Benjamin Breyer has taught First-Year Writing and First-Year Seminar courses at Barnard since 2013. Prior to joining the college, he taught at Yeshiva University, and in the University Writing Program at Columbia. He holds a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia, and a B.A. in Film Studies from Clark University. His areas of interest include comics and graphic narratives, the study and teaching of rhetoric, writing in the disciplines, and Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC).
In my FYW: Legacy of the Mediterranean classes, students typically examine the ways that writers use texts to advance claims to truth, knowledge and authority, and how writers in later time periods have engaged with their ideas. For example, in the fall of 2018, my students read Derek Walcott’s Omeros as a text in conversation with Homer’s The Iliad and Odyssey. The students were intrigued to learn that Walcott resisted efforts to classify his poem as an epic, even though he explicitly invokes Homer’s ancient Greek epics throughout. Through close reading and reflection on Walcott’s text, they came to see how he can be interpreted as critically showing the interplay between Western European culture, as exemplified in its literary traditions, and the Afro-Caribbean culture of the descendants of black slaves on his native island of Saint Lucia. Omeros therefore became in the students’ interpretation a discourse about the effects of European notions of identity on a people originating outside of this cultural sphere, as well as an argument for a uniquely St. Lucian understanding of its complicated history.
I particularly enjoy teaching first-year students the research process and helping them learn how to pose and answer fruitful questions. I like analyzing with students the ways that different disciplines, such as Literature and Psychology, produce knowledge and how that knowledge is reflected in the conventions of writing in different disciplines. Moreover, students in my classes come to understand research as a social act, and that in turn shapes their understanding of the purpose of research and the relationship between the researcher and her audience.
In my own research, I study the ways that writing differs according to academic discipline, and the commonalities among disciplines.