Final year modules

Dissertation

Dissertation in English Literature

(40 credit module)

In this module students produce an independent Dissertation on a topic determined in consultation with their supervisor. 

Special Subjects 

Options may include modules such as:

Paradise Lost: Text and Context

(20 credit module) 

This module enables students to focus in depth on Milton’s 12-book epic poem, Paradise Lost, one of the most canonical works in English literature. Through close reading of 1-2 books per week, students will be invited to explore numerous aspects of Milton’s poetic mythmaking, including his transformation of biblical and classical sources; the dramatisation of theological doctrine; allusion to the politics of the Civil Wars, Interregnum, and Restoration; and engagement with late-seventeenth-century philosophical debates over the nature of existence and the limits of human knowledge. Working outward from the text of the poem, students will be required to read widely in extracts from relevant contextual material. These will include classical and Renaissance epic poetry (e.g. Homer, Virgil, Ariosto, Tasso, Spenser); and Milton’s own prose tracts on matters of theology (De Doctrina Christiana), political and ethical principle (Areopagitica, Tenure of Kings and Magistrates), and gender relations (Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce). Three weeks will be devoted to considering, respectively, the ‘companion’ poem to Paradise Lost, Milton’s brief epic, Paradise Regained; contemporary responses to Paradise Lost (especially Dryden and Marvell); and the reception and critical history of the poem from 1700 to the present day. Throughout the module, students’ analysis and evaluation of the poem will be informed by wide reading of significant recent critical studies, including Stanley Fish’s reader-response theory, and the so-called ‘new’ Milton criticism of Rumrich, Goldberg, Corns and others, which tends to focus on the poem’s political radicalism, theological heterodoxy, and aesthetic innovation.

Shakespeare’s Afterlives

(20 credit module)

This module focuses not on Shakespeare’s plays and poems themselves, but on the ways in which these texts have been reinvented and re-valued, from Shakespeare’s own lifetime to the present day. We will trace the long history of re-making Shakespeare, from Nahum Tate’s Restoration drama King Lear, which famously gave the tragedy a happy ending, to twentieth-century teen movie Ten Things I Hate About You, which transfers Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew to an American high school; and from Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare in the nineteenth century to manga Shakespeare in the twenty-first; via editions, novelisations, popular culture quotations, translations, and, more recently, digital transformations that have given new meaning to the notion of Shakespeare as ‘universal’ poet. We will examine closely the language and genres of these re-made texts; test out theories of reception, adaptation and appropriation; and consider the ways in which ‘Shakespeare’ has been reshaped to suit the cultural preoccupations of each period, interest group or even nation, elevating his status in the process. At the same time, we will challenge the notion of a consistent, universal ‘Shakespeare’ by acknowledging the multiple and contingent circumstances by which certain texts and authors gain iconic cultural status over time. More broadly, the materials and ideas considered in this module give us the opportunity to reflect on the processes that have shaped – and continue to shape – the value of English Literature.

Politics and Terror in the Age of Revolutions

(20 credit module)

The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 fundamentally reshaped the political and literary culture of the British Isles, with the hopes and anxieties which it provoked triggering waves of politically radical manifestoes; a conservative backlash that sought to control revolutionary energies; an unprecedented wave of Gothic texts which reflected and responded to post-Revolutionary fears; and a startling flowering of new aesthetic ideologies which attempted to carve out a privileged position for literature above the sphere of political struggle.  This module will explore the political and literary culture of this turbulent period by examining poetry, novels, plays, essays and interventions by writers including Edmund Burke, William Godwin, William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Matthew Lewis, Ann Radcliffe, Anna Barbauld, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley and Thomas De Quincey.  In the texts on the course, we will consider representations of wrongful imprisonment, visionary prophecy, political apostasy, religious corruption, sexual deviance and drug-fuelled crocodile hallucinations, unpicking both the aesthetic techniques employed and their wider implications amongst shifting social, political and international contexts.

