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English Culture and Writing


Dawson C.

Course director


Course Objectives

This course aims to illuminate the present time and its emergence from historical events and narratives, and in particular the role of English language and culture in those narratives. Generational change and the relationship between the private and the public are taken as key themes, and the historical context is illustrated around canonical texts from the present day, from 100, from 200 and from 400 years ago.
Students will learn to read and engage with both primary and secondary literature in English and will develop their own analytical and writing skills.

Course Description

Students will study the selected set texts and influential criticism of those texts. Each student will then also select one writer to focus on in addition to the set texts and will prepare and deliver a presentation analysing one passage from that writer’s work in light of its historical context and of the secondary literature. Students will also, across the course of the semester, write a critical paper of at least 5-6 pages. It may focus either on the set texts, on the writer the student has chosen to present, or on relationships between those texts. In any case it will also engage with the secondary literature to present a clear thesis.

Learning Methods

Class time will be divided between lectures and writing workshops. Classes will begin with lectures or interactive seminars about the individual texts, their historical contexts, and the contemporary resonance of the themes they arise. The second part of class will sometimes be devoted to a specific stage of the writing process, offering students an opportunity to consult one another, and to get advice and input from the instructor at each stage. Students will identify the primary texts to focus on, find and select from the relevant secondary literature, and identify the key passages to analyse and the relevant commentary to discuss, before choosing athesis to defend, drawing up the outline of a paper to defend it, and then drafting, editing and redrafting to produce a polished finished product.

In preparing their presentations, students will work together in groups, with each group focusing on a historical period. Each individual student will then present a different writer from that time, so that in the final weeks the presentations will together build up a thorough understanding of the development of English-language written culture in context.

Examination Information

Students will be graded on their presentations and on their written paper, which they will have the opportunity to discuss in a final oral interview.

50% of the grade will be awarded for the written paper itself.
30% of the grade will be awarded for the performance in the final oral exam, which will consist in a discussion of the written paper. The paper itself is therefore to be considered an integral part of the exam and no student may take the exam without first having submitted a completed paper.
20% of the grade will be awarded for the presentation in class

Required Material

  • Shakespeare,King Lear(ed. Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen, RSC (Red Globe Press) 2009)
  • Jane Austen,Persuasion(ed. James Kinsley, OUP 2008)

Five poems 1915-1920 (texts freely available online):

  • TS EliotThe Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock(1915)
  • Wilfred OwenDulce et Decorum Est(1917)
  • Thomas HardyThe Whitewashed Wall(1918)
  • WB YeatsA Prayer for My Daughter(1919)
  • ee cummingsBuffalo Bill’s(1920)
  • Margaret Atwood,The Testaments(Chatto & Windus, 2019)