Eng 130 teaches: The rhetorical conventions

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The primary goal of English 130 is to help students transfer the knowledge they gain about interdisciplinary writing in ENG 110 to succeed in the English major.   To accomplish that, ENG 130 teaches:

  1. The rhetorical conventions that scholars use to interpret literary texts (e.g., arguable theses; analysis of evidence; citation of sources).

  2. Close reading of literary texts that are diverse in terms of genre; historical period; national tradition; and authorial race/class/gender.

  3. Independent research conducted with scholarly databases and cited with MLA format.

  4. Historical and theoretical texts as tools for literary analysis.


In every section of ENG 130, students will write three essays that build in complexity, plus a research assignment and a portfolio.  They will revise each essay in conversation with each other and their instructor.

  • Essay 1: Close reading of a primary text using selected literary terms.

  • Essay 2: Close reading of a literary text in the context of a theoretical or historical source.

  • Essay 3: Close reading of a literary text in the context of at least two secondary sources that the student finds through research.

  • Research Assignment: An annotated bibliography with at least five relevant sources, produced en route to Essay 3.

  • Portfolio: In a cover letter, students reflect on the writing practice they gained through their pre-drafts, drafts, and revisions over the course of the semester.

In addition, ENG 130 encourages:

  •     Informal assignments that lead into formal assignments; and

  •     Revision using feedback, written and oral.


English 170 According to Pathways (David Richter and the Curriculum Committee)
Under Pathways, the English Department at Queens College has the mandate to revise our current English 170 (Introduction to Literary Studies) course so that it has these learning outcomes:
Display a working knowledge of basic terms and concepts used in the analysis of a variety of literary genres.

Demonstrate an understanding of how literary works relate to their immediate historical context and to the traditions from which they emerge.

Be able to undertake the close reading of a literary work, with particular emphasis on the relationship between parts and wholes and between form and meaning.

Be able to construct a literary argument using secondary sources (in particular discipline-specific databases and archives) and employing MLA style.

Engage in written reflection on the critical assumptions that inform their own and others’ interpretations of literary works.

As a result of the Pathways process, English 170 has become the only Gateway course to the English major, prerequisite to the five survey courses and the enormously varied elective courses that constitute the major.
In this course students will read literary texts intensively against their historical contexts and against traditional and contemporary interpretations of these texts. After reading and discussing the text and some of its interpretations, students will write their own interpretations, joining the conversation about the text already in progress.
Close reading of the literary texts is taught in EC2 (English 130), but it needs to continue in multiple genres (minimally, poetry, drama, and prose fiction). Furthermore, students will need to be taught to read analytically and critically both the historical paratexts to the primary literary texts, and the secondary interpretive texts that can be found in the Rosenthal Library and on databases. One unit of the course will involve the art of literary research, led by the instructor with the assistance of the humanities librarian.
It perhaps needs to be stressed that the limited number of primary texts selected for the course should be varied not only by genre but by period and by the gender, nationality, and ethnicity of the authors. It also needs to be clear that the course is not a survey of literature or of literary theory; literary theory will be read in the course in order to understand the assumptions operating behind the arguments found in the literary interpretations of the primary texts.
The first segment of the course might begin with a close reading of an important literary text, followed by the reading and discussion of secondary materials representative of the variety of interpretations the text has generated, through which the student can become aware of the theoretical positions that underlie these interpretations. The secondary materials would be provided to students by the instructor either through a casebook text or using BlackBoard.

One possible text for this unit is the Bedford-St. Martin Case Study in Critical Controversy on Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan. (Similar casebooks are available on Shakespeare's The Tempest, or can be created by the instructor on BlackBoard from secondary materials available from library databases.)

