I teach Gothic literature online to Tarrant County College students. Both the subject and the modality present several challenges:
- Students struggle to find an over-250-year-old genre relevant to their present experience.
- The limitations of online instruction can make it difficult for students to feel engaged with the instructor and the material.
I tackle these challenges in my video course introduction by explaining the Gothic is a genre interested in the relationship between the past and the present. The secrets, mistakes, and traumas of the past erupt into the present in the form of supernatural ghosts, zombies, and other monsters that create feelings of terror, confusion and dread. These feelings plague the Gothic protagonist who is usually struggling with memory loss and PTSD as they try to make sense of their traumatic experience.
I then open up to students that I am a survivor of trauma. As such, I am keenly aware of how past events can warp our perception of the present. I explain that this is why it’s important to understand what scares us. Studying the Gothic can help students critically examine their fears and prevent other people, governments, and organizations from using that fear to manipulate their beliefs, actions and even votes.
My course is organized into weekly modules that track the development of the Gothic genre from its inception to the present. Specifically, students and I look at how authors used the Gothic to explore the fears and anxieties of their time. We start with the political upheavals and social terror that gave birth to the genre in Britain during the 1700s to how women used the Gothic to express the horrors of the patriarchy and restrictive gender roles. Then we take a look at how fears of reverse imperialism and industrialization shaped Victorian Gothic works and move across the pond to explore how America’s traumatic past with slavery and puritanical religious beliefs inspired new forms of Gothic storytelling. Next we explore how the ravages of World War I influenced the expressionist Gothic films of the 1920s and speculate on the future of the Gothic genre.
Student Learning Outcomes
Students complete this class knowing how to:
- Identify key ideas, representative authors and works, significant historical or cultural events, and characteristic perspectives or attitudes expressed in Gothic literature during different periods.
- Analyze Gothic literary works as expressions of individual or communal values within the social, political, cultural, or religious contexts of different historical periods.
- Demonstrate knowledge of the development of characteristic forms of Gothic literature during different historical periods or in different regions.
- Write research-based critical papers about the assigned readings in clear and grammatically correct prose, using various critical approaches to Gothic literature.
Defining the Gothic
The infographic below shows how my student’s definition of the Gothic changed from the beginning of the course to the end.