Danielle Christmas 
Assistant Professor 
Delta Delta Delta Fellow in the Humanities
Department of English and Comparative Literature
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Danielle Christmas | dchristmas@unc.edu
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University of North Carolina

Plantation Memories: Narratives of Slaves and Slaveholders, 2017
300-level honors course satisfying African American Literature to 1930 major elective 

Spaces of Confinement, 2017
100-level first-year seminar on literature and imprisonment

Holocaust Literatures in English, 2016
400-level English and Comparative Literature elective on topics in memory and literature  

Slavery and the Holocaust in American Fiction and Film, 2015-16
100-level English and Comparative Literature elective satisfying cultural diversity core requirement 

National Taiwan University of Science & Technology

Introduction to College Writing, 2016
100-level composition course introducing academic genres through an analysis of intellectual history and political discourse

Introduction to Public Speaking, 2016
100-level communications course introducing core concepts, contexts, and strategies for effective public speaking and presenting

University of Illinois

Nazisploitation!: Holocaust Perpetrators in American Fiction and Film, 2013
100-level English elective on contemporary topics in film and culture 

Basic Composition: Preparing for College, 2011
Precollege-level composition course for a summer bridge program supporting incoming low-income African-American students

Writing Genocide: Answering America’s “Never Again,” 2011
100-level composition course introducing academic genres through the rhetoric of contemporary political controversies

Communities, Technology, and the Stakes of Digital Social Media, 2011
100-level multimedia composition course required for students doing community internships as a part of the Chicago Civic Leadership Certificate Program 

Understanding Rhetoric: Rhetoric In-the-World and Online, 2010
100-level multimedia composition course required for students doing community internships as a part of the Chicago Civic Leadership Certificate Program

Introduction to Film: Understanding Movies, 2010
100-level English elective and Moving Image Arts core course designed to provide a broad overview of film theory and strategies 

Rhetoric and Public Life: Writing for Social Change, 2010
300-level capstone composition course for students doing community internships as a part of the Chicago Civic Leadership Certificate Program

The Internet as Public Sphere: Writing the Worldwide Web, 2009
100-level blended composition course with instruction split equally between in-person and online environments

Writing Slums: Squatters in First and Third World Megacities, 2009
100-level composition course introducing academic genres through the rhetoric of contemporary political controversies


Leonard Cassuto sums up my teaching philosophy nicely when he writes, “It’s the job of teachers to create productive discomfort—and to help young adults gain comfort with ambiguity.” In my teaching career I have invited my students to lean into the textual discomforts, and to articulate and embrace the rhetorical ambiguities. The utility of this approach for enhancing students’ engagements with theoretical discourse and metadiscourse—crucial for majors—has led me to embrace “discomfort” as the paradigm that best taps my pedagogical strengths. However, the “productive” half of this philosophy reflects my equal desire to provide a transferable skill-set—for non-majors especially—and show how literary criticism and rhetorical mastery are relevant for contemporary spheres of professional and personal interest and influence.

The notion of productive discomfort is particularly important for courses dealing with representations of African-American and Jewish suffering, in which discussions can easily devolve into what I call “injustice fatigue.” As an example, when I showed the image of Emmett Till in his casket during a discussion on Lewis Nordan’s Wolf Whistle, the students became paralyzed by an understandable, but uncritical, despair over the fruits of violent racism. By guiding them to sift through their discomfort and identify the pain point—for one student, the sense that Chicago violence is producing similar outcomes for young black men today—the students came to a space of effective, if unsettling, knowledge production; in this case, that productive space amounted to the development of thoughtful questions that gesture at deeper theoretical connections: How does this documentary image do the evocative work that Nordan’s veiled account of the Till murder can’t? How do Nordan’s aesthetic goals compare to the rhetorical goals behind the original publication of the Till photo? What basic rhetorical appeal (ethos, pathos, or logos) best characterizes each text and are these appeals effective? The class’s engagement with these questions made the instructional benefits of introducing this sensitive material far outweigh the risks.  

In imagining the productive possibilities for each course, I have come to conceptualize the classroom as a kairotic site, a rhetorical space in which the experiences and expectations of the students and instructor, and the political and cultural backdrop of the semester, open up learning outcomes that would be foreclosed under different circumstances. For example, teaching Men in Chains: The Black Male Body in Fictions and Films of Slavery the day after a public figure uses slavery as a political metaphor has a far different tenor than it would on any other day. My only agenda, for this or any culturally or politically contextualized conversation, is to demonstrate the relevance of this context for the way in which reading and learning can and should take place. For this reason, I count it as a win when my students understand that who is speaking, what they’re saying, and (perhaps most critically and least considered) when they’re saying it are all crucial elements for appreciating the depth of textual compositions or rhetorical discourse.

These lessons are particularly relevant for students engaged in service-learning, as I discovered as an instructor in University of Illinois at Chicago’s Chicago Civic Leadership Certificate Program (CCLCP), an initiative funded by the McCormick Foundation that enacts the university’s commitment to engaged scholarship. Over several years, I worked with the same cohort of undergraduate students, teaching them to apply academic learning to contexts outside the classroom in partnership with local nonprofits. Under my guidance and with my considerable feedback, students developed projects as diverse as a fundraising website for a community health center, a thirty-minute Prezi presentation on the voting process for Chinese immigrants, and a multimedia annual report for an organization that offers equestrian therapy to disabled children. While creating these unique products for their respective partners, CCLCP students investigated the practices that comprise the dynamic and shifting rhetorical situations from which various genres function as tools for action. Bringing this engagement with genre to more traditional texts, for the program’s capstone course I taught a unit using two Chicago works—Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Studs Terkel’s Working—in an effort to illustrate how authors (writing in what students imagine as the genres of yesterday) telegraph their own definitions of meaningful work. In response to our readings, students created videos, using original footage and narration, to place their service-learning experiences into conversation with Sinclair and Terkel’s separate notions of socially ethical work. Not only was this a successful means of meeting the program goals, but we were all pleasantly surprised when the students’ videos received over 1,000 YouTube views after just a few weeks.  

While the highly collaborative energy of CCLCP was intuitive for me, a pilot blended learning initiative was anything but. Given my affinity for in-person contact, and my reliance on group-based teaching methods, I developed considerable anxiety in the struggle to transform my teaching style and curricular approach for a blended environment. After teaching the courses, however, I appreciate the professional value of this rupture in my approach, which forced me to confront an overreliance on group strategies. I am convinced by what journalist Susan Cain has cautioned is the educational tyranny of group-based learning, which eliminates the kind of “quiet” that is optimal for introverted students. As I’ve learned, the benefit of dynamic web-based pedagogy is exponentially increased for these “quiet” students, who prefer to consume the material at their own pace, and for whom it is more productive to participate in a virtual classroom as opposed to a physical one. I have ultimately discovered that a flexible teaching approach that integrates dynamic media—like digital literary archives or web-based museum exhibits—can accomplish a set of objectives unavailable in more traditional classroom formats. 

My experience in leadership positions in my current department—including my participation in the development and administration of the CCLCP and blended learning initiatives—has accustomed me to thinking at the curricular, not just the course, level. As an educator, then, I am naturally inclined to think about how my pedagogical choices relate to the values and culture that define my home institution and department. Productive discomfort can mean different things in different places, and I am eager to reshape this approach with the particularities of my next department’s students in mind.  



Academia.edu Profile: Teaching Documents