Andrew Delbanco

This professor has earned a CULPA gold nugget

Aug 2013

I took this class in fall 2012 but haven't had a chance to add my two cents about the class until now. Delbanco is a pretty great lecturer with a great handle on the material and very interesting points. My only complaints are that (1) he doesn't follow the syllabus really -- by the end of the semester we were pretty behind on what we were reading for lecture, so sometimes lecture/discussion plans didn't match up exactly and some things we had to speed through and (2) I took the class in NoCo 501. Anyone who's ever taken a class there knows that it's almost impossible to stay awake every class. There's something about that classroom (the desks? the stuffiness? the heat?) that makes learning so much harder in there. I took another class there in the spring and it was the same deal. Avoid that room if you can!! The reading list is great, I think the course title is pretty accurate. There's a lot of variety, from Puritan sermons to Emily Dickinson to Moby Dick/Melville's short stories. I really enjoyed the later works especially (Melville is great and there's a lot to think about there, plus Delbanco is an expert). I'll agree with the reviewer that you get what you put into it -- you don't have to do all the reading (I didn't, but wish I had had the time to) or attend lecture (no attendance). You do have to sign up for a discussion section (attendance mandatory). I guess maybe I should have tried to get it with Delbanco but you just sign up for a time slot and I got Zach (Roberts). He was incredible -- a pretty laidback guy, very approachable, very knowledgeable, clearly invested in the class and the texts. I'm really glad I was in his section and I felt like I got a lot out of the 50 minute discussions because he was open to people's ideas and also tried to get our input on what we wanted to talk about. A decent grader and he left very insightful comments on papers. He was pretty flexible with paper topics -- there's one provided in the class syllabus for each paper but he let us explore whatever we were interested in in the text, and also he understood if we were a little behind on reading. I've heard that the other TAs were pretty good too, but obviously I'm biased toward thinking Zach was the best. All in all, I really enjoyed the class. The discussion section definitely made it for me -- I don't think I'd have liked the class half as much without it (or understood the text half as well).

May 2011

Lehecka and Delbanco are the shit. This class is brilliant. Take it if you have ANY interest in education whatsoever. The reading is well chosen and thought provoking. That being said, the assignments are several hundred pages of reading a week. So, take this class when you've got some free time (ie not when you're in CC or Lit Hum). This seminar is worth it. Google Lehecka and Delbanco, and you'll be so appreciative that you get to be in a room with them and have one on one discussions with them. They are fascinating people. Course admittance is by interview, so Lehecka knows everyone in the seminar and hand picks people. Discussions are really interesting. Note: Lehecka and Delbanco are probably the slowest speakers on the whole campus - but they're also saying some deep shit. We also had Prezbo come talk to us about affirmative action. So boss. So glad that I had the opportunity to take this course. There's also a volunteering component of the course at the Double Discovery Center. It's 4 hours a week, so yes, time commitment. But if you care about improving education, then this will be a valuable resource. Plus the DDC is on campus and the students there are driven, so it's a pretty great experience.

Apr 2011

Delbanco is an amazing teacher with a great mind and a dry wit. He expresses the points and insights you should be getting from the readings clearly and with a passion that is contagious. His class is very much a 'get out of it what you put into it' one, as there are relatively few graded works and no midterm. That makes it approachable for majors and non-majors alike. Unfortunately, you must sign up for the discussion session in class, so you may not actually get him for the weekly session (which is where attendance is really taken). Even if you sign up on SSOL the sessions are redone the first week.

Sep 2009

Notice a pattern in CULPA reviews: the more admired the professor is by the world, the more likely a certain kind of intimidated student scents his being "full of himself". Gee, that's funny. Delbanco hasn't bothered to update his American Studies bio in 3 years. It lacks all his latest honors and publications. Among countless honors one notices: "In 2001, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and named by Time Magazine as "America's Best Social Critic." If he was in rock he'd be Billy Joe Armstrong. If he lacked self esteem he'd be nuts. If being around a star intimidates you, why did you come to Columbia? Go to CCNY, and save your parents' money. If you think anybody slightly more dignified than Carter at the Grammies is "pompous" or "Ivy" then leave the Ivy. Those sincerely interested in Delbanco's goals as teacher should read the deservedly famous NY Review of Books article: Written when English depts were drowning in decon, it says, "full-scale revival will come only when English professors recommit themselves to slaking the human craving for contact with works of art that somehow register one's own longings and yet exceed what one has been able to articulate by and for oneself. This is among the indispensable experiences of the fulfilled life, and the English department will survive—if on a smaller scale than before—only if it continues to coax and prod students toward it." If you want that kind of professor, here he is.

