Postgraduate MA Literature and Culture optional modules

You will choose a total of six optional modules - including at least two theme modules. 

An indicative list of optional modules is available below:

Theme modules

Meeting Medieval Manuscripts

From the sole-surviving manuscript of Beowulf to William Caxton’s introduction of the printing press to England, this module is designed to open up the fascinating world of medieval manuscript studies and book history. Throughout the semester we’ll use new online and digital resources to explore a series of key manuscripts and printed books from the eleventh century through to the early sixteenth century.

Each week we’ll teach you how to read and transcribe different types of medieval handwriting (a skill known as palaeography) and introduce you to some of the central features of manuscript production (codicology) and early printing. We’ll focus week-by-week on a specific manuscript or type of manuscript (e.g. chronicles, book of hours, copies of The Canterbury Tales) and also discuss themes related to the study of the material text, including illumination and decoration, dialect, the production of miscellanies/anthologies, and digitisation.

Above all else, you’ll have the chance to turn the pages of some very special old books for yourself, beginning with an introductory session in the Cadbury Research Library here at Birmingham and ending with a trip to one of the UK’s major research libraries (e.g. Bodleian Library, Oxford).

Assessment: Transcription assessment and 3,000-word essay

Nineteenth-Century Senses

At the heart of this module is the essential question, what does it mean to be human? More particularly, what did it mean to be a living, breathing, thinking organism in the rapidly changing world of the nineteenth century? Nineteenth-Century Senses considers how writers of the long nineteenth century recorded and responded to their evolving impressions and understandings of the world around them.  Throughout the semester, we will interrogate the manner in which the organs of sensory perception – the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth, and the human skin – operate as crucial routes of exchange between the interior world of the body, and its external environments. Reading works of prose, poetry, and musical theatre, we will consider the role of literature in exploring, representing, and experimenting with the senses, and the ways that the human mind and body engage with and react to the external world.

Assessment: 3,000 word essay (75%) and a 15-20 minute `conference' presentation (to include powerpoint or handout) (25%)

Empire and the Imagination

This module offers a history of the literary imagination around the British Empire, from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century. It covers a wide geographic area, ranging between the Caribbean, Africa India, Australia and Canada: its focus is on the lived experiences and literatures from the point of view of colonized and colonizing subjects. Rather than examining a straightforward dichotomy between Britain and its imperial locations, this module explores the ways in which colonized subjects negotiated the messier entanglements of empire: in particular, we will pay attention to the moments during which the British empire appeared vulnerable, frail and threatened. As well as providing a broad overview of the literature produced out of the British empire, the module will also encourage students to engage with a wide variety of genres, such as travel writing, autobiography, poetry, photography and the periodical press, in addition to the novel. In doing so, it will address questions of canonicity and literary value in the formation of the literary imagination. 

Assessment: 4,000 word essay

Contemporary Literature

This module offers students the opportunity to engage with a range of literatures in English, written between c. 1945 and the present. Texts from the UK, North America and elsewhere in the Anglophone world will be explored from a variety of perspectives and students will be encouraged to employ a range of methodological, theoretical and critical approaches that allow the literary works to be situated within diverse social and artistic contexts.

The module will consist of three units. Each will be determined by either thematic/theoretical contexts or by regional frameworks. Possible units may, for example, address multiculturalism in contemporary British writing, contemporary Canadian writing, South African writing today and Postmodernism.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay 


This module will enhance students' knowledge of a range of key issues within the study of literature in the first half of the twentieth century, introducing some of the more challenging texts written during these years, as well as recent scholarly thinking on the literature of the period more generally. Students will be encouraged to rethink mainstream definitions of the literary history of the early twentieth-century, and examine the complexity of the literary and cultural moment of modernism. Major topics to be covered include: literary nostralgia and innovation, narrative and traumatic-memory, the concept of Modernism, High Modernism and its aftermath, and the social and aesthetic politics of the 1930s. These will be studied across a variety of genres and authors, with reference to formative theorists/philosophers of the period.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Cultures of Popular Literature

How can Popular Literature help us to think about literature, our selves, and the world in which we live? Can popular writing be studied with the ‘standard’ tools of literary criticism, or does it provoke slightly different questions? And how has popular writing figured in wider debates about literary value in the last 100 years?