Victorian Literature and Science

(20 credit module)

In twenty-first century culture, the boundaries between the arts and sciences (which are still sometimes referred to as ‘The Two Cultures’) are the source of conflict, contention, and, occasionally, creativity. Many facets of this situation have roots in the Victorian period, an era which was characterised by both rapid scientific advancement and an outpouring of new literary forms. The relationships between scientific and literary ‘discoveries’ of the nineteenth century are anything but as simple as the ‘two culture’ model suggests – the purpose of this module is to explore them in some detail. Alongside canonical Victorian literature which engaged with scientific ideas, we will also examine some nonfictional ‘scientific literature’, taking account of the possibility that science’s influence over literary forms and contents may have been reciprocated. Can fiction influence the discourses of fact? Might science and fiction share a common language in this period? Can an English student speak responsibly to scientific debates? In short, can the gulf between these two disciplines ever be negotiated? With reference to the large body of critical writing which has recently arisen on the subject, these questions inform the backbone of this course.The course will be structured principally around the Natural and Earth sciences, which have – largely due to the influence of the Origin of Species – been central in recent critical discussions of Literature and Science. However, we will also pay attention to a selection of other scientific fields, as well as giving some thought to pseudoscience and the occult.

Senses of the Past: Nineteenth-Century Literature and History

(20 credit module)

This module offers students the chance to focus intensively on the nineteenth century’s imagination of the historical past, as this finds expression in a variety of literary modes – chiefly the historical novel, a genre that emerged and achieved vast popularity during this century, but also the long poem, the novella and the essay. We shall read the work of both British and American writers, ranging across the Romantic and Victorian periods: authors studied may include Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, W. M. Thackeray, George Eliot, Robert Browning, Robert Louis Stevenson and Henry James. The set works for the module will be studied alongside the work of key nineteenth-century historians, historiographers, sociologists and cultural critics; we shall also consider a range of modern critical and theoretical approaches to the business of representing the past. There will be a recurring emphasis on the writing of political revolutions and popular uprisings, and on concomitant questions of historical rupture and discontinuity, but topics addressed may also include the long continuities and imperceptibly slow changes of rural and provincial life; the romance of antiquarian scholarship; the acquisitive passions of literary biography; and nostalgic projections of the distant past onto a utopian future. Throughout the module we shall be asking what it is about past time, aesthetically as well as politically, that attracts nineteenth-century writers (and their readers), and how literature in this period responds to the varied technical and conceptual challenges of representing the past – above all, how it attempts to register the ideological and stylistic differences of the past while also bringing it into imaginative reach of the present.

Nation and Identity in Nineteenth-Century America

(20 credit module)

From the schisms and improvisations of a new nation that culminated in the Civil War to the position on the cusp of industrial, economic and political dominance celebrated at the 1893 World’s Fair, the American nineteenth century witnessed an extraordinary feat of nation-building without ever quite resolving the question of national identity. Nineteenth-century America’s literature and culture shaped and were shaped by debates over the institution and legacy of slavery; the competing claims of the nation’s diverse regions; emergent campaigns for women’s and minority’s right; an evolving relationship to Europe and to the past. This module explore ideas of nation and identity in novels, poetry and other literary forms, drawing on the work of writers such as Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Fanny Fern, Henry James, Mark Twain, Henry Adams and others.

Remembering World War One

(20 credit module)

Launched in the centenary year of the start of the First World War, this module offers students the opportunity to encounter the shock of the war - its historical, cultural and psychological enormity and incomprehensibility - as it was expressed by writers who experienced it and lived through its aftermath, as well as to explore and critically analyse the continuing significance of the War and its cultural mythology within literary history from 1914 to the present day. They will be exposed to a range of moments in the articulation and representation of the War, from the voices preserved in the poetry of 1914-18, across the curious imaginative silence of the early post-war years to the flood of memoirs and autobiographical prose fiction that appeared in the mid to late 1920s, to the historical representations that began to appear from the 1960s, to our contemporary moment of remembrance and memorialisation as marked by 2014. Framed by a reading of Timothy Findley’s historical novel The Wars (1977), the module will encourage students to reflect upon the ways in which they themselves approach, represent and ‘remember’ the War in the act of historical research and literary criticism. Students will also have the opportunity to work with some of the World War One archive holdings in the University of Birmingham’s Research and Cultural collections.Other texts taught are likely to include a selection from the following novels, memoirs, plays and poetry collections, alongside letters, diaries and other ephemera: poetry from the trenches and the home front [from The First World War Poetry Digital Archive at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/ and Tim Kendall, ed., Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology (OUP 2013), and Catherine Reilly, Scars Upon My Heart: Women's Poetry and Verse of the First World War  (Virago, 2006)], Ford Madox Ford, No More Parades (1925), R.C. Sheriff, Journey’s End (1928), Frederic Manning, The Middle Parts of Fortune (1929), Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That (1929), Richard Aldington, Death of a Hero (1929), Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929; 1929 Wheen translation), Helen Zenna Smith, Not So Quiet ... (1930), Siegfried Sassoon, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930), Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth (1933), Joan Littlewood and Theatre Workshop, Oh, What a Lovely War (1963), Susan Hill, Strange Meeting (1971), and Pat Barker, Regeneration (1991).

