Teaching Steampunk

steampunk

Interview with Jade Luiz

1. Your course is called “A Past That Never Was: Steampunk and the Reimagining of the Victorian Future.” What does it mean?

When looking through Steampunk media or talking to members of the Steampunk community, you often hear an offhand definition of Steampunk as “the past that never was.” Another easy definition for people is that Steampunk is “Victorian Science Fiction” which, as my students will tell you, is not entirely correct. I wanted some of the big questions that we grapple with in class to relate to what Steampunk is, what it is doing, why it has grown in popularity in the last ten years, and what relationship it has (if any) to Victorian culture. A way that we are looking at this is by thinking about what Victorian Science Fiction (particularly projections of the future, such as H.G. Wells The Time Machine) actually look like, and how Steampunk is the same or different.

2. Could you describe an exercise that’s gone over particularly well in this class?

The exercise that I consistently find works well is a reverse outline of an advanced paper draft (usually draft two). I use this in draft workshops at the end of “conveyor belt” editing when papers are as far from their writers as possible and the person doing the reverse outline is anonymous. I find that students sometimes have problems reverse outlining their own papers because they unconsciously fill in the gaps in their arguments. Seeing the outline someone else has made of their paper, however, is very eye-opening for most students.

3. What have you found most challenging in teaching this course?

Definitely the most challenging thing I’ve encountered is finding a balance between discussing background information and doing writing exercises. This is especially hard at the beginning when we are starting from square one and at the end when we are discussing really contentious and fascinating issues like colonialism, multiculturalism, and gender and identity. The debate gets heated and interesting and it is really hard to stop them and switch focus to writing issues.

4. Are there any innovations/methods/technologies you would like to recommend to your colleagues?

I have found that venturing into blogs, message boards, and other non-academic writing helps provides real-world context for the elements of Steampunk culture that we discuss in class. I also interviewed a number of active Steampunks at a convention using a combination of my own questions and questions provided by my students which my classes have found very useful. The candid, varied perspectives demonstrate that, despite the rising academic interest in Steampunk culture, there are many underrepresented approaches, and that the research questions that they ask are valid. Methodologically, I would recommend exploring non-traditional venues of academic argumentation. While many of my students have been intimidated by academic literature (especially when it comes to background information), they develop confidence in their authority interacting with less formalized sources. It really allows an in depth discussion of why academic sources are important in formal research as well, since biases and lack of citation are blatantly obvious in items like blog posts.

5. What has been one of your proudest moments in teaching this course?

My most proud moments are when I find a way to get writing concepts through to struggling students. I made a breakthrough with one student who was having issues with linking arguments, and who was allowing competing, extraneous information to derail his arguments, by equating paper structure to sitting down to build something with a tub of mixed up Lego pieces (there are parts in it to build a plane, but you aren’t building a plane, you’re building a house, so you have to pull those out). The analogy worked for him on different levels, but the expression on his face when he finally (visually) understood what the comments I had been making on his drafts meant will forever warm the cockles of my heart – and as a further perk, his final paper was a solid, academic essay.

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