This module introduces you to some of the major theorists of Popular Literature, situating your thinking alongside up-to-the-minute arguments about the best ways to approach this enormous, important, and historically neglected sector of culture. We will interrogate the legacy of distinctions between "highbrow" and "lowbrow" writing, theories of mass culture, critical appraisals of production, marketing and readership, and how approaches to popular fiction intertwine with discussions of gender, race, environment and globalisation.

Writers and theorists discussed on this module may include Stuart Hall, Angela McRobbie, John Clute, Michael Saler, Ursula Le Guin, bell hooks, John Carey, Curtis White, Theodor Adorno, and Roland Barthes. This module will equip you to move beyond subjective or historical readings of the popular, encouraging attentive, detailed, and respectful engagement with a wide range of texts.

Assessment: Portfolio of written work totalling 4,000 words

Evolutions of Popular Literature

From medieval myth to contemporary page-turners, this module examines the evolutions of popular literature across six centuries of literary production. Taking a long historical view, we will venture back in time beyond the explosion of mass media in the Victorian era, tracing the emergence of central tropes and concerns that laid the foundations for tastes and pleasures popularised during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Over the course of the semester we’ll work through different chronological eras, with each week examining a significant moment in the development and transmutation of popular literature. Key topics may include Norse mythology and Arthurian legend, courtship and adventure in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the development of genres such as science fiction, fantasy, horror, popular romance, and detective fiction. With a detailed focus on narratives of work, pleasure, and leisure that continue to resonate in the contemporary moment, this module will offer a rigorous historical framework for evaluating new iterations of old stories as they continue to burst onto the page and into our lives.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay


Specialist modules

After the Deluge: Writing and Recovery after the First World War

No aspect of British intellectual and artistic life was untouched by the upheavals brought about by the First World War – ‘a crack across the table of History’ as Ford Madox Ford called it. This module looks at responses by some of the most significant writers of the inter-war years as they sought to understand the war’s personal, literary, and cultural significance. It focuses upon four authors who fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and who returned, literally and metaphorically, to make sense of their various war experiences for years afterwards.

The module opens with the poetry and autobiographical fiction of Siegfried Sassoon (the Sherston trilogy, 1928-36) and his close friend Robert Graves (Goodbye to All That, 1929). It then turns to two of the most challenging, and rewarding, modernist texts of the period: Ford Madox Ford’s multi-volume Parade’s End (1924-28), arguably the finest novel about the First World War, and David Jones’s epic prose-poem In Parenthesis (1937), a fusion of contemporary history and myth described by T.S. Eliot as a ‘work of genius’.

Throughout the module we will explore how these writers reconfigured traditional categories of writing – fiction, memoir, autobiography, chronicle, lyric poetry and verse narrative – as they sought appropriate modes of self-representation, reflection and remembrance. We will make extensive use of the texts that surround these key works, especially the authors’ own letters, diaries and essays, as well as the body of literary criticism they have inspired. You will also be encouraged to explore wider contexts for these works, including the authors’ literary networks and significant social and political issues such as female suffrage and conscientious objection.

Assessment: TBC

American Frontiers: Nation and Identity in the Nineteenth Century

The violent encounters and conflicts of the American frontier remain an enduring image of a nation in the process of self-definition. This volatile, unstable space reflects a country that, throughout the nineteenth century, continued to grapple with unresolved questions and anxieties about nationhood, national identity, and who was (and who was not) an ‘American’. This module offers students the opportunity to interrogate these questions and anxieties, while exploring the idea that nineteenth-century American literature was itself self-consciously concerned with what an American might be.

