ENGL 344/444: London's Contemporary Theater (5 Credits)
Carrie Matthews, UW faculty
Why do people continue to go to the theater in an era when many of us can watch whatever we want whenever we want on a computer or TV screen? In this course we’ll take advantage of London’s vibrant, world-renowned theater scene to learn how to analyze and appreciate live performance. We will see a variety of plays in a diverse array of venues, from the Globe Theater, where Shakespeare’s plays are routinely performed, to small fringe theaters where contemporary playwrights stage their new works. In addition to reading and watching one play each week, we may take a backstage tour at the National Theater and will take an overnight trip to Stratford, Shakespeare’s birthplace. Such activities will help us consider how the various elements of a performance—lighting, costume, sound, and staging, among others—make watching a performance different from reading a play. Course requirements will include weekly reading assignments and response papers, a short reflective essay, and a final group performance project.
Learning goals include:
Weekly written reviews of theater productions, a self-reflective essay, and final group performance lend themselves to critical writing, reading, and viewing. The work entailed for the group performance allows the student to engage collaboratively as well as individually. The student will emerge versed in critical spectatorship—watching carefully, as well as reading critically. Too, collaborative work fosters real-world and interpersonal skills directed toward specific outcomes created by the team. Writing on deadline, as do journalists for theater reviews, is a skill that will also serve the student well. For Language & Literature English Majors: if taken as ENGL 344, this course counts as a Forms and Genres; if taken as ENGL 444, this course counts as a Senior Capstone. This course may also count as an English major elective in the Creative Writing or Language and Literature Pathways. For non-English majors, this course counts as a VLPA.
ENGL 336 (5 credits): Modernist London: The City as Text and Textile
Jessica Burstein, UW Faculty
As an artistic current and social phenomenon, modernism and modernity are inextricably linked to urban life; London is and was a vital center to both. Literature, fashion, and visual art spring up engaging the new status of crowds, public transit, crime, and the urban pressures exerted on bodily and mental experience. Blaring traffic and new forms of advertising like sky-writing compete for attention with the spectacle of a shifting public comprised of the hitherto marginalized, unescorted females, queer sorts, dandies on parade, and even the unobserved flâneur. The audience has become the performance.
Beginning in the 19th century and moving through the 20th, with a final leap into the contemporary moment, "Modernist London" uses the city of London as its grounding text. The class will spend roughly half of its time in the classroom and half outside of it, going on tours and getting a sense of the terrain described in the texts: on the streets or in the buildings, cafés, or museums.
The appetizers will be one of the most important accounts of the city, Georg Simmel's 1909 essay on "The Metropolis and Mental Life,” in which the sociologist argues that the metropolis shapes the psychology of its inhabitants. (If that doesn't surprise you, it's because you're blasé, which Simmel identified as a response to urban living.) We will do some fun work on flâneurie—the activity of observing city life aesthetically from a particular kind of distance.
After this brief set-up, we are ready for London in all its fascinating particulars, and delve into literature on site. We will start with the seedy side, with extracts from journalist Henry Mayhew’s nineteenth-century London Labor and the London Poor. Staying with the “lower” classes even as we move into the rise of aestheticism, we will read Oscar Wilde's extremely beautiful, queer, and slippery The Picture of Dorian Gray, go on a Jack the Ripper tour, visit a beautiful aestheticist homespace, and hopefully get a chance to tour a music hall, a space akin to vaudeville that operated in the 19th and early 20th centuries’ as a multi-entertainment venue in which lower and upper-classes mingled. Other texts are likely to include Conrad's The Secret Agent, which features the impact of anarchist and terrorist agitation in early twentieth-century London. For that novel we'll go to Greenwich, learn about the establishment of Greenwich Mean Time, and stumble on some tree roots (Note: this aspect of the class will be a challenge for those in wheelchairs, but with notice I will seek to adjust the demands of that terrain).
