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ENGL 494 A: Honors Seminar

Meeting Time: 
MW 9:30am - 11:20am
THO 325
Kate Norako photo
Leila Kate Norako

Syllabus Description:

Course Description:

 “The Imagined Worlds of Medieval England” investigates the ways in which medieval English writers conjured aspirational worlds across a variety of genres and textual forms: from mappae mundi and travel narratives, to Arthurian romance, to cycle plays. Central to our work will be discerning the implications of these acts of imagination: who and what is included/excluded? To what extent does medieval English worldbuilding require not only creation but erasure? And what aspects of this premodern worldbuilding persist in our present?  

Our first unit will focus on medieval world-building through maps and travel literature, with a particular focus on the medieval blockbuster The Travels of Sir John Mandeville and the sources the unknown author drew from and reshaped. Our second unit will pivot over to Middle English drama, focusing on the ways in which “universal history” (which medieval Christians understood as the story of the world from it’s creation—as told in Genesis— through the Apocalypse) was brought to life through live performance, and through at times drastic alterations the Biblical stories in question. Our third and final unit will focus on the genre of medieval romance, examining in particular the hows and whys of their imagined worlds. 


Grade Breakdown:

Participation: 15%

Informal Writing (Commonplace Book): 40%

Final Project Portfolio: 45%



Dr. Leila K. Norako

Student Hours: Thursdays 9am-10am via zoom and by appointment


Student Hours Zoom Link:


Course Description:

This course invites undergraduate students to explore and investigate a variety of literatures written in the so-called Middle Ages and Early Modern eras, but with an emphasis on encounters between various cultures. Too often, the Middle Ages and “Renaissance” are presented as exclusively White, Christian, and European spaces, when in fact these time periods witnessed significant and robust periods of contact, conflict, and exchange—from the encounters between Indigenous peoples and medieval Icelanders as attested in the Vinland Sagas (and in material/archeological record) to the interconnection between Ethiopian and European iconography, to the encounters between the Mongols and Latin Christendom along the Silk roads. Course unites invite students to decenter Latin Christendom and focus on the ways in which various cultures and kingdoms of these periods encountered and represented one another. While student interest will lead the way in our discussions, we will pay particular attention to the construction of gender, race, and religious difference in the works that we read, and the way in which these works seem either to affirm or complicate the norms and power differentials of their day. Students will be evaluated on their active participation and weekly small group work, a series of informal response papers, and on a substantial research project due at the end of term.


Course Objectives:

  • To familiarize students with key works of literature from 500-1700 in order to provide background for other studies and a historical understanding of literary development across cultures and through cultural contact, conflict, and exchange.
  • To encounter and investigate literature from the distant past in order to inform our understanding of cultural difference, historical development, and alternative ethical and artistic possibilities.
  • To enhance student’s skills in close/analytical reading, cultural analysis, and collaborative discussions.
  • To improve and augment student’s expository writing skills. 
  • To improve and augment student’s scholarly research skills. 


Course Structure:

Due to the ongoing pandemic, this course will be taught in a hybrid format. Each Monday we’ll begin our discussions of the week’s readings/topics through a combination of class-wide discussion (approx. 30 minutes) and robust small group work (approx. 1 hr). We are working within this format due to the number of students in this class and the size of our classroom. While we do have windows this quarter (which will be open whenever we are in the room, barring horizontal rain), we will dramatically increase the likeliness of spreading Covid around if we engage in the kind of robust small group discussion this kind of course requires. Hence, remote small group work! While much of your time will be spent working on the tasks I provide each group, I will still be present in the classroom and able to jump into any small group that requests my presence. 


Readings: All readings will be provided by Dr. Norako on canvas. No texts need to be purchased for this course. The easiest way to find course readings is to head to Assignments > Course Readings > the given week. 

n.b. Readings for Unit 1 will be available by Monday 9/27. The remaining unit readings will be provided in bulk at least 2 weeks ahead of when they are due. 


Grade Breakdown:

Participation: 15% (includes weekly group reports) 

4 Unit Micro-Essays: 10% each (40% total) 

1 Reading Report: 5%

Final Project: 40%



The success of this class hinges on the active engagement and intellectual curiosity of all in attendance. While I will lecture from time to time, the majority of our class meetings will be driven by student-led inquiry and interest. Your ideas, interests, questions, etc. will be what propels us forward. As a result, you are expected to come to class having read and synthesized the readings for that day, and with the required readings in hand. Come ready to talk and engage with one another! 

