Barbara Ching


Office:331 Ross
527 Farm House Ln.
Ames IA
Office Hours:Wednesday 11-1


Courses I am Teaching

English 538: Studies in Fiction


Ph.D. Duke University    •    Graduate Program in Literature
M.A. New York University    •   Comparative Literature
B.A.   Duke University    •   Comparative Literature

Research Areas

My research explores the ways in which the distinctions between high and popular culture have been created, expressed, disputed, and changed. I am especially interested in the ways people recognize and express their own cultural tastes. We list our favorite songs, books, and movie to tell about who we are and to connect with others.  How and why do we make meaning this way?  I explored these questions in my book, Wrong’s What I Do Best: Hard Country Music and Contemporary Culture (Oxford University Press, 2001) and in many articles. My interest in Susan Sontag grows out of one of this major critic’s chief interests: the way mass media transformed European high culture, making movies and other easily-accessed texts and images important sources of meaning for millions of people.

About My Teaching

The primary skill I teach, no matter what the course content and level, is careful, informed reading, critical thinking and writing, and attention to language. You will use these skills in nearly everything you do as an adult.  You’ll use them in the workplace, you’ll use them to participate in your community, and you’ll use them to talk to people you care about, and to talk about the things that matter most to you.

In my classroom, you’ll practice these skills as we analyze and discuss great examples of writing in English: great books, great songs, and great films.

How I came to Teach what I Teach

I went to college thinking I’d be a lawyer.  My first English class, on the contemporary American novel, changed my mind.  I ultimately majored in comparative literature, which gave me a deep understanding of how language is both a tool for creating meaning and a structure that shapes what we can create.  I discovered that we can never fully master even the language we learned first, the language we use every day.  We can always keep learning and marveling at the richness of our language.

Recent Publications

  • “Murder Ballads and Hunger Games: Re-Collecting Rural America.” In Rural America, eds. Antje Kley and Heike Paul. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2015:305-325.
  • Ching, Barbara and Gerald Creed. “Eaten Up: Urban Foraging and Rural Idenity.” In Studies in Urbanormativity: Rural Community in Urban Society, eds. Gregory Fulkerson and Alex Thomas. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014: 111-128.
  • “‘If Only They Could Read between the Lines’: Alice Randall and the Integration of Country Music.” In Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Musics. Ed.  Diane Pecknold. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013: 263-282.
  • The Scandal of Susan Sontag: Public and Private Affairs, introduced and co-edited with Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

Outside of the University

I like to get outdoors, in the garden, and in the woods, looking for mushrooms.

My whole family loves to play cards.

And whether on campus or off, I explore what we do with our language, in books, in song, on stage, on screen.