Nicholas Dames

This professor has earned a CULPA gold nugget

May 2021

If you get him, you're lucky. Insanely understanding and scholarly and kind and cool and facilitates discussion really well. Wouldn't do LitHum with another professor.

Dec 2020

Best. Professor. Ever. A great facilitator of in class discussions, and really moderate with workload. Super understanding. Everything you picture what a college prof should be

Jul 2014

What can be said about Prof. Dames that hasn't been said already. He is not just a kind and helpful man, but also extraordinarily knowledgeable and passionate. He is an excellent leader of in-class discussion and seems genuinely eager to hear what others have to say, not a given in English courses. Excellent choice of readings. The only criticism I might offer is that Dames is too nice; this bothered me only when he would rather spin a silly comment into gold rather than shut it down (a la Erik Gray, his close competitor in excellence). But I guess that is just a mater of preference. This class was remarkable--not just for its engagement in close reading, but also for placing short stories in a historical context that was both illuminating and comprehensive.

Apr 2013

Man, oh man. Where to start? How about here: Nick Dames will be the best professor you have at Columbia. I suppose it's possible there's someone a little better out there, lurking in a barely occupied seminar about fin-de-siècle sculpture in the Maldives, but I doubt it. Who else could get away with scheduling a class at 9 a.m. on Fridays—and have his students be happy with it? I spent a semester's worth of Thursday nights hunched over books and in bed by midnight, and I remember it more fondly than anything else I've done here. Dames has, as you may have guessed, every skill one needs to be an excellent scholar. He speaks a million languages: German, Latin, French, and Greek all popped up during our sessions. He has read seemingly every book ever, prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction, English or otherwise. He reads with awe-inspiring care, dwelling on asides and word choices in addition to themes and metaphors and symbols. But there are plenty of excellent scholars around this place. It's Columbia, for crissakes. Dames distinguishes himself from everyone else here through his immense classroom gifts. No one can lead a discussion like he can. It's not that he's great at coaxing participation out of his students—he isn't; he's actually a fairly reserved guy. What he can do is take the most threadbare comment from the dimmest or least attentive person in the room and make it sound like it came from the mind of Jacques Barzun himself. "Yeah," Dames'll nod and say, after someone rambles on for 45 seconds of nothing, "That raises this question: [Something totally brilliant and very loosely related that Dames has thought up]." The original speaker goes along with it, because now Dames has convinced her that she's brilliant. It's a positive and fascinating way to lead a seminar. Dames also starts every class with a relevant quotation from some other text, and later in the session he'll introduce a handout with some related-but-not-too-related primary source material. I have all of them in my notes, and I still refer to them months down the road. I liked most all of the books in this class--Mansfield Park, The Egoist, The Age of Innocence, The Portrait of a Lady, The Line of Beauty, A Handful of Dust--despite no prior interest in the material. I know that some of my classmates didn't feel the same way, but hell, we'd take a Dames seminar even if the syllabus called for exegesis of the phone book. He's that good.

May 2011

Professor Dames is the best teacher I have had so far at Columbia! He is extremely intelligent and it rubs off on the class. Our analysis of the books we read are truly enhanced just by listening to Professor Dames' ideas. He truly sparks our interest in the literature and is extremely approachable and kind. Although he does not take attendance, I attended all of the classes and enjoyed every second. The weekly Courseworks postings on the books we read are very easy and help us synthesize our ideas on the book for that week. He reads them through to make sure we have done them, and I'm sure if you do them well, you will get on his good side. I can't recommend Professor Dames enough! He is an awesome teacher!!

Jan 2011

Hands down the best literature class I've ever taken. There were only 4 novels on the syllabus, but each was carefully chosen, and Dames links them well in his lectures ("We'll see this theme treated differently in Little Dorrit" for example), so the class flows seamlessly. But what made this class so phenom. was the professor's willingness and ability to reference other historical and social movements of the time. What other English professor would hand out a selection from Maxwell's physics texts, or photocopy a dictionary of slang? These aren't gimmicks but very carefully woven into the fabric of his lectures. You come away from class thinking about these novels in a completely different and interdisciplinary way. He's also incredibly approachable after class and in office hours. I wish I had gone to his OH more frequently!

