Among his many teaching goals when he arrived at BYU in 2004, Professor Patrick Madden wanted to expose creative writing students to far more classical essays than they were used to (often they were used to zero), and he wanted to avoid costly, unwieldy coursepacks. His solution was an online anthology of public-domain essays (originally published before 1923) that covered the canonical authors (Montaigne, Lamb, Hazlitt, etc.) as well as lots of essayists who were nearly forgotten. With support from the English department and research assistant Joey Franklin, he adapted blogging software to provide an orderly container for hundreds of essays, including work by many women and a few minorities. In honor of the way so many essayists work from common, even mundane experiences and objects but write resplendently toward transcendence, he called his website Quotidiana.org, to suggest a collection of such oxymoronically ordinary/extraordinary writings.
The site has grown, too, to include interviews with dozens of living essayists who’ve either visited BYU or have spoken with Madden’s students over the phone, as well as irregular lists of excellent contemporary essayists selected from literary journals by students and honored as the “Essayest American Essays” of the year.
The resource serves not only BYU but people all around the world, with hundreds of teachers and thousands of students (as well as general readers) accessing the site each month. Its popularity fosters Dr. Madden’s belief that the essay genre is not simply a quaint, stuffy relic or an assignment students perform to show their knowledge of other topics, but it’s a vibrant and still-vital literary form in its own right, one that gives great aesthetic and intellectual pleasure as it allows readers insight not only into other times and places but other minds, which can’t help but increase our empathy and wellbeing.
The Utah Literacy Project is a door-to-door survey initiated by Wendy Baker Smemoe, assistant professor of English language and linguistics, with Brad Wilcox in the BYU McKay School of Education and Russell Warne, assistant professor of psychology at Utah Valley University. The survey includes questions about the ability to read prose, numbers, documents, and information on computers.
The main goals of the project are
1. To determine the number of illiterate adults in Utah County
2. To better understand who in Utah County is illiterate
3. To determine what factors contribute to their not seeking help
4. To determine what health effects may be related to illiteracy
Smemoe has served for a decade as a volunteer and board member of Project Read, a non-profit organization that helps with adult literacy. The survey organizers hope their research will help Project Read and other non-profits reach out to adults who can benefit from literacy programs and help adults with literacy needs to seek out the several free programs in Utah County.
For the students who have conducted over 100 surveys in Orem and Provo neighborhoods, it’s been a great opportunity to interact with community members and to learn about what literacy is and how to set up and carry out a study. Judy Ma, a graduate student, observes that “the most surprising thing for me is that some people didn’t want to take the survey because they thought their literacy was pretty high.” Another student, Bradley Elders, who has conducted many interviews explains that people “gladly participate when they learn that they will help those who need extra assistance.” He is “eager to see the results, knowing how much potential this project has.”
French Summer Camp
Each year the Department of French and Italian sponsors a thirteen-day French Summer Camp for high-school students.
The French Summer Camp has been held on the BYU Campus every June since 2010. Last year, seventy-two high-school students attended the 2014 camp. Participants came from across the United States (fourteen states) and from three foreign countries. More than half stayed in BYU dorms. The Department of French and Italian supports the camp by providing two fulltime faculty members, Robert Erickson as the camp director and Chantal Thompson as a French instructor. Two other professional French teachers from local school districts, David Nielsen and Charlotte Finlinson, also teach French classes at the camp. Participants attend language classes every morning and then go to workshops in the afternoon. The workshops, taught mostly by current or former BYU French majors, include writing, performance, arts and crafts, cooking, media and games. During the camp students also attend French faculty presentations on Francophone culture, try their hand at fencing and learn to play pétanque (a French game played with metal balls). Students created a blog in their writing workshop and prepared a talent show for parents in the performance workshop.
Based on pre- and post-tests of speaking and overall French ability, almost every student makes significant progress; however, parents and teachers report the biggest gains are in speaking fluency and confidence.
French Teachers Institute
The Department of French and Italian offers a French Teachers Institute (FTI) every three years for practicing junior and senior high-school French teachers.
The purpose of the Institute is to help teachers improve, renew, or acquire qualifications in French language, culture, and teaching. Robert Erickson is the Institute director; he recruits participants, teaches institute courses, and organizes activities in France. Participation is limited to four or five French teachers. The Summer 2012 FTI had four participants—two high-school and two junior-high teachers. The Institute offers three graduate-level courses: Teaching, Listening, and Speaking Skills (SLaT 611); Teaching and Learning about Culture (SLaT 613); and Advanced Oral and Written Communication (French 690R). Participants study on-campus for three weeks and then three and a half weeks in France. Teachers return to their classrooms with increased proficiency in French plus knowledge and teaching materials that improve student learning. Teaching materials include shared lesson plans with all supporting materials (digital photos, realia, recorded oral passages, etc.) based on teaching materials collected while in France. Lesson plans are guided by principles studied during both the on-campus and in-country segments of the institute. The in-France portion of the program provides an immersion experience with participants speaking French daily with the French and with each other. The in-France period always includes trips outside Paris with the objective of helping teachers get acquainted with non-tourist aspects of the areas they teach about. The summer 2012 group went on five side-trips outside of Paris. The participants planned and directed trips to Rouen, Etretat, and Le Havre. In past years, students have gone to Colmar, Strasbourg, Metz, Verdun and Luxembourg.
Even years later, participants report using in their French classrooms the lessons and materials they prepared and shared during the Institute.
During his service as an LDS temple president in Recife, Brazil (from 2009-2012), Professor Frederick G. Williams of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese gave public lectures in Portuguese on Dr. Frederick G. Williams, Counselor to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Since returning home from his mission, Professor Williams has given the same lecture in English at LDS stake centers in Oregon, Idaho, California, and Utah. These lectures represent a vast amount of research and publication that Williams has done on the subject.
Williams, a grandson twice removed of his namesake in the First Presidency of the Church, had always harbored the desire to publish a comprehensive biography on his illustrious ancestor. In 2009, just before beginning their service as president and matron of the Recife Brazil Temple, he submitted a 900-page manuscript to BYU Studies, which was published in 2012 as The Life of Dr. Frederick G. Williams, Counselor to the Prophet Joseph Smith.
The road to publication extended over 50 years and came in stages. The first was when he and his wife Carol moved from California to Utah to attend Brigham Young University. In their free time they travelled around the state interviewing descendants and researching in the LDS Church History Library.
The second significant stage came when the couple moved to Madison to attend the University of Wisconsin for his MA and PhD degrees in Luso-Brazilian Literature. During those five years they took advantage of the relative proximity to Nauvoo and Kirtland and took research trips to those and other Church history locations.
The third stage came in 1999, when, after 27 years of teaching at the University of California, Williams accepted the invitation to join the faculty at BYU. The move gave his wife the privilege of singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and gave him the opportunity to be near the Church archives, and to consult with professional historians. He was awarded the Gerrit de Jong, Jr. Professorship, which, coupled with a College of Humanities leave, gave him the funds to travel and do research, and the time to compose and complete the work.
Professor Williams is back teaching at BYU. The documentary history on his great great grandfather was sold out by mid 2013, but Deseret Book still carries it as an eBook.