Our Course

What are you doing here? If you are a newly committed English major or minor, “Introduction to English Studies” will help you answer precisely this question.  In this class, we will discuss the history of English as an academic discipline; we will learn useful concepts and techniques for interpreting literary and cultural texts; we will practice research fundamentals and writerly strategies that will help you excel in future English courses; and we will explore the latest developments in the field, from digital humanities to disability studies. Karen Tei Yamashita’s stunning novel Tropic of Orange (1997) will serve as our grounding literary text as we “think with theory” to discover what we might know about literature–and what literature might know about us and about our world.

By the end of this class, you will be full of ideas, curious to learn more, and confident in the hard-earned conceptual and writerly tools you have acquired.  Furthermore, you will be ready to make something of those ideas and skills in each of your future classes, and, one hopes, in life more generally.  That last part is especially important: superb writing skills, savvy research abilities, and the ability to critically approach the many literary and cultural texts and contexts that surround us are abilities for life, not just for the classroom.

We will begin by exploring the kinds of reading and interpretation that you are likely already familiar with as we learn more about the “discipline” of English—its historical and contemporary practices and purposes.  Then, we enter what I call “TheoryCamp,” an intensive three-week module on conceptual approaches to culture, coupled with an exploration of various methodological approaches to literature in particular. Each of these classes will include an opportunity to apply these theories and methods to a range of brief poetry and prose selections.

By the time we get to week 5, we will bring our newfound know-how to bear more concertedly on our grounding text: Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, a superb example of contemporary magical realism.  Prior to Spring Break, we will concentrate on engaging published academic writing in the context of Yamashita’s novel as we practice our objective and engaged summary skills and finalize our text selections for our major individual research projects.  That “Final Project“—which will include a number of preparatory assignments as you build a bibliography, learn how to orchestrate a research conversation, and develop an incisive and unique argument—will fill out the final five weeks of the course.  The course will conclude with a final, professional literature conference, complete with special panels, refreshments, and a keynote from the professor.

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of this course, students will have:

  • Demonstrated a knowledge of approaches to and concepts driving textual interpretation as well as literary, cultural, and social conventions that influence acts of interpretation
  • Applied various methodological and critical approachest to literature.
  • Demonstrated familiarity with research conventions in English Studies, including the building of skills related to summary, annotation, and analysis of primary and secondary sources
  • Produced a research-based, multiple-draft essay that analyze key elements of a literary or cultural text of the student’s own choosing. This essay will focus on practicing key parts of the essay, which include: title, introduction, thesis statement, literature review, close-reading capstone, and conclusion.

Required Texts: (additional readings can be found under the “Readings” tab–identified on the course schedule by “CW”)

Jeffrey Nealon & Susan Searls Giroux, The Theory Toolbox, Second Edition (2012)

Karen Tei Yamashita, Tropic of Orange (1997)

Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray, eds. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, Third Edition (2009)

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Seventh Edition (2009)

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