50 Years of Transformative Teaching: Celebrating Dan Schwarz

By: Sara Eddleman, 
Fri, 05/04/2018

A Reason to Gather Together

On March 23 & 24, 2018, more than 250 alumni, colleagues, and community friends converged in Klarman Hall's Rhodes-Rawlings Auditorium to celebrate a half-century of teaching by Daniel Schwarz, the Frederic J. Whiton Professor of English Literature and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow.

Daniel Schwarz came to Cornell University in 1968, fresh after finishing his PhD at Brown University. In his fifty year tenure in the Department of English at Cornell, he has taught courses on a variety of literatures, most notably covering the Modernist tradition generally and James Joyce in particular, and on the Holocaust. Dan Schwarz’s research interests are broad, spanning multiple centuries and fields. He is the author of 18 books and editor or co-editor of many others. His most recent works are How to Succeed in College and Beyond: The Art of Learning, recently translated into Mandarin and with other translations forthcoming; Endtimes? Crisis and Turmoil at the New York Times; and two volumes on the European novel, Reading the European Novel to 1900 and its recently published sequel, Reading the Modern European Novel since 1900. He is faculty president of the Cornell chapter of Phi Beta Kappa as well as the longtime faculty adviser to the Literary Society, and was for many years adviser to the men’s varsity tennis team. Dan is active in the Presidential Research and College Scholar programs and is the recipient of the 1998 College of Arts and Sciences Russell Award for distinguished teaching.

The two-day celebration was packed, with:

  • Keynote talks from Lee Konstantinou (PhD ’00, now at the University of Maryland), Janice Carlisle (MA ’72, PhD ’73, now at Yale University), and Beth Newman (MA ’82, PhD ’87, now at Southern Methodist University), all former students of Dan, and James Phelan, a longtime colleague and collaborator;
  • Two stellar alumni panels, entitled The Humanities as Gateway and Five Decades of Transformative Teaching;
  • A lively roundtable discussion on transformations within literary studies; and
  • A community dinner for all attendees, which also provided the opportunity for more than twenty of Dan's friends and students to perform tributes.

Five decades' worth of Dan's students came, joined by his colleagues both from afield and from Cornell University as well as Ithaca-area community friends, all to celebrate Dan's legacy of humanistic thought, impassioned teaching, and engaged citizenship. Many times, a Dan Schwarz mantra of "always the text; always historicize" was invoked.

A Brief Recap of Events

On March 23 (Friday afternoon), Roger Gilbert, professor and Picket Chair of the Department of English, welcomed all attending, and Gretchen Ritter, Harold Tanner Dean of Arts & Sciences, provided the opening address to the crowd.  Barbara A. Baird, Horace White Professor fo Chemistry and Chemical Biology, introduced the first panel of Cornell alumni and provided moderation for the discussion of The Humanities as Gateway: Vocations and Avocations. The lively conversation on this panel elicited insights on the power of humanistic study from Úlfar Erlingsson (PhD Computer Science '04, now at Google Brain), Ashley Featherstone (BA English '08, now an administrator at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center), Devon Goodrich (BA English '07, now a litigator in the New York City Law Department), Diana Lind (BA English '03, now the managing director of the Fels Policy Research Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania), and Morgan Sze (BA English '87, now Chief Investment Officer at Azentus Capital Management). You can view the fruitful exchange that ensued here:

The first keynote address followed The Humanites as Gateway panel. Professor Harry Shaw introduced Dan's longtime collaborator and colleague James Phelan, Distinguished University Professor of English at the Ohio State University. Dr. Phelan's talk, entitled "Dan Schwarz, Humanistic Poetics, and the Ethics of Reading", discussed not only the 1986 conference where James and Dan first met, but also their complementary if sometimes divergent thinking on the ethics of readership and of authorship.