Medieval Manuscripts

(20 credit module)

This module takes a practical approach to working with literature in original manuscripts. While all literature before the late fifteenth century circulated in manuscript, and much after, we tend to lose sight of this when we use modern editions on the printed page or computer screen. The module introduces you to the manuscript book, its producers and readers, and to the skills and methodologies used to work with manuscripts, which you practise and discuss in workshop-seminars. We break down learning into manageable stages and with plenty of hands-on practice and trouble-shooting sessions you will soon become confident and proficient working with manuscripts and amaze yourself and your friends. Assessment is by project work: you make your own edition of a text from a manuscript of your choice. The module draws on the resources built up for manuscript study at Birmingham, including original manuscript books in Special Collections, the Library's rich holdings of facsimiles, online resources, weekly module handouts, and the files of the Manuscripts of the West Midlands and Vernon Manuscript Projects. Every week one of our classes will be held in the Special Collections Cadbury Research Seminar Room where we will use the library’s original manuscript holdings to resource our studies. The module will assume some previous experience of reading Middle English texts (e.g. Malory at Level C). There is a bank of examples of previous projects carried out by students on the module and if you’d like to see some or have any other questions please do not hesitate to contact the module convenor.

Gossip, Scandal and Celebrity

(20 credit module)

At the heart of this module is Pope’s The Dunciad in Four Books (1743), Pope’s greatest mock epic. We shall read it both closely, enjoying and analysing its effects and artistry, and contextually, tracing its relation to the individuals whom it blames and praises. The Dunciad in Four Books is, in effect, a mock-epic compendium of the celebrity gossip and scandal of the age, and our exploration will include work by Pope’s friends Swift and Gay, and by his enemies Lord Hervey and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. We shall investigate Lewis Theobald, the Shakespeare editor ridiculed for attacking Pope’s own edition of Shakespeare, and Colley Cibber, the comic actor and poet laureate whose self-satisfied Apology,  often seen as the first celebrity autobiography, helped elevate him to the position of mock-epic King of the Dunces in The Dunciad.  In addition we shall use ECCO  (Eighteenth Century Collections Online) to explore publications about a wider range of people, including royalty, who found themselves in the public eye. This will enable us to compare poems and pamphlets by lesser-known writers with the works of major figures like Swift and Pope, and will help us understand how booksellers actively capitalised on gossip and scandal. This module is open to everyone, and may appeal particularly to people who enjoyed the mock-heroic aspects of ‘Epic Ambitions’ or ‘Stories of the Novel’, or the eighteenth-century satire that we studied in first year. Enthusiasts for the materiality of the text may appreciate the chance of learning more about early C18th printed books and using our Cadbury Research Library, while ECCO will offer scope for discoveries well off the beaten literary track!

‘A Fierce Hour’: The Napoleonic Wars in English Literature from Byron to Hardy

(20 credit module)

From 1792 to 1815 Europe was wracked with war. In 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte had himself crowned Emperor of the French. By 1812 he controlled the bulk of mainland Europe. For over twenty years Britain and her allies fought almost continually against France, finally defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. In their duration, geographical reach and impact, the Napoleonic Wars were comparable to the World Wars of the twentieth century. In this module we will explore the response to Napoleon and his legacy in English literature across the nineteenth century. In the first half of the term we will examine how Romantic poets such as Wordsworth, Southey, Shelley and Lord Byron reacted to Napoleon’s titanic but contradictory influence on his age. As well as looking at poems that respond directly to Napoleon, we will examine in depth Byron’s masterpiece Don Juan (1819-24) as a portrait of the Napoleonic age across Europe and in England. In the second half of term we will turn to look at how the Napoleonic wars were reimagined by Thomas Hardy towards the end of the nineteenth century in his historical novel The Trumpet-Major (1880) and again at the beginning of the twentieth century in his epic drama The Dynasts (1904-08). By placing these major works alongside Hardy’s shorter war poems, we will be able to see how the long shadow cast by Napoleon reached right to the eve of the First World War a hundred years after his fall.

