I think some students are very curious about different professors’ perspectives on what one does when one studies literature,” Professor and Chair of the English department Justin Jackson said. “It’s nice to see professors defining their discipline for us. And in our department we have so many different approaches to literature and it is very diverse. So I love it because I get to hear my colleagues and how they are trying to do something with literature.”
The lectures typically range from 30 to 40 minutes, with a question and answer period following.
“The first lectures addressed questions like ‘What is the relationship between poetry and reality?’ and ‘Does poetry make anything happen?,’” Smith said. “Other lectures have focused on a theme like ‘gift and mediation,’ or articulated some characteristics of ‘the ideal reader,’ as Dutton Kearney did via his fine reading of a Wallace Stevens lyric.”
This past semester’s lecture, titled “Things Below: Thoughts on This World and Literature,” was delivered by Professor of English John Somerville in the Conrad Recital Hall.
“In that beautiful setting, Dr. Somerville spoke on faith and the artist’s work,” Smith said. “He shared his own understanding of how religion, literature, and creation relate to one another. He also elucidated Flannery O’Connor’s best thoughts on faith and art. It was a deeply thoughtful address, and I was delighted to see him deliver it.”
Sophomore and English major Victoria Nuñez attended the lecture and said it was very illuminating.
“As an English major and a Hillsdale College student, we put a lot of value onto ideas — rightfully so — but sometimes I feel like we get lost in the abstract and the theoretical without taking the time to look at what’s around us and say, ‘this matters, too,”’ Nuñez said. “So, at the very least, it was a relief. But at the most, it was inspiring because that’s one of the ideas of being a poet or a writer — to see the ordinary and look at it in a new light.”
Jackson cannot stress the importance of these lectures enough, especially for non-English majors.
“The college actually values the study of literature, and so we like to have these lectures be this conscious undertaking of what literature can do for you,” Jackson said. “It’s important students understand that the lecture is not just for English majors. Anybody who is in the humanities and social sciences ought to be fascinated because it’s not just about specific pieces of literature, it’s about how we even approach this act of reading, which every discipline approaches in a slightly different way.”