  • Attendance: Given that our class will center student-led discussion, and given how important our discussions will be to your success on your final project, it’s essential that you come to every class meeting on time and prepared to discuss the day’s readings. 
  • On Absences: 
    • absences due to illness are always excused, and I will never ask for a doctor's note. Please, please do not come to class if you have cold/flu/covid symptoms. 
    • Do everything you can not to schedule work/extracurriculars/etc during class time. I understand that sometimes these kinds of events are out of your control, but being absent from numerous classes will inevitably impact your grade because of how much you will miss. 
    • If you know you will be absent, let me know via email as soon as you can.
    • The answer to the question "Did I miss anything important?" will always be "Yes." 
    • It is always the student's responsibility to get themselves caught up on what we cover if they are absent, for whatever reason. I always recommend reaching out to a peer in your unit small group in advance to see if they would be willing to bring you up to speed. 
    • Note: I do not automatically lower grades based on attendance. However, I have taught college classes for almost twenty years now, and can safely say that the students who fare best are the ones who attend class regularly and come to class prepared. 

Grading Participation: 4.0 level participation grade will result from:

    • clear evidence that the reading has been done, and that the student has amply prepared for in-class discussion. They will come to class with independent ideas about the readings, and having made efforts to critically engage with the material (i.e. synthesis, close-reading, comparative analysis, attention to course themes/central questions). They will come prepared to address any specific questions/issues/prompts from the instructor.
    • Active engagement in class. This entails not only generating ideas and taking risks (by asking questions and/or offering up ideas-in-progress), but also listening to the ideas of others and engaging accordingly. The A-level participant will be able to advance our discussions in class not only by offering up their own ideas but also by responding directly and thoughtfully to the ideas of others.


How To Succeed In This Class:

  1. Do the readings in advance! And read deeply and carefully. If necessary, read once to sort out the plot, and read a second time to analyze. (Helpful hint: read a reliable plot summary before reading the text itself to help you along!)
  2. Stay up to date on your written assignments and follow all instructions. These short essays and reader reports are designed to a) help you hone your close reading skills and b) help you participate as fully as possible in our class meetings. 
  3. Communicate with your professor. If you have questions or concerns (about meeting deadlines, managing the reading and writing load, how to research a given topic, what to say about a particular text, etc), get in touch! Office hours are perfect for longer conversations, but I am happy to talk briefly before/after class or (if the questions can be swiftly answered) via email. 
  4. Complete all major assignments on time; pace yourself. Avoid writing your major assignments at the 11th hour!
  5. Come to class prepared and with all required materials (notebook/laptop, readings due that day). Be ready to discuss and think hard about the readings. And remember: there are many ways to earn full marks on participation.
  6. Stay focused and engaged in class. Participate actively in class discussions; there are many ways to participate, and that I value all of them. Avoid getting distracted by electronics in class. And if you must use a laptop for taking notes, avoid using it for anything unrelated to class. 
  7. Stay Organized. In the very first week of class, write down all of your deadlines for all of your classes in a calendar. If you notice that, say, you have three major assignments due the same week, figure out what’s feasible, and ask your professors for what you need well in advance. You’re much more likely to have extension requests granted that way and/or are much more likely to do well on each of those assignments/exams.   
  8. Write about what you care about and what genuinely piques your curiosity, because the more invested you are, the more enjoyable and worthwhile the writing and thinking will be, and (nearly always) the better the final written work.


Commonplace Book: Please see the detailed instructions and explanation over in Assignments.

Final Research Project: Students will have the option to create a research project in a medium of their choosing. Details will be sorted out and discussed as a collective in the next couple weeks once we've gotten acclimated! 


Other Policies and Notes of Import:

Course Meetings and Location: This class meets in person twice per week. That being said, we have had inclement weather every winter quarter I've been here, and my students and I have oftentimes found ourselves trapped in our respective neighborhoods even as UW remains open for business. So! If such a thing were to happen (i.e. UW is open but many of us remain stuck at home), we will pivot over to zoom, and I will make a command decision no later than noon the day prior. If UW closes operations due to inclement weather, however, we will honor that decision and not hold a class meeting that day. 

On Technology in the Classroom: I do not ban the use of electronic devices in class. However, all students must be respectful of their peers and refrain from using electronic devices for anything aside from our work in the classroom (i.e. no Facebook, game playing, etc – that kind of engagement is profoundly distracting to those around you). It is very obvious when students are surfing the web/watching movies/playing games/checking Facebook, and students who do so will get a zero for participation for that class meeting.  

When on Zoom: while I do not require students to have their screens on, I strongly urge you all to do so. Based on the past two years of zoom teaching, students who have their screens on tend to fare far better in their coursework than those who do not because, among other things, they are more likely to stay focused on what is going on in the class itself. When you have your screen on, please be mindful of what is in the background and blur it as needed so protect the privacy of others (e.g. your sleeping roommate). 

On Canvas: Our class portal will be the predominate way in which you’ll keep up to date on course announcements, and is also where you will gain access to supplementary course materials. All secondary readings will be found there, as well as additional resources. All assignment prompts will be posted there as well, and unless otherwise stated, all formal written assignments will be submitted to Canvas, and all feedback from me will be found there as well.