Henry James and Edith Wharton

(20 credit module)

This course offers intensive study of a selection of the works of Henry James and Edith Wharton. Both James and Wharton depict life among the financially comfortable classes in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America, but their novels and shorter writings are more than mere dramas of manners. Wharton’s writing treats the very fine gradations of social and cultural prestige critically, and paints a complicated and contradictory picture of pre-World War One New York society, while James is always alert to the moral and ethical minutiae of an upper-class New England world. Both writers’ focus lies on the individual and psychological weight of tradition and class, and both find innovative ways to represent personal and psychological experience that foreshadow (and indeed overlap with) modernist experimentation. The course will follow a number of key ideas that coalesce in the oeuvres of James and Wharton: their representations of American society; their interest in Italy as a site of escape; romance and death; and their abiding interest in the plight of the ‘New Woman’. Novels and short stories from both writers will be studied in the light of these wider contextual issues, and the course will offer students the chance to explore these topics in the light of primary and secondary critical work. The course will also offer students the chance to study some of Henry James’ later work, which has the reputation of being difficult and obtuse. Later James is difficult, but is also richly rewarding – we will look at James’ turn inward in his later work in the context of the crises of his later life and his growing interest in the modes of psychological reality in some of his seminal late short stories.

Last Year’s Novels

(20 credit module)

How do literary critics deal with the very new? In the absence of extant scholarly discussion of recent literary works, how does one begin critical dialogues? In this module we’ll read a selection of novels first published in the UK in 2014 to begin to approach these questions. We’ll read texts from across the English-speaking world and examine both bestsellers and works from independent publishers. We’ll think about the challenge of analysing the contemporary moment, and the mechanics of the contemporary literature industry, including the culture of reviews and the function of prizes. We’ll review popular approaches to literature in the twenty-first century and apply them to the literary works, as well as paying attention to how each novel responds uniquely to the challenge of representing the world. We’ll also explore questions raised by the particular texts under study. This year, our novels (which may include content some students find distressing and/or offensive) will take us into the world of conceptual art and that of professional swimming; will explore the politics of 1950s America and 11th-century England; and will take in dementia, cannibalism and badgers. Our primary texts will be: Siri Hustvedt, The Blazing World  ▪  Cynan Jones, The Dig  ▪    Meena Kandasamy, The Gypsy Goddess  ▪   Paul Kingsnorth, The Wake  ▪  Jonathan Lethem, Dissident Gardens  ▪  Rachel McFarlane, The Night Guest  ▪  Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird  ▪  Ali Smith, How to be Both  ▪  Christos Tsiolkas, Barracuda  ▪  Natalie Young, Season to Taste  Please note that because this module involves working with very recent literature, the cost of required texts will be quite high. However, browsing book dealers online should allow you to make significant savings from the cover price. 

Postcolonial Poetry and Poetics

(20 credit module)

For most of its career, postcolonial literary criticism has focused on novels, or at least on narrative. It has therefore marginalized many significant poets from across the English-speaking world. Yet, when it comes to questions of language and voice, diaspora and exile, nationalism and cosmopolitanism, aesthetics and politics, postcolonial poets have at least as much to say as the novelists and playwrights, though the perspectives they offer may well shift the terms of several well-worn debates. The aims of this module are threefold: to introduce you to some of the arguments and theories that have animated postcolonial studies over the past four decades; to introduce you to a selection of poets from different regions of the Anglophone world (some already known, others deserving of a wider readership); and to give you some indication of the need for sensitivity both to local literary contexts and the value of comparison. With these aims in mind, the module will be divided into several segments, each focusing on a particular national or regional literature. The poets we will consider in detail may include: Claude McKay, Louise Bennett, Derek Walcott and Kamau Brathwaite (Caribbean); William Plomer, Roy Campbell, Mongane Serote and Sipho Sepamla (South Africa); Les Murray, Judith Wright and Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Australia); and Rabindranath Tagore, Arvind Mehrotra and Arun Kolatkar (India).

