Ryan Fong, Surveying Our Pedagogical Forms
Despite the robust and productive debates taking place in our field about the length, breadth, and depth of the Victorian period, when it comes to the ways that we frame the era for our teaching—and our undergraduate teaching, most especially—the boundaries are often much more fixed and limited. Even though we teach across a wide variety of institutions, most of us offer some form of the period survey as part of our core teaching responsibilities.  Moreover, since the basic descriptions and temporal frameworks of these courses were typically set long before our arrivals on our respective campuses, the ways that we construct our syllabi are influenced as much by our own intellectual investments and aesthetic interests as they are by disciplinary and curricular forces largely out of our control. Thus, while the outer limits of these surveys can vary slightly depending on the specific college or university where we teach—with the First Reform Act or Victoria’s ascension serving as the most typical benchmarks for its beginning and with Victoria’s death or World War I as its end—these are relatively small gradations in the grand scheme of things, especially when considering the eight decades that these courses have in common.
In this light, I would like to use this space to consider the third thesis of the V21 Manifesto, which asks us to “rigorously articulate what it is we are doing when we work within particular frames,” by thinking about the work that we do within the particular frame of the period survey. I began some of this work in my initial reaction to the Manifesto some weeks ago, which focused on the micro-practices of facilitating discussions and constructing lectures and on the ways they routinely and productively combine historicist and formalist approaches.  In so doing, however, I moved quite quickly past my claim that creating a syllabus also exemplifies how we interrogate the relationship between form and history, since building a course “necessarily demands that we draw spatial, temporal, and aesthetic boundaries around a set of texts and then chart our trajectory across them.” Returning to this point, I realize now that I missed a crucial opportunity to examine the period survey as an important point of critical entry for understanding how we not only frame and trace the history of particular literary forms in the nineteenth century but also how we give form and shape to the Victorian itself.
My thinking here is deeply influenced by Franco Moretti’s embrace of visual abstraction in Graphs, Maps, Trees—even though pedagogy was not at the forefront of his analysis in that project and even though a ten- or fifteen-week syllabus hardly represents the “big data” that he privileges within it. Nevertheless, in identifying the “trio of artificial constructs” named in his title as apt descriptors of the “shapes, relations, [and] structures” that we use to organize literary history, Moretti provides a useful approach for shifting our perception from “from texts to models” when thinking about course design.  For Moretti, these shapes and spatial structures posit abstraction not as “an end itself, but a way to widen the domain of the literary historian” and can thus usefully delineate how we shape and structure a course syllabus to both distill a period into a few representative parts while also providing a wider and more comprehensive sense of its domain. 
Furthermore, when we combine this use of geometric shape as a mechanism for historical thinking with Caroline Levine’s more recent insistence that we look at the particular “affordances” or the “potential uses or actions latent” in a given form or structure, we can begin to “grasp both the specificity and the generality” of these shapes in our teaching, as well as their “constraints and possibilities.”  In this sense, by identifying the affordances of the forms that we use to structure our syllabi, we can also examine “what potentialities lie latent” within the “aesthetic and social arrangements” that we construct to give a sense of historical coherence to the Victorian period for our students. 
In my own teaching, I have used two basic forms to organize my Victorian survey courses—and I hypothesize that these shapes are incredibly ubiquitous, given my consultation with a few colleagues. The first, which I have found is the much more commonly used model, is the historical arc, which proceeds in a linear and sequential fashion across a set of textual materials, often chosen from one of the major anthologies and supplemented with a handful of novels. The second is the “spokes on a wheel” model, which moves through a series of clustered texts and uses them as case studies, each organized around a theme or historical topic. 
In my own course, I have organized these groupings around the four “Victorian Issues” sections included in the Norton Anthology of English Literature on Evolution, Industrialism, the “Woman Question,” and Empire and National Identity. These clusters have allowed me to provide a concrete structure for the class while eschewing chronology and moving back and forth across texts from a range of years and from a number of different genres.
