Faculty Spotlight: Catherine Mainland

By Maren Carter

Catherine Mainland, a professor of literature in NC State’s Department of English and an instructor in both the University Honors College and the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program, explores art, music, literature and film relating to modern wars in HON 202: The Art of War. Mainland says the basis of the course syllabus came from her love of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Supplemental material for the seminar includes scholarly “texts about the psychology of war” and the “changing role of the media in times of war,” in addition to film and poetry that relate to the course content. On selecting auxiliary works for the course, Mainland said “designing seminars gives instructors total freedom, so I typically work with things I like.” In screening an episode of M*A*S*H in the course, she says “it just made me happy.”

Mainland says that, although “content and course structure may be different” in comparing her English and literature courses to her honors seminars, she “find[s] [her] students’ engagement and work are the same across the board,” noting, “NC State is my favorite of all the places I’ve taught.” Mainland says that in her honors seminars, students focus on music and visual art in addition to literature. 

Being involved with the University Honors and Scholars program, Mainland expressed that “It’s so much fun to be able to teach whatever I want!” In the English course she instructs, the material is limited to a specific region or era, but “UHSP courses can combine literally anything you can think of. It’s a great reason (or excuse) for faculty to keep learning about new eras, genres and topics.” She finished this thought saying that professors are “really just students who never left college.”

Raised in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, which is known as the birthplace of famed economist and philosopher Adam Smith, Mainland attended high school in Brussels. She then returned to Scotland to get her B.A. in German from the University of Stirling. Moving to the United States, Mainland received her first M.A. and Ph.D. from UNC Chapel Hill in Germanic languages and literatures. She jokes she “saw the error of [her] ways,” and came to NC State to get a second M.A. degree in English literature. She has now been a faculty member at NC State for 10 years. 

When asked how her area of expertise influenced the course content of HON 202, she responded, “switching from studying Germanic Languages and Literatures to English Literature taught me my most important lessons about interdisciplinarity. Absolutely everything is interconnected; human responses to the world transcend any national or historical boundaries.” Mainland first taught introductory German language courses, which she says “probably influenced how I teach everything else.”

“Studying a language is about identifying frameworks and patterns and learning how to build on our knowledge, bit by bit. Courses in the Humanities are the same.” 

In every course Mainland teaches, she says “[the class is] all about empowerment, no matter what the actual subject is.” When asked what she’d like her students to take away from The Art of War seminar, Mainland says she wants her “students to be able to approach any cultural artifact with critical and creative thinking skills,” in addition to understanding “how much control they have over the readers or audiences of everything they create themselves.” Applying the importance of learning the humanities, she says that “whether it’s a job application or a podcast, [students] can use the techniques they’ve analyzed in literature and art to their own advantage. It’s a bit like taking a car engine apart to understand how it works, so you can go off and build a better one.”

“There’s no way I could teach my students everything there is to know about artistic responses to war, but I can help them develop a skill set they can take with them once the semester is over,” Mainland said. “That’s the joy of the humanities: you can just keep exploring forever.”

Mainland is currently teaching and researching male hysteria in 19th and 20th century American literature. University Honors and Scholars students can enroll in HON 202: The Art of War, in addition to Mainland’s other honors seminar, HON 202: Fiction and Science, both of which are frequently offered.

This post was originally published in DASA.

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