Professor, TA imagine big plans for future of brand new Taylor Swift English course

Mimi Calzada, Senior Life & Arts Reporter

English professor Elizabeth Scala said she only recently started listening to Taylor Swift’s music when COVID-19 hit back in March 2020. Housebound and bored, Scala said she and her family turned to playing cards around the dinner table and listening to Swift’s music to pass the time.

“I started listening to Taylor Swift constantly,” Scala said. “I learned the words, listened to the music and got really captivated by it. (I) thought, ‘This is a really smart songwriter.’ The light bulb went off in my head, and I decided to do a class on it.”

When Swift released Red (Taylor’s Version) last November, Scala said her renewed appreciation for the singer prompted her to recognize the literary value of Swift’s music. She then decided to restructure her lower-division English class, previously set to be centered around the first “Harry Potter” book, to be about Taylor Swift. This fall, Literary Contests and Contexts: The Taylor Swift Songbook, a course currently only available to undergraduate Liberal Arts Honors students, will offer a deep dive into “literary traditions and forms through the distinctly contemporary lens of Taylor Swift,” according to UT Liberal Arts website.

The class will discuss her work in comparison to historical literary giants like Shakespeare, Keats and Frost. In addition to this, according to the UT Liberal Arts website, the class will also delve into several topics, such asgender, authenticity and the authorship of a writer’s texts.” 

After hearing about the class from an LAH Instagram post, anthropology sophomore Leona Hernandez said she searched for any way to be involved, so she emailed Scala asking to be the class’s TA.

With only 16 students enrolled this semester, Hernandez said she hopes the class becomes more accessible to students outside of the Liberal Arts Honors Program in future semesters.

“It will definitely grow,” Hernandez said. “Dr. Scala is currently looking at (online) options, or maybe a general undergraduate English course people can take for fun. The nature of the class is (a) discussion seminar, but it is possible to put it in a lecture room so a lot of people can take this class and it becomes more of a UT thing, not just an LAH thing.”

With the wide variety of topics the class is set to discuss, sociology freshman Malia Palmer said she looks forward to discussing the song “Clean” off of Swift’s album 1989.

“‘Clean’ has these two ongoing metaphors about a storm, a drought and the contrast between those images as well as what they tell us about the singer’s emotional state,” Palmer said. “The two contrasting metaphors make for rich text, and I’m excited to see what my peers and professor pick up on in that song.”

Scala said despite the buzz surrounding the course, the classroom dynamic remains a space where all types of students can speak openly about the musician and her impact, and she looks forward to seeing how their discussions further develop over the course of the semester. 

“You have the same ebb and flow in this class,” Scala said. “Even though there are fewer students, you still have (those) same differences in (personalities). I’m really excited to hear what the students have to say in our discussions. It’s their time to speak now.”