Imagining the Digital: Fictions and Theories of Digital Culture

(20 credit module)

As we continue to move through a moment of pervasive digital culture, and increasingly ubiquitous digital technology, new aesthetic paradigms emerge across the arts. This course explores those paradigms, theories and fictions of the digital, as they appear in recent Anglo-American culture. Rather than reflecting on this concern through the parameters of digital texts alone, the course will foster an expanded idea of digital culture, one that includes print and analogue works that reflexively engage with the digital. The course will introduce students to digital culture as a material, philosophical, political and fictional set of encounters, covering a range of critical approaches. The course will ask students to engage with: an introduction to terminology around new media and digital culture; key texts and theories around the hard and soft components of digital culture; considerations of philosophical approaches inspired by digital culture; and ideas of virtuality that explicitly link digital culture to fictionality. Each week will be based on a critical approach and a primary text, or set of texts; the latter will be made up of novels, short stories, films, and artworks. Students need not have studied new media or digital culture before; students that are already familiar with the theoretical underpinning of the course will find new, interesting ways to approach those ideas through the primary texts.

Viragos, Coquettes and Prudes

(20 credit module) 

Women began to be both readers and writers in greater and greater numbers during the eighteenth century. They began to write in all literary genres, including poetry, prose fiction and drama, but also in lesser known genres such as journals, letters and political propaganda, and female characters began to appear more prominently in literature. During the course of the century more and more conduct books and educational texts aimed at women appeared in an attempt to get women to police their own behaviour according to certain moral and cultural norms. The course will explore not only the work of some well-known literary writers of the period, such as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Eliza Haywood and Frances Burney, and some lesser-known women, such as Jane Collier and Charlotte Lennox, but will also investigate the ways in which women are represented in literature through the use of various stereotypes. The course will examine some of the issues raised by the reading of these texts, such as: what are the characteristics of early writing by women? How are the politics of gender relations and identities represented? How have these writers and their texts been treated by literary critics? How did women relate to contemporary ideas of author/authority? Are these texts necessarily subversive of cultural/political traditions? How were women's voices shaped by the expectations of the conduct book tradition? How were expectations of women governed by the representation in literature of types of women such as the virago, the coquette, the prude, the termagant. Other topics will include the education of women, women and the classical tradition, publication and patronage, and the intersection of gender issues with those of social class and race.

Religion and Literature in Renaissance England

(20 credit module)

This module will provide students with the critical framework and intellectual background with which to approach the religious conflicts of Renaissance England in terms of their literary reception. Ranging from Desiderius Erasmus and Martin Luther to John Milton, we will read representative literary and non-literary works for what they can tell us about the development of English literature and religious culture. This module moves in time from the beginnings of the Reformation to the establishment of the church in England, and on to the gradual expansion and revision of that church in the seventeenth century. Throughout, students will be asked to examine the self-consciously religious language of literary creation in this period, and the many ways that English authors reflected on the efficacy of metaphor, fiction, and figures to express divine truth. The module will ask some larger questions about the relationship between literary fiction and religious belief: what does it mean to read the Bible as ‘literature’? is the imaginative kind of belief that literary texts require similar to the exclusive kind of belief necessary for religious engagement? and finally, what role do literary fictions play in the changes that took place in religious culture as Western society transitioned away from a world centred on God? Students will be encouraged to read widely and to work independently on the authors that most interest them.

