Michael Kensak Professor of English and German; Department Co-Chair
Advanced Certificate in Online Teaching, Online Learning Consortium
Ph.D., 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 Comparative Literature and Music Performance 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 metaphor of spiritual inebriation. His work has appeared in journals like The Chaucer Review, Studies in Philology, and Philological Quarterly. With funding from the Lilly Foundation, Kensak produced a multimedia German textbook for use in Northwestern's four-course German sequence. With funding from the Mellon Foundation, he is adapting his signature History of the English Language course to be offered through the CIC Online Humanities Consortium. In addition to German, Kensak is proficient in Latin, Middle English, and Old English, and has a reading knowledge of several more modern and ancient languages.
- Literary Contexts
ENG250LC offers students an introduction to literary study. The topics ofindividual sections vary by instructor and semester. After completing thiswriting-intensive course, students will be able to imagine other lives,times, and places by reading a variety of texts; empathize with characterswho have diverse stories and perspectives; analyze different genres ofliterature using the tools of literary study; craft a coherent essay with aclear thesis and careful textual analysis; articulate ways that literaturespeaks to and informs their own lives; express delight in God through thebeauty of language and literary text; and witness God's presence in theworld through literature. Topics include:
American Literature and the Rhetoric of Freedom: Americans ofter regardfreedom as the defining characteristic of both their nation and themselves.This course examines how the rhetoric of freedom has been a force inAmerican literature. We will complicate our understanding of Americanfreedom by examining how it has been continually redefined throughout thenation's literary history. We will consider how minority and oppressedgroups have used the rhetoric of freedom to advance their own liberation andhow Christian religions concepts and language have contributed to thisrhetoric. Students will practice reading and writing critically and becomefamiliar with a variety of literary genres, including historical narrative,autobiography, poetry, drama, essays, short stories, and novels.
Literature in the World: This course teaches students to appreciate theaesthetic value of literature and consider its cultural contexts. The courseexplores the beauty of language, the importance of understanding the selfand others, and invites readers to consider how literature contributes toour contemporary culture. The course is arranged thematically and contentvaries from year to year. Themes may include, but are not limited to:immigration, war, poverty, the power of metaphor, and visual art andliterature.
Literary Imaginations: For literature to be more than ink stains on whitepaper, we must use our imaginations to give it life. In this course we shallread works from throughout human history and around the world (India,Greece, Italy, England, Russia, Nigeria, Ireland, Japan) to imagine andunderstand the world that people have believed in, created, andinhabited.
Literary Journeys: This course will examine a wide range of literature fromthe 17th Century to the present, while introducing students to the literarygenres of the short story, the novel and poetry. Students will examine howliterature can give them insights into their own lives as well as the worldaround them. Literary pieces will be examined in various historical, socialand political contexts. Assignments will help students develop theircritical reading and writing practices as well as expand the imaginativeelement of literature and witness God's presence in the world throughliterature.
The Lives of Others: This course explores 4000 years of stories, fromancient Mesopotamia to the American South. Plays, poems, epics, andautobiographies broaden our perspective on the world and deepen ourunderstanding of being human. Two central themes of the course areperceptions of difference and expressions of faith.
Reading, Spirituality and Cultural Politics: This course explores howliterature can entertain, educate, change, and empower readers. Theassignments are designed to refine college writing skills and to deepenstudents' critical knowledge and imaginative experience of literature. Theend goal of this course is that in learning to understand and serve theirliterary neighbors, students will be better equipped to understand and servetheir literal neighbors. (4 credits) (Fulfills NWCore Literary Contextsrequirement)
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. (4 credits; alternate years, consult department)
- 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)
- Early British Literature
A journey through ten centuries of British literature, from the Middle Agesthrough the Renaissance, culminating in the great Christian epic, Milton'sParadise Lost. Prerequisite: ENG250LC. (4 credits; alternate years, consultdepartment)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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) (NWCore option under 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
This course introduces students to the character and abilities consideredessential to becoming a member of a Christian liberal arts community.Students develop their reading, writing and speaking skills by exploringdifficult questions, learning to understand academic inquiry, forminglearning communities, and integrating faith with learning and living. (4credits)
"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.
Peer-reviewer for The Chaucer Review
Peer-reviewer for The University of Toronto Press
ETS rater for AP English Language and SAT English Essay
New Chaucer Society
American Association of Colleges & Universities
2016 Mellon Foundation grant ($10,000) for CIC Online Humanities Consortium
2013 Finalist, Northwestern College Teaching Excellence Award
2010 Lilly Fellow Grant ($2500) “Marketing the Liberal Arts”
2007 Lilly Foundation Grant ($10,000) to develop a 4-semester German program
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