ENGL601 - Literary Research and Critical Contexts

This course begins by asking the question, “What is it like to read this?”  That question should be asked about all literary, critical, and theoretical texts to which we turn as readers.  The obvious subsequent question is “What does it mean to read professionally, cultivating ‘expertise’?” and perhaps a less obvious question is, “Where is the text?”  Our goals on this “mystery ride” (which is what I call every course, its syllabus being our map for critical inquiry) are to provide students with professional research training appropriate to the disciplines (note the plural) of English studies.  Students will be introduced to—and required to use—resources and methods for advanced literary research.  Readings on foundational issues in literary studies will focus our critical attentions—the nature and ontology of texts, authors, authorship, audiences, readers, lexicography, archives, editorial practices, textual theories.  The manuscript page and book as material objects as well as the new materialities of the screen will be central to our considerations as we delve into issues directly related to critical and professional practices—effective critical writing, argumentation, use of evidence, new forms of writing with digital objects and in new media.  Tutorials by reference librarians specializing in English studies and with curators of rare books and manuscripts, as well as virtual tours of holdings of the Houghton Library, Harvard, will demonstrate practical methods for research and applications of that research to advance critical inquiry.  Working with the course convener and colleagues in the class, students will be asked to determine and then pursue research topics specific to their areas of interest (we’ll use crowdsourcing to make more visible and accessible the collaborations that are always at play in what appears to be such individualized work).  Requirements include regular class participation, in-class presentations, several short assignments (such as an annotated bibliography; an editorial and/or reception history), a final, longer paper (or the equivalent thereof) growing out of the semester’s reading and research, and a firm belief and openness to the great pleasures of reading and writing.  Questions?  Please don’t hesitate to contact me at 301.405.8878 or mnsmith@umd.edu.