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UC Berkeley Press Release

UC Berkeley's Distinguished Teaching Award

– Associate Professor of English Kevis Goodman, a specialist in 17th century and 18th century Romantic literature and poetry who is known for bringing author John Milton alive for her students, is the sole recipient of the University of California, Berkeley's 2005 Distinguished Teaching Award.

A ceremony honoring Goodman, who teaches in the College of Letters & Science, is set for 5 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday, April 21) in the Doe Library's Morrison Library. The award encourages and rewards excellence in teaching at UC Berkeley. Since 1959, 216 faculty members in 50 departments have received it.

"I am more interested in modeling the use of textual evidence, the search for insight-bearing contradiction, the passage beyond paraphrase, and the uses or abuses of contextual explanation, than I am intent on telling them (students) what to think. Milton's God did that. It did not help," Goodman said in response to the award.

While she teaches large lectures and small seminars, she said that despite the odds, she wants her students "to feel that the class has been intimate whether there are eight or 128 other students in the room. Electronic technology has, of course, made possible remarkable kinds of virtual immediacy, and it has been helpful to explore its possibilities, but I am not quite ready to give up on real immediacy and real time."

Esther Pun, a 2004 UC Berkeley graduate, recalled her own about-face on Milton under Goodman's guidance: "He's not just a dead white guy who wrote about paradise and Adam and Eve. He was making political statements and grappling with questions about how we can acquire knowledge."

"She has the students keep the book open in front of them and go back and forth between close readings of the text and broader arguments," said Genevieve Guenther, a recent UC Berkeley Ph.D. recipient.

By such means, Goodman has a way of making 16th and 17th century works like Spenser's "Faerie Queene" and Milton's "Paradise Lost" - and the writings of the 18th century and Romantic authors - pertinent and engaging to 21st century students.

Goodman said that most students come to "adore" Milton - his opposition to censorship, his way of drawing readers' attention to the effects of the media revolution of his time (the explosion of printed literature made possible by the printing press), his notion that good and evil come into the world finely intertwined, and that human beings, to sort them out, must engage in what he calls "trial by contrary."

"That idea - grappling with everything in order to reject certain things - strikes a deep, deep, deep chord" in young UC Berkeley students who "have been thrust into the process of decision-making a new way," Goodman said. "They love that aspect of Milton which values, above all things, the capacity to choose."

She said she is happy to guide students from "the haze of their preconceptions - 'this is religious and therefore boring, Milton is orthodox and therefore boring, Eve is evil'" - to new appreciations of the beauty and relevance of such works.

"There are those moments," Goodman said, "when you are developing an argument over the course of a class, and it all comes together, and you get that chill. Others are getting it. It's great to see the lights go on."

Goodman earned her Ph.D. in English language and literature from Yale University in 1995. She taught there for three years as an assistant professor before coming to UC Berkeley in 1997.

Goodman received a campuswide GSI (graduate student instructor) Mentoring Award last year.

Her first book, "Georgic Modernity and British Romanticism: Poetry and the Mediation of History," was published in 2004. Goodman has written journal articles on Milton and on Romantic writing.

She is researching another book about the transformation of nostalgia from a medical disease associated with modern warfare to a literary mood and common human complaint.