professor
Lisa Gordis

Jan 2021

I took this course to fulfill the literature requirement and because I needed the course to be in the morning, and Boy Am I Happy!! that I happened to take Professor Gordis' and that I did not read the older reviews before I committed. I don't want to discredit the older reviewers, but my experience was so very different. I went to almost every lecture (2x/week minus one) and I went to as many group office hours as I could (once a month or so) and before each paper submission, we met in an individual office hour. The lectures follow a syllabus that is published at the beginning of the course. When there is more student participation (= discussion in class) the course falls behind. To catch up, Professor Gordis speeds up sections by scripting some parts or we had prerecorded lectures for when there was a scheduling break. All assigned reading material is pretty clearly outlined, which pages/sections/poems to read, and with one of them she mentioned it four times that not the entire printed copy is assigned and she also put it out there electronically. That being said, this is a literature class and fast readers have it easier. I am not one of them, and I did not read everything. The papers and the final are set up in a way that if you missed two or three authors, you'll still be able to do really well. I took this course during COVID times, and everything was online. I took four courses, two literature and two biology courses. In comparison, one other professor had apparently a more stable computer setup and did not need to shuffle screens around as much but Professor Gordis wins the prize for student engagement in technology. Professor Gordis found a couple of different platforms so that all classmates could annotate and gloss the same electronic copies of the readings and so that we were able to discuss the material among us students. Think of it like social media and candy crush for literate people. Re Harvard: We talked about Harvard at some point and I did not sense any feeling of superiority there. She is from California and fan of some baseball or basketball or whatever sport from over there, and also mentioned UCLA where she went for her PhD. I guess we can be happy to have a well-educated professor and chalk up the rest to miscommunication and personal chemistry? Re Grading: I am a biology major and took two literature courses this semester to fulfill the requirement. Professor Gordis spread out the points over more assignments than the other literature course and for roughly the same effort, I got better grades for the papers from her than from the other professor (also Barnard). Overall, the effort for the literature courses was way lower than for the bio classes I took. So, I mean, the sample size is n=2 and I can't do statistics, but it's really not that bad.

Dec 2020

Please ignore Professor Gordis' old reviews because she is absolutely wonderful. Her class has by far been my favorite of the semester and she truly knows how to keep her class engaged both outside the classroom and in. With weekly required comments on Perusall and Yellowdig, she definitely keeps us busy, but once I got the hang of these platforms it enriched the class so much more. She especially made an effort this semester to foster community amongst her classmates, which I so appreciated during this online semester. Take her class if you want to learn a lot!

Nov 2019

Have to disagree with those that believe Gordis to be cruel or overly-harsh; her tough grading (with always the offer of a thorough review if turned in a week early that can be rewritten and turned in!) improved my writing more than any other single class I have taken. She was always willing to discuss texts further outside of class, or make suggestions for outside research. If you are a serious Americanist, she will help you more than you know. Yes, she is not always easy to get ahold of, and may seem rigid in her scheduling, but she's crazy busy and simply expects students to respect her time. Yes, the class is a lot of work, but the weekly writing etc helps you engage with often dense or less exciting texts--let's be honest, America doesn't begin its literary golden age until the end of the this course, and really, most of the great writers are in the 20th. Despite that, she provides a number of ways to approach the text and find meaning (except The Last of the Mohicans, fuck that book, I mean I get why its there but GOD I hate it). Basically, if you really care about understanding American lit, and why we are the way that we are, take a class with Gordis.

May 2015

I felt that this class was neither spectacular nor awful. Professor Gordis is really sweet in class but her lectures are difficult to follow because they don't seem to have any logical progression from start to finish. There's always a lot of flipping back in forth in really large texts and it's easy to get lost. She'll also cite a page number and then immediately start reading from some undisclosed and random point on the page, so by the time you figure out where she's reading from she's already moved on to commentary and you've missed half of what she said. I really enjoyed the blog element of this course. There is no word count minimum for the blog posts (I think they tended to be about 200 words), so it's easy to get these done and the posts actually really helped to make the material more interesting and get people engaged.

