Alumnus Stephen Dobranski is named Distinguished University Professor at Georgia State
Posted: May 14, 2014
Congratulations to Dr. Stephen Dobranski, one of the English Department’s accomplished graduates, on his being named a Distinguished University Professor at Georgia State University. Dr. Dobranski received his Ph.D. in English from UT in 1996 and was hired at Georgia State University that same year. He has received various accolades for both his teaching and his research at Georgia State
From Dr. Dobranski’s Georgia State English Department profile: Dr. Dobranski is the author of Readers and Authorship in Early Modern England (2005), winner of the SAMLA Studies Award; Milton, Authorship, and the Book Trade (1999); and A Variorum Commentary on the Poems of John Milton: "Samson Agonistes" (2009), winner of the John T. Shawcross Award. He also co-edited Milton and Heresy (1998) and edited Milton in Context (2010), both winners of the Irene Samuel Memorial Award. He has received both a Pforzheimer Fellowship from the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center and a Seminar Fellowship to the Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies. Most recently, he completed The Cambridge Introduction to Milton (2012). His articles on early modern literature have appeared in various multi-authored collections as well as ELR, Milton Quarterly, Milton Studies, Modern Philology, PMLA, RES, The Seventeenth Century, and SEL.
What types of courses do you often teach at Georgia State?
I teach both undergraduate and graduate courses on Milton, Shakespeare, and early modern literature and culture, and I regularly teach a graduate course on research methods and textual studies. Also, I occasionally propose new courses, so that one term I designed an undergraduate seminar on using secondary sources that focused exclusively on Shakespeare’s Richard II and Richard III. Or, just this spring, I designed and taught an undergraduate course on classical mythology and its reinterpretations; we began the semester with The Aeneid and concluded with the graphic novel Wonder Woman.
Do you see those courses as having evolved in any way from your work as a graduate student at UT?
All of these courses have grown out of my work at UT—as well as some of my undergraduate classes at the University of Virginia. My approach to teaching is largely theft: I appropriate strategies and practices—in some cases, assignments or texts—from the professors whose classes inspired and challenged me. Already as a graduate student at UT I began to take each of my courses in two ways—as a student trying to learn the material and as an observer trying to learn the craft.
More broadly, my scholarly interest in the materiality of texts—which began at UT while I was working with John Rumrich—also informs my pedagogical approach. As an instructor, I often foreground the ways that the physical text can inform poetic meaning. In both undergraduate and graduate courses—as well as in the Master Class I taught at Yale University in 2005—my bibliographic research has helped students to understand authorship as a process of creation. With some texts, such as the quarto and folio versions of King Lear, I have students work in groups to discover the literary significance of the play’s variants; with other texts, such as Aemilia Lanyer’s Salve Deus, we work as a class to discover how a book’s layout helps to construct the author’s identity.
What will your duties consist of in your new appointment as a University Distinguished Professor?
My new appointment comes with no new responsibilities. Instead, I am expected to continue my research and writing. The appointment is an honor more than a position, intended to recognize primarily my previous scholarly achievements but also my record in teaching and service.
You also serve as your department’s library liaison. What sort of work do you do in that position to develop or further the symbiosis between the library and the English Department?
When I first accepted the responsibility of Library Liaison fourteen years ago, I concentrated on growing the library’s printed collection while expanding the university’s electronic resources. The increased scope and usability of online databases led some librarians to believe, mistakenly, that digital materials could be a cost-effective replacement for print. Drawing on my research in textual studies and book-trade history, which I began at UT and the Harry Ransom Center, I effectively argued for retaining texts in their original format and for seeking out electronic resources that respected the material conditions of authorship.
What’s been one of your favorite experiences as a professor?
My favorite experience remains the moment of discovery—in the classroom and in my research. As an instructor, my primary goal is to help students think more critically by analyzing the subtlety and complexity of literary works within their cultural and historical contexts. I discourage the idea that a poem or play has only one meaning; instead, students can discover the work’s multiple implications through painstaking analysis. Relying on discussion—usually as a class but also in small groups—I challenge students to arrive at their own interpretations and to support their readings with carefully selected textual details. When, during one of these discussions, we as a class arrive at a new understanding or when one student gradually and then suddenly comprehends a point, large or small, I feel gratified, like a relief pitcher earning a save. A similar experience occurs when I find something new on my own, whether in the process of writing as my ideas gradually take shape or in my scrutiny of a seventeenth-century text as I see for the first time something that other scholars have misunderstood or overlooked.
Geogia State’s official announcement: http://www.cas.gsu.edu/storydetail.aspx?id=940
More information on Stephen Dobranski and his work at Georgia State: http://homer.gsu.edu/blogs/library/2014/04/01/dr-stephen-dobranski-appointed-distinguished-university-professor/