Reading in Santa Barbara: Syllabus Design

by Abigail Droge
Published April 8, 2019

Spring Quarter marks the start of “Reading in Santa Barbara: Past, Present, and Future,” the third and final UCSB class in the Curriculum Lab’s pedagogical blog series for 2018-19. Each of the classes this year has examined humanities advocacy from a different angle. “Reading with Scientists: How to Export Literature,” in Fall 2018, explored connections between disciplines and discussed methods for bridging the humanities and the sciences. “Uses of Literature: How to Solve Problems with Books,” in Winter 2019, emphasized connections between time periods, imagining ways to establish dialogues between historical authors and current issues. This quarter, “Reading in Santa Barbara” will engage the connections between reading communities, asking how a knowledge of the historical interactions between readers both on- and off-campus can inform new social relationships built with books.

As a class, we will undertake a sustained collaborative research project in Special Collections: a deep engagement with the archives of UCSB’s own academic history, examples of student writing through the decades, and records of surrounding literary communities and local institutions. Our texts this quarter are chosen purposefully to represent two reading programs: UCSB Reads and Santa Barbara Reads. Both programs choose a single book annually to encourage communal reading, structured by public events. This year’s UCSB Reads selection is an illustrated memoir by Thi Bui, called The Best We Could Do. We will also read My California: Journeys by Great Writers, which was a previous Santa Barbara Reads selection.

In partnership with UCSB Reads, the main goal of the course will be to curate a student-designed public humanities event (such as an exhibit, a talk, or a performance) around The Best We Could Do. The final showcase will be informed by our archival research and should in some way model or foster the relationships that students want to see between reading communities of different demographics, backgrounds, and ages. In this way, students will be better able to reflect on what it means, has meant, and might mean to be a reader at UCSB.

The course has several learning goals. First and foremost, I hope that we can reach a greater knowledge of the social power of literature to create a sense of place, to initiate and strengthen communities, and also to construct barriers between communities (which we might then be better equipped to overcome). In this vein, it is our contention that if we can understand the historical and current relationships between institutions and reading communities in Santa Barbara, then we can imagine future relationships, as well. In our day-to-day work, the class also aims to help students learn archival methods, event planning skills, and best practices for communicating with an audience in a public humanities setting. Since the class is a senior seminar for English majors, with many students in their final quarter before graduating, I also hope that the course gives them a chance to reflect on their own educational experiences while at UCSB.

On the first day of class, I handed out blank pieces of paper and asked everyone to draw a map of the reading communities that they saw around them, both inside and outside the university. I then asked students to place themselves on the map. One of the most interesting takeaways from this brief assignment was the number of possible ways to organize and imagine reading communities, whether as the structural products of institutional forms like departments, libraries, or disciplines, or as the cultural products of literary forms like specific genres (graphic novels, science fiction, detective fiction, etc). The maps created by the students prompted self-reflection about our own experiences as readers at UCSB and helped us to see reading in a way that might broaden our English-major horizons (for instance, “reading” doesn’t have to be fiction or poetry – a scientific paper or an engineering textbook is reading too!).

Part of the spirit of our syllabus is to bring students into contact with as many reading communities as possible, which I hope to enact by having frequent class visitors. Sprinkled throughout our schedule are invitations to speakers ranging from the student editor of the campus literary magazine to librarians from both the university and the county. We will spend quality time in Special Collections, engaging with the local histories of past readers. And to encourage students to interact with new reading communities both on- and off-campus, I’m offering extra credit if they attend an event through the UCSB or public library systems.

I share the syllabus below. It is my hope that the ethos of engagement can carry us through the quarter and help us to reflect on the past, present, and future communities that reading can create. Understanding the literary landscape of a campus and a city seems to me a crucial ingredient in fostering and informing humanities advocacy.

English 197 – Reading in Santa Barbara – Droge – Final Syllabus – April 2019


This post is part of a series about the ongoing UC Santa Barbara English course, “Reading in Santa Barbara: Past, Present, and Future.”

The goal of the Curriculum Lab is to ensure a steady dialogue between research and teaching for the WhatEvery1Says project. For more information, see our webpage and this introductory blog post, and stay tuned for more Curriculum Lab posts throughout the year!