Ian MacInnes (B.A. Swarthmore College, Ph.D. University of Virginia) is Chair and Professor of English at Albion College and director of the Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity. His Southern Michigan farm is home to an assortment of animals from horses to chickens, animals which serve as unwitting backdrops for his scholarly interest in representations of animals and the environment in Renaissance literature, particularly in Shakespeare. As a teacher at Albion College for twenty years, Ian has learned to engage students in material that is both difficult and inherently distant from them both in language and culture.
Over the years, Ian has sought to encourage students by appealing to their sense of play and their curiosity. He wants students to take joy and pride in understanding material they once considered daunting, even impossible. A sense of play enters into his classroom planning, his assignments, and the work he does with students on their independent research. It manifests in small things like course design and classroom games, but also in project-based learning designed to integrate scholarship in the curriculum.
In one first-year seminar, for example, his students researched, designed, built, and drove a Bronze-age Homeric chariot. This daunting project allowed his newest students to develop their skill in research, writing, and collaboration on a difficult topic. His desire to appeal to a sense of play also explains the amount of time he has spent seeking or developing ways of using technology in teaching, from creating Twitter “quests” to writing webapps.
Ironically, given his avowed interest in technology, Ian is wary of the way it distances us from our subject matter and even from the world, and he frequently strives to bring students back into contact with the sources of the knowledge they are coming to own. Sometimes this can be simple, like passing around a 17th-century Spanish dollar (the “piece-of-eight”) with its twin pillars wrapped with the motto ne plus ultra (the origin of the modern dollar sign) when discussing the appropriation of classical images in the Renaissance work of empire. More broadly, he believes we all learn our most indelible lessons from contact with the least mediated sources, including archives, real-world geography, and of course face-to-face conversations in the classroom.
Ian’s recent research has been published in Textual Practice (2003), Global Traffic: Discourses and Practices of Trade in English Literature and Culture from 1550 to 1700 (2008), The Horse as Cultural Icon (2011), and The Indistinct Human in Renaissance Literature (2012). His topics have ranged from horse breeding and geohumoralism in Henry V to invertebrate bodies in Hamlet. Currently, he is working on two essays for publication, one on representations of eastern rivers like the Ganges in English Renaissance poetry and one on semantic memory bias in Shakespeare’s Dark Lady Sonnets.
Outside of the classroom and the archives, Ian is an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys, sailing, hiking, and skiing, when not attending to the constant needs of an active animal farm.