Dec 2010

Professor Dames is an incredible lecturer. His insights are always profoundly interesting, and his lecture notes are intricately assembled. I would not be surprised if he could submit his lecture notes directly for publication as articles. Beyond the sheer intellectual engagement and interest of his observations, however, he is also very well organized. I particularly like how he writes a relevant quote on the board for each lecture--often from Benjamin, Marx, Weber, and the like. He also provides a rough outline of each lecture in advance, so it is easy to take notes in a coherent manner. This was a wonderful course, and I really enjoyed doing the reading. I particularly loved the paper topics; the creative options and more traditional options were both really engaging, and I would have been happy to use any of the prompts. The book selections were also wonderful. I'm glad we read The Book of Snobs in addition to the longer works. As a whole, the course seemed really well-paced, and I'm really glad I took it. If you've always wanted to tackle some of the longer Victorian novels and never gotten around to it, this is a great environment to read them in!

Dec 2009

Okay, so I may have only had Prof Dames for one semester so far, but I can honestly say that he is what I dreamed college professors would be like. Not only does his knowledge of Ancient Greek come in handy ALL THE TIME, but he also possesses a profound knowledge of every topic we touch. He is witty, insightful, and brilliant. The class doesn't feel like a requirement - it's almost fun. Seriously. He is a tough grader, but he is such a good teacher that it's almost like the grades don't matter because of the overall educational value. I'm excited for second semester. And his Lysistrata discussion was tops. He asked us to investigate the cultural use of expressions containing the word "screwed".

Sep 2008

the only problem with having Professor Dames for lit hum is that you are destined to be disappointed and practically depressed by all subsequent instructors. I have been and continue to be chewing on and referring to what I learned by this very smart and nice guy. His subtle soft-spoken humor is easy to miss, but if you catch it, your mind will be amused by and in awe of his wit for hours. His approach towards teaching and education is very realistic and admirable- he sees the best in what you present him with, and makes you better by encouraging your strengths. if you get him, i am very jealous.

Dec 2007

I don't see what all the fuss is about. I'm going to ignore the fact that I didn't really enjoy the readings when reviewing Dames because judging by his patterns in lecture, the novels weren't really important. He would spend 95% of the class talking about something in Victorian society only tangentially (if at all) related to the novel itself and then in the last 5 minutes make some obscure statement about how what he was just talking about is somewhat related to the novel. Some people seemed to eat it up. I didn't. I was hoping he could shed some light on why these books are important, why they are still read, and what we can gain from them. Instead, I sat through lectures on subjects as varied as suicides in 19th century Europe and Phrenology. I want my time back.

Dec 2007

I don't mince my words when I say this: This man is incredible. I'll confess: I'm part of the Dames' cult. I've taken his Dickens class the semester before, and now I've taken his 19th Century Victorian novel class. The great thing about both classes is that: 1. His insights into the books are simply astounding. He'll draw parallels between psychology, sociology, history and the novel. It's not like some professors where they force an interpretation upon the text, but he does it so well that they fits hand in glove. Also, every lecture is masterclass. It's never trite, or expected. Expect to be surprised. 2. He's incredibly friendly and approachable. He's not like some of those haughty professors where talking to them is a daunting experience. He's really helpful in his comments on your essays. 3. The books he uses for both classes don't overlap. It's great. I love Victorian fiction, and this arrangement just made my love for British literature a lot more passionate. All in all, having professor Dames as your lecturer is everything which defines Columbia. It's such a pity we don't have more of his like in this school

Aug 2007

I am an English major because of Dames. Here are some tips to getting the most out of his class (don't waste it!): Read as much and many of the texts in the first weeks of class, 'cause you'll get overwhelmed later, and read smart (he'll explain most things, anyway, so no use getting bogged down). Sit at the front of the lecture hall (I cursed myself every time I arrived late, finding myself sitting in the 10th row, straining to hear His Word - not a loud talker). I sank into deep depression when I couldn't attend His lectures, so, not only for mental health, but also for intellectual growth, and because you'll be generously rewarded on the final, go to every single lecture and write everything down. I'm not even taking his class this semester, and I'm going to be going to as many lectures as possible. Man, I sound obsessed. I am. Go to his office hours, seriously DO IT. I'm considering writing my senior thesis on a topic he introduced to me in office hours. I am a huge, huge procrastinator, but I began my essays for this class on the day they were assigned. They were the best essays that I have written at Columbia (or anywhere else). This extreme behavioral shift was due to the fact that I was, simply, inspired rise to Dames' level (impossible, maybe) of insight. Just randomly - for Dickens and many other authors that Dames generally covers, there are online texts for which it is possible to search key terms, character names, and catch phrases. I found this tool helpful... And, to conclude: For the first time in my life, I feel alive! That is, reading, thinking about, analyzing, and loving texts. Listen to The Man, write down everything He says, and go forth and learn.

