Dido Belle wears a turban and rests her head on her finger

Bringing the global eighteenth century to WSU

In fall 2021, Dr. Lisa Maruca (associate professor) received an award for Innovative Course Design from the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS) for a course named “Mediating the Global Eighteenth-Century” (ENG 5200). By innovatively combining the history of race and the history of the book, Professor Maruca’s class allowed students to explore the intersection of media and communication technologies, social change, and discourses about race. This groundbreaking course reflects Professor Maruca’s commitment to the ideals of anti-racist pedagogy that inform both departmental and university practices.

Professor Maruca received her Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in 1997, and she arrived at Wayne State that same year. Since then, she has become known among English majors and graduate students for her creative and fresh approaches to teaching children’s literature, history of the book, and eighteenth-century literature (including Jane Austen).

Her own research has been foundational to scholarship on print and education in eighteenth-century England, and this fascination with technologies of communication informs many of her classes. Professor Maruca’s outstanding pedagogical innovation has been recognized with a CLAS Teaching Award (2013) and a President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching (2001), which is the highest teaching honor at Wayne State.

“Mediating the Global Eighteenth-Century” grew out of Professor Maruca’s own dedication crafting to an anti-racist, feminist pedagogy that responds to the unique experiences and needs of Wayne State’s diverse student body. In preparation for creating this entirely new course, Professor Maruca attended anti-racist pedagogy workshops and seminars on innovative course design even as she analyzed Twitter threads, recent movies, and contemporary scholarship on the eighteenth century. As she noted in a recent interview, “I took a week-long course at the Rare Book School on Phillis Wheatley with Tara Bynum, and spent the summer before the class reading, reading, and reading!”

The resulting course foregrounded the values of hope, collectivity, and action to create a new approach to literature that incorporated both empathy and study of media technology. After taking it, Kalani Olatunji stated, “I believe it's important to learn about the history of race and media … as it’s important to understand the effect that they have now in our twenty-first century.” As her comment shows, this exciting combination of methodologies both challenged and inspired students to connect their own lives with the past.  

One of the most cutting-edge aspects of this course was Professor Maruca’s unusual approach to creating assignments. As she observed, the assignments emerged “organically from the readings. For example, after we read Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, students wrote a series of letters to a classmate (the course is online, so they don’t see each other in person).”  This letter-writing assignment was especially exciting for students. Tiffani Ellison, for example, said in an interview that “It was exciting to write back and forth with a classmate and experience the joy of receiving mail.”

Speaking more generally about the class, Kalani Olatunji praised the way that its innovative assignments allowed students to take a creative, hands-on approach to learning the material: “It just wasn't learning about the past in terms of literature but actively being creative in the forms that were presented.” This kind of creativity and dynamism is more important than ever for students who are facing increasing levels of burnout due to attending school mostly online the last few semesters.

Professor Maruca’s “Mediating the Global Eighteenth-Century” epitomizes the Department of English and Wayne State University at their best. In its focus on creativity, diversity, and innovation, the class paves the way for future English courses designed to encourage creativity and free thought in the classroom, prevent student burnout and speak to a highly diverse student body. As Tiffani Ellison remarked, “I enjoyed learning about Ignatius Sancho, Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley. I think it is important to learn about all our history and not just bits and pieces of it.”  The Department of English is proud to recognize Professor Maruca’s role in breaking new ground in the field of eighteenth-century studies and English studies more broadly.

Brieanna Garbin