Kenneth McClane, W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of Literature Emeritus, provided a singular introduction for Dan's keynote address. You can watch it here:

On Friday evening (March 23) in the Groos Family Atrium of Klarman Hall, guests shared a meal and provided toasts and tributes to Dan, emphasizing his influence not only as a teacher while they were his students, but also his propensity to lavish his time, friendship, and advice throughout subsequent years. Laura Brown, the John Wendell Anderson Professor of English, provided the "instigating" toast for this memorable and touching collection of comments that followed. Brown exhorted:

"Dan stands for the value, the past significance and the future impact of literary studies. Each of us in indebted to Dan in local ways, but all of us are indebted here, collectively, in a way which carries forward: to Dan's committment, to his passion, to his values, in his ongoing scene of engagement and contribution to teaching, reading, thinking, to knowledge and creativity. It's an immense scene, and we are representing it right now, in terms of the scope, and diversity, and generational scenario that is represented in this room."

You can watch the entire collection of toasts here:

Saturday morning (March 24) opened with a brief welcome from Roger Gilbert, followed by the second keynote address. Laura Brown introduced Beth Newman, Associate Professor of English at Southern Methodist University. Dr. Newman's lecture, entitled "Transforming Humanism: Pluralism in a (Post-)Secular Age", provided an energetic beginning to the second day of proceedings.

The second alumni panel, Five Decades of Transformative Teaching, moderated by Professor of Asian Studies and Comparative Literature Brett de Bary, brought together representative former students throughout the years of Dan's tenure at Cornell. Though the memories recounted by panelists Josh Gerber (BA English & College Scholar '08), Grace Jean (BA English '00), Leslie Storm (BA English '83), Beverly Tanenhaus (BA English '70), and Zach Zahos (BA English, PMA & College Scholar '15) unsurprisingly illuminated differences in the general college-going experience across so many years, one thing remained congruent: each described Dan's ability to really see them, and counted his influence as teacher as one of their most beloved memories from their times as students at Cornell University. You can hear more about Dan's teaching through the ages here:

After a long lunch break allowing attendees to re-explore the lovely area surrounding Cornell University, Associate Professor Kevin Attell began the afternoon's proceedings with an introduction of the third keynote speaker. Lee Konstantinou, Associate Professor of English at the University of Maryland, provided a lecture entitled "Modernist Funnies, or, Comics in the Age of Mass High Culture", where Dr. Konstantinou linked his current cutting-edge work on comics to themes that he discussed in Dan's classroom as an undergraduate student.

Introduced by the David and Kathleen Ryan Professor of Humanities Caroline Levine, the fourth and final keynote lecture was delivered by Janice Carlisle, Professor of English at Yale University. Her talk, entitled "Reconfiguring Word and Image" recounted her experience as a graduate student working with Dan and also provided a fascinating investigation of one image text, Ford Madox Brown's Work.

The final event of the two-day extravaganza brought Dan on stage with his colleagues Steven Knapp (George Washtingon University), Edward O'Shea (SUNY Oswego), Helen Maxson (Southwestern Oklahoma State University), Daniel Morris (Purdue University), and Roger Gilbert for a roundtable discussion about Transformations in Literary Studies. Even at the conclusion of this vigorous discussion, with its particularly enthusiastic audience participation, guests and the guest of honor remained in Rhodes-Rawlings auditorium for nearly another hour, reveling in each others' company and the opportunity to celebrate Dan Schwarz's impact and successes.

Archives from this Special Event

Videos from the entire two-day celebration are linked individually above, and the entire lot can be found on the Youtube channel for the Department of English.

A commemorative book captured additional heartfelt sentiments from attendees, and also catalogued the warm remembrances and commentaries from those who were unfortunately not able to be in Ithaca for the festivities.

A commemorative hardbound book holds tributes, thank yous, memories, and cards, collected from attendees at the March event, and also those who were not able to attend.

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The Department of English appreciates the co-sponsorship support that made this event possible, from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Society for the Humanities, the Department of Comparative Literature, the Department of German Literature, the Department of Performing and Media Arts, the Department of Romance Studies, and the Jewish Studies Program. Additionally, the entire community dinner on Friday night was made possible by the generosity of an anonymous donor.

Dan Schwarz, sitting with his left hand on his face, smiling.