We will approach this topic by considering the various different frontiers, thresholds and boundaries with which America contended and which shaped the nation throughout the century. Alongside the western frontier of popular imagination, we’ll also think about America’s oceanic frontier, the boundaries between the northern and southern states across which civil war played out, the domestic threshold, and the moment of transition into the twentieth century. We’ll also approach these terms imaginatively, and explore America’s engagement with literary boundaries, as it sought new generic and poetic forms to capture, shape, and give expression to an American voice. Finally, the individual’s body itself becomes a threshold and site of conflict – defined, for instance, by its colour, its sex, or its tattoos.

America is a nation that has always reflected on its boundaries – points of definition that are yet porous and unstable. It is at these various thresholds, and in the encounters that took place across them, that we find various kinds of America emerge.

Assessment: TBC

Decoding Pop Culture

Can popular culture move us to act differently in the world? Do ideas stick because people want them to, or because pop culture can’t or won’t imagine alternatives? Might pop culture make manifest, by making visible, the potential for different futures? This module asks students to think seriously about the relationship between the world and the popular stories we tell about it. We’ll explore how texts intended to entertain, shock, comfort, or enchant can also spark new ideas, reflect past and present experiences, or speculate about other possibilities.

The module is theory led, with a series of case studies drawn from twentieth and twenty-first century popular culture. We will refer to a range of critical approaches to popular culture and culture studies, including topics such as ideology and representation, commodity, intimacy, activism and protest. 

Assessment: TBC

Elizabeth I and her Poets

Queen Elizabeth, the last of the Tudor monarchs (reigned 1558-1603), presided over what has often been referred to as the ‘Golden Age’ of English literature. The Elizabethan court was a hotbed of literary production, as works circulated amongst courtiers, plays and masques were performed before the nobility, and the great early modern English epics were composed. At the centre of this culture stood the Queen, a highly accomplished writer and intellect, who carefully managed her public image as she navigated the country through a series of national and international revolutions. 

This module will focus on Elizabeth and her special position in the history of English literature. We will look at highlights of her own writing, from private letters to public orations, and consider what sort of image she presented to her nation. Reigning as a woman (and as a ‘Virgin Queen’ without an heir) posed distinct challenges, but also offered opportunities for a unique public representation. Elizabeth and her poets developed a rich iconography and symbolism, which we will explore in depth. The module will also look at some of the major events of her reign and how these were treated by the leading writers of the age. These might include her accession; her proposed marriage to the Duke of Alençon; the execution of her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots; the attempted invasion by the Spanish Armada; and the succession crisis in the final years of her reign. We will look at poetry written to and about her; her pageants and processions around the country; and plays that were performed in her presence. 

The texts we read will be selected from a broad spectrum of Elizabethan writers, who may include William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, Mary Sidney, Philip Sidney, John Donne, and Thomas Nashe. Throughout the module we will also consider how Elizabeth has been remembered, from the decades after her death up to the recent past, when she has been performed on screen by actresses such as Cate Blanchett, Miranda Richardson, and Judi Dench.

Assesment: TBC

Fantasy and Fandom: Writing Back to the Medieval in Modern Fantasy

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 by writing in an avatar who explores the textual world in a metaphorical representation of the author's own discovery of the original work.

This module will look at forerunners for this in the medieval period too, and will encourage you to analyse the communally-driven nature of textual production and circulation in the Middle Ages, as well as the communities of interest which have written fantasy in response, from the late nineteenth century to the present. The module will provide the opportunity to examine a range of fantasy writing, which may include texts from George MacDonald and William Morris through C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien to contemporary writers such as Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, J. K. Rowling and Ursula LeGuin.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Hidden Romanticism

This module provides an opportunity to explore a range of material from the Romantic period—including letters, journals, notebook entries, manuscript drafts, and fragments of abandoned poems—that were hidden from public view. Some texts were withheld from the press for their radical content; some were too personal or painful to be shared; others formed part of a creative exchange between friends. Attending closely to texts that remained unpublished, or were originally circulated privately, will open up discussion of literary coteries, issues of audience and readership, and the significance of interiority and lyric expression.