Law and Literature

(20 credit module)

This module will introduce students to a vibrant area of current interdisciplinary scholarship: namely, the study of law and literature. Such study can be split into two related categories. Firstly, law in literature reflects upon the variety of ways in which law has been represented by literature (an example of which would be the depiction of criminal trials in contemporary fiction). Secondly, law as literature explores the affinities between the interpretative strategies utilised by lawyers and legal scholars and those practiced by literary theorists – in other words, the law can be read as a text. With these dual topics in mind, texts by authors such as Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, E. M. Forster, Franz Kafka, Truman Capote and Julian Barnes will be studied alongside the theoretical work of amongst others, Michel Foucault, Peter Brooks and Hans-Georg Gadamer. The issues raised by the module will include representations of justice (both poetic and juridical); the fact-finding employed by both the criminal trial and realist novel of the nineteenth century; the pervading influence of surveillance in modern culture; the use and abuse of confession; and the determining/illustrating of criminal states of mind. 

The Modernist Novel

(20 credit module) 

This course offers the opportunity for extended study of some of the major novels of English literary modernism. During this module we will study some of the key writers, texts, contexts and formal/thematic features of literary experimentalism within the novel genre in the first three decades of twentieth century. One of the paradoxes of ‘literary modernism’ is the discrepancy between its retrospective, canonical definition, and the often more heterogeneous movements and aesthetics of the period itself, as well as the often wayward impulses of the texts themselves. The aim of the module is to explore and debate the development of the concept of the modernist novel, analysing illustrative texts within the context of a history of literary criticism and reception from the point of their own contemporary moment to the present day.The texts for study in 2014/15 will be: D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love (1920), Ford Madox Ford, No More Parades (1925), Dorothy Richardson, The Tunnel (1919) in Pilgrimage Vol.2, James Joyce, Ulysses (1922), Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room (1922) and The Waves (1931), and Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies (1930) and Brideshead Revisited (1945). You will be introduced to these works within the context of the dramatic social and cultural changes of the 1910s and 20s, as well as be encouraged to analyse their different styles and modes of narrative in relation to contemporary debates about realism and experimental technique within the modern novel. Studying Joyce’s Ulysses presents a particular challenge that students tell me year after year they find a fascinating and surprisingly enjoyable one!

Fantasy and Fandom

(20 credit module)

From heroes and quests to magic and hidden identities, modern fantasy has looked to the literature of the medieval period for inspiration. Yet it has also consistently transformed and reshaped its source material, rewriting the significance of key motifs and ideas in order to address the issues of its own time and place of production. This module will examine the ways in which modern fantasy writing both adopts and adapts the culture, language, characters and narratives of medieval texts, and in so doing identifies its authors as an (albeit diverse) fandom. Although not fanfiction in the strictest terms, modern fantasy writing often shares with it the desire to extend and appropriate the plots and protagonists of earlier texts, and to challenge or re-examine them. The module will provide the opportunity to examine a range of fantasy writing in relation to its sources, which may include texts from Beowulf to William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and contemporary writers such as Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin and Robert Holdstock.

Postmodern Historical Fictions

(20 credit module)

History – what constitutes the past and the methods we use to explain that past – has always been a close relation of the novel. Both are concerned with telling believable stories and both rely on the power of narrative and the structure of language to convey truth. The genre of historical fiction, so prominent and popular during the early decades of the nineteenth century, was revived in the later years of the twentieth century by writers seeking to test the boundaries and hinterlands of historical subjects and stories to reflect on the difficulties of writing about the past. This revival was no longer interested in presenting the past – as the great German historian Leopold von Ranke described it – “as it actually happened”, but instead challenged the belief that ‘history’ describes a realm which can be accessed in the present in an unbiased and objective way. Rather, such works of postmodern historical fiction are strongly concerned with the idea that versions of the past are contingent on who is telling them and are subject to the prejudices and partialities of the present, and they explore the past in innovative and challenging ways. PoMo Historical Fictions will introduce you to a wide range of contemporary texts, films and theory to reflect on the uses made of historical tropes in postmodern fiction. The course sets literary and filmic postmodernism in a wider debate about the nature of knowledge, and it highlights connections between disciplines, and promotes and encourages vibrant interdisciplinary assessed work. 