Email and Office hours: If you have a question that can be answered in 1-2 sentences, please feel free to send an email, and I will respond as soon as possible (if you email me over the weekend, expect a response no earlier than noon on Monday). If your questions require a lengthy response, please bring them to me during office hours. If my office hours conflict with your class schedule, contact me and we will find an alternate time/way to meet. Please note that I am committed to checking email at least once a day on weekdays, and ask that all of you make the same commitment.

On Plagiarism: The Student Conduct Code defines plagiarism as follows:

“Plagiarism, . . .  is the submission or presentation of someone else’s words, composition, research, or expressed ideas, whether published or unpublished, without attribution. Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to:

  1. The use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment; or
  2. The unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or acquired from an entity engaging in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.”

If plagiarism is suspected, a student will be asked to meet with me, and the following general rules/procedures will apply:

      • For minor infractions (1-2 missing citations, failure to use quotation marks in 1-2 instances, clear evidence that plagiarism was accidental, etc): 
        • Option either to revise and earn up to 75% for the assignment in question; or to abandon the assignment. Final grade will be an average of the rest of the assignments in the course.
        • Possible reporting of said student to the Dean’s Representative for Academic Conduct
      • For major infractions (i.e. numerous plagiarized passages, clear evidence that the essay was written by someone else and/or stolen or purchased wholesale)
        • Automatic zero for the assignment.
        • No option for revision.
        • Automatic reporting of said student to the Dean’s Representative for Academic Conduct.

The bottom line: Do not plagiarize! It is never, ever worth it, and it is shockingly easy to detect. I take plagiarism very seriously because I believe strongly in the value of the work I’ve assigned you. I want you to learn and grow through the work that I’m asking you to do in this class, and that learning and growth will not happen if you take the work of another person and pass it off as your own. 

Access and Accommodations: It is very important to me that all students are able to thrive in this classroom environment. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to: mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or  (Links to an external site.)DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law. If you are reading this, congratulations! You have found the "egge" -- please send Prof. Norako a picture of a favorite outdoor place (real or imaginary!). 

On DACA: The University of Washington strives to provide a safe, secure, and welcoming environment that protects the privacy and human rights of everyone in our community. UW’s longstanding policies do not permit immigration officials to enter UW classrooms or residence halls without a court order, and I will not share any information about a student’s immigration status. For guidance regarding immigration status, please consult the following resource through Leadership Across Borders ( and the following through the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity ( You can also email with questions and concerns. \

On Religious Accommodations: “Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (”


On Children in the Classroom (heavily drawn from Dr. Melissa Cheyney’s Syllabus) :

The University does not have a formal policy on this topic, so this list reflects my own commitments to student parents:

  1. I ask that we all, as a community, work together to create an environment respectful of all forms of diversity, including diversity in parenting status. 
  2. All breastfeeding babies are welcome in class as often as is necessary.
  3. For older children and babies, I understand that unforeseen disruptions in childcare often put parents in situations where they might have to miss class. While this can’t be a long-term solution, please know that occasionally bringing a child to class in order to cover gaps in care is perfectly ok.
  4. If/when babies or small children come to class, I ask that the parents and children sit close to the door so that if the little one(s) need special attention and/or are disrupting learning for other students, parents can easily step outside until their needs have been met. Speaking from experience, this set up will also make the parent’s learning experience more conducive, since they won’t be worrying about how to make a discrete exit if the little one’s needs require it!  
  5. Finally, I recognize that the exhaustion many parents feel once children have finally (hopefully?!) gone to sleep can often make the task of completing homework feel more than herculean. While I maintain the same high expectations for all of my students regardless of parenting status, I am happy to problem-solve with you in a way that fully supports you as you strive for balance as a parent and student. 


On Our Classroom Environment: Our classroom will be radically inclusive, open to ideas, questions, and debates born out of genuine curiosity and rooted in a desire for knowledge and intellectual growth. It will be a space for rigorous and deep discourse, and it will be a space that actively resists any and all racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, religious intolerance, and misogyny. 


Course Schedule:

note: for details on course readings, please head to Assignments. 

Week 1: Introductions

Week 2: Worldbuilding/Medieval Cartography/Mandeville's Travels

Week 3: Mandeville's Travels 

Week 4: Mandeville/Romance (Project Pitches due in class on Wednesday)

Week 5: Medieval Romance 

Week 6: Medieval Romance (annotated bibliography due to Canvas by Friday 5pm)

Week 7: Medieval Romance

Week 8: Medieval Drama (project draft + peer review) 

Week 9: Medieval Drama

Week 10: Medieval Drama/Final Workshop/Conclusions 

Exam Period: Final Project Due on Tuesday 5pm. 



Catalog Description: 
Survey of current issues confronting literary critics today, based on revolving themes and topics. Focuses on debates and developments affecting English language and literatures, including questions about: the relationship of culture and history; the effect of emergent technologies on literary study; the rise of interdisciplinary approaches in the humanities.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Other Requirements Met: 
Honors Course
Last updated: 
December 12, 2022 - 10:55pm