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
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.
Shakespeare (4 credits; alternate years) 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: ENG250LC.
- Beginning German Language and Culture
Beginning German Language and Culture (3 credits) 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.
- First-Year Seminar: Speaking and Writing in Community
First-Year Seminar: Speaking and Writing in Community
- Linguistic Perspectives on English
Linguistic Perspectives on English (4 credits, consult department) 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.
- Literary Contexts
Literary Contexts (Fulfills IGE Literary Contexts requirement) ENG250LC offers students an
introduction to literary study. The topics of
individual sections vary by instructor and semester. After completing this
writing-intensive course, students will be able to imagine other lives, times,
and places by reading a variety of texts; empathize with characters who have
diverse stories and perspectives; analyze different genres of literature using
the tools of literary study; craft a coherent essay with a clear thesis and
careful textual analysis; articulate ways that literature speaks to and informs
their own lives; express delight in God through the beauty of language and
literary text; and witness God's presence in the world through literature.
Topics include: Literature in the World: This course teaches students to
appreciate the aesthetic value of literature and consider its cultural
contexts. The course explores the beauty of language, the importance of
understanding the self and others, and invites readers to consider how
literature contributes to our contemporary culture. The course is arranged
thematically and content varies from year to year. Themes may include, but are
not limited to: immigration, war, poverty, the power of metaphor, and visual
art and literature. Literary Imaginations: For literature to be more than ink
stains on white paper, we must use our imaginations to give it life. In this
course we shall read works from throughout human history and around the world
(India, Greece, Italy, England, Russia, Nigeria, Ireland, Japan) to imagine and
understand the world that people have believed in, created, and inhabited.
Literary Journeys: This course will examine a wide range of literature from
the 17th Century to the present, while introducing students to the literary
genres of the short story, the novel and poetry. Students will examine how
literature can give them insights into their own lives as well as the world
around them. Literary pieces will be examined in various historical, social and
political contexts. Assignments will help students develop their critical
reading and writing practices as well as expand the imaginative element of
literature and witness God's presence in the world through literature. The
Lives of Others: This course explores 4000 years of stories, from ancient
Mesopotamia to the American South. Plays, poems, epics, and autobiographies
broaden our perspective on the world and deepen our understanding of being
human. Two central themes of the course are perceptions of difference and
expressions of faith. Reading, Spirituality and Cultural Politics: This course
explores how literature can entertain, educate, change, and empower readers.
The assignments are designed to refine college writing skills and to deepen
students' critical knowledge and imaginative experience of literature. The end
goal of this course is that in learning to understand and serve their literary
neighbors, students will be better equipped to understand and serve their
literal neighbors. (4 credits)
- Beginning German Language and Culture
Beginning German Language and Culture (3 credits) 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.
- Intermediate German Language and Culture
Intermediate German Language and Culture (3 credits, alternate years, consult department) (IGE option under 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.
- Intermediate German Language and Culture
Intermediate German Language and Culture (3 credits, alternate years, consult department) 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.
- Medieval Literature
Medieval Literature (4 credits, alternate years, consult department) 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: ENG250LC.
- English Renaissance Literature
English Renaissance Literature (4 credits, alternate years, consult department) 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: ENG250LC.
- "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 Tale, Paradiso, Anticlaudianus.” 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)
- American Association of Colleges & Universities
- 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