Certainly, these forms and shapes are useful ones and, to use Levine’s terminology, have afforded a number benefits when I have used them to frame the Victorian period for my students. Furthermore, while my surveys of the Victorian period are not the only ones to use these basic structures—indeed, I have used them in my surveys of Romanticism, as well as twentieth-century British literature—I would contend that their forms productively illuminate aspects of the Victorian itself, by affording both particular insights about of my chosen texts and about the relationships between them. In the case of the historical arc, its shape has been incredibly valuable for tracing patterns of generic development, and tracking how the realist novel or the lyric poem, to take two of the most prominent examples, transforms and evolves across the period.
Crucially though, this shape also has its limits, in the ways that it often enforces a particular narrative of rise and fall and can frequently lead to a horizontal understanding of history that posits a teleological unfolding of aesthetic forms and expressions. But to follow Levine, these conceptual limitations are also part of the arc’s affordances as an organizing form and can offer critical opportunities in their own right. When exceptional examples and outliers inevitably emerge—the places where social realism gives way to Gothicism in Great Expectations, for example, or where the reverse happens in Dracula—they help identify the points at which an arc becomes stressed or even breaks. In this sense, while a historical arc has a tendency to flatten, the ruptures that it affords, by its very nature, offer powerful instances where students can begin to understand the “Victorian” in a much more three-dimensional and variable way and even identify the instances where the term “Victorian” no longer coheres or holds. In these moments, the form of the arc serves as a starting rather than ending point, and becomes a mechanism for perceiving the convergence and divergence of multiple trajectories rather than a shape to contain and manage them.
The same is true of the “spokes on a wheel” model, which allows a class to produce a rich and varied understanding of a specific historical concern, but which also breaks down as texts begin to violate and blur the boundaries that define a given issue. Again though, rather than seeing this eventual collapse as a flaw within the organizing form, these affordances provide the opportunity to help students produce a more complex understanding of the Victorian period and its literatures. When I have presented Jane Eyre, for instance, in the “Woman Question” cluster to talk about female education and the bildungsroman, an incredibly productive conversation emerges when students later realize that it could have just as easily be placed in the cluster on “Empire and National Identity.” The same dialogues occur when we get to Middlemarch, which could go anywhere and everywhere in the wheel and which I have used to ultimately transform the discreet and rigid “spokes” named at the beginning of a course into the intersecting and intertwining threads of the more Eliotian form of a web.
In this way, although we are all already acutely aware of the artificiality and contingency of the temporal markers that we employ to bracket the “Victorian” in these period surveys, accounting for the shapes we use to arrange the field in our teaching offers an important place to both identify the formal structures that undergird and organize our patterns of historical thinking and, more importantly, allows us to reflect on the places where they reach their conceptual limits. Thus, as my response to the Manifesto already endeavored to show, our work as teachers remains a vital site where we are generating the critical frameworks that can help us move past the positivist historicism so excoriated in the Manifesto’s first thesis and that can enable us to further articulate a rich sense of all that the Victorian affords.
 Notably, at many institutions, the period survey has been or is in the process of being replaced by other, more topically driven courses designed to bolster English enrollments, as part of the neoliberalization of the university and the specific attack on the humanities that Lauren Goodlad identified in her previous thought piece (http://v21collective.org/lauren-goodlad-on-the-futures-of-v21/). I thank Susan Cook for reminding me of this fact, and for her and Victoria Ford Smith’s feedback on an early draft of this piece.
 Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees (London: Verso, 2005), 1.
 Moretti, 1-2.
 Caroline Levine, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), 6.
 Levine, 6.
 These two shapes were first brought to my attention as ways to shape a dissertation by my advisor, Catherine Robson, many years ago now. Needless to say, I have found them useful ways to think about pedagogy and course designed—a fact that bears Levine’s point out that “patterns and arrangements carry their affordances with them across time and space” (6).