Liz is a remarkably insightful person, and if you are willing to engage with her she will elicit that insight in you. That said, it is very easy to sail through the class half-asleep; Liz is incredibly kind so she'd never call anyone out â€” but she wants you to get out what you put in. Whether that is sleeping through every lecture (admittedly 9 a.m.) or talking through every paper extensively with her one-on-one is up to you. The reading was definitely the best aspect of the course, but I don't really distinguish between the time I spent reading and the time I spent in class discussing â€” the class worked together (at least, most of the class) with Liz to understand the texts with both depth and context, making seminar a very rewarding two hours. LitHum is all about what you're willing to bring to the table, especially with Liz. Some people in the class definitely did not get much out of it, but it certainly gave me a new appreciation for literature and close analysis.
Hold on to your hat. Professor Irwin's madcap combination of rigorous analysis, friendly neurosis, Herodotophilia, disorganization, and sheer intelligence makes a term with her an unforgettable scholarly experience. She can sometimes leave one behind in the intellectual dust as she rushes ahead on a brilliant tangent; at other times, the class can halt entirely as she spends time parsing the philological ambiguities of a particular phrase. But you will never come away without having discovered that there was so much more in the text at hand than you would ever have thought. She will assign oodles of secondary scholarship as recommended reading, and follow up practically each class with a most involved e-mail, and often run five or ten minutes over time; yet I swear that a course with Professor Irwin is far and beyond worth every assignment and every minute.
Though Liz is nice enough, and easy enough, teachers like her are the reason the core can really suck. She doesn't pull out anything from the text, and I walked away from every class feeling like I learned nothing. Furthermore, she fails to do extra research on background information for books that are outside her specialty. We got through ancient studies-esque books fairly quickly, and when we read the bible, she relied on the very religious members of the class for basic bible background information--leading to an uncomfortably religiously charged class and very little nonbiased understanding of the bible as a historical text. All the athletes in the class were happy to stay because basically nothing is required of them--she did not protest when, in a 20 person class, several athletes slept through each session.
overall a good, pretty easy prof. she's really smart and ridiculously funny ("don quixote laments the advent of new technologies like rifles. he prefers the arduous, difficult and unlikely to what is easy or comfortable..."). so class is enjoyable, you probably don't have to read to do well. you should do the reading though, if only to be able to better discuss whether you liked it or not with her..... essentially, a prof whose class is easy but who makes the reading fun. she obviously knows the texts and loves them.
I don't really agree with the other reviews; Liz is awesome! Especially for a 9 AM time. She's funny and irreverent about the writers, and isn't afraid to skewer them for being pretentious (Confessions isn't too much fun). She does talk a lot for a discussion-based class, but it's all stuff that's important (and usually interesting) and it's pretty obvious she really knows the material. I had a hard- ass TA last semester, and Prof Irwin completely changed my expectations of Lit Hum. It can be fun...low- pressure.interesting...non-pretentious..you can laugh during it...Also I had some rabid crazies in my class, she was funny about that too. i don't know what else to say, except that she's possibly the only down-to-earth Oxford grad/ Classics prof at Columbia. You don't have to read, but you should because the books are influential/important and she staggers the reading load so that it's manageable (bulk during the weekends, smaller chunks during the week when you're frazzled).
Personally, the greek texts were beasts. But, since Liz knows her stuff, she was able to bring something to the table that other teachers can't. She is a very kind, and helpful professor. She is open about her personal life and is really encouraging. She's not an easy grader, but will help you out of class to improve. By no means is she dynamic--and often I just wanted to drift off to sleep (many others did drift..every class, although in all fairness it was at 6pm). She also talks alot...ALOT and if you don't tell her class is over, she will continue talking or start a new topic. Yes, an extra two min of class is a small deal, but at 8 at night when you just can't keep your eyes open...it hurts.
Liz is a good proffesor. She is very easy--the class is basically run as a discussion group and has very little organization, she generally just lets people comment as they please and lets the class take its course. But she is very knowledgable, especially on the classics, which comes through in class. She has a sense of humor too, and is very willing to help her students-- though she may not seem approachable at first, she really is quite a nice person and is very much available.