May 2014

Mean, sarcastic, arrogant, draconian, Harvard-obsessed, overly impressed with herself. Prof. Gordis will shoot down comments in class because she disagrees with the strength of the adjectives one uses. Her lectures are clearly rehearsed and it is difficult for her to deviate, as class discussions often necessitate. Office hours are sparse and unworkable for a student schedule: she once offered me 8am on a Friday, take it or leave it. Go to office hours and she'll sit there with her arms crossed like a smug weasel. The only time she's nice is if you can get her talking about her undergrad days at Harvard, twenty-five years ago. I'm an English major, and I am glad that Gordis was not my first exposure to literature at Barnard. Absolutely terrible experience.

Mar 2014

I'll be candid here... she is the most cynical and draconian grader I have ever had here at Barnard. If I hadn't taken other English courses I would be dissuaded from majoring in English because this lady has a way of discouraging students through her harsh grading style and "reverse psychology" method employed in class. You can tell she uses reading and work as an escapist activity from socializing with people, because she lacks the empathy and ability to connect with her students. If you are doing poorly, please remember that your proficiency as a writer is not reflected by the grades she gives out. She is an intellectual snob who is unhappy with the card she has been dealt with in life and takes it out on her students.

Jun 2012

Professor Gordis helped me develop a nuanced understanding of the sprawling scope of material covered in Am. Lit. 1800-1870. She provided enriching historical and autobiographical context for each of the texts and great insights about their deeper meanings. She also provided a lot of very specific, clear feedback on my writing and was sensitive to improvements that I made from one draft to the next. What I would say in response to the comments about Gordis being "cold" is that she doesn't suffer fools gladly. If you are genuine and really want to learn--and do your part in your own learning process--she'll really like you. If you're fake, sycophantic, addicted to praise, arrogant, oblivious, lazy, or some combination thereof, she will smell it from a mile away.

Dec 2011

Pros: If you are interested in American history and religion this course covers many of the texts that are important for a good understanding of them. It is also a fairly small class which is good if you enjoy discussions. The blog is also a great part of this class as it allows you to get participation points fairly easily. Cons: While most professors tend to be nicer in office hours, Prof. Gordis was a strange anomaly. She was very encouraging and enthusiastic in class but in one on one conversations nearly seemed bored and was rather condescending. She's also fairly good at hiding the fact that most questions are very loaded and that she expects a certain response. She will be quick to correct you if you don't say what she wants you to say. As one reviewer said, do not take this class to satisfy the lit requirement.

May 2011

The one thing that I will say about this class is that if you're not already interested in the material, you probably still won't be at the end of the semester. If the reading list doesn't grab you on the first day of class, don't take the course. Professor Gordis is really nice, but if you're not already interested in the literature of this time period, she doesn't really make you interested. As someone who was just taking the class as a requirement, I was really bored throughout most of the class, but I'm sure someone who shares her same interests wouldn't be. Make sure to take really good notes on her lectures though--remembering her opinions will come in handy for the final.

Jun 2010

A word of warning to those who are thinking about taking this class: it is not for you if you want a relatively painless way to satisfy the literature requirement. I was looking for a class that was interesting but challenging, but I found most of the material very boring. The reading was long and dense, and everyone I knew in the class only did a fraction of it. The class lectures consisted of Professor Gordis pointing out various passages from the assigned readings and discussing them. She jumps back and forth very quickly and it is sometimes hard to follow if you are not paying very close attention (which was difficult). There is some class discussion thrown in. It is good that she doesn’t cold call since my impression is that most of the class would have no idea what to say, but that also means that 4 or 5 frequent participators essentially dominated the conversation. One thing I liked about this class was the online blog. I hope more of my classes will integrate this in the future; it was a lot better for online class interaction than courseworks. I disagree with the review that says that Professor Gordis is cold. She was very nice whenever I spoke to her, and was understanding about any problems as long as you spoke to her about them. Overall, I would say that my dislike for this class was more due to dislike of the material than dislike of the professor. While I don’t think many people would call this class riveting, it is definitely better if you have a profound interest in 19th century American literature. I am not an English major, though I have always enjoyed English, and I found it hard to care about most of the readings and lectures. But this is just my perspective. Worst of all, Gordis was terrible at getting graded work back to us. The only graded work I ever saw was the midterm essay, and the final grades weren’t posted until JUNE 4TH, which is inexcusable in my opinion… the final was on May 10th.

