Thinking through Writing: An Update from the Rivalrous Masculinities Class

Humanities Writ Large word cloud
Monday, October 8, 2012
Humanities Writ Large

by Steffen Kaupp

  • What is masculinity?
  • How has the perception and portrayal of masculinity changed over time?
  • How have philosophers and other scholars theorized masculinity?
  • In what ways is our understanding of masculinity bound to our understanding of femininity?

This is just a small selection of questions that have been driving the discussions in our Humanities Writ Large class “Rivalrous Masculinities: Curating an Exhibition on Changing Images of Masculinity over Time.” We want our students to recognize and acknowledge the complexity that lies behind the seemingly familiar concept of masculinity, for the understanding of this complexity will be crucial for curating a successful exhibition. However, we, the instructional team, strongly believe that such an in-depth engagement with the material is not possible with traditional lecture formats, in which we function as the dispensers of knowledge. The very process of the students’ thinking actively with and through the material is the productive space that in the first half of the semester has already led to some fascinating conversations and observations.

As part of this constant thinking-through and thinking-with the material, our students write daily blog posts, in which they either engage with a short writing prompt, or they just chose a topic that they are grappling with at the moment. These writing exercises are not meant to be polished essays, or to provide answers to all of these questions. Rather, they offer a space for daily reflections, which help to make sense of one’s own thoughts about our discussions and how they connect to our objects. It is thinking through writing.

Our students’ level of engagement and intellectual depth has been outstanding. In the following blog post—just one example of many great blog posts—our student Isalyn Connell is replying to a prompt that had them thinking about how talking about our objects changes when we describe them to people from different generations. This is Isalyn’s letter to her grandmother:

To my grandmother, age 73 -

Grandma Flo, I feel rather odd writing to you since you are dead and thus unable to actually read this; however, it is also kind of cool to think about how you would react to my assignment. The purpose of the assignment–writing to three different aged people about the same work of art–was to show “how a change of audience may change the way you talk about [an] object.” And indeed, it definitely has. I would speak rather candidly in a letter to MJ, a 21 year old, as opposed to a letter to Penny, the 8 year old I babysit for, where I need to be somewhat censored and age-appropriate. To you, however, a 73 year old, I suspect my professors would assume our conversation to be slightly censored as well. But au contraire, you may be old, but something tells me you would appreciate the work of art I chose just fine. It is an Andy Warhol photograph of a male nude’s rear end. You can’t see his face or his feet, just his butt, lower torso, and back thighs. While some other 73 year old ladies might blush or even be outraged at the sight of a man’s bare butt, I know you, an artist yourself, most definitely would not. Mom and dad have your nude oil painting of Grandpa Ernie hanging up above their bed. (Which, I must admit, made my five-year-old self rather embarrassed once upon a time, so I totally get the purpose of this assignment). We actually have a lot of your art hanging up, and I have a whole newsprint pad filled with your figure drawings and sketches that I used to flip through during high school. While I never had the privilege of meeting you, I think we’d really get along, and I hope that you are okay with my using you for this assignment.

Love you all lots,

Referenced People

Steffen Kaupp
Graduate Student, Carolina Duke Graduate Program in German Studies

Referenced Projects