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Time Travelers: Professor transports students through gateway to another time and place

Multimedia in the classroom is nothing new, but Dr. Elizabeth Richmond-Garza takes it to a new level.

Attending one of Richmond-Garza’s courses can have you taking a virtual tour of a London street or viewing music videos by Radiohead, Tool or Madonna. She uses not only a multimedia approach, but also an interdisciplinary style to connect with her students.

Dr. Elizabeth Richmond-Garza in front of a class
Photo: Marsha Miller
Professor Richmond-Garza uses an interdisciplinary, multimedia blend of art, music, theater and technology to encourage her students to experience the literature they are studying.
Richmond-Garza, who received her doctor's degree in comparative literature from Columbia University in 1992, is an associate professor in the Department of English and has been at The University of Texas at Austin since 1990. Her academic interests include Renaissance drama, Oscar Wilde, decadence, and 19th and 20th century European drama.

“What I teach is very removed from what students do and think about most of the time,” she said. “I have to create a world they can relate to. I remember what it was like for me moving to Texas, because it was so different from anyplace else I had been. Knowing how hard it was for me to adjust to living here, I know it’s difficult for my students to adjust to Paris in 1901.”

Richmond-Garza isn’t content with students reading and discussing literature. She wants them to feel it and experience something of the period in which it was written. By bringing art, theater, music and history together she tries to transport her students to a different time and place.

“Because of my interest in theater, I try to plunge the students into a dynamic environment,” she said. “A class on Shelley requires the inclusion of paintings by Turner and music by Beethoven. If I want students to care about Wilde they need to stroll down a virtual London street. To share Rimbaud’s bitterness, they need to see Nine Inch Nails’ sumptuous rock video, “The Perfect Drug.”

“Music, architecture, painting, film, video—all of the fine arts—transform an ordinary room into a gateway to another time and place,” she said. “I want my students to realize that Romanticism is not a time period, but a way of thinking. I try to make it as vivid and meaningful as possible.”

Her enthusiasm for teaching is clear from the choices she has made in her career. “When I finished at Columbia,” she said, I had lined up a job in investment banking, because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to secure a teaching position right away. “I became a professor because I chose it, not by default. I have a great respect for other types of careers, but this is what I most wanted to do.”

Richmond-Garza recently was awarded the 16th annual Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship, the largest faculty award for undergraduate teaching, by The University of Texas Friar Society. Her award-winning teaching style goes beyond what she presents in class—it extends to how she treats her students and what she expects from them.

“I don’t necessarily change the texts used in undergraduate and graduate work,” Richmond-Garza said. “What I change is the task, the kinds of questions I ask. I don’t talk to them like high school students. They are adults and smart. People will do as much as you ask them to, so I try to challenge them.”

By Robin Gerrow

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  Updated 2014 October 13
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