The Commerce Journal

July 10, 2008

With a little luck, she made it to Commerce

Dr. Kathryn Jacobs' interest in Tolkien, Medieval literature brought her to university

By Marthe Stinton

Some may wonder how a Harvard Ph.D. who was reared in Michigan ended up in Commerce, but Dr. Kathryn Jacobs’ journey from the Midwest to the East Coast to East Texas is partly luck, according to this professor of English at Texas A&M; University-Commerce.

According to Dr. Jacobs, there are only a certain number of jobs for a teacher’s particular specialty — she is a Medieval Renaissance specialist — so she applied to Texas A&M; University-Commerce and was soon on her way from the East Coast to East Texas.

“When I came here, it was after I had taken off a few years from teaching to raise my family. It had also been many years since I had gotten my Ph.D. I taught at Glassboro State College, which is now Rowan University in New Jersey, for five years before I took off, but I didn’t have much teaching experience,” said Jacobs. “When I applied, I told the university that my family was grown and I was serious about teaching. They believed me and I got the job.”

Dr. Jacobs, a professor in the Department of Literature and Languages, was born in Germany and grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich. Following high school, she graduated from the University of Michigan with both a B.A. and M.A. in English, and then received her Ph.D. from Harvard. While attending the University of Michigan, she became interested in the Middle Ages after reading Tolkien.

“My particular area of expertise is literature before 1660. I particularly love Chaucer and Shakespeare. I came across the Middle Ages by reading Tolkien, the “Lord of the Rings” series to be exact. Many of the creatures he writes about are all old English words and creatures that appear in Beowulf. I got interested that way and then my teachers gave me Shakespeare. I had a professor, a great professor, who really liked Shakespeare and spent time on him so I was able to read the language,” explained Jacobs. “My mother is British and would always encourage the British side of literature, so I think that’s why I leaned so much toward British literature.”

She now teaches graduate courses on Chaucer, Medieval studies, Beowulf, Shakespeare, development of drama, Victorian and modern literature as well as undergraduate courses on Medieval Canterbury, Survey of British Literature, Shakespeare, Literature of the Western World, Mythology, Introduction to Literature and Composition.

Although she said she had always loved English, she was once told to choose another profession. But, fortunately, she chose not to listen.

“I was given some rather bad advice when I was young; I was told not to go into English. I really loved literature, and it finally occurred to me that I was much more likely to thrive in an area I was good at and liked. I went with what made me happy,” Jacobs said. “I always wanted to teach. I would sit in elementary school and listen to teachers ask if anyone didn’t understand and if a student raised their hand, the teacher would go back and give the exact same explanation, word for word, over again. While I was listening to her, I would sit and think of how I would explain it in order for them to get it.”

Jacobs has developed her own style of teaching that has received praise from students.

“I have always gotten such nice complements from students. The most common one I get is that I am so energetic. But it’s when students tell me that they are switching to become English majors that I really feel honored,” Jacobs said.

Chris Nance, a student of Dr. Jacobs, said her Shakespeare class was really enjoyable. “Dr. Jacobs is a professor who obviously works hard to ensure that her students enjoy literature as much as she does,” said Nance.

Jacobs has been in Commerce since 1993 and regularly attends the Commerce Church of Christ. She has been married to her husband, Douglas, for 29 years and has three children, Rachel Jacobs, 25, Elizabeth Jacobs, 20, and Elizabeth’s twin brother Raymond, who died at 18.

Jacobs has written one book, “Marriage Contracts: From Chaucer to the Renaissance Stage,” and is in the process of publishing some of her many poems in “Advice Column,” a chapbook due out later this fall. Since January of 2007 Jacobs has published more than 65 poems.

Stinton is a student at Texas A&M; University-Commerce in Dr. Lamar Bridges’ summer journalism class.