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ENGL 207 A: Introduction to Cultural Studies

Meeting Time: 
MW 3:30pm - 5:20pm
THO 325
Professor Harkins in front of bookshelf
Gillian Harkins

Syllabus Description:

Professor Gillian Harkins                                                              Office Hours: M/W 2:30-3:30

Email:                                                       A-306 Padelford Hall

English 207 Autumn 2019

M/W 3:30-5:20 PM

Classroom: THO 325


Introduction to Cultural Studies:

The Presence of History


For history, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.

-- James Baldwin, "The White Man's Guilt,"  Ebony (1965)


How did we get here, to this present, with our imaginations limited by a common sense of possibility that we did not choose?

-- Hua Hsu, "Stuart Hall and the Rise of Cultural Studies," The New Yorker (2017)


This class will introduce you to Cultural Studies, a field that asks how and why “culture” becomes a central concept in contemporary life. “Culture” has a complex history; many activists, artists, and academics have struggled to fully understand its capacity to shape so many diverse, sometimes even contradictory, life-worlds.  Cultural Studies emerges from such struggles, drawing on artistic, activist and academic inquiry to ask how culture is created through, and is used to create, various texts, objects and practices.  Since Cultural Studies is such a large field, this course will focus on a narrower question: how does “history” shape post-1988 approaches to U.S. culture? 


We will begin with a brief introduction to Cultural Studies before turning to a series of texts, objects, and practices related to culture as history.  Our exploration will focus on how different cultural media encode accounts of history; how they seek to recode or transform existing accounts; how readers/audiences decode cultural and historical meanings; and how we all become encoders of new historical cultures.  This exploration will take us into studies of capitalism, colonialism and imperialism as well as race, gender, sexuality, and embodiment.  Texts in this class may be sexually explicit or deal with epistemic or interpersonal violence; please let me know if you need support negotiating any of the course materials.


Required Texts

Purchase the following books: Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place [also available as .pdf File]; Karen Tei Yamashita, Through the Arc of the Rainforest; Lawrence Chua, Gold by the Inch; Mohsin Hamid, Exit West.

On-Line Course Readings: Additional readings are collected on the Canvas website.  Webpages or videos will be accessible through links on the website syllabus.


Course Objectives


  • Grapple with cultural studies
  • Hone cultural decoding skills
  • Engage critical frameworks
  • Encounter contemporary debates
  • Practice critical interventions
  • Develop a cultural studies project


Course Requirements


  • Dialogue as Inquiry: You will be expected to participate actively in your own learning process. This means you must complete all assigned reading in advance of class and come prepared to engage points made in class as well as your own ideas about the assigned materials. You will keep a low-stakes reading journal in which you write responses to questions posed and your own reflections on the readings. These entries will be handed in as a portfolio at the end of the course.  You will be assigned a Monday or a Wednesday group to lead discussion of the day’s readings.

Participation: 20%


  • Case Studies as Inquiry: You will write two 4 page essays analyzing a cultural keyword and a cultural object. This essay will explain the chosen keyword and object as they relate to the cultural texts from class.

Keyword Analysis I: 20%

Keyword Analysis II: 20%


  • Collaboration as Inquiry: You will produce a final, at least partially collaborative project at the end of the course. Each project will analyze a critical keyword and/or cultural object and a literary text.  These projects will be evaluated on their originality and ability to demonstrate learning goals from the class.

Final Project: 40%


Course Policies


  • Conduct: All students are invited to raise questions and offer additional perspectives about any materials discussed in class. All students are also expected to contribute their ideas in a manner that is thoughtful and respectful of the ideas expressed by others.  Basic guidelines for discussion will be covered the first week of class.


  • Academic Honesty: Please review the University of Washington website for a definition and explanation of plagiarism and academic misconduct.  I will immediately report any suspected instance of academic misconduct to the University.  If you are confused or have any questions about a specific instance, please feel free to see me in advance of the due date.


  • Academic Accommodations: To request academic accommodations due to disability, please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, (206) 543-8924 (V/TTY).  If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating that you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to me so we can discuss the accommodations you might need in this class.