The module will also introduce students to aspects of textual scholarship, encouraging them to think about writing processes and the insights afforded through the study of manuscript revisions. At a time when reviewers had the power to make or destroy a writer’s reputation, and when it was potentially dangerous to make certain utterances publicly, the Romantics produced writings on love, loss, landscape, the imagination, religion, and politics that they kept secret. The module will enable students to study Romantic writing across a range of genres, genders, and geographical locations. Writers covered might include: Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, John Clare, Felicia Hemans, John Keats, the Shelleys, and the Wordsworths.


From Plato to the Postmodern: Theories of Literature and Art

The module provides an account of the development of theories of literature and art from the classical period to the modern day. It will consider the range, type and purpose of conceptual approaches to the arts, and examine how those theories have been applied to specific works. The course will also reflect on the social and cultural background of the selected theories, and will examine the relationship between writings on aesthetics from different eras (such as in the reconfiguration of romantic ideology in some theories of the postmodern).

Texts to be studied may include:

  • Plato, The Republic
  • Aristotle, Poetics
  • Sidney, ‘The Defence of Poesy’
  • Pope, An Essay on Criticism
  • Burke, On the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful
  • Kant, Critique of Judgment
  • Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads
  • Shelley, A Defence of Poetry
  • Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy
  • Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy
  • Leavis, The Great Tradition
  • Cixous, ‘Laugh of the Medusa’
  • Johnson, Critical Difference
  • Jameson, Postmodernism
  • Gilroy, The Black Atlantic

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Guilty Pleasures: Reading the Historical Romance

This module explores the phenomenon and development of the popular historical romance from the start of the twentieth century to the present day. You will also examine the history of reading the romance, from the start of mass-market romance publishing in the 1920s to the recent phenomenon of literary blogging and fandom.

Popular romance fiction today accounts for around 13% of the total adult fiction market (of which historical romance in particular has at least a 34% share), with annual sales of over $1billion. Over 80% of the readers of romance fiction are women, and over 70% of them talk about and recommend the romance novels they are reading. Romance fiction is written largely by women, for women, about women protagonists and about women’s experiences and fantasies. Yet it is a genre that is dismissed by the literary establishment as escapist, anti-feminist, and troubling in its romanticising of male authority and sexual violence. As literary scholars (but perhaps also romance readers ourselves), are we simply to ignore the popular romance, or should we examine and attempt to understand its complicated yet persistent appeal for women readers over the changing contexts of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries?

In this module you will read a range of historical ‘romance’ novels from the Regency romance, to the mid-late twentieth century ‘bodice-ripper’, to the more recent phenomenon of the hybrid historical fantasia or paranormal/time-travelling romance. You will analyse the archetypal conventions, narrative structures, plot patterns and themes of the romance genre, exploring the commercial ‘category’ romance’ of Mills & Boon or Harlequin, and the bestsellers of acclaimed ‘Queens’ of romance such as Heyer and Holt, alongside and in dialogue with examples of the contemporary middlebrow (eg. Gregory), and what might be described as elite or ‘literary’ romance (eg. Fowles).

Applying your literary critical skills to the romance genre, you will explore the formal characteristics, strategies and reworkings of the genre, examining for example the relationship between the concepts of ‘history’ and ‘romance’, and of ‘authenticity’ or verisimilitude and ‘fantasy’, as these are played out within the historical romance novel. You will also examine and engage with key feminist and postfeminist debates on the gendered status of the romance genre.

The module will help you to set your exploration of the romance genre within the context of broader literary and sociological issues such as the sexual/textual politics of the literary canon, the gendering of critical acclaim, and the disjunction of elite and popular reading practices, as well as questions such as how we define ‘good’ literature, and how we might negotiate reading critically and reading pleasurably at the same time.

