Haskin Uses History Of Literature To Delve Deeper Into Texts

Dayton Haskin doesn’t just teach literature, he teaches the history behind how literature is taught.

After eighth grade, Dayton Haskin commenced what he referred to as his “rebellion” against his parents: the adamant pursuit of an expensive, Jesuit education. Haskin, a professor in the English department, was determined to attain this costly instruction, working throughout the four years to pay tuition and trekking 10 miles to and from high school every day-intellectual curiosity and academic interests in tow.

Originally from Ann Arbor, Mich., Haskin and his family then moved to a farm in Ohio, where he spent the majority of his childhood with his brother and sister. From high school on, he knew he wanted to teach. His interest in English and literature did not develop until the end of college, however, when he took a course on major British writers. “When I read Milton, I fell in love with the music of his poetry,” Haskin said.

Preceding this, Haskin studied a great deal of Latin and Greek, and had great passion for biblical literature, the Reformation, and history of the 16th and 17th centuries. He obtained his B.A. from the University of Detroit in 1968, and he then went on to teach at John Carroll University during the early 70s. Subsequently, in 1975 Haskin earned a degree in religious studies (B.D.) from the University of London.

When Haskin was pursuing his Ph.D. from Yale University-which he acquired in 1978-literary theory was dramatically transforming how individuals approached studies in English. Reconstruction and feminism, among many other areas, were evolving, gaining greater attention, and growing in significance within the world of literature and analysis. Haskin therefore considers this time in his English education and discipline to have been especially influential, given that some of his current research at Boston College pertains to the early development of English instruction.

Haskin became a professor at BC in the fall of 1978, directly following his graduation from Yale. Here, he specializes in 17th century-with particular emphasis on Milton and Donne-and comparative literature, and he currently teaches classical and biblical backgrounds of English literature, which juxtaposes Greek, Latin, and Hebrew works in translation to follow literary progression and discern possible correlations.

“I like to make it available for students, and it’s fun-I get to read a lot of great work,” he said.

Additionally, Haskin is teaching for the first time London: A History in Verse, a course that explores and analyzes British poetry from roughly six centuries.

“It is very exciting, I’m constantly improvising, figuring out what to do next in class,” Haskin said. “I love having to think about my students. It is a teacher’s role to be the mediator, to make literature accessible and enjoyable.”

Haskin is currently researching the early history of English studies, with special attention to the implementation of Shakespeare’s works and analysis in American colleges. It was not until the late 19th century that studying literature in the vernacular at the collegiate level became prevalent. During these early, transitional phases of literary examination, the teaching was exceedingly rudimentary, Haskin said.

“The professors didn’t know what they were doing much more than the students did, really,” he said. Haskin therefore visits prominent collegiate archives all over the country to determine how it was that administrators created the very first English curricula. “My favorite things to find are old notebooks-rare, but very interesting,” he said.

Haskin’s research unearths a lot of mediocre writing, casual grading, and lack of feedback from instruction within these preliminary stages of English curriculum development. He asserted that the teaching and educational programs are far more sophisticated today, and through his work he attempts to explain how and why most curricula advanced and expanded.
“Harvard, for example, has fabulous archives because of their awareness of what they were doing … they began systematically to buy books and specialize,” Haskin said.

These extensive archives proved an especially influential aspect of the greater Boston and New England areas in initially persuading Haskin to relocate to the east coast. Boston, America’s Athens in terms of academia, was particularly attractive to Haskin due to the Harvard library. “It has been a large part of my life ever since … despite the Internet, there are just so many unique materials there,” he said.

For Haskin, the archives nearby are not the sole benefit of teaching at BC, however. “English professors often live in kind of a ‘dog eat dog’ kind of world, but not here,” Haskin said. “It is a wonderfully supportive department to be a part of. There are so many great colleagues so devoted to teaching, and I love recommending them to my students.”

February 2, 2014