Solinger specializes in the literature and culture of the long eighteenth century. His research interests include the early novel, the politics of taste, masculinity studies and the history of criticism. He has published articles on such topics as eighteenth-century journalism, the rhetoric of cosmopolitanism, and the afterlives of Jane Austen. His book, Becoming the Gentleman, part of Palgrave Macmillan’s Global Masculinities series, explains why men and women in the eighteenth century were haunted by the question of what it meant to be a gentleman. He is currently working on a book about the entangled histories of reading Jane Austen and the discipline of literary studies.
Briefly describe your teaching philosophy/work. What should people know about it?
I try to make learning fun and I care about the whole person. On my best days, I’m teaching with humor and maybe ridiculously over-the-top enthusiasm. Always, I want my students–really, all of them–to do really well. So I design my classes so that students with different learning styles and skills can master the material one way or another. What happens outside of the lecture hall or seminar room is just as important. My office is always open to students, and I encourage them to come see me if they are encountering difficulties with the class, with college, with life. I want them to know that I am someone who is ready to help them identify the university resources and personnel that can help them get to where they need to go. My friend, Linda Spargo, who recently retired, was that kind of person at UM. I try to follow Linda’s example.
How did your interest in your field of study develop? What initially sparked your interest in teaching about your area?
I imagine that anyone who does what I do loved reading as a child. You go to graduate school where you’re trained to become a scholar and a critic, but the love of books and words never goes away. Over the years, I’ve held different ideas about what mattered most in literary studies, but if there’s a core value, for me, it’s instilling in my students a love of books and an intellectual curiosity that will keep them reading.
In reflecting on your time as a professor, what are the highlights?
I wouldn’t call it a highlight, obviously, but during the pandemic I have probably spent more time thinking about teaching than I ever have before. Although I taught in the hybrid and face-to-face formats as soon as I was permitted to do so, my classes across the board have become increasingly multimodal in approach and multimedia in terms of the materials. For example, I improved my movie-making skills, which has enabled me to deliver some of my lectures in a format that is snappy and visually appealing, not to mention pausable and rewindable! Those movies, which I developed for English 225 (the survey of English literature), have allowed me to expand classroom time for discussing and collectively digging into the texts. Recognizing that this has been a difficult time for a lot of people and families, I’ve also increased my efforts to make the required reading manageable and affordable. And, finally, the mid-semester survey developed by the campus “Keep Teaching” group has convinced me how useful it is to formally gather student input about my classes while the semester is in session.
As to career highlights, I’m not sure. Certainly, every time a former or graduated student knocks on my office door just to say hello, that’s meaningful to me. A few years ago, I had a group of students that (for this or that reason) took a few classes of mine in back to back semesters, and the camaraderie and comedy of that cohort is memorable.
Are there specific examples of support—fellowships, mentoring, other—that helped advance your academic and professional goals?
I’ve been fortunate to have had great teachers and mentors: Leonard Tennenhouse and Nancy Armstrong, who are now at Duke, and Clare Colquitt and William Nericcio, who are at San Diego State.
What do you hope students take away from your classes?
Good memories and a love of literature!
Do you have advice or thoughts to share with students?
I have so much advice and so many unsolicited thoughts to share–just ask my two sons–that I run the risk of really boring you now! Here are a few pieces of advice: 1) Use proper greetings and salutations in all of your emails! 2) Read with a pencil or pen in hand. 3) Know when all of your assignments are due (keep a calendar). 4) Work at least a little bit every day; don’t wait until the last minute to do your work. 5) Talk to your professors, attend their office hours, ask for help. 5) Try to enjoy every college class you take; college is a short time in the context of a life, so you might as well enjoy it.
Anything else you’d like to say.
It’s a huge honor to win the Howell Family Outstanding Teacher of the Year award. That’s a career highlight!