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Literature and Society: Encounter and Ethnography

ENGL 105.920
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major

Writing about culture is usually what ethnographers and anthropologists do, but might not the same be said of literature? An ethnography is often written to record the details that describe who a people are, including how they exist in the world, their “habitat,” their language, and their “ethos.” In this course, we will study how major works of literature in English can be understood as ethnographies, that is, as writings about human cultures. We will start with a great ethnographic work, Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, and move through the work of poets, novelists, and explorers such as Milton, Harriot, Swift, Lady Wortley Montagu, Wordsworth, Equiano, Jefferson, Mary Shelley, Austen, Dickens, Hawthorne, Melville, Seacole, Stowe, Douglass, Twain, Wells, Conrad, DuBois, and Joyce. To guide our reading, we will pair each literary selection with a major anthropological text, such as those by Tylor, Herskovitz, Mead, Kroeber, Malinowski, Levi-Strauss, Geertz, and Clifford. Visits to the Penn Museum and the Penn Libraries will round out our classroom experience. Course requirements will include short writing responses, a mid-term exam, and a 10-page research project.