Course Schedule ** SUBJECT TO CHANGE **


Week 1          


W 9/25            Introduction to Cultural Studies


Week 2


M 9/30             Hua Hsu, “Stuart Hall and the Rise of Cultural Studies” The New Yorker (2017) [Link]

Stuart Hall, “Preface to the Lectures by Stuart Hall 1988” [File]

Watch Online: The Big Picture with Jerry Saltz, “Picasso’s Guernica, Explained to Passersby in a NYC Subway” New York Magazine (2018) [Link; 6 min]


W 10/2            Stephen Greenblatt “Culture” Critical Terms for Literary Study (1995) [File]

Stuart Hall, highlights from “Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse” (1973) [File; Online Link to Original]


Week 3


M 10/7             Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place (1988) [Book or File] (read pp 1-37)

Watch Online: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story,” TED (2009) [Link Video (18 minutes) and Transcript] 


W 10/9            A Small Place (read pp 37-74)

Jamila Osman, “Colonialism, Explained” Teen Vogue (2017) [Link]

* ONLY OPTIONAL: Robert Young, Colonialism sections of “Colonialism and Imperialism,” Empire, Colony, Postcolony (2015) [File]



Week 4


M 10/14           Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place [Finish]

Daniel Martinez HoSang and Oneka LaBennett, “Racialization,” Keywords for American Cultural Studies (2014) [File]

* ONLY OPTIONAL: Robert Young, Imperialism sections of “Colonialism and Imperialism,” Empire, Colony, Postcolony (2015) [File]

ADDED AFTER CLASS: Some definitions of Epistemic Violence

Raymond Williams' chapters on "Dominant, Residual and Emergent" as well as "Structures of Feeling"

An on-line reflection on Raymond Williams' "Dominant, Residual and Emergent"


W 10/16          Watch in Class: Stephanie Black, Life and Debt (2001): Use this link to watch film through your UW net id

Lisa Duggan, “Neoliberalism,” Keywords for American Cultural Studies (2014) [File]

Tejvan Pettinger, “Structural Adjustment Definition,” Economics Help (2017) [Link]


Week 5           Keyword Analysis I Due


M 10/21           Karen Tei Yamashita, Through the Arc of the Rainforest (1990) [Book] (read Parts I and II)


W 10/23          Through the Arc of the Rainforest (read Parts III and IV)

Lisa Lowe, “Globalization,” Keywords for American Cultural Studies (2014) [File]


Week 6


M 10/28           Through the Arc of the Rainforest (read arts V and VI)

Rob Nixon, “Slow Violence,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (2011) [Link]


W 10/30          David F. Ruccio, “Capitalism” Keywords for American Cultural Studies (2014) [File]

Karl Marx, “The Fetishism of the Commodity and Its Secret,” Capital (1867) [File]


Week 7          


M 11/4             Lawrence Chua, Gold by the Inch (1998) [Book] (to “History of Breath”)

Alyshia Gálvez, “Migration,” Keywords for American Cultural Studies (2014) [File]


W 11/6            Gold by the Inch (to “Satellite Woman”)

Siobhan Somerville, “Queer,” Keywords for American Cultural Studies (2014) [File]


Week 8          

M 11/11           NO CLASS


W 11/13          Gold by the Inch (to end)


Week 9         



M 11/18           Mohsin Hamid, Exit West (2017)  [Book] (to Section 5)

                        Mary Pat Brady, “Border,” Keywords for American Cultural Studies (2014) [File]


W 11/20          Exit West (to Section 9)

Giuliana Pines, “The Contentious History of the Passport” National Geographic (2017) [Link]

F. 11/22                  Keyword Analysis II Due

Week 10


M 11/25           Exit West (to end)



W 11/27          CLASS CANCELLED


Week 11


M 12/2             Project: Come prepared to discuss your final project plan with peers.


W 12/4            Project



M 12/13            Final Project Due

T 12/17            Final Grades Due



Catalog Description: 
Introduces cultural studies as an interdisciplinary field and practice. Explores multiple histories of the field with an emphasis on current issues and developments. Focuses on culture as a site of political and social debate and struggle. Offered: S.
GE Requirements: 
Social Sciences (SSc)
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 10:50pm