Michael Kensak, Ph.D.
Professor of English
Director of Integrative General Education
Instructor in German
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. Kensak is currently working on a project funded by the Lilly Endowment to produce a multimedia German textbook. In addition to German, he is proficient in Latin, Middle English, Old English, and has a reading knowledge of several more languages.
- 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)
- 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)
- Literature of the Developing World
Literature of the Developing World To paraphrase Salman Rushdie, the Empire has written back. The last half of the 20th century has produced a number of literary texts written in English by authors from the recently independent nations of the Old British Empire. These texts have proved so rich in both literary value and cultural context that their authors, Wole Soyinka, Derek Walcott, Chinua Achebe, and Rushdie himself, have won the most prestigious literary prizes available. We will be reading and appreciating these books, both as ripping good yarns, and as significant cultural documents that teach us much of how members of other societies think, feel, and act.Prerequisite: ENG220.(4 credits, alternate years, consult department)
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)
- 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)
- 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)
Publications and presentations
- “‘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, Jr., 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.
- “The Semiotics of Inebriation: Margery Kempe, Felix Fabri, Alain de Lille, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrimage.” (Soon to be under consideration)
- “Jack’s Word.” Regular etymology column in Wordhord: The Northwestern College English Department Newsletter.
Professional involvements and accomplishments
- Peer reviewer for articles for The Chaucer Review and book manuscripts for the University of Toronto Press
- Research Sabbatical, Northwestern College, 2005-06
- Mediaeval Colloquium Prize, University of the South, 2000
- Dissertation with Honors, Vanderbilt University, 1998
- Novus Prize, Novus et Antiquus Conference, Ball State University, 1995
- Graduated cum laude, Princeton University, 1993
- Junior Paper Prize, Department of German, Princeton University, 1992
- Class of 1860 Prize for Old English, Princeton University, 1991