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Professor Takes Historical, Social Approach to Words and the Natural World

July 25, 2006

Professor Takes Historical, Social Approach to Words and the Natural World

“I’ve always been interested in what makes people write,” explains UC Merced literature professor Jan Goggans. “What’s going on in the writers personal lives, and what are their outside influences.”

Goggans classes are part literature, part history lesson - no “trying to find five metaphors in Thoreau’s Walden,” like in the average high school English class, she said. That’s because she strongly believes that any book is a reflection of society at the time it was written.

“I think that is the core and the most interesting question that most high schools miss: What was going on in the world, in politics, when this book was written?” she said.

After teaching an Introduction to Literature course during UC Merced’s opening year, Goggans will teach a combination of two subjects she is passionate about in a Nature Writing and Literature of the Environment course this fall. An environmental enthusiast, she’s already picked out an eclectic reading list that ranges from canonical classics to modern cowboy novels.

“With this class, I want to help students understand the environment through literature,” she said.

In fact, it was nature that brought Goggans to UC Merced. She was working on her doctorate and lecturing at UC Davis when she learned that the new University of California campus would be “green” - committed to environmental sustainability - and located in one of the most ecologically diverse regions of the state.

“Some friends and I said to ourselves, when the school opens, let’s all apply,” she remembered.

Now that the first year is over with, Goggans is still impressed with UC Merced’s commitment to the environment and her students commitment to the new campus.

“I’m so impressed with them,” she said. “They really want to shape UC Merced into the school they want it to be.”

As for the diverse natural environment that surrounds the campus, Goggans is happy just taking it all in.

“I don’t hike,” she said with a chuckle. “I was always that kid who would take a book up a tree and read.”