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

  • 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

  • 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)
  • Shakespeare

    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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