Pre-1900 Courses

Our department is committed to studying English literature in context, as texts indeliby connected to their cultural, regional, and historical moments of production. We also want our students to have a rounded and grounded experience of literature from different times and spaces, and a sense of the traditions and narratives of English literature as a discipline. For that reason, Specialists and Majors must take the historical survey courses ENGB27 and ENGB28 (which, as B-level courses, are also open to anyone), and are also required to take a certain number of courses with predominantly pre-1900 content.

The designation "Pre-1900" actually covers the vast majority of time that English has been around (let alone the millennia covered by "literature" as a broader category), and includes a wide variety of topics, texts, and areas of focus. We know that the idea of studying English from a past time can be daunting, but we encourage you to start exploring the trove of options as soon as you can in your undergraduate career. This page includes all the current pre-1900 courses offered for the year, and we encourage you to contact professors if you have any questions about content or expectations. Please also remember to check the Registrar's Calendar for any pre-requisites or recommended preparation.


☀️ SUMMER 2020 PRE-1900 COURSES ☀️

Click HERE for Fall 2020, or HERE for a review of the Winter 2020 courses


ENGC16 The Bible and Literature I ☀️

Instructor: Neil ten Kortenaar

A literary analysis of the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament) and of texts that retell the stories of the Bible, including the Quran. We will study Biblical accounts of the creation, the fall of Adam and Eve, Noah's flood, Abraham's binding of Isaac, the Exodus from Egypt, and the Judges, Prophets, and Kings of Israel as works of literature in their own right, and we will study British, American, European, African, Caribbean, and Indigenous literary texts that, whether inspired by or reacting against Biblical narratives, retell them.

Note: Pre-1900 course


ENGD89 Topics in the Victorian Period ☀️

Instructor: Amy Coté

The first purpose-built English institution dedicated to raising children was the Foundling Hospital in London, chartered in 1745. However, it took until 1926 – almost two centuries – for adoption to be formalized as a legal process. Between those dates, legal developments in child custody, child apprehension and welfare, and the nascent field of social work paved the way for this formalization, but public discussions about adoption and the shape of systematic welfare programs were often negotiated in literature. This course will examine Victorian novels, stories, and non-fiction texts featuring adoption plots across both texts that we designate as “children’s literature” and those more frequently marketed to adult readers. In the process, we will track the historical construction of adoption as it complements and challenges nineteenth-century ideas of family, domesticity, and empire. We will also pay attention to the way Victorian narratives about adoption and family shape our contemporary discourse.

Note: Pre-1900 course


🍁 FALL 2020 PRE-1900 COURSES 🍁

Click HERE for a review of the Winter 2020 courses


ENGB08 American Literature to 1860 🍁

Instructor: Neal Dolan

An examination of Early American literature in historical context from colonization to the Civil War. This introductory survey places a wide variety of genres including conquest and captivity narratives, theological tracts, sermons, and diaries, as well as classic novels and poems in relation to the multiple subcultures of the period.

Pre-1900 course


ENGB27 Charting Literary History I 🍁

Instructor: Urvashi Chakravarty

An introduction to the historical and cultural developments that have shaped the study of literature in English before 1700. Focusing on the medieval, early modern, and Restoration periods, this course will examine the notions of literary history and the literary “canon” and explore how contemporary critical approaches impact our readings of literature in English in specific historical and cultural settings.

Pre-1900 course

ENGB27 is a required course for our English Specialist, English Major. You can explore our degree requirements and routes through the program HERE.


ENGB30 Classical Myth & Literature 🍁

Instructor: Laura Jane Wey

The goal of this course is to familiarize students with Greek and Latin mythology. Readings will include classical materials as well as important literary texts in English that retell classical myths.