Texts studied vary slightly from year to year but may include:

  • Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel (1903)
  • Edith Maude Hull, The Sheik (1919);
  • Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades (1926) and Venetia (1958)
  • Daphne du Maurier, Frenchman’s Creek (1941)
  • Kathleen Winsor, Forever Amber (1944)
  • Victoria Holt, The Shivering Sands (1969)
  • John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969)
  • Diana Gabaldon, Outlander [Books 1-3: OutlanderDragonfly in AmberVoyager, 1991-1993)
  • Philippa Carr, The Other Boleyn Girl (2001).

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Islamophobia and the Novel

‘Islamophobia and the Novel’ will offer students an opportunity to study contemporary novels that address the question of intercultural relations between Muslims and others in an era of rising anti-Muslim prejudice. Taking examples from Britain, the United States and beyond, it will explore how novelists have addressed the issues of cultural difference and a perceived ‘clash of civilisations’ – in terms of the form and content of their work – while also considering the contexts of dissemination and reception which help give these novels their meaning in the world.
Authors/texts studied on this module may include:

  • Ian McEwan, Saturday
  • Monica Ali, Brick Lane
  • Hanif Kureishi, The Black Album
  • John Le Carré, A Most Wanted Man
  • Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
  • Amy Waldman, The Submission
  • Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  • Kamila Shamsie, Burnt Shadows
  • Leila Aboulela, Minaret

Assessment: TBC

Last years Novel

How do literary scholars begin to study contemporary literature? In the absence of extant scholarly discussion of new literary works how does one begin critical dialogues? In this module students will explore precisely these questions through study of novels written in the previous calendar year.

The texts studied will hail from Britain, Ireland, the United States and elsewhere in the English-speaking world. Alongside bestselling literary fiction students will also examine works from smaller independent publishers. Students will be encouraged to think about contemporary stylistic fashions but also about the mechanics of contemporary publishing (including the awards industry) and how this may affect the content and form of literary texts. There will also be sustained engagement with relevant trends in contemporary literary and cultural theory, including reflection upon the challenge of understanding the contemporary moment at all.

Assessment: TBC

Making Global Literatures Britain

"This module examines how global literatures were ‘made’ in Britain from the second half of the twentieth century from the perspective of their emergence through state cultural institutions. Over eleven weeks it tracks the evolving story of British culture, and through a series of emblematic institutions including the British Council, the BBC, the Arts Council and the school curriculum, paying special attention to questions of race, ethnicity, and nationality in the transformation of the post-war scene.

Locating globalization and its discontents in the domestic sphere, it encourages reflection on ‘British’, ‘Black British’, and even ‘British Muslim’ as literary categories even as we work within their own specific canons or counter-canons. This module will be of interest to undergraduates with specialisms in postcolonial literatures and twentieth century British literature.

Finally, in addition to offering an institutional history of post-war migrant writing, this module also addresses questions of reading and whether literature is always assimilable to its institutional context, inviting students to think critically about the creative conjunctions between text and context Examples of literary texts we might read on this module include:George Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile (1960)Doris Lessing, African Stories (1965)Buchi Emecheta, Second Class Citizen (1974)Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (1988)The Northern Education and Assessment Board Anthology (1996)Daljit Nagra, British Museum (2017)"

Assessment: TBC

Mapping the Middle Ages: Cultural Encounters in the Medieval East and West

This module explores perceptions of place, power, and belonging in texts produced in medieval Europe between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. It will introduce you to medieval perceptions of peoples and places, and strategies of alienation and marginalisation which to our modern eyes are at once culturally distinct and eerily familiar.
We will consider how medieval authors conceptualised travel across the known – and the unknown – regions of the world, and the ideological assumptions implicit in these imaginings.  We will explore the relationship of these verbal (and on occasion visual) maps to the early development of ethnography (writings about other peoples); and consider the place of these imaginings in both medieval colonisation projects and the resistance strategies of colonised peoples. Major themes include perceptions of race, gender, monstrosity, and the body; the limits of community; marginalisation and margins; the fantastic; the relationship between visual and literary cultures; and travel, both real and imagined.

