Literature and its Uses: How to Solve Problems with Books

Course Number: ENGL 11
Prerequisites: None
Catalog Course Entry: ENGL 11
Quarter: Winter 2020
Instructor: Droge, Abigail
Day(s): MW
Time: 9:30 AM - 10:45 AM
Location: GIRV 2129
Description:

Should literature be applied to current social issues? If so, how? If not, why not? In this class, we'll consider the pros and cons of “solving problems with books” as we build a dialogue between major works of the Victorian era and pressing debates in the twenty-first century. Our particular focus will be the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath, including topics related to climate change, economic inequality, and education reform. Through readings of nineteenth-century British authors, we will ask whether “relevance” is the right question, or whether “art for art's sake” is a valuable alternative. As a final project, we will put on a half theatrical/half analytic public colloquium, in which teams of students impersonate different Victorian figures and act as a "board of advisors" for current issues. What would Elizabeth Gaskell have to say about environmental policies? How would Charles Dickens implement an after-school tutoring program? Our main goal will be to discuss and debate whether or not we should take such advice, whether “advice” is an appropriate outcome of literary study, and what relationships we might draw between historical literature and present problems.