Jan 2009

Intro to American Studies is an AMAZING, eye-opening course that everyone should take! The goal is to broadly address different themes of the American experience, combining history, politics, literature, and film. It really gives you new perpsectives on American life, and you learn to analyze elements of culture in new ways. The class has about 40 people, but it runs like a seminar, and the profs are always asking for discussion (though often it stayed silent). Weekly discussion sections are very helpful and thought-provoking, and the TAs are extremely qualified and wonderful. Both professors are amazing and very friendly, especially Delbanco, whose lectures and questions are very profound and stimulating (he's also a very established scholar of American history/literature). The reading is very heavy, but you really should do as much as you can. Your only grades are two big papers based on a topic of your choice, so you can definitely skip readings and get away with it, but you'll be lost in class and get much less out of the course.

Jan 2008

Some students seem to look at American Studies as an easy way to coast through Columbia (and this was clear from the uncaring attitude of many in my section). This class puts this assumption firmly to rest. The class is incredible. Delbanco is extremely smart and it is clear that he has devoted much of his life to the texts we read in class, including the puritanical texts and many of Melville's works. More importantly, he is an extremely stimulating and engaging lecturer and, get this, he actually cares about his students. By the end of the semester, had learned many of our names (even those not in his section). I did come across some who found Delbanco to be pompous. This is simply not true. He is one of the most down-to-earth professors at Columbia. I did agree with the criticism that he is overly indulgent when it comes to some authors like Melville, for whom few others shared his passion. Don't take the advice of those below. This guy is great.

Oct 2007

Everyone at this school should take this class! It's jointly taught by Roger Lehecka and Andrew Delbanco, who are quite possibly the slowest talkers on this entire campus, but it's a small seminar, the readings are fascinating, and the service componant really enhances everything. I'm not sure why Delbanco actually teaches anything, because Lehecka is the real authority, but having both of them there gives insightful and sometimes differing views. Plus Lehecka is this cute old man, but when you talk to him, you realize that he's brilliant, that he founded the Double Discovery Center when he was a student here, and that he's one of the most renowned educators in the country. Kind of amazing, actually. If you're interested in education AT ALL, take this course!

Apr 2007

Delbanco makes me want to kill myself. His lectures are absolute torture. He is completely full of himself, rarely takes any imput from the class, and rambles on and on about nothing with his annoyingly monotone voice. He likes to hear himself talk and is overly pretentious. He is easily the worst professor I have ever had. I wanted to major in American Studies before I took this class, I'm now finding a different major.

Dec 2006

Great, great class. Try to get Delbanco's section; I did not, and should have, although my TA was excellent. Delbanco is one of the best professors as a person at Columbia. He's a very straight shooter who does not deal in bullshit whatsoever. He challenges people to not be lazy thinkers, and challenges assumptions without being intimidating. The class is very good. A few of the early texts are somewhat dry but you can get a lot out of them if you do the readings, weekly assignments, and the lecture. A lot of the stuff later on is really fun. Lectures are easy to listen to and always valuable. Class deals with literature (including early sermons and pamphlets) in the context of its time and in later contexts; a lot is about how the text has been reinterpret and recontextualized, by critics, the public, and other authors. It is like Lit Hum in some ways but much more interesting, and challenging. Criticism: Delbanco gets a little bit too into close-reading Melville to the point where he doesn't get into as much background as with other authors and even devotes a lecture to a book you don't read in class (Moby Dick) but Melville is what he really lvoes so at least the lectures are passionate. There's a lot of reasons that people wouldn't want to take the class, but most of those reasons have to do with the person in question being a tool, so you should probably take this class if you're not a tool.

May 2005

This is a high school class with a high school reading list and a high school professor. Remember reading the Scarlet Letter in 9th grade? Don't expect this time around to be much more enlightening. Remember reading Billy Budd and Bartleby in 10th grade? The lectures now aren't much different. Thoreau, Dickinson, the list goes on, and all he really talks about is the theme of "individualism," which you can get just from reading the texts. Delbanco spends the first class on each book dancing around the issues, kind of talking about the writer, kind of talking about whatever he wants to talk about on that given day. Then when he actually gets to the book, he talks a little bit about plot, a little bit about the characters, and then he tells some cute personal anecdotes; however he never gets into anything interesting. He does place the works historically (especially the early Puritan stuff) which makes them more bearable, but that's about the extent of it. Don't get me wrong, he's a really sweet guy and I want to be his friend or something, but if you want to look at these texts on any level deeper than the obvious christ imagery and the "individualism" theme, don't take this class. Oh yeah, and he dedicates 2 entire class periods to lecturing on Moby Dick, even though its not on the reading list and is never assigned (not even parts of it). If you want a really enlightening professor, look into Bruce Robbins.

