by Amy Meng

The first year at any university or college can be overwhelming for students. This is especially true for students attending a university the size of Rutgers. Recognizing this issue, the Office of the Vice President for Undergraduate Education introduced the Byrne Family First-Year Seminar Program last year in order to provide a unique learning and intellectual experience for first-year students. Limited in size to 20 students, seminars in the program are taught by distinguished and world-famous professors from across the university and from all the professional schools.

Last fall semester, I enrolled in a Byrne seminar taught by Professor Richard E. Miller. The seminar, entitled “Thomas Paine’s Common Sense: An Exercise in Reading in Slow Motion,” encouraged students to cultivate close reading as a practical skill for college. In addition, our seminar meetings generated innovative ideas about the role of the humanities at Rutgers, in the academy, and in our lives. Intrigued with the vision that Professor Miller presented, I, and two other students in the seminar, approached him at the end of the semester to ask how we could become more involved with the English department. We were each given a different internship, based on our interests in the humanities; because of my interest in publishing, I was assigned to work on this issue of Future Traditions Magazine.

Next year, the Byrne Family First-Year Seminar Program will offer 130 seminars on a range of topics in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Below are four seminars that will be offered by Rutgers English faculty:

Carolyn Williams

What does it mean to be a poet of place? How does growing up or living in a particular region affect a writer’s view of the world? This seminar will focus on a number of poets who have called New Jersey home, including some of America’s greatest and most-known: Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, and Robert Pinsky, a Rutgers University alumnus and the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1997 to 2000. We will also read and discuss the work of several current and former Rutgers English faculty members, including Alicia Ostriker, Evie Shockley, Miguel Algarín, and Rachel Hadas. The seminar will include a day-trip to the Dodge Poetry Festival in Stanhope, New Jersey, where we will get a taste of the current poetry “scene” in New Jersey. Students will also participate in creating a short anthology of New Jersey poets.

Martin Gliserman

How do we make meaning from reading a story? This seminar will directly engage students in textual research, learning to use several straightforward computer programs to open up a new way of seeing a text: as a matrix of words, akin to a neural network. We will be reading one novel (possibly two short novels), and opening up its inner semantic connections with the help of software. We will examine the body, the built world, and the raw universe; and we will trace some of the dynamics within and among those zones. This seminar aims to make the process of making meaning more transparent and accessible as well as more precise. Readings may include F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.


Barry V. Qualls

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s antislavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was an immediate bestseller and became the most widely read English-language novel in the world during the nineteenth century. Yet, more than 150 years after its publication, this famous novel continues to generate debate and anger: it is accused of stereotypical depictions of its black characters, of inappropriate language, and, at the extreme, of undermining black freedom struggles. In this seminar we will read this controversial novel and examine its afterlife when it entered popular culture around the world. We will ask the questions: What is a protest novel? What is a stereotype and what are the uses of stereotypes? We’ll meet the characters who lived on the page and evaluate for ourselves the multilayered literacy, cultural, and racial meanings of a book that changed American history.

Meredith L. McGill

Edgar Allan Poe is widely known for his invention of and innovation in a number of popular literary genres: the locked-room mystery, science fiction, the gothic tale, and the newspaper hoax. This seminar will use digital databases of nineteenth century American periodicals to examine the relationship between Poe’s writing ad the rapidly expanding print media of the 1840s. Students will explore how Poe’s literary experiments with genre reflect his understanding of the opportunities presented by new media, and how his innovative use of popular print might speak to our twenty-first century experience of media shift.