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JBS and English department collaborate to create new course

By Emma Kahn

Section: Arts

March 6, 2015

The Justice Brandeis Semester program is an academic staple at Brandeis; however, its curriculum is ever-changing to incorporate all ranges of experiential discovery. This year, the English Department has collaborated with JBS programs to offer “Storytelling as Social Practice,” a conglomeration of three courses designed to fuse the social aspects of storytelling with narrative textual analysis. During the nine-week program, students of all experience levels and fields of study will be able to accumulate the skills necessary to storytelling performances and even reach out to the surrounding community to bring the practice beyond Brandeis.

In our increasingly literate and text-based society, the importance of narrative performance is a topic that the English Department urges students to explore. This JBS program seeks to engage the humanities in the search for global interactions and social justice, just as the social sciences and other departments have been doing by offering opportunities in JBS courses. As highlighted in the course description, students will be able to prepare “for teaching, acting, community outreach, promotion, public speaking, mobilizing social movements or more deeply understanding narrative as a crucial social practice.” By the end of the intensive program, students will have gained vast experience both in- and outside the classroom, as part of the hands-on facet so fundamental to JBS programs. Students will have a repertoire of stories of varying styles and will be able to show off the skills they develop in front of various audiences.

Professor David Sherman (ENG/HSSP) will run the program and teach the three courses that enrolled students will be taking. The English Department has been seeking ways to branch out of the classroom and mobilize the energy of their students, and their first-ever JBS offering can now serve as the vehicle for such academic exploration.

“In the humanities, we’re very good at sitting around with books and talking about how art works or how language works, and it’s not quite as obvious how we do something experiential in the community,” said Sherman. “What want to do is do storytelling. The students in JBS will be the storytelling team, or storytelling brigade, so we’ll actually be performing stories in the world. The idea is to really feel the face-to-face, flesh-and-blood experience of how stories circulate in communities, and the kinds of relationships that emerge from that storytelling transaction.”

Inspired by ethnographers and the sociological aspects of storytelling, Sherman hopes that students will understand the fundamental role of narrative in society and culture, and in developing personhood. Although the program intensively studies the role of narrative performance, by no means is the experience limited to English studies. “Any student who wants to more deeply understand the nature of narrative will enroll. That could be somebody from education, who wants to become a storyteller for a classroom, to a fiction writer, to a sociologist looking to understand the dynamics of social relations, to someone doing business and wants to be an entrepreneur and tell stories to create an enterprise, to future political organizers who want to talk about social justice campaigns in narrative ways, to anybody else, to anybody who enjoys stories and wants to become a better storyteller,” said Sherman.

There is certainly an emergent nature to the storytelling, as students who have never been on stage will be learning to perform for the community. However, Sherman understands the ongoing process of storytelling and that the program will involve collective learning among all participants. In fact, the development of the “storytelling brigade” will not end at the conclusion of the nine-week program. Rather, the anticipated outcome is that students will develop the storytelling brigade into a student-run group, who can recruit all the talented members in the Brandeis community to continue a legacy of narrative tales. “We’ve got a lot of talent here, a lot of creativity and a large horizon when you’re thinking about the area. This is a natural kind of collaboration,” Sherman said.

The deadline for JBS applications is Monday, March 16 at noon. For any questions regarding the English Department session, students can contact Sherman at dsherman@brandeis.edu, or more information can be found online.

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