World Comics

(20 credit module)

The last twenty years have seen a drastic rise in comics and graphic novels from around the world. From Japanese Manga to Iranian webcomix, graphic writing is now as varied as prose and as widely produced. This module investigates how writers and illustrators from regions such as the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia are altering and adapting the medium to speak to new contexts, for alternative aesthetic and political purposes. The graphic form is increasingly used to mediate global politics in a variety of ways, both by documenting social inequality and by resisting state and sectarian violence. This module focuses on how the combination of text and image is used to represent atrocities and to articulate protest: What does the ‘graphic’ mean today? What is its global appeal? What are the stylistic similarities and differences across texts from different cultural contexts? To approach these questions students will explore critical frameworks from fields such as comics, trauma and postcolonial studies.This module covers a range of texts, from memoirs and travelogues to journalism and political satire, by authors like Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, Joe Sacco, Lamia Ziadé, Keiji Nakazawa and Vishwajyoti Ghosh. Students will be encouraged to compare the ways in which graphic novels are influenced by more traditional genres and forms (poetry and collage, fine art and photography, for example) and to consider how comics relate to ‘popular’ media such as cartoons, games and YouTube clips.

Chaucer: Pre-Modern Writing and Post-Modern Reading

(20 credit module)

Are you already a Chaucer lover? Curious and want to read more? A bit daunted? Whether you’ve read a lot of Chaucer before or none at all, on the module we’re going to be immersing ourselves in the fun and enjoyment of Chaucer’s poetry and by the end have experienced the variety and highlights of his work. There will be plenty of help and discussion in seminars to support you in getting to grips with and really enjoying and appreciating the poet who over the centuries has been viewed as the Father of English Literature. Reading Chaucer in relation to a variety of recent critical approaches, on this module you will have opportunities to become an engaged and self-aware reader of Chaucer and to reflect on and situate your own practices as a postmodern reader. Texts discussed in seminars will cover a range of Chaucer's works and the sources to which he responded (e.g. Boccaccio, Boethius, the Bible – all read in translation). We’ll enjoy close analysis of individual works and get a sense of how they fit into Chaucer’s work as a whole. We start with a couple of the longer texts – Troilus and Criseyde and the Legend of Good Women, moving on to shorter texts (selected Canterbury Tales) as the semester progresses. That way the reading is weighted towards the early part of the module, allowing you time to consolidate and reflect – and write a first essay – later in the term. Learning will be by seminar (mixed activity); you will contribute to learning by posting collaborative reviews of and presenting on your secondary reading and take a turn at making a written record of seminar discussion. The module will assume some previous study of Middle English texts in the original language (e.g. Malory at Level C); however, it is equally suitable whether you have done ‘Chaucer and his Legacies’ at Level I or not as the texts and topics considered are different. The module is assessed by two critical essays phased over the term. You will receive feedback on the first essay before you write the second and the weighting of the two elements is designed so that learning from the first essay and improvement are reflected in the overall mark.

Utopia and Its Discontents

(20 credit module)

This module examines utopias from the classical period to the twentieth century. It explores ways in which projections of the ideal state address the political, social, and economic challenges of their own age. We will also see how these works engage with similar themes, such as the limits of personal freedom, the nature of justice, the role of women, the distribution of wealth, and the education of the young. The module will consider ways in which later utopian projections challenge and revise earlier ones: William Morris, for example, rejects in his News from Nowhere the rigid hierarchical family unit which underpinned Thomas More’s vision of commonwealth in Utopia. The module also includes works by Plato, Machiavelli, Voltaire, Samuel Butler, H.G. Wells, and Aldous Huxley. Students will be usually expected to study one primary text a week, and to read more widely (as directed) about the specific issues each text raises.

The Pre-Raphaelite Circle

(20 credit module)

This module focuses on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of mid-nineteenth century artists and writers, as an entry point to explore a series of art/text movements of the Victorian era. Derided in the press as the “Fleshly School” of poetry, the PRB engaged many of the most pressing debates of literary and artistic production and consumption during the period: the role of craft versus inspiration, the relationship between realism and idealism, the pressures of facing an increasingly vocal public, and the wages of industrialization, among others. In this module, students will consider the ways that that Pre-Raphaelites—as well as the Aesthetes, the Arts and Crafts movement, the Century Guild, and other groups that the PRB inspired—responded to these debates in the various artistic forms they advocated. Texts to include verse by Tennyson, Keats, Browning, Barrett Browning, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, Swinburne, and Wilde; prose by Pater, Ruskin, Arnold, Morris, Beerbohm, and Buchanan; and images ranging from the fine arts to cartoons from the popular periodical press. Further, students will have the opportunity to explore the rich local links to the PRB, including visits to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Barber Institute of Fine Arts.

