Middle English Literature, Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, History of the English Language, The Poet’s Bible, Translation Theory, Women’s Writing, Shakespeare, Milton, Utopia and Dystopia, Research Writing
University of Northwestern-St Paul
Critical Thinking and Writing, Fall 2017
Composition, Fall 2017
University of Pennsylvania
Junior Research Seminar: The Poet’s Bible—Instructor, Fall 2015
Jane Austen and Adaptation—Teaching Assistant, Spring 2014
Study of a Genre: Tragedy—Grader, Fall 2013
Junior Research Seminar: The Poet’s Bible
The Bible is probably the most important influence on English literature. In this course students will gain familiarity with this foundational text by reading sections of the Bible, studying both early and contemporary poetic treatments of biblical material, and conducting original research. We will read poetry by a wide range of poets, including Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Jacqueline Osherow, T. S. Eliot, Mary Szybist, George Herbert, and longtime editor of Poetry Magazine Christian Wiman. How did these poets adapt the biblical story to their own historical moments? What elements of biblical imagery and language proved fruitful for their poetry? In what ways did translations of the Bible into English influence the literary culture in which the work of these poets was written and received? In addition to reading creative adaptations of the Bible, students will use their research to produce their own creative writing.
The Junior Research Seminar is designed to involve students in the kinds of research that the discipline of literary studies currently demands, including: working with primary sources and archival materials; reviewing the critical literature; using online databases of historical newspapers, periodicals, and other cultural materials; exploring relevant contexts in literary, linguistic, and cultural history; studying the etymological history and changing meanings of words; experimenting with new methods of computational analysis of texts; and other methodologies. The course typically involves a few main texts that are studied intensively from a variety of approaches. Research exercises throughout the semester will enable and culminate in a final project: either a scholarly essay of 10-15 pages or a creative project. In either case, the final project must emerge out of each student’s intensive, independent research agenda.
Language and Identity in Medieval England (Proposed)
Do women ask questions, pray, or argue differently than men? What if speaking in French could change your social status? This upper-level seminar will immerse students in the conversations that take place in late medieval romances, plays, poems, and the first Middle English autobiography written by a woman. We will also become familiar with the political and social implications of England’s multilingualism, as regional Englishes come into contact with French, Latin, Danish, Hebrew, and Welsh. The primary texts for this course represent England’s linguistic diversity and grapple with England’s place in a global middle ages. We will investigate how medieval characters’ speech participates in the formation of racialized, gendered, or religious identities and consider the stereotypes that persist today.
In addition to daily reading reflections, a quiz on Middle English pronunciation, and a final research project, students will produce a short analysis of one text that considers who speaks, when and to whom, and who is kept from speaking. To facilitate sociolinguistic analyses of the course texts, critical readings will include John Burrow’s article “The Languages of Medieval England,” Ardis Butterfield’s The Familiar Enemy (2009), and essays by Geraldine Heng, Dominique Battles, and Tim William Machan.
Signs and Wonders in British Literature to 1700 (Proposed)
How do we respond when something we see defies possibility? What is it about marvelous figures or places that invites us to interpret them, and how do we go about determining what they mean? Premodern British literature is filled with sights and visions that demand action or elicit emotional responses, as well as people who interpret those wonders as signs of something else. Some of the first women writers in English—Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe—justified their claims to authorship on the basis of personal visions. The earliest travel narratives gained popularity because they contrasted vivid, memorable descriptions of strange customs with familiar Western practices. We’ll see how visions of ghosts and fighting dragons were used to support or undercut bids for kingship. As we read works by a variety of authors, including Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton, we will ask why these wonders abound in Medieval and Renaissance literature. We will also use our observations about the psychology and politics of premodern England to address the following question: did medieval people believe their own miracles? Assignments for the course will include daily reflections, three unit exams, a short close-reading paper, a class presentation, and a final paper. Units will include Encountering the Supernatural, Seeking Out Marvels Away from Home, and Affecting Visions.
History of the English Language (Proposed)
Whether or not we are aware of it ourselves, our use of English participates and responds to a long history of competing Englishes. In this course we will use terminology from linguistics to help us describe and analyze the changes in English over time, as well as recognize differences in varieties of English present in the same time period. We will address the historical, cultural, and social forces that influenced developments in the form of the English language and changes in the status of the English language in England and globally. Readings from Laurel J. Brinton and Leslie K. Arnovick, The English Language: A Linguistic History (2017); Nicholas Ostler. Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World (HarperCollins, 2005); The Oxford Handbook of the History of English, ed. Terttu Nevalainen and Elizabeth Closs Traugott (2012).
(Im)Perfect Places – Utopia and Dystopia
While many accounts of utopian writing in English literature point to Thomas More’s Utopia as an origin point, in fact thought experiments about the conditions for the perfect society were popular from the early medieval period. For example, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville circulated with a letter from Prester John, a fictional Christian emperor in the distant east, and both works depicted a fabulously wealthy and powerful Christian empire as if to present a model that western Europeans could eventually imitate. But just as More’s title cleverly elides the Greek terms eutopos (good place) and outopos (no place), pre-modern writers often explore the distance between intentions and execution, tidy thought experiments and the messiness of human experience.
In addition to short papers that teach close reading and literary analysis, students will work with maps and other artifacts contemporary with the literary works studied. For example, investigating medieval TO maps, mappa mundi, and maps of Utopia will introduce students to the ways in which understandings of “place” are ideologically constructed. Readings for this course will include pre-modern visions of utopian societies and scholarship that investigates the origins and purpose of utopian writing. Critical readings will be drawn from Karma Lochrie’s Nowhere in the Middle Ages (2016) and Chloë Houston’s The Renaissance Utopia: Dialogue, Travel and the Ideal Society (2016), as well as the writings of Ernst Bloch and Ruth Levitas.