May 2007

INCREDIBLE!!!!!!!!! Easily the best class I have taken at Columbia. I found myself relating stories he told us at Lecture to all my friends. Not only is he a brilliant, informative, and just incredibly interesting, he is also the nicest person at Columbia. Take his class! honestly, you don't have to be an English major to enjoy this class - I am doing biochemistry!

May 2007

There's a reason why I came to Columbia, and I found it in Dames' class. As all the below reviewers put, he's the man. He does a fantastic job of synthesizing history, philosophy, sociological thought into the texts, and he makes the texts a lot more complicated than it seems. Assignments are fair and can be quite creative at times. All in al, it was a joy to be in his class. It really was.

May 2007

prof dames is dreamy. he will awe you with his lectures and will charm you if you go chat with him. both of these courses were really top-notch. you will enjoy them.

Dec 2006

Simply put, Dames is an all-around best professor you can have for a lecture course. He is: A) engaging and articulate, B) friendly and open to take questions, C) never runs out of steam (every lecture was astoundingly brilliant), and D) totally fair about grades. 19th Century European Novels has to be one of my favorite courses I've taken at Columbia even though I hated most of the material. Dames' insight into literature is amazing, and he made every book seem fascinating. I'm sure I'm not alone in my assessment when I say Dames is absolutely phenomenal. Just read the other reviews. Or ask around, I'm sure all the English majors will agree, Dames is incredible.

Jan 2006

Simply the best teacher I had at school. Not only brilliant, but versatile enough to make every lecture interesting (whereas most profs run out of steam after two classes on one book or author). He is inexhaustible as a resource, although he is quite busy, and is great in both lectures and seminars. As some others have written, he doesn't let anything throw him--even the stupidest comment can be seemingly 'spun into gold' by Dames' adept and enthusiastic plurality of readings. Definitely take a class with him.

May 2005

There's a reason Professor Dames just won a Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching, even while he's only an associate professor: it's because he's amazing. I took this class as a senior, having not been in an English class since high school, and went in fully prepared to have a lot of the material go over my head. But Dames manages to make everything completely accessible to every member of the class. If you read the books (which are really good, and if you're a non-English major like me, a welcome break from what you're usually reading), you'll be awed by his interpretation of the material; and even if you don't, you can get enough out of the lectures to be fully prepared for every paper and final. And, as has been noted before, he has a unique ability to make even the stupidest question or comment from the class sound brilliant. If you have the opportunity to take this class, do it, and don't look back.

May 2005

As most of the reviewers have already noted, Dames is really of a higher order. His vast reservoir of knowledge, combined with his passion for the novel, makes each lecture a transformative experience. Dames draws on Freudian psychology, western philosophy, political and social sciences, as he works our way through the novel, revealing layers of intricacy and depth I could never have known existed. TA's do the grading and run the discussion sections.

Apr 2005

The reviewer below (the one that thinks prof. Dames is a God) is pretty much correct- Dames is as close to perfect (as a lecturer) as you're going to get here. You will never want to miss a class- they're too good. That said, the person who wrote the review before me is definitely a GRAD student (and most likely a female one at that) BECAUSE DAMES DOESN'T GRADE THE UNDERGRADS. He grades the grad students, who grade the rest of us. This, as you well know, is worse than awful- my T.A./grad student was one of the most aloof and arrogant people I've encountered here; the time that I was forced to waste by attending the mandatory discussion sections with her would've been better spent either sniffing glue or seeing if one really can get electrocuted by touching the third rail. So, just know that your fate (grade-wise) rests not in the hands of professor Dames but rather in the hands of a miserable, jaded person barely older than yourself. Take the class anyway- he's worth it.

