By Megan Horst (’14)

Dr. Erin VanLaningham, Assistant Professor of English, is delighted to introduce her 2013 J-term course: Eng 275 Bleak House in Context. Before the completion of her first year here, Dr. VanLaningham has already embraced Loras College’s value for active learning by establishing a unique opportunity for students to utilize one of the greatest resources here on campus – the Rare Books room located on the 3rd floor of the Academic Resource Center.

Her class is centered on the reading of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House in its serial format, the original publications as the Victorians read it.  J-term is the perfect opportunity to dig deep and surround yourself in one book, focusing in on one culture, whether you’re studying abroad, or in this case immersing yourself in Victorian London.

The Rare Books room is a key feature for the course because it contains materials that have withstood the test of time. “We’re among very few libraries in the country that have this Victorian collection at our finger tips. It is unparalleled.” Many Victorian novelists published their novels over the course of a year or two with their own episodes, similar to the structure of our T.V. series.  I was fortunate enough to experience the rare books room firsthand during my Victorian Age Novel course taught also by Dr. VanLaningham. It is amazing how the format of the literature transforms the way we think of reading. Our class was taken aback by the artistic splendor displayed on the book coverings and by the unfamiliar fonts. Once you sit down and begin to explore the Victorian world, it is quite easy to be drawn in by the natural curiosity the writers possessed themselves.

The Victorian period was a time when people began to question and wonder what surrounded them, searching for explanations of human nature. England concerned itself with building institutions, such as museums, church, and education systems. We still live with Victorian ideals in our current society, as well as with the problems caused. Bleak House examines a cross section of Victorian society, which is why it is useful to study in depth. The novel touches on everything from urchins on streets to rich ladies in private houses.

Due to this wide-ranging subject area, Bleak House in Context appeals to all students. Part of the course will involve role playing, so students will have the opportunity to investigate different professions and experiences. At the end of the course, the class will collectively create a serial magazine about their J-term experience.  “The class is fun because it’s hands on, creative, and students will have a chance to follow their own interests in class, in terms of research.”




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