Illinois State University Department of English Professors K. Aaron Smith and Susan Kim are in their second semester of teaching with their newly published textbook, This Language, A River: A History of English.
After years of preparation and use in an undergraduate course on the history of English here at Illinois State, the book was published by Broadview Press December 5, 2017. It is in its first edition.
The book provides a broad history of English intended for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as scholars from different fields who study the subject.
“Based on its sales, it appears the book has been adopted in several classrooms around the country,” said Smith.
Smith and Kim were not satisfied with the available materials when they began co-teaching History of English back in 2006.
“The most commonly used textbook for History of English is the same used when I was in graduate school, and when my professor was in graduate school,” said Kim.
The two professors have a unique way of teaching and presenting the history of English, due to their differing academic backgrounds. Smith is a theoretical linguist, and Kim specializes in Old English and medieval literature. In writing this book, they intend to bridge the gap between approaches to the history of English. Smith stressed that a history of the language is not merely about the way that it has been written.
“We don’t just use language to write,” said Smith. “We use it to speak and more recently to communicate on the internet. Our book addresses changes in writing, speaking and other modes of language.”
Smith and Kim also believe this textbook provides a history of English more applicable to how the subject is studied today.
“Old histories only looked at a standard, ‘good’ English,” said Smith. “Now our sensibilities about English are quite varied and occupy places all over the globe.”
Using the textbook has helped to strengthen their confidence as lecturers.
“It’s a gigantic relief,” said Kim. “Now we can feel confident that the kinds of materials we want to be supporting our lectures are available to students.”
In 2013 Kim co-authored Inconceivable Beasts with Asa Simon Mittman, and more recently a chapter in The Routledge Companion to Medieval Iconography. Smith has published several articles and book chapters on the development of auxiliary verbs in Old English, German, and Modern English. Writing a textbook is a new venture for both Kim and Smith.
“The scope is broader for a textbook,” said Smith. “But it should be mentioned that much information in the book is based on our own research and offers new perspectives on certain questions about the history of English.”
Shortly after publishing the book, Smith and Kim were asked by their publishers to create an accompanying workbook. They are halfway through the workbook, and speculate it will take a few more months. Revisions to the textbook will receive more attention afterwards.