ENGLISH 135: TOLKIEN’S WORKS
I usually teach this outside a semester framework, during Lafayette’s Jan-term or summer sessions. My department’s rubric for this topics course is “Literature and the Human Experience.” In this course, I emphasize medieval representations of human experience that were particularly formative for the scholar-writer J. R. R. Tolkien, including Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Volsungasaga, and Sir Orfeo. While The Lord of the Rings is the focal text among Tolkien’s writings, I also teach The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and—if I can fit it in toward the end of the term—the vastly underestimated short story “Leaf by Niggle.”
ENGLISH 205: LITERARY QUESTIONS
This course is the gateway course for the English major and minor at Lafayette College, and is the only course that every single student in the department is required to take. More than an “introduction to literature” course, this seminar focuses on orienting students into methods and modes of inquiry in literary studies. I use Jonathan Culler’s Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction as a guide for the methods, and I teach a wide variety of literary (and perhaps not-so-literary?) texts to help students learn techniques of close reading, identity studies, historicist analysis, and other widely used avenues of inquiry in literary studies.
ENGLISH 206: LITERARY HISTORY
Rather than present a survey of literary history in or beyond a national chronology, this course takes literary history as its topic: how have we come to define the literary periods that scholars discuss? What is involved in studying an author’s career? How do we make sense of a text in history? By the end of my course, the question has shifted from the perennial problems of literary history to newly askable questions in light of digitization of archival evidence: how can we study literary history from the “demand side”—the readers, libraries, and other consumers of texts—rather than simply the “supply side” of authors and publishers? Ranging from medieval literature and its rediscovery in the 19th century to the American Renaissance to the Easton Library Company, this course is also a crash-course in the use of library resources to find answers to the questions of literary history.
ENGLISH 276: LITERATURE OF THE SEA
Designed both for English majors and for environmental studies majors, this course examines 19th- and 20th-century writings about the marine environment from around the world. Starting with Moby-Dick, we investigate ways in which science, religion, economics, rhetoric, and a range of other discourses converge when people talk (and write) about the ocean, spanning the world’s major oceans and continents, with several island locations in the mix. The course includes screenings of films such as Niki Caro’s Whale Rider, as well as a field trip to the Mystic Seaport Museum (home of the world’s last wooden whaler, the Charles & Henry) and the Mystic Discovery Aquarium (home to three beluga whales among other briny denizens). This writing-intensive course involves writing in both traditional essay and multimedia blogging formats.