Apr 2005

I have a pure, pure love for this man that surpasses the realm of normal human relationships and brings me to a transcendent acceptance of the Other as a force greater than myself. Plus, he's a really easy grader.

Jan 2005

Definately one of the most interesting lectures available at Columbia. I never wanted to skip because the quality of each lecture is only surpassed by it's ability to be engaging at the same time. Dames has truly unique interpretations of the novels on the syllabus and is very approachable. I don't even like 19th Century novels that much and now really love a lot of the books I read for the class. What's more is that his lectures are completely ORGANIZED but he doesn't seem to consult a single note. Also, if you show up at each lecture, you will definately have no problems with the class. A very nice guy as well, very accomodating.

Nov 2004

Yes, he is a very smart man. Smart enough, mind you, to turn obviously wrong interpretations from students in the seminar into dissertation-quality points about any of the works read in class. He makes everyone feel smart, and teaches the class to appreciate the density and multi-layers of novels marginalized in their own contexts of time. Highly recommend the class (if you're luck to get into the seminar) but I hoped that Dames would've spoken more instead of the over zealous students who had nothing really worthwhile to contribute to class.

Dec 2003

Not only is Professor Dames one of the most interesting lecturers in the department but he's also proably the easiest grader. The class is facinating, and if you say anything ineteresting at all, your paper is sure to get at least an A-. Take this class!!!

Nov 2003

Really a great class and a great professor. His lectures are truly fascinating and his style of lecturing is very clear and lucid. Further, he is a really nice guy who is very approachable during office hours.

Nov 2003

BRAVO!!!-- What more can be said without being redundant except maybe the following: any Columbia student who misses out on this man's lectures is selling him/herself short. A class with Prof. Dames is the epitome of 'higher education'. The co-existence of unadulterated humility and brilliance is hard to find...especially here. Prof. Dames embodies every quality any professor should possess and we thank him for it!

Sep 2003

Like one reviewer before me wrote, this man cannot receive enough superlatives to describe his insight, discussion, teaching abilitiy, and fantabulousness. I took this class spring 2003. It was a lecture with around 60 students and it was such a blast that the english dept is offering the same exact class with Dames at the reigns this semester (fall 2004) even though it's only supposed to be a fall class. That says something about his teaching. It was the first english class that I took at Columbia. Just for some background I'm a math major who enjoys a good novel. Even though the class was listed as a four-thousand level class, no prereqs are required. ONLY a voracity for reading is needing, and the shite is good stuff anyway. (I took it cuz I saw that Dostoevsky and Dickens were being taught in the same class.) The reading list is awesome. But the most amazing part of the class is how effortlessly he talks about the material. He stands up there at the podium and just chats with you. You don't even have to take notes. The topics that he covers are seemingly random. When we were doing Goethe, he would talk about the landscaping described in _Elective Affinities_, when we did Stendhal he talked about post Napoleon Europe and the psyche of the European people. In Dickens we learned about the commercialized press. In the end what I learned is that Dames tries not to dwell too much on the specifics of the books. He tries to persuade you that writing is and forever will be a photograph of the time and place in which the author lived and should always be approached that way. There aren't any reading quizzes. You'll do the reading because the class is so ef-ing cool. P.S. I asked him to reccomend other professors in the department out of curiousity. (He's focus is on 19th century novels btw.) He reccommended Bruce Robbins and Sarah Cole, both of whom work with modern fiction. But I'm guessing they must be awesometastic as well. He didn't reccomend any professors who work on theatre, Shakespeare, or poetry though which was interesting.

Jun 2003

Awful, awful, awful! What were the people who wrote these previous reviews thinking? Psych!!! He is definitely one of the best professors at Columbia. Prof. Dames is extremely nice and really wants to get to know everyone. The classes are painless because he mixes short insightful, yet still informal, lectures with animated class discussion. He leads the discussions, but does not overwhelm them, giving students plenty of time to talk. His informal teaching style and humble nature immediately sets the class at ease. Plus, you literally cannot look stupid in this class because he can take the most ridiculous things and turn them into really intelligent comments. He seems to know everything about everything. I'm not sure if he researches his lectures extremely thoroughly or if he just knows all sorts of tidbits about every little detail that could possibly come up, but either way, he tends to blow the class away with his knowledge base. He knows classic Greek, which comes in handy pretty much the entire first semester, but his specialty is British Literature, aka "the novel" of 19th century. I really can't think of a bad thing to say about him. One of the other reviews said that the paper topics were a little narrow, but you can come up with your own topic as long as you clear it with him first. A+ professor. Give him tenure!!!!

