Tim Cassedy: Re-Contextualizing the Canon, Complicating Certainty

With a passion for a gray-scaled world lacking absolutes and certainty, and a complex and global view of historical events, Tim Cassedy, the newest Assistant Professor of English on the SMU campus, wants to challenge our perspective and what we think we know about history. He had this to say in a recent interview:

How did your road lead you to SMU?

In graduate school I started thinking about books not just as texts but as physical objects that circulate promiscuously across national borders. Once I started thinking about American literature in those terms, I started following books back and forth across the Atlantic rather than sticking to the traditional American literary canon. I ended up becoming more of a cultural historian who uses literary modes of reading, rather than a literary historian. That happens to make sense to this department.

What fresh perspective do you bring to the English Department?

I want to teach American Literature in a way that foregrounds the questions “What is American?” and “What is Literature?”— in a Trans-Atlantic context. I want to teach British and American literature in the same course, using the British texts popular with American readers to re-contextualize the texts of the American canon.

For example?

Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and the journal that James Boswell kept of a year he spent in London, 1762-1763. Ostensibly, one is an American text and one is a British text. But as a kid, Franklin was constantly reading British books and magazines, and a big chunk of the autobiography takes place in London. Ultimately both are books about being young in the 18th century in a broader Anglophone world.

How do you hope to affect those around you in the future, not only in the college classroom, but in a broader sense? In the university? Go as big as you want!

I like this question! I have a professional and moral commitment to the idea that simple answers are boring and often wrong. I often play devil’s advocate and switch positions on issues. I am unwilling to settle on a single answer. It’s my mission in the world: to undermine simple answers, or to complicate certainty.

-Zahra Kahn, Soph. English Major


About Ruby Kim

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