Pre-1900 course


ENGB33 Shakespeare in Context I 🍁

Instructor: Yulia Ryzhik

An introduction to the plays and poems of William Shakespeare, this course situates his works in the literary, social, and political contexts of early modern England. The main emphasis will be on close readings of Shakespeare’s later plays (roughly from 1603 to 1611), supplemented by literary and historical sources from which Shakespeare drew inspiration. We will encounter Shakespeare at the height of his artistic powers, yet constantly challenging himself to grow and learn from one play to the next, whether by setting up new formal problems or by exploring new psychological depths and heights. Leaving behind the “festive” comedies, we will delve into the troubled world of Measure for Measure, with its pervasive sense of malaise in the state and its people, and of the great tragedies such as Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, which elevate fundamentally human disasters to a cosmic scale, before concluding with the haunting romances The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest.

We will analyze Shakespeare’s works on the page, as texts (sometimes in various versions), and in the context of early modern theatrical performance, and will consider some of the plays’ creative afterlives, contemporary adaptations, and film. Throughout the course we will explore some of the perennial questions and concerns of Shakespeare’s works, such as individual consciousness and conscience, family and relationships, good and bad government, war and violence, race, gender and sexuality.

This course will be delivered online, with both synchronous ("in person") and asynchronous (at your own speed) components, including lecture, discussion, and online modules and activities.

Note: This course is a continuation of ENGB32 but can be taken independently

Pre-1900 course


ENGC26 Drama: Tragedy 🍁

Instructor: Laura Jane Wey

An exploration of major dramatic tragedies in the classic and English tradition. European philosophers and literary critics since Aristotle have sought to understand and define the genre of tragedy, one of the oldest literary forms in existence. In this course, we will read representative works of dramatic tragedy and investigate how tragedy as a genre has evolved over the centuries.

Pre-1900 course


ENGC91 American Realisms 🍁

Instructor: Alice Maurice

In this course, we will explore late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American literary realism and naturalism in the context of the social, cultural, technological, and political upheavals of the time. The late 19th-century saw massive shifts in American culture: from racial segregation racially-motivated violence, to mass immigration, urbanization, increasing poverty, shifting gender roles, and the rise of visual culture and the mass media.

Exploring the work of writers such as Henry James, William Dean Howells, Edith Wharton, Charles Chesnutt, Stephen Crane, Ida B. Wells, Frank Norris, Kate Chopin, Sui Sin Far, Abraham Cahan, Theodore Dreiser, and others, this course will ask: What were the goals of American literary realism? How did the authors themselves define it, and how did they contribute to the political and artistic debates of the period? How did the writers of this era respond to and reflect upon the rise of mass media and visual culture? How were the literary movements of realism and naturalism related to the political movements and social reforms of the era? In a larger sense, we will explore the artistic and political stakes of representing “reality."

Pre-1900 course


ENGD18 Topics in the Long Eighteenth Century, 1660-1830: Enlightenment Orientalisms 🍁

Instructor: Anne Milne

The focus will be on eighteenth-century English readings of and representations of Persian/Ottoman (Turkish) texts and cultures. We will be utilizing and extending the cultural critical work begun by Edward Said in Orientalism in 1978. The primary texts we will be reading are Arabian Nights Entertainments (the first English translation from Antoine Galland’s French translation, 1704-6), Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters (wr. 1717-18, pub. 1763), and William Beckford’s Vathek (1786). There will be some shorter readings as well, such as poetry and excerpts from The Travels of Mirza by Abu Taleb Khan (c.1810).

Pre-1900 course


ENGD30 Topics in Medieval Literature -- King Arthur in History & Fiction 🍁

Instructor: Jonathan Brent

King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table have been sites of fascination, fantasy, propaganda, and social critique for over 1,000 years. This course aims to critically analyze Arthurian literature from its earliest appearances in medieval history-writing and romance to its more recent treatment by the likes of Monty Python, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Kazuo Ishiguro. The course will highlight similarity and difference in the way the idea of King Arthur has been used across time to negotiate social and political issues, from royal authority to gender and race. How did medieval readers and writers use the story of the ancient king to bolster their own claims to power? How has the Arthur story been used to deconstruct idealized, whitewashed, or otherwise distorted representations of history? How does genre affect the presentation of Arthurian material, and how does it affect reception? We will consider questions such as these, among others.

