SCC English Class Connects American Literature to Family History

Surry Community College students in Dr. Kathleen Fowler’s American Literature classes created a book compiling their family histories as part of a unique assignment during the Spring 2017 semester.

Posted: Jun 06, 2017

To most people, researching family history may seem like a genealogy project, but for students in Dr. Kathleen Fowler’s American Literature classes at Surry Community College during the Spring 2017 semester, it became a way to bring literature to life.

Fowler explained that the purpose of the project was to foster student interest in American Literature through engaging their interest in the part their own families played in the history of their communities and the nation at large.

“For example, Walt Whitman’s poem about serving as a volunteer in a Civil War hospital comes to life when students understand the historical context of the poem and the part their own ancestors may have played in the war itself,” Fowler said.

During the course of the project, several students discovered that their family members served in the war, were wounded, and were even sent to military hospitals like the ones in which Whitman volunteered. The poet’s impassioned descriptions of caring for suffering soldiers come to life as students connect the horrors of war detailed in Whitman’s poem, and similar literary works, with the trials their own ancestors faced during that time in American history.

Fowler continued, “Too many times, students think that literature is distant from them in their daily lives. This project helps students to re-vision literature as a living, vibrant exploration of the human condition. In that way, it is always relevant, whether it was written, ten, a hundred, or even a thousand years ago.”

The students first collected information about their family histories, then chose one ancestor to research in detail, delving into the cultural and historical context of the time in which that person lived. Next, students wrote narratives about the family member they selected and the time period they researched. These detailed narratives were then bound into a collection the students chose to title The Time that Built Us. The collection was published featuring a cover designed by SCC alum, and current graphic designer, Ben Haskins who graduated in 2011 with an Associate in Applied Science degree in Advertising and Graphic Design. Each student received at least one copy of their body of work, and a copy was added to the Carlos P. Surratt Genealogical Library at Surry Community College as well.

Surry Community College’s American Literature classes instructed by Dr. Kathleen Fowler created a book composed of the students’ family histories as part of a unique assignment during the Spring 2017 semester. Pictured is the book’s cover designed by Surry alum Ben Haskins.

Students who took part in the project are Abby Andrews of Lowgap, Leslie Atkins of King, Stephen Bruner of Mount Airy, Israel Card of Mount Airy, Cristian Cortes of Mount Airy, Anna Hendrix of Jonesville, Michael Hicks of Jonesville, Sadie Hooker of Pilot Mountain, Ivey Johnson of Ararat, Laken King of Pilot Mountain, Lexi King of Mount Airy, Emily Lyon of East Bend, Amber Marion of Mount Airy, Lisa Meddler of Lowgap, Bryan Andrew Mills of Dobson, Jessie Monroy of Mount Airy, Megan Moon of Lowgap, Matthew Mullins of King, Michael Myers of Elkin, Cassie Roberts of Mount Airy, Kristen Sisk of Pinnacle, Andrew Smith of State Road, Jordan Smith of Westfield, Katlyn Southern of Dobson, Kelbey Tenney of Pilot Mountain, Samuel Wilmoth of Dobson, and Emily Wood of Mount Airy.  

Surry Community College offers many English courses each semester that can be transferred to a four-year university. Registration is currently open for Fall 2017 classes and ends Aug. 1. Those classes begin Aug. 15. Contact Student Services at (336) 386-3264 for additional information. 

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