Old RollTide Requirements: Teaching English Lit I at The University of Alabama

As I promised earlier this week, today I’d like to talk about the old requirements for teaching English Literature I at The University of Alabama.

Morgan Hall, home of UA English
Morgan Hall, home of UA English

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:

OLD 200LevelGuidelines-Nov2012

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:

British Literature Survey (EN 205, 206) Recommended Guidelines

On Monday, I’ll talk through these new guidelines at length!


Early Modern Strangers, April 3

Early Modern Strangers poster final

On April 3, 7:30 pm, at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center (620 Greensboro Ave, Tuscaloosa), Improbable Fictions will stage a selection of readings around the theme of strangers. Pre-show music begins at 7:00 pm. As always, IF events are free and open to the public.

Our inspiration piece for this event is Shakespeare’s monologue about immigration and empathy from the many-authored play Sir Thomas More. The play has gained a lot of attention in recent years, thanks in part to Sir Ian Mckellen, and we wanted to place this powerful passage in its early modern context, staging it alongside excerpts from Antony and Cleopatra, The Merchant of Venice, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, The Tempest, and Titus Andronicus, as well as selections from medieval folklore, Mandeville,  and Brecht. Our hope is to start a conversation about what it means to be treated as a stranger in a strange land both then and now, and UA’s own Dr. Cordelia Ross will kick off a post-show Q&A with some thoughts from her own research on the subject.

We’re still gathering together readers for this event, so if you’re interested in taking part in an IF production, shoot me an email at nrhelms@ua.edu, or reach out to me on Twitter @nrhelms.

As always, IF productions are sponsored by the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies, part of The University of Alabama Dept. of English.