The module is organised geographically, moving from early orientalist conceptualisations of the far-East to similarly imaginative and fraught constructions of the far-West. Alongside our key texts, we will be looking at medieval maps, and exploring digital mapping technologies to chart the mental worlds, and physical journeys, of our medieval travellers.

Assessment: TBC

Paradise Lost: Text and context

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.

Assessment: TBC

Remembering World War One

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.

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 in the workshop sessions to see original film footage from World War One, and to work with some of the World War One archive holdings in the University of Birmingham’s Research and Cultural collections, where possible."pics covered may include nature writing/landscapes, tastes, gothic sensations, oceanic studies, museology, animal studies, the Anthropocene, environmental humanities, sound studies.  

Assessment: TBC

Senses of the Past: Historical Fiction in the Long Nineteenth Century

This module offers students the chance to explore representations of the historical past in the prose literature of the long nineteenth century. We will be concentrating above all on the historical novel, a genre that emerged and achieved vast popularity during this period, but we will also consider examples of shorter fictional forms (novellas, stories and sketches), as well as writings that play along the border between fiction and the factual.

Students will read the work of both British and American writers, ranging across the Romantic and Victorian periods: authors studied may include Walter Scott, James Hogg, Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, W. M. Thackeray, Robert Louis Stevenson and Henry James. The set primary works for the module will be studied alongside a rich array of contemporary print sources, nineteenth-century history and historiography, and modern critical and theoretical approaches to historical fiction.

There will be a recurring emphasis on the writing of wars, revolutions and popular uprisings, and on concomitant questions of national and historical rupture, as well as on the efforts of fictional writings to restore or make up for past losses, to bridge or jump over (or side-step) ruptures in the texture of past time. Related topics for consideration will include: the impact of human history on places and ecosystems, the interactions of oral and written history, the romance of antiquarian scholarship, literary biography and book-history, superstition and the persistence of the supernatural, the progress of civilization and the costs of that progress, and the recreational appropriation of the past as a field for adventure or a tourist destination. Throughout the module we will be asking how nineteenth-century historical fictions attempt to register the ideological and stylistic differences of the past while also bringing it into imaginative reach of the present.

Assessment: TBC

Shakespeare's Tragedies

Shakespeare’s Tragedies will offer a powerful and pleasurable encounter with our most valued writer: Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s Tragedies will offer students the opportunity to read texts from across the whole span of Shakespeare’s writing career, and will not be limited to those printed in the First Folio as ‘Tragedies’. 

While what is tragic in Shakespeare, and what is Shakespearean in tragedy, will both be questions at issue, as will the complicated early modern and more recent genealogies of tragedy, students are not bound in their understanding and assessment to view the works we will study through the generic lens of tragedy only. The module is founded on the close reading and experience of the plays as deeply multi-vocal, multi-dimensional texts for reading and performance, and on the myriad opportunities for exploring and analysing them as such. The module seeks, above all, to equip students to think about and enjoy some of Shakespeare’s most enduring plays and poems for themselves.

Assessment: TBC

Single Author: Virginia Woolf

This module explores the work of one of the most iconic and important writers of the early twentieth century, Virginia Woolf. The module will address Woolf’s works chronologically in order to explore the complex development of her writing across the span of her career. Reading all nine of Woolf’s novels alongside selected short stories, essays and forms of auto/biography, we will consider the full range of literary genres Woolf adopted and adapted as a writer.

Paying close attention to Woolf’s formal and stylistic innovations, the module will also consider the various political, historical and social contexts that influenced her writing, and you will become familiar with the kinds of conceptual and theoretical questions that Woolf’s work has provoked in subsequent criticism. Discussion will cover topics as diverse as war and violence, pacifism, the visual arts, gender and sexuality, the city and everyday life, race and empire, science and nature, class and social inequality. Across the course of this module, students will gain a broad yet intimate knowledge of Woolf’s writing, as well as a developed understanding of the place this work occupies within wider cultural and critical debates.  

