The Transcendental Path: Prominence of Place Class of Spring 2014

Shepherd University’s department of English and modern languages will offer a spring semester travel related course dealing with 19th century American literature.

While sitting in a classroom reading and discussing literature is how students are mainly taught material, every spring semester an English course is offered at Shepherd that allows pupils and community members to physically explore the places that are featured in their lessons.

The class is called prominence of place and, in focusing on a specific genre or time period of literature, offers a trip for students to help bring the material to life. “Seeing is believing” is a quotation taken to heart by those who teach prominence of place classes, as students are led to locales during the travel practicum portion that they have read about within the literature or to the areas in which the authors wrote their works.

According to Betty Ellzey, professor and chair of the department of English and modern languages, prominence of place classes started being offered at Shepherd University in the mid ‘90s. English professors take turns every semester in coming up with ideas for areas of study and the places that would be best to visit.

Ellzey has led two such classes herself, and when asked if she thought the trips actually made a difference in how pupils relate to the material taught, she replied, “Absolutely! It’s a wonderful experience and helps the students really take the literature to heart.”

Heidi Hanrahan, associate professor of English, will be leading the upcoming prominence of place course in the spring of 2014. Hanrahan specializes in 19th century American literature and so the class (ENG 446) will focus on that particular period. Hanrahan is very excited to be able to lead students around the areas of Massachusetts where much of the country’s most famous 19th century literature was written or took place.

“We will be reading texts from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, and the texts ‘The House of the Seven Gables’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne and ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott,” Hanrahan stated. The areas the class will visit during the travel practicum are Salem, Concord, Amherst and Pittsfield.

Hanrahan specified that students are able to sign up just for the class if they are unable to participate in the travel practicum, which costs roughly $700 and will take place in May after classes have ended for summer break. Students and non-students can also sign up for the practicum without taking the class if they just want to take the trip. If they are interested, they should email Hanrahan directly and possibly experience literature in real life 3D.

Joe Offutt, a senior, took the prominence of place class Celtic roots last spring when students were able to visit England, Ireland and Scotland over spring break. Offut said he really enjoyed going to Glasgow and thought one of the best parts was seeing “London’s tube stations where you could still see the damage from World War II.”

Kim Ballard, a senior who also attended the Celtic roots class and trip, thought it was amazing to be able to “see the street names we had read about in ‘Dubliners’” and to “experience literary history in person.” She commented on how the trip tied the material together firmly in her memory, and that it was “so worth it.”

Students who are interested in either facet of the program should contact Hanrahan at


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