I taught my first English Literature I survey (EN 205) in Morgan Hall the fall of my first year as a Ph.D. student back in 2009. I had taught four sections of First-Year Writing the previous year (two per semester), and the UA Dept. of English offered a ton of support and guidance for those courses. For EN Lit I, I was only offered an earlier version of the following document:
Given the state of the profession, particularly the growing need for full-time teaching faculty, It’s telling that I never had the opportunity during my MA or Ph.D. to take a class on teaching the literature survey. For example, during 2018-19 at UA, English instructors (full-time and part-time) taught 467 courses for a total enrollment of 10,058. To my knowledge, this is the present state of English departments nation-wide: the majority of teaching is being done at the 100 and 200 level as part of general education requirements, and this teaching is done by instructors (and by graduate students, though they are not included in the above numbers). That’s a post for another time, however!
The UA Dept of English guidelines have recently (and thankfully) been revised, but I want to point out some highlights from the old document as a baseline for the majority of my experience teaching English Literature:
“Purpose: EN 205 is intended to present a historical overview of the British literary tradition from roughly its beginnings to the late eighteenth century.”
Systemically, the historical component of English Lit is ensconced pretty soundly. In the Core Curriculum, all UA College of Arts and Sciences students are required to take either six hours of Literature and three hours of History or six of History and three of literature: “Each student must complete a six-semester-hour sequence in either literature or history” (bulletpoint 4, bold in original). The “sequence” is supposed to be a historical one: English Literature I and II, for instance, or American History I and II. Thus, the Core Curriculum values the historical framing of literature surveys. In practice, this requirement is largely ignored for students, but the old syllabus requirements strongly reflect this historical bent.
“[W]e ask that you comply with the minimal coverage requirements outlined below. Please note that the department expects “substantial” coverage of required authors and texts and that “substantial” should generally be construed as a week.”
Required authors rather reeks of the traditional canon. Here’s the required list for English Lit I:
Chaucer, one additional recommended text, Shakespeare (one play), 16th century lyrics, Donne, selections, Milton, selections (“Lycidas,” Paradise Lost, Areopagitica); Swift, selections, Pope, selections, S. Johnson, selections
For a fifteen week course (31 class days for a Tues/Thurs schedule), that’s nine weeks dominated by required authors. Aside from the mystery medieval week and the as-yet-anonymous 16th century lyrics, the list is comprised of seven white men. One might trouble the WASPiness of this list by pointing out the intersection of identities: Milton as disabled, Swift as Anglo-Irish, Pope as Catholic and disabled. However, these men’s long canonicity likely outweighs any claim to being minority voices.
The recommended list includes four women — Marie deFrance, Margery Kempe, Mary Wroth, and Aphra Behn — and zero writers of color. It’s a traditional set of guidelines, a difficult starting point for any teacher desiring a diversified syllabus.
But HUZZAH! those guidelines have been heavily revised. Here are the new recommendations:
On Monday, I’ll talk through these new guidelines at length!