This particular sourcebook provides a text of the novel, a biography of Twain and a history of the reception of Huckleberry Finn, then arranges twenty essays under three headings: (1)" The Controversy over the Ending: Did Mark Twain Sell Jim down the River?" (2) "The Controversy over Race: Does Huckleberry Finn Combat or Reinforce Racist Attitudes?" (3) "The Controversy over Gender: Are Twain's Sexual Politics Progressive, Regressive or Beside the Point?" One virtue of this approach is that the essays are already in dialogue with one another (for example, Leo Marx's essay responds to essays by T.S. Eliot and Lionel Trilling), allowing the student immediate entry into the controversy.

Students would begin by writing journals (or blogging their impressions) on the primary text, and agreeing or arguing with the critics they read. The first major essay would be a contribution by the student to the controversy based on his or her own reading of the novel and evaluation of the cogency of the critics' interpretations.
The second segment of the course would begin where this one leaves off, again doing a close reading of an important literary text, after which the students will discover and read some of the available secondary materials themselves, using research techniques taught during the course by the instructor and with the assistance of the humanities librarian. Students will then write their own interpretive essays, arguing with one or more of the secondary essays they have discovered, in the light of short theoretical texts they will be reading and discussing in class.

In one version of the course in the past, for example, students responded to Jane Austen's Emma in the light of short theoretical pieces on gender by Gilbert and Gubar and by Toril Moi or on class and ideology by Karl Marx and Terry Eagleton. They anchored their essays in the interpretive history of Austen's novel taking off from articles they found in the databases, such as Wendy Moffat's "Identifying with Emma: Problems for the Feminist Reader" or Michael Kramp's "The Woman, the Gypsies and England: Harriet Smith's National Role." In another unit, students responded to issues of race and imperialism in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness using texts including Chinua Achebe's "An Image of Africa," Wilson Harris's "The Frontier on Which Heart of Darkness Stands" and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's "Imperialism and Sexual Difference."

A third segment of the course might consider the literary canon and axiology (the question of value judgments about literary excellence) in relation to gender and culture. Students should read anonymous poems, analyze them, and argue about their literary value, in the context of such relevant theoretical essays as "Contingencies of Value" by Barbara Herrnstein Smith, "Treason our Text" by Lillian Robinson, and "Introduction: Axiomatic" by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.

A fourth segment of the course might consider the languages of Anglophone literature. For example, African American poets like Paul Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes wrote both in African American dialect and in Standard American English; Afro-Caribbean poets such as Derek Walcott, Kamau Braithwaite, and Jean Binta Breese have written both in Caribbean dialect and in the Queen's English. Based on these or other texts, and on theoretical pieces by Henry Louis Gates, Toni Morrison, and Gilles Deleuze, students might be asked to think and write about such issues as (1) the extent to which it becomes incumbent upon poets from an oppressed minority to speak out for their people rather than to express themselves personally as individuals; (2) the extent to which "postcolonial" writers (citizens of a new state following the decolonization of their birthplace by one of Western powers who had previously ruled it) have to choose between affiliation with their native culture and the culture imposed on their people by the colonizing power; (3) the differences and similarities in the problems of personal and political expression between writers who are members of oppressed minorities and those who are postcolonial writers.

Finally, a necessary unit for the course is to consider an important literary text in the light of history, the history it represents in relation to the historical moment in which the text is produced. Obviously almost any literary text representing characters acting within history could be used for this purpose, like Shakespeare's Richard II or Coriolanus. For a concise and clear understanding of the differences between New Historicism and traditional historical scholarship, I find it useful to teach Robert Browning's dramatic monologue "The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St. Praxed's" in relation to Herbert Tucker's essay "Wanted Dead or Alive: Browning's Historicism." In my own versions of the course, I have enjoyed success with Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, a postmodern play set alternately in the early nineteenth century, a time when romanticism is replacing neo-classicism, when the confidence and optimism of the Enlightenment have given way to gothic imagination, and in the late twentieth century, when the humanities are on the defensive, even as the Heisenberg "uncertainty principle" and chaos theory have sapped confidence in the clarity of vision even of basic physics and mathematics.

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