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National Epics

ENGL 321.401
crosslisted as: COML 321
TR 9-10:30am

Course Online: Synchronous Format

fulfills requirements:

In this course we will consider texts that become national epics. How and when might such imaginative texts emerge? Do they represent all the hopes and aspirations of all members of a nation? Nations change, demographics shift, and texts of yesteryear, once deemed representative, may no longer serve, or may be read differently; new sagas achieve prominence. We will study the literary and performative qualities of given texts, but also of the struggles of the nations they represent.


The turn to nationalism signaled by this course title might seem surprising, or counter-intuitive. Globalism has become the default mode of academic study: global antiquity, global postmodernity, the global Middle Ages. National Epics seeks not to deny the validity of such approaches, but rather to complement them: for it is evident that within current conditions of warp-speed global connectivity, cultural and political forms of nationalism are making a comeback. 5G networks proliferate, but with growing suspicion of the builders. Supply chains seem too long, diseases cross borders, and voters are swayed by protectionist and nationalist narratives. Initiatives in trans-national partnership, treaty-keeping, and conservation are in retreat. Populism, often racially-inflected, is on the rise. It thus seems timely for us to review the cultural mechanisms of national identity, national pride, nation by nation.


Of course, most of us may be citizens of just one (or two) nations, but with awareness of long, hyphenated family histories: Chinese-American, Cuban American, Italian-American, Polish-American, African-American; also perhaps Lenni Lenape American, native American, or French Canadian. Some students in this course last year took the opportunity to investigate, for their final project, family histories (and hence their own, personal connection to "national epics"). Such investigation might actually be an ideal project in lockdown, Zoom-dictated conditions.


There will likely be four assignments, along these lines:


Assignment 1: pass/ pass: a short meditation, of about 500 words or 2 pages, on the theme of personhood and nationhood. You may draw upon your own experiences here, or offer a response to texts and issues covered in class.  This will serve a tune up writing exercise and will be especially useful if English is not your first language. I will provide feedback. It will also allow me to get a more detailed and nuanced account of your interests, of what you might hope for in this class. 


Assignment 2: short essay, chosen from a list of topics to be provided (and covered in class): 4 pages.


Assignment 3: long essay brainstorm. Again, this need not be long: the chief point is to let me know how your thinking is developing, so that (again) I can suggest further reading, focus on critical issues, etc. Some class discussion of topics and issues arising might prove useful.


Assignment 4: longer essay, 8-10 pages. Long, but not ridiculously long: compactness and concision are to be valued above omnium gatherum bagginess.


Assessment: assignment 1 p/f; ass.2 20%; ass. 3 P/F; ass. 4 70%; class participation 10%