Blurring the line between academia & pop culture

PhD Candidate Meghan BurryFaculty of Arts and Science PhD candidate Meghan Burry is introducing a unique cultural studies course to the Department of English curriculum this year focusing on the literacy legacy of music icon Taylor Swift.

The course, Taylor Swift’s Literary Legacy, will explore Swift's cultural impact by examining her songs, videos, and movies as literature.

“We are blurring the boundary that often exists between academia and pop culture. I don’t think academia has to be in this strict box all the time,” explains Burry. “I think Swift has struggled to be taken seriously and I think it is overdue for a literary course on her.”

Burry says she fell in love with the literature of the 19th century, women’s writing specifically, when she came to Queen’s for grad school.

“My work focuses on transgressive women in the 19th century. My dissertation looks at how the fallen woman is canonically known as sexually deviant. I really see that in Taylor Swift’s career in many ways. Obviously, the ideological framework is not the same in the 21st century as the 19th century so I can’t put the term fallen women on Taylor Swift in the same way, but she has been so transgressive since her career started.

“She made her way into the music industry, found a lot of hate in the media, was depicted as this scandalous woman that dates around, writes songs about her ex-boyfriends,” Burry adds. “There has been this fixation on her sexuality throughout her career. When I started grad school, she released the album Reputation and that was a very transitional point in my personal life and in her career. It was really a turning point for many reasons, and it was when she basically asserted what she wanted us to see.”

Burry says she will be teaching canonical literature in the course and that is why she was drawn to Swift – she alludes to canonical text in her own work.

“Her first single from Fearless, Love Story, references Romeo and Juliet. It’s not necessarily the Romeo and Juliet we know, it manipulates the narrative. This course will investigate what manipulating this narrative means. She doesn’t only do this with Shakespeare – she does it with F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby. She does it with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The biggest goal with this course is getting the younger generation interested in analyzing literature. I want to broaden their horizons about what we consider literature.”

Earlier this year Burry had to submit three course proposals to the department, and two were linked to her PhD research. She ranked her preferences and was thrilled they went with her first choice: Taylor Swift.

“First, Meghan Burry’s course proposal was meticulously crafted, rigorous, and relevant—like those of many of our Doctoral Teaching Fellows,” says Department Head Professor Sam McKegney. “Second, this course mobilizes the tools of literary analysis to engage the cultural moment in which its students are embedded, encouraging them to read with, against, and through contemporary art about which they are passionate. The learning opportunities are immense and resonate with many courses throughout our curriculum.”