English faculty

Michael Kensak, Ph.D.

Professor of English and German
Director of Integrative General Education

Ph.D., Vanderbilt University
M.A., Vanderbilt University
B.A., Princeton University

712-707-7039
kensak@nwciowa.edu
DOOR 3

Profile

Through medieval and renaissance literature, linguistics and German, Dr. Kensak seeks to impart a love for words—their meaning, power and history. He earned degrees in German and music from Princeton and his Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt. Kensak's research on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales involves medieval pilgrimage narratives, language theory, alchemical lore, and the idea of spiritual inebriation. His work has appeared in journals like The Chaucer Review, Studies in Philology, and Philological Quarterly. Funded by the Lilly Foundation, Kensak produced a multimedia German textbook which he uses in four German courses. In addition to German, he is proficient in Latin, Middle English, and Old English, and has a reading knowledge of several more languages.


Courses

  • Linguistic Perspectives on English

    Linguistic Perspectives on English

    Where did our language come from? How did English get the biggest vocabulary of any modern language? How are the words joust, yoke, and yoga related? Why is English spelling so irregular? Are there bad words? This course traces the 1500 year development of our language, from the Germanic tongue of Beowulf to the Frenchified language of Chaucer, to the many varieties of modern English spoken around the world.(4 credits, alternate years, consult department)
  • Beginning German Language and Culture

    Beginning German Language and Culture

    Instruction in the German language and enhanced cognitive skills and insight into another culture. Classes foster communicative competence by emphasizing speaking, listening, reading and writing. Building on previously acquired ability in German, students acquire the linguistic and cultural fluency necessary for basic communication in a German speaking country.Prerequisite: GER101, or placement by the foreign language placement exam.(3 credits)
  • Beginning German Language and Culture

    Beginning German Language and Culture

    Along with instruction in the German language, beginning German offers students enhanced cognitive skills and insight into another culture. Classes foster communicative competence by emphasizing speaking, listening, reading and writing. Students begin to acquire the linguistic and cultural fluency necessary for basic communication in a German speaking country.Prerequisite: No previous study of German, or placement by the foreign language placement exam.(3 credits)
  • Intermediate German Language and Culture

    Intermediate German Language and Culture

    An intermediate course in German language and culture, German 201 continues the sequence begun by German 101 and 102. After a review of grammar and vocabulary, students will augment their knowledge of German by practicing the four language skills: speaking, reading, writing and listening. In addition to the textbook, students will be exposed to primary sources including news media, film and short stories. Special attention will be given to developing conversational skills and exploring differences between American and German culture.Prerequisite: GER102, or placement by the foreign language placement exam.(3 credits, alternate years, consult department)
  • Intermediate German Language and Culture

    Intermediate German Language and Culture

    Intermediate-level instruction in German language and culture. Study of primary sources such as short stories, newspapers, songs and movies to explore German culture and increase linguistic ability. Special emphasis on conversation, reading and idiomatic expression.Prerequisite: GER201, or placement by the foreign language placement exam.(3 credits, alternate years, consult department)
  • First-Year Seminar: Speaking and Writing in Community

    First-Year Seminar: Speaking and Writing in Community

  • Literary Contexts

    Literary Contexts

  • Shakespeare

    Shakespeare

    William Shakespeare never attended college, yet he saw the world sharply in his mind's eye. He wrote piercingly about kings and college students, warriors and witches, goblins and gravediggers, his 1,000 characters have never been off the stage in 400 years. In this course we read eight plays which fathom the range of human experience and take the English language to the height of expressive beauty. Prerequisite: ENG220 (4 credits)
  • Medieval Literature

    Medieval Literature

    The Middle Ages was a Christian millennium. Authors, philosophers, astronomers and economists pursued their calling within a Christian worldview and a Catholic power structure. When warlike Anglo-Saxons imagined the crucifixion, they saw a heroic prince stripping for battle and mounting the cross in triumph. Medieval dramatists recreated the entire pageant of biblical history on a long summer's day. In this course we read literary and historical works by both men and women, including Beowulf , Sir Gawain and the Green Knight , and The Canterbury Tales . Prerequisite: ENG220. (4 credits, alternate years, consult department)
  • English Renaissance Literature

    English Renaissance Literature

    Like our own age, the Renaissance saw spiritual perspectives and secular perspectives in conflict and in synthesis. Writers, like seafarers, expanded our understanding of what it is to be human in this world. In this course we read plays, speeches, and poems by such authors as Shakespeare, Elizabeth I, Donne and Milton.Prerequisite: ENG220.(4 credits, alternate years, consult department)

Scholarship

  • "Grassroots General Education Assessment.”  60-Minute Workshop Presentation. Purdue University Assessment Institute, October 2013.   
  • Grüß Gott!: A Multimedia German Program. Funded by the Lilly Foundation. Used at Northwestern College in German 101, 102, 201, and 202. Self-published, 2011.
  • “What Transpires in Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’: A Pattern of Subversive Allusions.”  Northern Plains Conference on Early British Literature, Dordt College April 2013.
  • “Marketing the New Liberal Arts.”  Lilly Scholar Presentation, Northwestern College, March 2010, September 2011, April 2012.
  • “Creating Community in the Online Classroom: Best Practices and Christian Perspectives.” Northwestern College Faculty Development Seminar, March 2009.
  • “From Pixar to PowerPoint: Using 2D Animations in the Language Classroom.”  Northwestern College Faculty Development Seminar, February 2008.   
  • “Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Medieval Hylomorphic Theory.”  2006 Southeastern Medieval Academy Meeting, Stetson University.
  • "My first matere I wil yow telle": Losing (and Finding) Your Place in Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess. In "Seyd in forme and reverence": Chaucerian Essays in Memory of Emerson Brown, eds. Tom Burton and John F. Plummer. Provo: Chaucer Studio: 2006.
  • “In Memoriam: Emerson Brown, Jr.” The Chaucer Review 37 (2002): 190-194.
  • “What Ails Chaucer's Cook?: Spiritual Alchemy and the Ending of The Canterbury Tales.” Philological Quarterly 80 (2001): 213-231.
  • “Apollo exterminans: The God of Poetry in Chaucer's Manciple's Tale.” Studies in Philology 98 (2001): 143-157.
  • “The Silences of Pilgrimage: Manciple's TaleParadisoAnticlaudianus.” The Chaucer Review 34 (1999): 190-206.  

Professional involvements and accomplishments

  • Peer-reviewer for The Chaucer Review
  • Peer-reviewer for The University of Toronto Press
  • AP Rater (AP English Language, ETS)

Memberships

  • American Association of Colleges & Universities

Honors

  • 2007         Finalist, Northwestern College Teaching Excellence Award
  • 2005-6     Research Sabbatical, Northwestern College
  • 2000        Colloquium Prize, Medieval Studies Colloquium, University of the South
  • 1998        Dissertation with Honors, Vanderbilt University
  • 1995        Novus Prize, Novus et Antiquus Conference, Ball State University
  • 1993        Graduated cum laude, Princeton University
  • 1992         Junior Paper Prize, Department of German, Princeton University
  • 1991         Class of 1860 Prize for Old English, Princeton University