Miranda Peery

September 26, 2023

Abigail Arnold | Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Geeking Out With…is a new feature in which we talk to GSAS students about their passions.

Miranda Peery is a fifth-year PhD candidate in the English department. Her research focuses on depictions of witchcraft in early modern British drama; her dissertation is a critical edition of The Late Witches of Lancashire, an early modern play that has long been out of print. She joined “Geeking Out With…” to talk about her passion for teaching. She has taught two undergraduate courses at Brandeis: Violent Resistance: American Political Violence and Its Rhetorics, a University Prize Instructorship course co-taught with History PhD candidate Sarah Beth Gable, and The Sex of Horror, The Horror of Sex, an English department teaching fellowship course. She has also taught three Shakespeare courses for BOLLI: Shakespeare’s Wars of the Roses, Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, and Shakespeare and Gender. Miranda’s teaching forms a throughline with her research, as she is always interested in why and how people form groups of insiders and others.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

How did you become so interested in teaching?

Once upon a time, I was a person with severe stage fright and did not like public speaking in any form. I did not know I was interested in teaching until I got to graduate school. After I started taking seminars and making presentations, I realized that public speaking is not that bad if you know what you’re talking about in a room full of interested people who want to be there. I started thinking more and more about how to share ideas, strategies of teaching, pedagogy as a concept, and what makes some classes better than others. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to communicate complex topics to people, especially because I am a non-traditional student from a non-academic background.

Tell us more about your teaching journey. How do you feel that you’ve evolved as an instructor?

I was really lucky because my first TA assignment was with my advisor, Professor Ramie Targoff, for her class on witchcraft, a topic I care very much about. Ramie is a brilliant teacher and is really dedicated and devoted. I got to see from her insider’s point of view exactly how you think about a course from the back end. She was also very generous in allowing me to teach multiple units.

As I’ve gained more experience teaching, I’ve focused more on keeping things as standard as possible in terms of structure, making sure that students know what to expect and when to expect it. I’ve also gained the knowledge that I can trust students–we should give students more credit than we think we should when we first start teaching. They can do more than you think, so don’t talk down to them!

What has been your favorite part of teaching?

My favorite part of teaching is definitely the students! I learn so much from them. Listen to students–they have a lot to say, and they’re smart. I find that with teaching, the more you do it, the more you want to do it.

Tell us about how you and Sarah Beth developed your UPI course and your experience with that.

I have been friends with Sarah Beth for a while, and we realized pretty early on that we both had an odd fascination with extremist rhetoric, how it’s built and how it works. Sarah Beth was interested from a historical perspective, and I was interested from a language perspective. We wanted to think this through in a clear long-form way. When we decided to apply for the UPI, we were not sure it would work, but we got brilliant support from Brandeis and both our departments. We found the idea appealing because we both like to do interdisciplinary work; I find that I learn a ton whenever I work with someone from another field and see the surprising intersections. We had great students–the most interesting thing was that they were a wide variety of kinds of students. It was most enjoyable to see how students from different perspectives interacted with the material. A political science major ended up working on their final project with an art student. They made a remarkable virtual museum exhibit about the Black Panthers, which was artistic, political, and deeply beautiful.

How about your Sex and Horror course for the English department?

I did my master’s at Brandeis in English and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and I think about gender all the time. At the same time, horror is one of my first loves; even before entering academia, I have always been a horror fan and spent lots of time talking about it. Getting to combine the two interests was very exciting! Horror is a genre that thinks about sex and gender constantly–one consensus we came to in the class was that there’s no horror that doesn’t.

The biggest struggle with this class was picking the material, as there is so much. One great text we studied was White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, which I picked because I wanted to talk about race and empire. I wasn’t sure how it would go over, but the students loved it and were deeply invested, with many choosing to write their final papers on it. It was fascinating to hear how they talked about the hauntings of race in a post-colonial world. One was inspired to write a creative piece–a Southern California gothic story–and ended up getting it published! Another great experience with this class was our screening of the movie Barbarian. The students were a very participatory audience. I chose to screen the film because we’re all here because we love stuff and I wanted to keep the fun aspects present.

Do you have any horror recommendations for us?

If people have not seen Barbarian yet, everyone needs to see it. It’s one of the best horror movies that’s come out in ten years, and it rewards the watcher in every way. In terms of books, I’ve really been enjoying Boston-area writer Paul Tremblay lately. His The Cabin at the End of the World is one of my favorite books of all time.

How did you come to teach for BOLLI, and what has that experience been like?

Emiliano Gutiérrez-Popoca, a fellow English PhD student, taught at BOLLI and suggested that I get involved since I love teaching. I had not yet taught at the time, and their pedagogy workshops really appealed to me, since we didn’t yet have a pedagogy course in the English department. I participated in their syllabus design workshop and got to work through my pedagogy before teaching. I cannot say enough good things about their staff and their support; Avi Bernstein, the director of BOLLI, is amazing.

Getting to work with lifelong learners was a fantastic joy, and I looked forward to my classes every single week. The students are so invested; since there are few assignments, it’s almost like leading a highly educated book club. I got to talk about really fun stuff with people with lots of different life experiences–I’ve had everyone from truck drivers to retired professors in my classes. The scariest thing was that the second term I taught a Shakespeare course, one of my students was Professor Billy Flesch’s mother! He is a Shakespeare scholar in the English department, so I was nervous she would have very high expectations. She turned out to be a wonderful addition to the course, both as a resource and as a participant. The students became a bit like family; I had repeat students and students who would reach out to me after the class was finished.

What other resources or people at Brandeis have helped you with teaching?

The English department’s pedagogy course is wonderful–I took it with Professor Dorothy Kim, and it was great to read through what others are thinking on the topic. I also participated in the Mandel Center’s graduate pedagogy reading group. Paige Eggebrecht at the Writing Center and the Center for Teaching and Learning have both also been great resources. Brandeis does a really good job of supporting those who are interested in teaching and pedagogy. If you want it, it’s there–you just have to know where to look.

The summer Reading-Writing Pedagogy Institute this year was one of my favorite things I’ve been involved in. The faculty from Middlesex Community College were lovely and generous with their time, input, and knowledge. It’s so important to think about how things work at access-oriented institutions. I dropped out of high school and was not academically inclined when I was young; I then went back to school at a community college and then a tiny state school which was also access-oriented. I often say that if it was not for my community college, I would not be where I am today. The Institute was a socially and spiritually fulfilling experience.

What kind of teaching do you want to do after you finish your PhD?

Following my graduation, I want to teach and work at an access-oriented institution. This has been my plan since I realized my love of teaching. I also love research, but the teaching is the thing that brings me back to the table all the time. I never get tired of it–it refills my cup. And it’s a way for me to pay forward all the gifts I’ve been given.

What else are you involved with around Brandeis?

I do the Posse mentoring program, which is a highlight of my week. The students are so wonderful to be around, and it’s a chance to have relationships with students that you don’t often get. Posse students are very excellent students, workers, and humans.

I also work for the Recall This Book podcast and did an internship with the Humanities Podcast Network, a collective of people interested in thinking about how we create academic podcasts and teach with them. I got to be part of some very cool events, including (virtually) a symposium in New Zealand. I wish more places would sign up for their fantastic programming.

What advice do you have for other students exploring their passions?
Remember that we love what we do, and do things that make you feel that again. I have a rule that I only read fun books at night–I don’t do research (the books lead to research, but that wasn’t the plan). These things give me energy and insight. Make sure you’re leaving room for all the things you love to do, because then you will be a better researcher and scholar.