This course will be delivered online, with synchronous meetings that include lecture and, for the most part, discussion.

Recommended Preparation: ENGC29 or ENGC30

Pre-1900 course


❄️ WINTER 2020 PRE-1900 COURSES ❄️

ENGB28 Charting Literary History II ❄️

Instructor: Yulia Ryzhik

An introduction to the historical and cultural developments that have impacted the study of literature in English from 1700 to our contemporary moment. This course will familiarize students with the eighteenth century, Romanticism, the Victorian period, Modernism, and Postmodernism, and will attend to the significance of postcolonial and world literatures in shaping the notions of literary history and the literary “canon.”


ENGB32 Shakespeare in Context I ❄️

Instructor: Urvashi Chakravarty

An introduction to the poetry and plays of William Shakespeare, this course situates his works in the literary, social and political contexts of early modern England. The main emphasis will be on close readings of Shakespeare's sonnets and plays, to be supplemented by classical, medieval, and renaissance prose and poetry upon which Shakespeare drew.


ENGB39 Tolkien’s Middle Ages ❄️

Instructor: Kara Gaston

This course considers the relationship between modern fantasy and medieval literature through the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. A professor of medieval literature at Oxford, Tolkien used his academic research to develop the mythology, language, and literature of Middle Earth. This course will survey both Tolkien's writing, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the medieval poetry that inspired it, from Old English heroic epic to Welsh folklore. Throughout, we will consider how and why the middle ages offer such compelling material for 20th and 21st century fantasy.


ENGC27 Drama: Comedy ❄️

Instructor: Laura Jane Wey

An historical exploration of comedy as a major form of dramatic expression. Comedy, like its more august counterpart tragedy, has been subjected to centuries of theoretical deliberation about its form and function. In this course, we will read representative works of dramatic comedy and consider how different ages have developed their own unique forms of comedy.


ENGC33 Deceit, Dissent, and the English Civil Wars, 1603-1660 ❄️

Instructor: Yulia Ryzhik

This course focuses on poetry, prose, and drama written in England between the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603 and the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, in a cultural milieu that was as rich in literary achievement as it was intellectually and politically votile. These tumultuous years, which witnessed the outbreak of the Civil Wars, the execution of King Charles I, and the establishment of a republic in England, also produced some of the most innovative works in English literature. Primary attention will be given to the evolution of literary forms and genres and to the polemical work done by literary texts to challenge structural, stylistic, and social conventions. We will focus on the close analysis of texts by writers such as Francis Bacon, John Donne, Ben Jonson, Aemilia Lanyer, Mary Wroth, George Herbert, Thomas Hobbes, Margaret Cavendish, Andrew Marvell, and John Milton, among others. As we read, we will examine how these writers grappled with fascinating questions about scientific investigaiton, the relationship between God and humanity, and the nature of introspection and self-understanding, and contributed to seventeenth-century debates concerning personal and political sovereignty, censorship, religious toleration, gender and social hierarchies, nationhood, and race.


ENGC38 Novel Genres: Fiction, Journalism, News, and Autobiography, 1640-1750 ❄️

Instructor: Anne Milne

The novel as a literary genre isn’t a given: it was invented and cobbled together from a myriad of disparate literary and popular forms. If you are intrigued by this, hop on and take a ride with us into what is probably the grooviest of all historical literary periods: The Restoration and early eighteenth century. We’ve got revolution, great fires, syphilis, smallpox, plagues, parties, story-telling sultans, cuckolds, and old-skool rappers, all rockin’ to the beat of Grand Master George Friedrich. Can you Handel it? Despite an early start time in the middle of a twenty-first-century Scarborough winter, we will be walking (mostly indoors), making (mostly writing for the web & 3D printing), performing (Restoration comedy, anyone?) reading and writing (it is, after all, an academic English course on the early, early novel): Milton, Bunyan, Pepys, Dryden, Defoe, Behn, Wycherley, Haywood, Pope, Swift, Montagu, Arabian Nights, Hogarth, and much more…(though not really too much more: it won’t wear you out or anything…).


