Dr. 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. Dr. Kensak has served as Honors Program Director, Co-Director of Assessment, and Director of Integrative General Education.
- Literary Contexts
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. (4 credits) (Fulfills NWCore Literary Contexts requirement) Topics include: American Literature and the Rhetoric of Freedom: Americans often regard freedom as the defining characteristic of both their nation and themselves. This course examines how the rhetoric of freedom has been a force in American literature. We will complicate our understanding of American freedom by examining how it has been continually redefined throughout the nation's literary history. We will consider how minority and oppressed groups have used the rhetoric of freedom to advance their own liberation and how Christian religions concepts and language have contributed to this rhetoric. Students will practice reading and writing critically and become familiar 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 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. 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.
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)
- Linguistic Perspectives on English
In this course, we learn the rudiments of language study, trace the history of English, and gain a rigorous appreciation for the power of words. We follow the English language from its origin in a warlike Germanic tribe to its present state as the dominant medium of international communication. We learn the historical reasons for our irregular spelling and enormous lexicon. We sample varieties of English across America and throughout the world. Along the way, we learn to read basic Old and Middle English, challenge common assumptions about the nature of language, and confront the devastation of the world's linguistic ecology. (4 credits; alternate years, consult department)
- Early British Literature
(4 credits, alternate years, consult department) A journey through ten centuries of British literature, from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, culminating in the great Christian epic, Milton's Paradise Lost. Prerequisite: ENG250LC.
- 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)
- 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)
"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