May 2003

I ran out of time and superlatives filling out a end-of-course evaluation for Professor Dames. There's really no end to the good things I can say about him. His lecturing style is gripping, understated, and simultaneously reverent and irreverent; one gets the sense that he genuinely adores these books enough to make gentle fun of them, as one would a good friend. As for the content of his lectures—well, at their worst, they're intriguingly insightful and original, and at their best they're nothing short of miraculous. He'll introduce each lecture with a theme or theory, expound on it briefly, and then venture off on any number of topics, leaving you fascinated but wondering how it all fits together. Never fear: towards the end of class, in a few brilliant moves, he'll weave together all his various loose threads and then spend the remaining time (to change the metaphor) riffing like a virtuoso on his new revelations, leaving you elated, enlightened, and slightly breathless. Plus he's welcoming and helpful during office hours, immensely forgiving, humble, and just plain nice. The novels on the syllabus are, for the most part, more than worthwhile. Do watch out for the Flaubert, which is dreadful—except his lectures on it are marvelous, as usual, and one them effectively and quite entertainingly explained to me WHY I thought it was dreadful, thereby proving to me once and for all that Nicholas Dames is nothing short of priceless. I recommend him wholeheartedly.

Jan 2003

Amazing professor. Intelligent, articulate, amicable. One of the best professor's I have had in my 3 years of college. He is a little too lenient--to the point where one feels as if you can hand in papers weeks late without any sort of punishment, but Dames is too nice to take advantage of. Highly recommend him.

Aug 2002

Excellent - by far the best professor I have had here! He is extremely understanding and flexible. He can conduct class in such an informal manner, not pressing those who do not wish to participate - and still manages to elicit the most insightful comments in discussion. His lectures are engaging and always enlightening, shedding a different angle at tried texts. Fair grader - he makes it difficult not to do well!

Jan 2000

Prof. Dames manages to be both the professor's professor and the student's professor. He balances refined, cerebral lectures with an adroit maneuvering of class discussion and an approachable disposition. When grading papers, he always give students the benefit of the doubt, seemingly reluctant to give B's. He manages to breath life into even the stalest of pieces of Victorian Lit. by exploring issues of genre and social context. I don't think he'll be teaching any more undergrad classes until the 2002-2003 school year, but definitely take one of his classes if you have the chance. Everyone I know who's had him agrees that he's a real gem. In fact, as a professor, he really doesn't have any significant weak spots; I've taken MANY English classes, and I give Prof. Dames higher all-around marks than anyone else.

Jan 2000

Enthralling lecturer. At times witty, and always incisive, Dames' lectures are well-organized and interesting. He is a master of British literature and is passionate about it, and best of all, he inspires students to feel the same. The only downsides are: his grading is a bit uneven and students might find it unfair that he usually criticizes what he feels is missing in a paper, rather than grading for what is there. Your grade will always improve if you see him or a TA before a paper is due. For non-English majors, I'd recommend taking the class pass-fail, just to enjoy his lectures.

Jan 2000

"The Nickster," as he came to be called in my Lit Hum class, is one of the friendliest, most intelligent people I've ever met. Totally devoted to his classes, has an amazing command of British literature. Bring up Austen and watch him go...his lectures are articulate and complex enough to be studied in a class of their own, but he's more than open to comment, dissent, or questions...will explain the dirtiest pun in the Lysistrata or the sociological implications of Jude the Obscure with equal adroitness. I've had a class with him every semester since I got here; don't know what I'll do when I run out of options!

Jan 2000

Excellent teacher, very engaging and nice. He is truly interested in what we were learning and loves the stuff. When you get to Madame Bovary- look out. It was fantastic. Very easy grader. Love him because you are very lucky to have him