Apr 2005

I'm not quite sure how anyone could be inspired by his 100% stereotypical Ivy demeanor (he is such a stereotypical and arrogant intellectual that its funny really) but he does present the often less than exciting material in an interesting light. The class is worth taking as an English major, as Delbanco does a fine job of giving a sense of the beginnings of the American literary tradtion (and its too easy to overlook the Puritans and the writing of the Founding Fathers as an English major). I still don't understand how he can justify putting James Fenimore Cooper's Deerslayer and Charlotte Temple on the reading list while not including a thing from Edgar Allen Poe. Also, I'm not sure what the point is to devoting a lecture and a half to Moby Dick when he doesn't even assign it. A class with both postive and negatives... but, again, worthwhile overall... non-English majors should approach with caution.

Aug 2004

Professor Delbanco is an incredible and dynamic speaker. Much of the class is historically-based, and Delbanco takes great care in drawing the class into the time period during which each text was written and explains the progression of literature from the Puritans to novelists of the 19th Century (particuluarly Melville, Delbanco's love). Some of the reading can be a bit dry, but Delbanco's lectures and the mandatory discussion sections led by TAs make them worthwhile--Delbanco shows that there is always something valuable in even the driest texts, if not in the writing itself, in the history behind it.

May 2004

This is one class that you MUST take at Columbia. He is a wonderful professor whose love for American literature, crazy Puritans, Melville, Columbia, NYC is clear. He has a great voice for reading Melville. Although I must say I completely ignored some of the books on the syllabus (Deerslayer, URGH), I couldn't put down others (Hawthorne, who knew?, Whitman, Lincoln, Edwards) He has certainly convinced me that American literature is worth studying and it has a valuable place in shaping thoughts and beliefs in our generation

Apr 2002

I did not find that this professor lived up to his reputation. He seemed very full of himself, and loved the sound of his own voice. We endured plenty of long anecdotes about his wife, kids, and DAILY personal commentary relating to the WTC affair -- in a lit class, mind you, which I found to be rather inappropriate. The TA's session was much more focused & to the point. I'd heard he was a good lecturer and was disappointed. You could do better with someone fresh and current, less fuddy-duddy.

Dec 2001

Take any course this man teaches. His analysis of texts is unparallelled. The syllabus has changed somewhat since last year; we did read the Scarlet Letter this year, though we didn't read Moby Dick, and we didn't have to read all 500 pages of Uncle Tom's Cabin, thank god (just excerpts). The Puritan stuff was sort of dry, but Delbanco's ability to relate them to everything else in the course and in contemporary life was really impressive; by the end of the semester I had totally bought his thesis that the Puritans had and continue to have a big effect on American culture. Every one of Delbanco's lectures was spectacular. Bravo.

Oct 2001

The man's just been named the best social critic in America by Time Magazine, one of the country's least critical publications. Delbanco's ridiculously sweeping generalizations about "evil" "the real American Dream," "our values," etc.. will make you feel feel warm and oh-so Ivy smug, just as he is. But if you are one of those who prefers a real intellectual for your profs, there are those in Delbanco's own dept. who are much more serious.

Apr 2001

Professor Delbanco is hands down the most inspirational professor I've had here. During the course of your education at Columbia, it won't be a hard feat to come across a great professor, but to come across an inspirational one, now that's rare. Professor Delbanco's lectures were intelligent, thought-provoking, coherent, and raised a number of tough questions which had no easy answers and definitely left you thinking well after class was over. The Puritan material at the beginning of the semester was a little slow, but the later material was really enjoyable. Yeah, there was a great deal of reading and yeah, the mandatory discussion sections were boring and yeah, I was disappointed he didn't grade student work (TAs got that fun job), but overall, I had an excellent experience and recommend this class and Professor Delbanco with the utmost enthusiasm.

Apr 2001

If you are looking for an illuminating literary experience, take Prof. Delbanco's Foundations of American Literature I.

Jan 2000

This class has a 3-week beginning in Puritanism, using a text edited by Prof. Delbanco himself. It picks up as soon as it gets to the Founding Fathers of politics (Franklin, Jefferson) and thought (Emerson, Thoreau). Prof. Delbanco's lectures are full of info, witty, and create a good blend of "standard interpretation" and "Delbancoism". Prof. Delbanco is a NYT Best Seller ("The Death of Satan" and "Required Reading") as well as an intellectual ("The Portable Abraham Lincoln" and "The Puritans in America"). Two short papers (3-4 pages), a midterm exam (it was painless), and the choice of final (tough) or long paper (8-10 pages). There were 3 TAs in Fall '00 who ran the MANDITORY discussion sections, but even if your TA is a waste of time, Delbanco's lectures are definitely not. Also on the syllabus are Poe, Stowe, Douglass, Whitman, and selected tales of Hawthorne and Melville (i.e. you don't read "Scarlet Letter" or "Moby Dick"). The grading is done by TAs, so there's a chance for "tough" grades, but I was personally happy with my final grade. A must for English majors and an intensive elective for those in any way interested in American literature.