Portrait: Allison Johnson

Join the College of H&A in welcoming Dr. Allison Johnson to the Department of English, where she has joined us as an assistant professor of literature. A Southern California native, Alli double majored in English and History at UC Riverside before earning her M.A. and Ph.D. in English at UCLA. She’s had a lifelong love for American literature and history; her father was an American history professor and an early childhood viewing of Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves sparked a fascination for the Civil War and its repercussions. 

Teaching was a natural career choice for Dr. Johnson “It’s the family business,” she says. Her mother, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all educators; her younger sister is also pursuing a teaching career. Alli has an impressive resumé: she’s taught at UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, and even had a short stint with the LAPD Police Orientation and Preparation program, preparing prospective cadets for a career in law enforcement.

This is Alli’s second semester at SJSU, teaching literature classes and ENGL 100W in what she calls a more “open” style. “I don’t like to stand at the front of the class and lecture the entire time,” she says, “so I give my students more control in leading discussions and in my grad classes, they have opportunities to practice their teaching skills.” And even though her graduate class (ENGL 254) ends at 9:45 at night, her students reflect their instructor’s enthusiasm and energy. 

After a night of teaching, Alli likes to kick back and decompress with TV, video games (she’s currently working her way through the new Tomb Raider), and exercise. She also continues her research in historical topics. One in particular stands out, a topic found in her upcoming book The Scars We Carve (April 2019): amputees who overcame adversity after losing limbs in the Civil War. According to Alli, men who lost their right arms were able to re-enter the workforce by learning how to write with their left hands. These injuries frequently transcended the boundaries of race, providing common ground for white soldiers and African-Americans immediately after slavery. But though some in the past may have overcome racial differences, Alli notes that the adversities themselves remain.

Left-handed writing sample by Alfred D. Whitehouse (1866)

“We teach the humanities for a reason,” Alli says. “Issues of oppression and discrimination from the past still have repercussions, or they’ve taken different forms. It’s important to remember how we got to this point in history so we can better respond to the issues of today.” She hopes that her students, studying in Silicon Valley, keep the past in mind as they continue into the future.

Pardon. Franchise Columbia –“Shall I trust these men , and not this man?” (1865) – Thomas Nast

But more than that, Alli hopes to give her students a sense of confidence. “I want to give my students tools that allow them to recognize that they have the ability to cultivate their talent. One of my favorite quotes is from Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘Doubt not, O poet, but persist. Say, ‘It is in me, and shall out.’”

Welcome, Alli!

Check out Alli’s websitehttps://allimariejohnson.wordpress.com

English Majors! Professor Johnson will be teaching ENGL 190 – “Big Books” next semester, focusing on the longer classics like Moby Dick and Middlemarch. Look for it in your course catalog!