Assessment: TBC

The Art of Translation

Translation is an essential feature of English literature across history. The module, which involves texts in English only and requires no foreign language skills (though you can make use of any that you possess), will help you to appreciate what makes a good translation, and to understand cultural and theoretical issues that affect how translations are made. Just like any other English module, we will be reading English literary texts closely and examining thematic and theoretical issues that arise from them. We will primarily study short pieces of poetry, prose and drama from different (mostly European) cultures and times, always aware of each text’s status as a translation.

In early weeks we will practice comparing different English translations of the same work. We will initially work with classic texts have been translated into English numerous times. These may include: Homer’s Odyssey, Beowulf, the Bible, Paradise Lost (which has often been translated into ‘plain’ English), and Michel de Montaigne’s Essays. Lectures will introduce the work and passages under discussion, and critical and theoretical concepts for analyzing translations. In seminars we will read translations alongside each other, and discuss critical frameworks for reading them (likely to include several from The Translation Studies Reader).

In later weeks the module will open out to consider a wider range of ways that translation inspires writers (with opportunity to work on examples of interest to you). We’ll think about how gender, politics, empire and religion shape how translations are written and received, and about the relation between translation, imitation and originality. We may study such texts as: Brian Friel’s Translations, short stories by Lydia Davis, translations of the Bhagavad Gita and Robert Lowell’s and Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry. Structured preparation for the final assignment will be built into our week-to-week schedule.

Assessment: 3,000-word essay

The End of Life As We Know It: The Implications of Digital Technology

This module will give you the opportunity to explore the artefacts, effects, and politics of our increasingly digital moment. Each week will focus on a specific technology (e.g. social media, mobile phones, digital currencies, videogames, virtual reality, or search engines) and explore its current and projected impacts, its context of use, and its place in a history of technological development.

The module will also investigate the connection between these phenomena and their artistic representations in books, films, television shows, and/or videogames. What role does artwork and discussion in the humanities play in the development, dissemination, and criticism of these new forces in our lives? And what wide-reaching influences might these technologies have as they are ever-increasingly adopted?

Assessment: TBC

The Work of Giants: Old English Tales and their Afterlives in Fiction and Film

Even the most authentic historical fiction tells us as much about contemporary tastes as it does the past worlds it seeks to portray. Many novels, films and television series about early medieval England, for example, highlight the dirty, gritty, and ultimately violent lives of everyone from peasants toiling in the fields to aristocrats amassing wealth, in order to explore taboo topics safely within the confines of the past. But there was more to that world than bulked up warriors going berserk in battle.

This module will unpack contemporary culture’s engagement with the early medieval world, using historical fiction, adaptations, film and television as a way into the past. Novels like Nicola Griffith’s Hild and Maria Dahvana Headley’s The Mere Wife will allow us to investigate gender, sexuality and power. Alongside a graphic novelisation of Beowulf, films/television shows like The 13th Warrior and The Last Kingdom will allow us to explore different types of heroism, cultural relations and constructions of race. These and other contemporary texts will be paired with Old English texts in translation, allowing students to study the literature of the period alongside its afterlives.

Together, we will piece together the fallen monuments – the work of giants or, in Old English, ‘enta geweorc’ – of this past culture. There will be in-class opportunities for engaging with Old English literature in the original, but students will not be expected to learn the language comprehensively or be assessed on translation. Assignments will engage students’ creativity, with blog posts, creative adaptations and critical reflections displacing the traditional essay.

Assessment: TBC

Please note that the optional module information listed on the website for this programme is intended to be indicative, and the availability of optional modules may vary from year to year. Where a module is no longer available we will let you know as soon as we can and help you to make other choices.