Jan 2010

I tend to agree with most Culpa reviews, but I have to say Professor Gordis is one exception. While it is clear that she is extremely knowledgeable on the subject of early American literature, I found Professor Gordis's personality to be abrasive and at times rude. At many points throughout the semester I felt as though her responses to comments made by some specific students during class discussions were belittling in a way I had never heard a professor speak to students before. As a senior English major, I was very thrown off by this, which hardly encouraged the majority of the class to participate in any "discussion" of the reading material. On a more personal note, Professor Gordis often seemed distracted and uninterested in what I had to say during her office hours, which also caught me off guard since I tend to expect a certain amount of respect towards students. I found Professor Gordis to be a--for lack of a better word--cold professor who quite honestly didn't seem like she enjoyed teaching or spending time grading her students menial work. It was also frustrating that, at the time of the final exam, I had not received one piece of graded work back from her as was the case with the majority of the class. I know that many people who see negative reviews on culpa assume the reviewer received a poor grade, but this review honestly has nothing to do with the grade I got, but rather the attitude of the professor. Even since the class has ended, it is difficult to get a slight smile out of Professor Gordis when I see her around campus and in the English department. Given her previous reviews, I would like to say that Professor Gordis must have just had a tough semester in terms of her own work load, but I would not run the risk of having to deal with a grumpy professor again and am happy I won't have to take another class with her.

May 2006

Professor Gordis is incredible. She puts so much thought into students' work than any other professor I've ever had. The class I think was meant to be half lecture and half discussion but many times it became mostly lecture because there is so much to go through. I admit I had trouble keeping up with all the texts, that I skimmed through a couple of them. She gives close readings in class as well as pointing out many interesting things about the texts. I also found her to be incredibly supportive when the class spoke. She doesn't cold call and also gives the option of participating on courseworks. In terms of grading, I found her to be very fair. She responds to everything that students write and her comments are extremely helpful. She's thorough and detailed. I really enjoyed the class and it made me enjoy texts that I would otherwise be afraid to read-Moby Dick for one.

Jan 2006

I LOVE Professor Gordis. She is the most involved professor I have ever had--that is, she is the only professor I have ever had who seems to be working as hard as the students in the class, if not harder. She accepts drafts of all papers and will edit and return them within a few days, she answers e-mails quickly, and she seems really invested in the students' learning. Since this class is a requirement, I wasn't too psyched about taking it, but I ended up looking forward to the classes. The one critique I heard from several students is that she does not cut off people who are dominating the discussion, but for the most part she facilitates discussion well and adds cute anecdotes and stories. Since it's a small, discussion-based class, you must do the reading and put a lot of thought into the essays to get an A. Highly recommended.

Apr 2004

I was enthusiastic about taking this class since it covered so many great classics - Moby Dick. Walden, etc, as well as incorporating more marginal voices such as Harriet Jacobs's Life of a Slave Girl. Be warned, however, that Prof Gordis will spend much of the class talking about extant theories and interpretations of the books without often engaging the class itself in fruitful discussion. Basically, she doesn't make the class engaging enough - partly due to her style of teaching, partly due to the way we rush through the works. From what i hear, the Columbia Foundations of American Literature class is much better. Take that instead.

Jan 2004

Lisa is a good teacher who is very knowledgable about her subject. The reading is tough to get through and there is a lot of it, but the written workload isn't too bad. It's also possible to hide in the class discussions because she grades participation in general, whether it be in class or on Courseworks.