Literary Dissection Gets Real in MGA English Prof's Unique Course

Author: Alexandria Brooks
Posted: Monday, November 26, 2018 12:00 AM
Categories: Faculty/Staff | College of Arts and Sciences | Pressroom

Macon, GA

Dr. Christine Rigsby and Dr. Karmen Lenz are shown in the image on the right. Photo by Hannah Hartman. The other image shows students in the class during the optional pig heart dissection.

When Jahi Mendes registered for Dr. Karmen Lenz’s early British literature course, the last thing he expected to see on the syllabus was a heart dissection.

“I was extremely curious regarding how heart dissection had any connection with the material we would be doing in British lit,” said Mendes, “but I’m not one to question a potentially good time.”

For the past four years, Lenz, a Middle Georgia State University (MGA) English professor, has worked with cardiovascular specialists in the Department of Natural Sciences. Lenz felt inspired by the scientific revolution that occurred during the Renaissance, an era that also birthed a new wave of art and literature.

“The revolution reshaped the way we think about science," she said. "Its methods of data collection have influenced several other intellectual fields of study. There is no better example of a scientist who reshaped the field than William Harvey.”

During the 17th century, physician William Harvey conducted heart dissections. His findings proved the heart to be an electrical pump, effectively overturning “abstract classical theories of the heart’s function and making heart transplants possible today,” Lenz said.

Aided by Dr. Christine Rigsby, assistant professor of biology, Lenz teaches early British and early world literature courses in which the pig heart dissections take place.

“The collaboration is really fun,” said Lenz. “Students work directly with Dr. Rigsby, who guides them through the dissection in her structured yet approachable manner. We find that non-majors in the sciences are less intimidated by the required science courses after working on the project. Students enrolled in degree tracks in nursing, pre-med, and biology gain experience with anatomy and physiology. This alleviates their anxiety about taking these courses.”

However, Lenz and Rigsby understand that some students are not too keen on slicing open a pig’s heart. Those who are squeamish or wish to opt out are given the opportunity to study detailed sketches of hearts by Renaissance artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Andreas Vesalius rather than participate in the dissection.

“We keep the project flexible as an extra credit option,” Lenz said.

Mendes, a junior at Middle Georgia State, decided to participate in the dissection out of sheer curiosity as to how modern science and centuries old writings overlap. Mendes learned a lot from the course academically, and he also learned more about himself.

“The reading we did in class can be particularly hard to understand because it's not written in modern English that we have grown accustomed to," he said. "I believed by participating in the activity, it would allow me to understand the basic fundamentals of the writings in a way I could understand.”

Mendes highly recommends the course to fellow MGA students, especially those interested in international cultures.

“The class does an excellent job of exposing you to a new perspective to British culture that is derived from their early literature pieces. Dr. Lenz is extremely well informed on her curriculum and makes the reading engaging and fun.”

He also praised MGA for creating such an inventive and unique course. “Classes that are willing to be a bit experimental with its materials by being unexpectedly hands-on allows learning to be an absolute delight to participate in.”

Lenz and Rigsby’s collaborative early world literature class will be offered again during the spring 2019 semester.

The writer, Alexandria Brooks, an interdisciplinary studies major at MGA, is an intern for the University's Marketing & Communications office.