ENGC48 Satire ❄️

Instructor: Yulia Ryzhik

An investigation of the literatures and theories of the unthinkable, the reformist, the iconoclastic, and the provocative. Satire can be conservative or subversive, corrective or anarchic. This course will address a range of satire and its theories. Writers range from Juvenal, Horace, Lucian, Erasmus, Donne, Jonson, Rochester, Dryden, Swift, Pope, Gay, Haywood, and Behn to Pynchon, Nabokov and Atwood.


ENGC90 Topics in Classical Myth and Literature ❄️

Instructor: Laura Jane Wey

This course pursues the in-depth study of a small set of myths. We will explore how a myth or mythological figure is rendered in a range of literary texts ancient and modern, and examine each text as both an individual work of art and a strand that makes up the fabric of each given myth.


ENGD19 Theoretical Approaches to Early Modern English Literature & Culture: Early Modern Sexualities ❄️

Instructor: Urvashi Chakravarty

What does it mean to speak of (a) 'sexuality,' and what might it mean to think of sexualities as historically constructed, shaped, or prohibited? What is the relationship of 'sexuality' to desire, practice, embodiment, or identity? In this course, we shall read a number of early modern texts alongside critical work on gender, sexuality, and queer theory to address a series of questions: how our understandings of gender, sexuality, and queerness historically constructed and contested? How do we (re-) conceive of the role of acts or identities in articulating gendered, embodied, and/or sexualized selves? How do we ensure that we are reading intersectionally in our lines of inquiry? How might the field of early modern studies not only respond to but also inform work in sexuality studies? And how might these questions cast new light on matters of race, nation, empire, and colonialism; religion and theology; the environment and ecocriticism; class and capitalism; family and kinship? 

Course Features: Readings in early modern literature will include works by Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Donne; we shall also read foundational and current critical work in gender, sexuality, queer, and trans studies.


ENGD29 Chaucer's Early Works ❄️

Instructor: Kara Gaston

Advanced study of Chaucer’s early writings, from The Book of the Duchess to Troilus and Criseyde. Consisting of dream visions, fantastic journeys, and historical fictions, these works all push beyond the boundaries of everyday experience, depicting everything from the lifestyles of ancient Trojans to a flight through the stars. This course will explore the forms and literary genres that Chaucer uses to mediate between the everyday and the extraordinary. We will also consider related problems in literary theory and criticism, considering how scholars bridge the gap between our own time and the medieval past.


ENGD48 Studies in Major Victorian Writers ❄️

Instructor: Sonja Nikkila

In this seminar we will be diving into Charlotte Brontë's most famous novel, and then pushing it through the looking-glass as we investigate how different adaptations offer us different reflections on the themes, questions, and problems contained in the original 1847 text. We will explore how Jane Eyre has been translated into television and film, and also how other authors have responded to the "poor, plain, obscure and little" governess in their own works. The seminar format will encourage students to develop, discuss, and ultimately present their own ideas about how to "read" and "re-read" Jane Eyre.

Readings: Jane Eyre, alongside a selection of 20th century and contemporary re-visions, including the Gothic Rebecca (by Du Maurier / Hitchcock), Jasper Fforde's madcap alternate reality detective novel The Eyre Affair, Patricia Park's Re Jane (the tale of a biracial Korean-American growing up in Queens in the 1980s), a neo-Victorian riff on British Imperial identity and Sikh culture in Jane Steele (by Lindsday Faye), and Sharon Shinn's full-fledged off-planet science fiction retelling, Jenna Starborn.