On November 28, Professor of English Eduardo Cadava was featured in the Profiles in Distinguished Teaching series organized by the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning and co-sponsored by the Office of the Dean of the College and the Office of the Dean of the Faculty. Cadava, one of four recipients of the 2018 President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, gave a teaching demonstration followed by a conversation with Andrew Cole, Professor of English and Director of the Gauss Seminars in Criticism.
In her introductory remarks, Kate Stanton, the McGraw Center’s Senior Associate Director for Teaching Initiatives and Programs, described Profiles in Distinguished Teaching as an effort to increase the visibility of of Princeton professors’ teaching, which usually happens “in the privacy of classrooms.” She also related the praise Cadava has received from undergraduates, who have characterized his pedagogy as “brilliant,” “inspiring,” “indefatigable,” and “life-changing.”
For his teaching demonstration, Cadava lectured on a passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Fate,” published in 1860. Cadava, who will teach a course on Emerson and Frederick Douglass in the spring, wants to make students “exceed what they already know.” He accomplishes this goal through assigning challenging texts like “Fate,” in which Emerson engages with contemporary theories of race. Arguing for the importance of “reconstruct[ing] the world that made [a text] possible,” Cadava connected the passage from “Fate” to several nineteenth-century texts and topics, including Charles Lyell’s geological writings and the United States’ importation of guano from Peru.
In his conversation with Cole, Cadava recollected that he discovered Emerson while studying Friedrich Nietzsche, who reportedly admired Emerson to the point of carrying a volume of his essays in his pocket. Emerson was criticized in his time for focusing on abstract ideas instead of politics or everyday life, Cadava noted, but this was a misconception. Instead, Emerson writes about politics in relation to language, which he describes as “the archives of history.”
Cadava also described “Confict Shorelines,” his ongoing pedagogical project with Princeton Global Scholar Eyal Weizman. This series of graduate-level courses focuses on what Cadava and Weizman call “environmental thresholds”: regions in which political conflict has exacerbated climate change. The first course, called “Amazonia: A Botanical Archaeology of Genocide,” took graduate students from seven different departments on a “transformative” excursion to Brazil, where they stayed in indigenous villages and visited soy farms. The second Conflict Shorelines course brought students to the Negev Desert, Tel Aviv, and Bedouin villages; the third course will feature a trip to the Canadian Arctic.
In response to Cole’s question about the relationship between classroom conversations and students’ daily lives, Cadava recalled teaching a course on literature and photography during the 2016 presidential election. In an essay written in response to the rise of fascism in the 1920s, the theorist Walter Benjamin argues that photography has both enhanced and diminished the world’s understanding of itself. Cadava’s students connected Benjamin’s argument to modern debates over the reality-distorting effects of social media.