For Patrick Brugh, Ph.D., building a learning community is at the heart of everything

Q&A with Patrick Brugh, Ph.D., affiliate assistant professor of modern languages and literatures, Gender Studies

Patrick Brugh, Ph.D., joined Loyola’s faculty in 2013, when he began teaching in Loyola’s graduate program in Liberal Studies. In 2014, he started teaching undergraduate classes in Gender Studies and this past fall, he added German language to his teaching schedule.

Brugh, whose courses range from All is Fair in Love and War: Women’s Literature from 900-2012 and American Manhood in the Making to Gender Studies and German 101, recently spoke with Loyola magazine about his new role as new director of the director of Loyola’s Language Learning Center.

What do you like most about teaching at Loyola?

Students at Loyola, both graduates and undergraduates, want to know how to apply learning to their real-world experiences. They want to know how to use the information that they’re learning. And then they use it almost immediately.

Are you involved in any other programs, clubs, or extracurricular activities with students?

I’m involved with the German Club, Take Back the Night, club swimming, OutLoyola (new this year), and whatever else students ask me to help with.

What are some of your goals in your new role as director of Loyola’s Language Learning Center?

I want to build a language learning community and create a space where students want to go, where they want to work and study and learn. Partially that will be done by making more resources available (online and in the center), but I hope that a big part of it will be getting the message out that we’re up here in Maryland Hall and that we have a nice space to study and learn. I’d love to see a steady stream of students and faculty to make good use of our space and the beautiful facilities we have to offer.

My long-term goal is to turn the center into a learning and community hub that has spaces for studying, technology, collaboration, and teaching. Many of those spaces are already there, but this goal is about maximizing accessibility, usability, and visibility for those spaces.

What do you like about teaching various subjects in the same semester?

I enjoy variety, both in subject matter and in levels. First-year students and upperclassmen and graduate students all bring their unique pedagogical challenges, but the practice of building a learning community is always central to what I do, regardless of the subject.

And interdisciplinarity is key to all of the classes that I teach. I find that even when I’m teaching gender studies (which has a heavy social science element), engaging with language, film, art, and literature helps students see how important aesthetic and linguistic practices are to society.

When I teach literature, philosophy, and history, it’s also important that we stay grounded in the real-world implications of these texts and ideas, especially with regard to policies, laws, and institutions.

In the German language classroom, the social and aesthetic elements are still crucial. During the spring semester, my German 103 class will read a short children’s novel about refugees in Germany called Neben mir ist noch Platz [There’s still room next to me]. That story will help them link their grammatical knowledge (even the title, in the dative case, is a notable grammatical lesson) to a literary text that carries tremendous moral and social weight in the current geopolitical situation in Europe as a result of the Syrian crisis.

Do you have a favorite class to teach?

My favorite class to teach is always the one right in front of me!

My course on the history of women’s literature is fun and successful, but I’ve taught it four times now, and it’s time to change it up. My seminar on masculinity, which I’ve taught three different ways at this point should be my favorite, but I’ve not found the magical combination of texts and assignments to make it really click. And German language courses are always a treat, because you have the chance to encourage students to play with language in a way they don’t always think to do—and you get to expand their cultural horizon by introducing them to a new social, linguistic, and cultural tradition.

Can you talk a little about your research?

My current book project is about how gunpowder technology changed the way people thought about and imagined warfare in the 16th and 17th centuries. I’m most interested in the ways that gunpowder changed discussions about gender, ethics, and aesthetics in warfare. By the 17th century, the knight was no longer an important part of the army. That had a tremendous effect on who the main characters in war novels were, on definitions of warrior masculinity, and it meant that (at least for most of the 17th century ) warfare was no longer described as something beautiful, noble, and ethically good. There wasn’t a switch in thinking overnight, and there were a lot of factors that are a part of this shift, but this change took several centuries to undergo and gunpowder remained a central theme throughout.

My project looks at changes in technology from the long historical view (1400-1700). I try to see all of the niches of culture that were impacted by this change. My other research at the moment looks into hybrid feminist-Ignatian pedagogies, social justice in the language classroom, and women warriors from the middle ages to today.

Why is your research/scholarship so important to you?

My historical research is important to me because of the direct implication it has for how we see warfare today. In the same way that gunpowder impacted how early modern people thought about war, drones, airplanes, helicopters, laser guided missiles, and nuclear submarines have all made their mark on the aesthetics of war today. It’s hard to imagine a Vietnam War film without a helicopter, and it’s hard to imagine a contemporary spy or war movie without some “smart” missile or drone technology. Technology of violence changes the way we understand what war is supposed to look like and what constitutes just and unjust war.

Can you describe an “aha!” moment in your research?

When I started writing the gunpowder book, I wasn’t sure that gender would be a part of it, because I was sure that gunpowder had nothing to do with gender. It wasn’t until a visiting professor (now full professor) at Washington University in St. Louis demanded that I find gender that I realized it was there all along. I was so blind, it was in front of my face.

The books I was reading (non-fictional military treatises and fictional novels, mostly) had talked about “mannheyt” (manhood) as something that was no longer a part of warfare because gunpowder had “erased” it. That’s an intensely gendered comment that suggests an opposition between gunpowder technology and masculinity, as if the two can’t exist together. When I looked more closely, I found this exact formulation everywhere: in essays by Martin Luther, by Erasmus of Rotterdam, by Sebastian Franck, in stories by Ariosto, and Grimmelshausen, and Daniel Defoe. It was everywhere. That helped me to see more clearly the connection between technology, gender, aesthetics, and ethics.

How are our Jesuit values reflected in your teaching and/or scholarship?

As a Jesuit-educated person, there are a number of elements which can’t escape my teaching or my research. One is to strive for radical empathy, to really work to understand the context and experiences that others have. Whether it’s my students or the people we’re talking about in class, putting yourself in another person’s shoes and really experiencing it changes how you perceive them. For me, that’s what my teaching of feminism and gender studies has been all about.

As a person who grew up privileged, white, and male, it was easy for me to think (mistakenly) that everyone would have access to the things I did. The idea of being “for others” helped me to recognize the importance of feminism for my life and for my own values. Thinking through the issues (and there are many, and they are conflicting) in feminism is a way for me to think through and for another group of people, whom I care about deeply. In the end, it didn’t take me long to see the ways that feminist theory can help men and women to reevaluate the values of masculinity, too.

Reflection and discernment are also important parts of my personal and pedagogical life. Especially in the last year, I have started doing the Examen as both a spiritual and education exercise with my classes. It helps students to refocus what they’re learning into their own lives, and it helps students to grapple with their own attitudes toward and struggles with both intellectual concepts and moral issues.

What is something your students don’t know about you?

My students hear a lot of my stories, but very few of them know that I worked in a brewery while I was on a Fulbright year in Germany after college, and that I’ve been brewing beer since my father taught me how to when I was little. Most of them probably also don’t know that I was the captain of the swim team at the University of Pennsylvania.

Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of teaching?

Swimming and running.

Can you share a favorite book, movie, or quote?

I’ve been reading a lot of bell hooks recently, so she’s in my head: “To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.” (Teaching to Transgress, 13)