Gen Ed Course Descriptions

8G:1 Interpretation of Literature (3 s.h.)

This course focuses primarily on "ways of reading," asking students to become aware of themselves as readers, to learn how to deal with different kinds of texts, and to understand how texts exist within larger historical, social, political, and cultural contexts. The primary aim of the course falls on the act of interpretation, as students use and refine their skills of reading, speaking, and writing to respond critically and sensitively to literary texts. Books taught in 8G:1 give students readings of quality and breadth. They come from several genres (e.g. fiction, drama, poetry, essay), more than a single century, and more than one nation. The authors represented are significantly diverse among race, gender, and social backgrounds.

8G:2 Biblical and Classical Literature (3 s.h.)

Western literature and culture has been, for millennia, enormously influenced by myths, stories, poems, and drama of the biblical and classical ages. This course will examine some of the ancient texts of Jewish, early Christian, Greek, and Roman civilizations. We will discover common themes like the concept of fate, and the interactions between the human and divine worlds. Our studies will also be enhanced by considering modern reworkings of these foundational stories in both textual and visual formats. While we will always be thinking critically about biblical and classical texts, we will also discuss their immense cultural and historical value.

8G:3 Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Humanities) (3 s.h.)

Our twenty-first century ideas about politics, love, war, and heroism have an incredibly long history, heavily derived from European literature and culture dating back over a thousand years. In this course, we will read texts by Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Dante, and lesser-known but influential writers like Margery Kempe, Sir Thomas Malory, and John Bunyan. In the poetry, fiction, and drama of medieval and renaissance Europe, we will encounter an era that resurfaces today in a wide range of cultural forms—from J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy literature to the chivalric code celebrated in mainstream romantic comedy.

8G:4 Heroes and Villains (Humanities) (3 s.h.)

In war, love, and daily life, how do heroes and villains surface, and what do they seek? Here, we will address both infamous and honorable individuals, following liars and murderers, saints and martyrs, across broad expanses of literature. Our job will be to seek out the struggles of the fallen figure, the providence of creation myths, the resiliency of those staring down tyranny or virtue. We will not necessarily concern ourselves with choosing sides, but rather with choosing ways of interpreting the rise of these figures out of various cultures and social schemes. How does reading about heroic and horrific acts help us better understand the courage and cruelty of the world? (Students who take 8G:4 may not also take 8G:12 Comic and Tragic Literature.)

8G:5 Literatures of Native American Peoples (Cultural Diversity or Humanities) (3 s.h.)

Native American storytelling consists of a wide range of voices and themes across different tribes, times, and places. In this class, traditional aspects of Native American literature—vibrant oral histories, myths, and stories—will be paired with writings by modern writers who wrestle with personal and tribal identity, the challenges of reservation life, and negotiations with non-Native American culture. Because of the traditionally rich oral and visual components of Native American storytelling, materials for the course will likely be drawn from several media, including audio recordings, film, poetry, fiction, essays, and drama.

8G:6 Fictions (Humanities) (3 s.h.)

What makes a story worth telling, and how does the manner in which it is told affect you? From agony to confusion to wonder, our experiences as readers are directed by the structures of the texts we read, and this course explores those structures. We will look at how the traditional novel differs from the experimental and how structural elements like framed narratives help us grasp controversial or difficult issues. We will also explore how various genres like detective fiction, graphic novels, and ghost stories may allow writers to more forcefully depict and disrupt their social, cultural, and political worlds. By investigating genres and structures like these, we will better understand how form shapes the very stories it contains as well as our reactions to them.

8G:7 Poetry (Humanities) (3 s.h.)

As poet Marianne Moore confesses of her own craft, “I, too, dislike it”—a sentiment not uncommon even among avid readers. Whatever our own attitudes toward poetry, this course will give you the tools to better understand, experience, and evaluate the genre, from the most rhythmically-taut heroic couplet to the most visually-expansive free verse poem. By exploring form, rhythm, meter, sound, and other poetic devices through the work of poets both old and new, we will come to recognize, in W. B. Yeats’ words, the “stitching and unstitching” that goes into poetry’s creation. What’s more, by reading a wide variety of poets, you will hopefully discover a handful that speak particularly to you and leave the class equipped to further explore and enjoy the genre on your own.

8G:8 Drama (Humanities) (3 s.h.)

Drama makes use of sight, sound, and language both on the stage and the page, but theatre involves live, public enactments of stories that we experience collectively. Beginning with the ancient Greeks and extending into the complexities of post-modern theatre, this class will investigate how drama interacts with and influences its multiple audiences that reside both in the private space inhabited by readers and in the public space of the theatre. It will also explore the relationship between plays and the cultural moments in which they were produced.

8G:9 American Lives (Humanities) (3 s.h.)

“What does it mean to be American?” Using a list of works ranging from the revolutionary period to current fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama, this course explores how different people have asked and answered this question. Each section of American Lives explores some aspect of American identity through literature. Whether you choose to take a course that focuses on the definition of the American Dream, the impact of literary celebrities on American culture, the contested figure of the drug user, or another theme, you will examine how literature both maintains and challenges national myths of Americanness.

8G:11 Literature and Sexualities (Cultural Diversity or Humanities) (3 s.h.)

This is not a class about pornography. This is not a class about sexual pleasure. Leave the Playboys, Cosmos, and the romance novels aside. How does literature do sexuality? How do plays, poems, and novels expand or irritate our understanding of sexuality and identity? Keeping in mind gender, age, race, and social background, we will critically examine what it means to develop a sexual identity or to have one constructed for you. As a result, we will stretch, trample, and bend “accepted” definitions of sexuality in order to make space for the "contested" or invisible sexualities that societal pressure—and sometimes prejudice—can repress.

8G:12 Comic and Tragic Literature (Humanities) (3 s.h.)

What makes us laugh? Why do we cry? And why does the line between laughter and tears so often become indistinguishable? In this course, we will explore the extremes of comedy and tragedy and determine how fine the line between the two actually is. We will attempt to expose the dark underbelly that comedy often masks and the hope that tragedy sometimes conceals. Throughout, we will turn the questions upon ourselves, looking at the emotional responses evoked by comedy and tragedy, from joy to grief and embarrassment to pity, investigating what it is that so arrests our imaginations—what keeps us watching, even as Oedipus stabs out his own eyes. (Students who take 8G:12 may not also take 8G:4 Heroes and Villains.)

8G:14 Literature of the African Peoples (Foreign Civ. and Culture or Humanities) (3 s.h.)

How important is the “African” in “African American”? What connection, if any, unites black writers in the United States with authors living in Jamaica or Nigeria? How useful are categories like “black” and “white” in discussing literature? In this course, we will read work by writers of African descent—a dynamic group that includes Toni Morrison, Jamaica Kincaid, Derek Walcott, Chinua Achebe, Alice Walker, and Langston Hughes—and we will question the very same categories that organize the course, re-evaluating assumptions about race, culture, and identity that shape the way all readers encounter not only literature, but also the world at large.

8G:15 Women and Literature (Humanities) (3 s.h.)

Virgin. Whore. Angel. Witch. Good girl. Femme fatale. As both writers and heroines, women have carried and confronted these labels, and this course will explore the vast and various positions of women as depicted in literature and experienced in the world. By taking into account myriad differences like class, race, time, place, and culture, we will consider women’s performance of gender and identity. How do heroines fall into or break out of prescribed social roles as they fall in love, express their sexuality, assert their independence, or pursue careers? How do women reveal, craft, represent, and even invent identities through narrative? By the end of this course, we will shatter the stereotypes above and appreciate the complexity of female experience that literature can reveal.