Then, shopping and shell shock: We follow the steps of characters in arguably the most important modernist novel of the 20th century, Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway (1925): tracing the steps of a male shell-shocked war veteran and a female urban shopper preparing for her party as they traverse London over the course of single day. Too, we read the essays Woolf wrote on “The London Scene” for that surprisingly modernist journal known as Good Housekeeping, describing parts of London such as its shopping district, docks, and churches. We will pay especial attention to the birth of the first English avant-gardes: one was born in the tea room of the British Museum; another one, Vorticism, valorized speed and mechanism and the rise of the new, even while oddly making a point of trying to keep some paintings in the National Portrait Gallery safe from women agitating for the vote.
We may investigate London suffragist fashion—women agitating for the vote and role of clothing, and see if the London Fashion and Textile Museum has some material to thread through our modernism. Depending on what British Vogue is up to while we’re there, this magazine may serve as one of our primary texts: you will learn to close read an image, and bring together the way that fashion—like modernism’s—obsession with the new is irrevocably stitched to its past.
Our texts then will include novels, manifestos and poetry, and we will even investigate how the most quotidian experience of the London Underground—the Tube—is part of the birth of modernism, with a visit to the London Transit Museum. (Please mind the gap.) If time allows, we will close by reading a 21st century London novel by the inimitable Zadie Smith, in order to consider a brilliant writer who takes modernism as a vital starting point for the contemporary novel.
Student responsibilities will include active and informed participation in class discussion, response papers, attentive walking and looking, and 2 short papers. This class will fulfill both a writing and history requirement.
Learning outcomes: You will emerge with a lively and informed sense of London's cultural history (19th century and forward), with a special attention to the role of the Great War, the role of women on the streets and how gender and social class impacts citizenry, an awareness of avant-garde art, some fashion theory and above all the technique and importance of close reading texts and material history. You will become a better writer-for as we learn from the modernist Oscar Wilde, style matters.
This course counts as histories requirement for language and literature. If you have already taken ENGL 336, please contact Amy Feldman-Bawarshi (email@example.com). ENGL 336 is a Histories course and can apply either toward the English language & Literature Distribution requirement OR English electives.
ENGL 363: Art, Architecture, Literature, and Society in London (5 Credits)
This course is interdisciplinary. The material is London itself. The course is taught entirely on the streets and in buildings, ranging from medieval, Elizabethan and Jacobean to Victorian, modern and post-modern. As well as equipping students to look more carefully at buildings, pictures, and sculpture, the course encourages them to consider what it might have been like to live at different times in the past, as a member of different social classes. Field trips to locations like Stratford-Upon-Avon are included, typically via chartered bus with professional drivers. Students stay in established B&B's for any overnight trips. The course is taught in the British University style, culminating with a final examination and student project, as well as weekly journal entries for sites visited. Site visits and walks are on-the-go class lectures; students are encouraged to take notes and ask questions along the way.
Learning goals include:
As well as equipping students to look more carefully at buildings, pictures and sculpture, the course encourages them to do some imaginative re-creation, considering what it might have been like to have lived at different times in the past as a member of different social classes. Student also emerge with a highly educated sense of how to “read” physical space, and understand the context of different historical periods. For English majors: This course is an English elective and meets 5 credits of pre-1900 course-work toward the English major. This course may count as an English major elective in the Creative Writing or Language and Literature Pathways. Non-English majors: This course counts as a VLPA.
HSTEU 490: Contemporary Britain (5 Credits)
This course introduces students to various aspects of life in Britain, from royalty to the homeless, from politics to sport. There is a major emphasis on direct contact with the people and institutions of contemporary Britain, including meetings with homeless people and politicians, visits to Parliament and the media, and individual research projects which encourage students to follow up their own interests. The course also looks at issues such as race, crime, the family and the problems (and delights) of being young in Britain today. The course enables students to gain a deeper understanding of contemporary Britain and equips them better to understand their own society. Students will be assessed based on participation, a mid-term exam, a final exam, and individual projects.
Learning goals include:
Direct contact with the people and institutions of contemporary Britain provides students with knowledge about the complex, specific interrelations of an individual's place in society. Active engagement alongside exams allows focus and exposure to the history of the present moment, and individual projects foster a creative and grounded approach to education. This course counts as an IS (Individuals and Society) general education requirement-- or if already fulfilled, will apply toward general electives toward graduation requirements.