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British Literature

Course Overview

This survey course is designed to give students a taste of the incredibly vast and complex wealth of literature that hails from the British Isles. While it is literally impossible to cover all important, canonical works within the course of a year, the goal of this class is to expose students to notable exemplars of the major literary movements of British Literature. Students will read epic poems, historical treatises, sonnets, plays, novels, and critical articles throughout the course of the year. An emphasis will be placed on important cultural and historical moments as illustrated in the literature and how those moments influenced Western (and thus, American) thought and cultural consciousness. Objectives for this course include:

  • Exploring how cultural consciousness is shaped by history and illustrated through literature
  • Recognizing the historical development of the English language and how the expression of that language evolved due to historical experiments with literary modes and genres
  • Learning to interact appropriately with texts, modifying reading methods to fit the intended purpose of the reading assignment
  • Writing responses to literature that use valid and logical interpretations of the text, and supporting those judgments with specific references to the original text, to other texts and authors, and to prior knowledge.

Course Content

Unit 1: The Anglo-Saxon Period

This short unit focuses on literature of the Anglo-Saxon period and is designed to reveal students’ strengths and weaknesses as writers, along with what critical skills they already possess. Once this unit is finished, the instructor can assess what the class already knows, what holes exist in their learning, and can adjust the pace and content of the course appropriately. Major skills for this unit include: responding to texts using critical and creative thinking skills; developing close reading techniques; effectively utilizing evidence from texts; conducting sophisticated class discussions; organizing and drafting longer essays; and becoming familiar with self-editing and workshopping techniques. Assignments for this unit include reading responses; asynchronous discussion posts, and a short culminating essay.

Unit 2: The Medieval Period

The second unit of study covers literature from the Medieval Period. This is a fascinating period of history that runs from the Norman Conquest of 1066 to the beginning of the Renaissance (or Early Modern Period). Major skills for this unit include analyzing texts using critical and creative thinking skills; synthesizing multiple readings to come up with interesting themes; responding to critical essays and analyses; conducting sophisticated class discussions; organizing and drafting longer essays; and improving upon self-editing and workshopping techniques. Assignments for this unit include short reading responses; graded discussions; in-class essays and journaling; and a large-scale culminating essay.

Unit 3: The Renaissance

In the second semester, students will embark upon the Renaissance, a time of renewal, rebirth, and rediscovery. Parts of this unit are student-centered, in that the students are responsible for creating activities, leading discussion, and determining the pace of their learning. Major skills for this unit include responding to texts using critical and creative thinking skills; moving toward self-directed learning and giving students more autonomy during live sessions; developing public speaking and presentation skills; focusing on responding to critical essays and analyses; conducting more sophisticated (and student-led) class discussions; organizing and drafting longer essays; and improving upon self-editing and workshopping techniques. Assignments for this unit include poetry annotations and explications; in-class essays and shorter analyses; study guides for Shakespearean texts; student-directed presentations and activities; and a large-scale culminating essay.

Unit 4: 20th Century Literature

The final unit of the school year connects the Early Modern vision of utopia as described by Sir Thomas More in his satirical Utopia with the dystopias of the 20th century. This unit offers many opportunities for creativity and collaboration, with students working to both analyze literature and create utopias (and dystopias) of their own. Major skills for this unit include responding to texts using critical and creative thinking skills; working collaboratively on creative projects; public speaking and presentation skills; conducting sophisticated class discussions; organizing and drafting longer essays; and improving upon self-editing and workshopping techniques. Assignments for this unit include in-class timed writings and shorter analyses; and student-directed presentations and activities.