May 30, 2000
Volume 52, No. 34
Scholar/Teacher Award: Walt Reed
Reed known for teaching and research
By Michael Terrazas
When asked how it felt to be named Emory's 2000 University Scholar/Teacher, Walt Reed was uncharacteristically silent. "English professors are not supposed to be at a loss for words," he finally ventured.
But the professor of English and director of the Center for Teaching and Curriculum quickly recovered and said not only was he was pleasantly surprised but he was also very gratified that the award acknowledged both sides of his academic identity. "Literary Explicator and Priest of the Mysteries of Curriculum: From Keats to Elvis, from Quixote to Job, from the law to the blues, and from the Bible to the Web, your wide-ranging intelligence moves with curiosity, power and grace," the citation read in part.
"I've always found it hard to distinguish between the things I'm interested in as a publishing scholar and the things I'm interested in as a practicing teacher," he said. "There's a feedback loop between them. I'm privileged to be able to exploit that natural synergy."
Though his literary specialty is Romanticism, Reed said he's never felt obliged to limit his scholarship and teaching to this area; indeed, he said he gets restless when he teaches the same course more than twice. "Probably the most exciting thing I do is dream up new courses," he said, though he admitted his 1995 course "Elvis Presley and American Culture" may have been too much of a good thing.
But besides providing an amusing reference in his Scholar/Teacher Award citation, the Elvis course helped plant the seed for his current scholarly work on personhood, personality and impersonation in 19th century British and American literature.
"In working on somebody as remote as Elvis Presley," Reed explained, "I became fascinated with the idea of impersonation, which I could then immediately discover in all sorts of earlier, more classic literary texts."
On the Emory campus, Reed's scholarly life is sometimes overshadowed by the role he has played in the University's recent exploration of teaching through the CTC, the Commission on Teaching and Teaching at Emory. Along with Provost Rebecca Chopp, Reed co-chaired the commission, and through his work as CTC director and chair of the University's Advisory Council on Teaching, he has become a pedagogical resource on campus. However, he is quick to point out how much he has learned from colleagues in what he calls the campuswide "conversation on teaching."
"It certainly makes me more interested in the teaching I'm doing to find people who are doing related things or sometimes completely opposite things, and have to come to terms with someone else's counter-definition of a topic that's near and dear to me," Reed said.
One of the most valuable concepts to arise from-or, more accurately, to be reinforced by-the discussion of teaching at Emory, he said, has been an acknowledgment of the fact that the "teacher" of a class is not always the one handing out grades, just as the "learner" may not be the one cramming for finals.
"In a good class, the students are often teaching one another-and, in many cases, teaching the teacher," Reed said. "So the roles of teacher and learner are in fact dynamic and reciprocal.
"It's not that we've started doing something that's never been done at Emory or at any other college. Far from it, but what we've done is recognize and properly value the wider, more implicit dimensions of teaching-the aspects, hidden in plain view, that make it a highly complicated and yet also wonderfully simple kind of activity."