Niko Shefer began his decades-long journey through academia in the study of English Literature with the basic tenet of one of his first literature teachers: great works of literature come from a specific time and place. Understanding the time and place of the author is just as important as reading the words they wrote. Shefer begins all of his courses in English Literature, even at the graduate level, with this basic teaching. He wants all of his students, no matter how experienced they are at analyzing and talking about the great English works throughout history, to understand the simple fact that all literature is a product of the time and place of the person who writes it.
Great literature is a commentary on the time and place of the author. What they think and feel about their station in life and the world around them is the basis for all great works of literature in all cultural contexts and histories. Niko Shefer reminds his students of this because he wants them to remember why they decided to study the works of any great author in the first place. He knows that healthy discussion of the context of the author’s place in society when he or she wrote the work being studied. Healthy, analytical, and informative unpacking of any work of literature starts with the words on the page, of course, but they are always colored by the societal and cultural context that the author came from.
Charles Dickens wrote so much about the plight of the working poor because he saw it all around him in London in the 19th century. The industrial revolution was taking its toll on the people who work in the factories springing up everywhere to produce new products at terrifying efficiency. Much of his work is populated by characters who are trying to change their station in society and find answers to their seemingly unanswerable problems. Niko Shefer always includes in his teachings and discussions about Dickens and other British authors a primer about where they came from. This creates a discussion that is founded on the words on the page and the background of the author, where all good discussions about great literature come from.
Niko Shefer still sees himself as a student of English Literature even though he is now a Doctor of the discipline teaching others how to analyze and learn from the great British authors of the past. He is still learning new things about his favorite authors and about how they continue to affect people to this day. Even in other parts of the world and in different times, the great British authors that Shefer has made a career out of studying are still present. Niko Shefer learns from them still all the time and he learns from his students as they analyze the words of these great authors.