Campus Profile: Dr. Gabriel Ford

I sat down mid-morning in Dr. Gabriel Ford’s cozy office in the basement of Carnegie Guest House. I plopped down on his huge, comfy couch and asked him a series of questions, starting first and foremost with those from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He was laughing too hard to give me his name. When asked about his quest, he replied, “I seek to end this interview and be a Campus Celebrity.” And in regards to the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow, he first answered, “I don’t know that,” but then questioned, “African or European?”

Dr. Ford comes from the small town of Ragland, Alabama, which he says is approximately the same size and population as Davidson. When asked to briefly describe his life up until now, he answered with, “weird vegetarian kid leaves Alabama retreats to the Middle Ages.”

Dr. Ford is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English, with a study in Medieval Literature and anything to do with language or the Middle Ages. When asked what drew him to the field, he responded, “I think it’s a pathology.” He comes from a long line of teachers, saying that “teaching is sort of the family business.” His parents were also willing to pay for him to study teaching in graduate school, which helped steer the decision. Most of his decision was driven by enjoyment, though. He said, “I love teaching, the sort of performance of the thing, the relationships. I love walking into a classroom and having you guys explain to me how the world is different than I thought it was.” Ultimately, though, while he noted it was rather cliché, he feels, “One teaches because they like learning.”

In terms of his education, he studied in environments very different from Davidson. He went to big schools, doing undergrad at the University of Alabama (“Roll Tide”) and graduate work at Penn State and Trinity College Dublin. He ended up at Davidson because he teaches history of the English language and the college needed someone to teach medieval and freshman writing.

When asked about his favorite part about Davidson, he responded, That’s tough. Every single day?” He really likes the small class size and working with many of the same students repeatedly. He feels that “teaching works best when there’s a lot of trust and good will in the classroom. It’s easier to build that in the Davidson institutional size.” He likes figuring out what his students are interested in and helping them work on that.

His Hogwarts House is Ravenclaw. His favorite book he feels isn’t very interesting, as it’s the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. His favorite fantasy book is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. His favorite film is Rushmore, and his favorite television show is either Arrested Development or Mad Men.

His students know him to sometimes bake very late at night and bring the leftovers to class or his office hours. When asked why that is, he answered that “it might just be when other work is done. I do just always want a cupcake. Maybe 1 a.m. is just when I couldn’t stand it anymore.”

He also teaches an incredibly popular fantasy literature class, which managed to spread certain texts across campus, “much like an invasive plant.” When asked what got him into that, he responded, “How does anybody get into being a geek? You sort of end up stuck like that.” He decided to teach the course after looking at the way students conceive of the Middle Ages and deciding that was worthy of analysis. While he figured the course would be popular, he had no idea it would spread across campus the way it did.

When asked which of the courses he has taught was his favorite, he answered History of the English Language, “because it’s so different than the other courses I’ve taught. It’s a different animal.” A dream course he wishes to teach which he hasn’t yet gotten the opportunity for is Bottom Shelf Bard, which is a survey of Shakespeare’s worst plays. He is “fascinated with the literary aesthetics of badness.”

In the spring he gets the opportunity to teach another of his dream courses, Creating Book Culture. He says it’s, “going to be a course that pretty much no one is running at an undergraduate campus.” He knows how to type set and has collected the equipment for years, and the end of his literary period of knowledge is the beginning of print history, so he’s got plenty of experience and knowledge about the subject. He says it’s for people who want to get ink on their fingers or anyone with typographic or artistic interest. For those who aren’t sure if they’re interested in the course, Dr. Ford is giving two letter press demonstrations. The first is on October 19th which will be a poster-making session, and the second is on October 25th in conjunction with the library’s ghost story night.

Here's a piece he made as a promo for his upcoming course.

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