Hardy and Lawrence

(20 credit module)

This module focuses on the work of two major authors: Thomas Hardy and D. H. Lawrence, both of whom were significant novelists and poets. Hardy influenced Lawrence, and both writers explored the many changes that took place in English society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In doing so, Hardy and Lawrence distanced themselves in different ways from literary realism, producing bold, exploratory novels and a fascinating corpus of inventive poems. They were concerned with a range of overlapping issues: the nature of agricultural work and the challenges it faced from industry and urbanization; the changing face of the English countryside; the position of women and the relationship between the sexes; education and its implications for social class; the problem of censorship; and the need for the modern writer to find new forms of literary expression. This module focuses primarily on Hardy’s and Lawrence’s novels, although it considers some selected poems as well. Key texts to be studied are The Return of the Native, Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in Love, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Close attention will be given to key essays written by Hardy and Lawrence, as well as to commentaries by influential critics (eg. F. R. Leavis and Raymond Williams).

The Work of T. S. Eliot

(20 credit module) 

This module introduces students to one of the key modernist writers, and one whose work is widely perceived as among the most ‘difficult’. Students will be required to read widely in Eliot’s poetry, prose and drama, with a view to finding links and mutual illumination between these different writings, and discovering the consistencies in his outlook that can make that work more graspable. The module will consider chronologically the poetry from Prufrock (1917) to Four Quartets (1943), as well as a range of Eliot’s literary and cultural criticism, and the drama of the 1930s. It will consider a range of Eliot’s sources, some key interpretative debates his work has provoked, Eliot’s ‘Englishness’, the anti-semitic controversy surrounding the work and the relations between his classicism, Christianity and cultural theorising. 

Contemporary North American Writing

(20 credit module)

This module introduces students to key examples of North American writing of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, representing a diverse range of literary voices and concerns. Students will be able to critically engage with ideas and features of selected literary texts, including postmodernism, new sincerity writing, and representations of North American history. The module will enable students to study some of the key themes and texts that have emerged in North American writing within the last twenty-five years. Students will be able to identify and analyse the major theoretical and conceptual concerns of the contemporary literary cultures of the U.S and Canada through novels, short stories, and essays. Authors to be studied include some of the following: David Foster Wallace, Junot Diaz, Colson Whitehead, ZZ Packer, Dana Spiotta, Don DeLillo, Joshua Ferris

Bringing Out the Bodies: Technology, Transhumans, and Skin

(20 credit module)

This course aims to investigate the debates surrounding the changing nature of what it means to be human by focusing on the role of technology in breaking down the barrier of our skin. The module is designed to work its way inward: from the first technologies held in the hand, to wearable devices, to the piercing of the skin with implants, and ending with genetic manipulation, the search for the cure to aging, and the “ideal” of shedding our bodies entirely. What role does technology play in our lives, to what extent are we willing to become entangled with our scientific discoveries, and what can art and philosophy bring to the exploration, criticism, and shaping of our future biology? Messing with our bodies is about a lot more than making cyborgs...            Students will start each two-week section by considering a provocation from a theoretical, philosophical, and/or scientific short paper (which I promise will be accessible, interesting, and explained thoroughly; you don’t need a science or theory background to enjoy this course!). This work will then be paired in the second week with a work of literature or film. The aim is to explore cutting edge thought and, as such, many examples will be drawn from the late 20th and 21st century, but ideas about technology and the body must be grounded in work across history so that we might talk about the first stone tools and their direct lineage to mobile phones and beyond - students with an interest in any period will therefore be able to pursue these discussions and write about their favourite examples. This course is likely to be of interest to students interested in: the meeting of the sciences and the humanities, the body, gender, critical theory, technology, utopia/dystopia, and the role of art in public debate.

 

Disclaimer

Modules and courses are constantly updated and under review. As with most academic programmes, please remember that it is possible that a module may not be offered in any particular year, for instance because a member of staff is on study leave or too few students opt for it. The University of Birmingham reserves the right to vary or withdraw any course or module.