Drawn to the City: Benjamin Madden, the scholar

Benjamin Madden took his passion for literature and shaped it into a career as an academic. Today, Madden fills his work life with research, writing and teaching in the Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide.

In 2003, Madden enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts (University of Adelaide) and started to hone his interests in the written word. As an honours student, Madden focused his research on English literature by looking closely at contemporary Irish poetry and the works of South African writer J. M. Coetzee, who moved to Adelaide in 2002.

“My honours year really brought home to me the idea that I should aspire to go overseas,” Madden says. “So I applied for a PhD at the University of York, in the UK.”

York is a picturesque place to study with its historic architecture and memorable Roman walls.

“In this environment you are thrown into teaching straight away,” Madden says. “You have to figure out how it works for you and how you share knowledge with your students. The first term was pretty rough, but that said it was also a delight. My four years at York made me reflect on the whole process of teaching, and made me consider what I can do, year by year to improve. And I am very much in that process now.”

After completing his PhD, Madden continued his travels. He moved to China to take on a two-year teaching role at the Beijing Foreign Studies University. Madden found this university “a unique institution”.

“It is totally language focused,” he says. “It aims to train people in languages [of nations] with which China has diplomatic relationships.”

Madden’s daily schedule involved two-hour long teaching sessions, in which he “had a good deal of freedom to structure the classes and encourage interactive lectures and discussions”.

“In the tradition that I come from, it is not the tutor’s job to tell you what to think, but rather [you should] have your own interpretation of the text,” he says.

This was the attitude he brought to his students in China. “China was overwhelming to begin with, but then you establish a routine, meet people and begin to feel at home.”

After studying and working overseas, Madden is proud to be teaching and writing again in Adelaide. He is aware that his field can be intimidating, heavy books can pile up on desks, but this scholar is driven to make his field accessible.

“I am keen to take ideas out of abstraction and talk about them with a diverse group of people.”

Leo Greenfield is a freelance illustrator.

leogreenfield.com

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