ENGLISH 100A: Literary History I (lecture)
Fall Quarter, 2011-2012
TTh 11:00-12:30, Room: 260-113
The idea of English literature was invented during the medieval and early modern periods. During this quarter we will explore these origins, asking what “English literature” meant for its earliest practitioners and how the writings of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance prepared for the literature that followed. Projecting ourselves back into this period requires us to reimagine some of the most familiar features of our own literary landscape when they were new and strange (or still unknown): the printing press, the American continent, even the English language itself. When this course begins, English is the language of illiterate cowherds (such as the first English poet, Cædmon); when it closes, English is the language of the Bible, a transformation made possible by generations of poets, playwrights, and other writers who endowed its literature with authority, invention, and beauty.
The course traces the development of English literature by mapping several intersecting journeys that traverse its first centuries and chart its future: changing technologies of writing and their transformation of texts, writers, and readers; the adaptation of ancient genres into the vernacular; the arrival of ideologies such as humanism, the Reformation, and Puritanism; the collision of cultures as travel, exploration, and trade expand the boundaries of the known world and the human imagination; the turn within as religious change reshapes the private self and the languages with which it expresses itself; and the emergence of new voices as literature becomes available to new social classes, to women, and to distinctively modern world-views. From our first week to our last, we will consider how the concept of English literature takes hold and creates a bridge between readers, writers, and their changing world.
This course fulfills the following Major Requirements: