Reflecting on the course “American Popular Fiction from the Late 18th Century to the Early 20th Century”, taught by Dr Stefan Meier
Personally, I find it arduous to remain focused on a 90-minute lesson that does not involve learning aids, be it pictures, videos or class discussions. I find these reinforcements not only helpful, but also necessary to retain information. It is, therefore, unsurprising that a seminar offered during my summer semester in 2017 remains one of the best I have attended thus far. “American Popular Fiction from the late 18th Century to the early 20th Century” was taught by Dr Stefan Meier and covered topics such as chapbooks, blackface, seriality and pulp fiction in a way that was interesting and which required active participation from students.
Along with assigning readings, Dr Meier used videos and PowerPoint presentations to assist in the understanding of the impact that each type of popular fiction had on American society and culture. For example, he integrated a video into the lesson about blackface to underline key points in the text we had been set. I feel that this method of reiterating information through visual and aural resources helps me remember lessons more vividly. During another class period, Dr Meier used PowerPoint slides to show the class cartoon strips of The Yellow Kid, which we then compared to a more contemporary hero, Superman. My understanding of the significance and reasons behind the child protagonist in The Yellow Kid comics was definitely enhanced by this impactful and relatable comparison. Besides the incorporation of visual aids, Dr Meier also ensured that class discussions were a significant aspect of each lesson. Rather than simply giving us information to copy down or commit to memory, he encouraged active class participation at all times. For me, this process of deducing information through discussion has always been a positive reinforcement in lessons because I am placed in an active role and need to pay attention to details in order to offer effective arguments. Similarly, the passages or questions Dr Meier had the class discuss each lesson were helpful in understanding key information mentioned in the assigned readings. Last but certainly not least, Dr Meier set a group task as the preliminary assessment. This entailed having groups plan a full lesson which consisted of a presentation, incorporation of secondary texts and group work. Though challenging, this assignment was also a refreshing way for me to delve into the history and significance of pulp fiction magazines, and because of the in-depth research required, I am unlikely to forget the most important aspects of the topic. I found this assignment helpful in identifying presentation skills I needed to improve upon.
Overall, I feel that Dr Meier’s seminar stands out in my mind as one of the best I have attended thus far because the mix of teaching aids kept lessons from becoming repetitive while remaining true to the goal of informing students about how popular fiction developed in America. I believe that Dr Meier’s incorporation of videos, pictures, discussions and group work contributed greatly not only to my development as a student of English and American Studies, but also as a learner in general. Therefore, if the opportunity arises, I can only recommend that other students attend this lecture to learn about American popular fiction; it is also a great opportunity to develop the effectiveness of their presentation and research skills.
(Bachelor English and American Studies, 5th semester)