Dr. Jess Hamlet Major Writers Taylor Swift Appreciation Course

Jess Hamlet, Ph.D., outside of her office in Francis Hall with her Eras Tour-inspired course flyer.

Hamlet to cover pop-culture literature, gender and fandoms among other topics

Assistant Professor of English Jess Hamlet, Ph.D., is teaching the only Taylor Swift-themed class in Berks County, where Swift grew up, in the spring of 2024. Hamlet taught a condensed version of the course for first-year students during the summer. This year is the first time it will be offered as a three-credit course. To some, “Taylor Swift” defines the 21st-century music industry. To others, she signals everything wrong with America: women, music, whiteness, white privilege, feminism, mainstream culture, and more. Raised right here in Reading, Pa., Swift has amassed a career spanning multiple musical genres, multiple decades, multiple scandals, and a sublime amount of awards, accolades and cultural moments. This course aims to deconstruct, analyze and understand the appeal and aversion to Swift through close readings of her music, music videos, albums and interviews, supplemented by critical essays covering everything from her economic power to her impact on climate change. Along the way, Hamlet will lead frank discussions of white feminism, performative allyship, race and racism, sexuality, girlhood and femininity, misogyny, and more.

Q&A with Jess Hamlet, Ph.D. Watch on TikTok.

By: Sarah Matarella

Q: What topics do your courses cover at Alvernia? 

A: I am trained to teach the Shakespeare and the British literature courses, but I am also teaching this Taylor Swift course. I have taught classes on revenge, true crime as literature, African American literature, and queer literature, among others. 

Q: Who can take the 400-level course Major Writers: Taylor’s Version? 

A: It is open to basically the entire student body, although, I do recommend that students are juniors or seniors before they get into it, although advanced sophomores can be in as well. I don't recommend the course for freshmen, but it will come around again. 

Q: What inspired you to create this course?  

A: Two years ago, I was asked to do a one-credit course for incoming freshmen over the summer. This was around the time that Stanford debuted their [Taylor Swift] course. I had mentioned it to some of my students in my classes, and they asked, ‘Can I take this class? When can I take this class?’ Since there is a demand, I thought I'd make it into a semester-long, three-credit course, and the rest is history. 

Q: How is the course structured? 

A: The course is not structured chronologically, so we will not move all through each era. We will discuss things like age, gender, feminism, misogyny, race, white privilege, white feminism, legacy, fandom, audiences, and other topics. Each week, we'll have a different topic that's going to guide us and we'll jump around through Taylor's catalog of music as well.   

Q: What are the assignments in the course? 

A: There are required reading, listening and viewing. For every class day, there are about two or three articles that students are going to be reading. Those articles are coming from places like Rolling Stone or Time Magazine as they're pitched for a popular audience as opposed to an academic audience. I’ll also ask the students to listen to an entire or most of an album and watch a music video or two. We're also going to watch the Long Pond Studio Sessions on Disney Plus, the Miss Americana documentary on Netflix and I'm hoping that we might get to watch The Eras Tour movie as well, although I know that that's long and they will have to pay for it. So, we'll see.   

Q: How long have you been a Swiftie?  

A: I have been a casual Swiftie since 1989 (stolen version) was released. That was the album that got me in back in 2014. I have been a less casual Swiftie since the Folklore album. That was what sunk its claws into me, and then I backfilled a little bit.  

Q: Do you have a favorite Taylor Swift era? 

A: I do. I missed Reputation almost entirely, and now it's my favorite. Well, it's complicated, right? Because how do you choose? Reputation is my favorite album. I do believe that It is so underrated. I will go absolutely feral when she releases Reputation (Taylor’s Version). As for the cultural consciousness, my favorite era is Folklore, and I also love the ‘Eras Era’ as a whole. 

Q: When is the course offered? 

A: We start on Jan. 16, 2024. It's on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11. If Alvernia students have room in their schedules and if there are still spots open, they can join us. If you are not at Alvernia, and you want to be at Alvernia, or if you're a freshman at Alvernia and you didn't get to take it this time around, it is coming back in the spring of 2025. It will be back, possibly every other year after that.