Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Sexuality and Power

ENGL 090.401
also offered as: COML 090, GSWS 090
TR 10:30-12pm

Course Online: Synchronous Format

“Sexuality and Power” is an on-line, sophomore-level course organized as a collaborative seminar. Students from all disciplines are welcome. Students will find it easiest to excel in this class if they have basic skills in deliberative writing (gained, for example, by completing Penn’s writing requirement). There are no other prerequisites.

We’ll focus on the work of the most-read and/or best-remembered female-identified writers who published between 1700 and 1790 in Britain. Occasionally along the way, we’ll pay attention to especially relevant, influential works by male-identified authors. 

The course emphasizes primary reading. We’ll read in many genres. Students will develop confidence in “close-reading,” an essential skill for entrance into any profession and into the civic life of our own time. The largest goals of this course are that students 1) develop as close-reading critical thinkers, and 2) practice exercising historical thinking and imaginative empathy.

The eighteenth century in Britain was an exciting time. Literacy's long-policed borders were being relaxed, and publication was allowed to flourish largely free of censorship. Vernacular writing and “low” generic forms were gradually gaining unprecedented (but never uncontested) power. As the set of those allowed to participate in public discourse slowly expanded, new opportunities arose for literate women. For the first time, non-aristocratic women spoke as women in publications concerned with public and political matters. At the same time, women continued to write on the subjects still deemed naturally appropriate for them: personal piety, child-raising, housekeeping. We’ll consider examples of writing by women with a wide variety of concerns and purposes.

Class Structure:

The course will be on-line and synchronous. Meetings will take the form of real-time seminars and will require live participation from everyone. Registered students in time-zones outside United States EST should contact the instructor privately; I will work with you.

Most required texts will be available through the University’s bookstore; some will be available as free links on our Canvas site.

Over the course of a typical working week, students will read assigned material, take notes, and formulate questions and comments. Students will post carefully formulated questions or comments to the Canvas "Discussion" tab by midnight EST before each class. Active engagement in class sessions is required of everyone.  In addition to these regular requirements, each student will 1)  participate in one collaborative class presentation, 2)  write one individual Abstract and workshop it in the seminar, and a 3) write one final essay, an interpretive exercise in close-reading. The essay must be professionally formatted, maturely written, and not more than 8 pages long; secondary research is not required.  Careful reading, thoughtful on-time posting, and informed, consistent engagement in class  are the main requirements, worth 50% of the final grade. The remaining assignments will account for the other 50% of each student’s grade.   



fulfills requirements