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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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As part of my ongoing lecturer training programme I am required to design a twelve week syllabus for a period literature course running from 1860-1945. This was an exercise that I found useful as part of a training programme, but also, I would genuinely like to teach the course I designed! This aside, I thought I would articulate here a few of the issues that I encountered when undertaking this task.

Sketching out the course

The way I began thinking about this course was to try and get some core texts in place so that I could begin to trace a narrative. I started by writing out the weeks as headings on the page; a simple 1-12 scheme. I then divided the number of weeks by the timeframe (85 years) thus giving me approximately 1.5 weeks per decade. Being aware of this, and because of my research interest in contemporary post-war American fiction, I had decided in advance that I would like the last week to be a retrospective on the war: literature about 1860-1945 seemed to fit into the brief as long as this wasn't taken too far. I therefore first of all penciled in week 12 with Heller's Catch-22 and Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five.

So far so good. With the only really easy week in, there were several themes that I could think of as emerging in this period that would be useful for course coherence, foremost those framed by theoretical advances in the era: Europe/America dialogue, sexuality, economics, colonial marginalization and psychoanalysis. Cultural events that I would have to consider would include the industrial revolution; the American Civil War and the slavery that underpinned it; World War I and World War II.

World War I literature was a period with which I am fairly good, so I decided to write those two weeks straight off, guessing that around week 7 would be right:

Week 7: “Armageddonite Filth”: World War I and Modern Memory
This week, along with the next, will examine the poetry and prose of World War I in light of a cultural event that transformed the contemporary landscape. The importance of the theoretical reading (Fussell) this week cannot be underplayed.
Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory [1975], Chapter 1
John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields” [1915]
Siegfried Sasson, “Suicide in the Trenches” [1918]
Wilfred Owen, “Maundy Thursday” [1915]
Wilfred Owen, “Has Your Soul Sipped?” [1917]

Week 8: “One of the triumphs of civilization”: World War I, Woolf and the Psyche
In this continuation of the literature of and pertaining to World War I we will consider two of Woolf's works in relation to another significant theorist of the twentieth century: Sigmund Freud.
Sigmund Freud, “Thoughts for the Time on War and Death” [1915]
Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway [1925]
Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts [1941]

These weeks are serving multiple purposes. First off, they are introducing the cultural into the literary realm. Secondly, they are introducing key canonical texts: Woolf, Freud, Owen, Sassoon as well as the fantastic critical work of Paul Fussell. It also becomes clear that the best way to plot these things is over several weeks: a single week in isolation is no use whatsoever to weave a narrative.

Teaching and Learning departments and education studies

When I started this exercise, I had tweeted about this and, in response, actually received some great feedback... from my University's Teaching and Learning department. They directed me to their own course design page which has some good tips for writing learning outcomes in line with Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning Objectives.

In defense of education departments, top of the list of great work they do is a consideration of students with disabilities and a focus on different modes of teaching. I think it is absolutely essential that new university teachers have some formal training; being good at your discipline does not automatically make you a great teacher and, therefore, this is important. The department also helped me focus upon national regulative frameworks with which it remains imperative to comply, such as the QAA subject guidelines for English. They are also hugely progressive in terms of encouraging technological initiatives; many English Literature departments remain deeply conservative in their teaching and I have deliberately challenged this in my proposed assessment modes with the suggestion being to create a week-by-week podcast of students' presentations.

Other considerations

As I finished this exercise I decided to take a look on my department's website at the programme they run under the same title. While I had deliberately avoided looking at this beforehand, the scope and themes that I came up with were remarkably similar:

We are studying on this course one of the truly momentous and troubling periods of British and world history. Imperialist conflict, the growth of nationalism, war, migration, feminism and the struggle for women's suffrage, the development of consumerism and of new forms of economic organisation, the emergence of anarchism, socialism, communism and fascism, the creation of the mass press, the radio and cinema: these are some of the contextual forces out of which emerged some of the most challenging, demanding, fascinating, rich and bewildering works of literature in English. We will examine the links between modernity and modern/modernist literature in a range of texts, genres and authors, focusing mostly on texts that have become part of the canon of modern English literature, but with some forays into popular forms of literary production as well as more marginal writers. We will investigate notions of the avant-garde and the experimental in writing, and explore the ways in which literary texts participated in and responded to the revolutionary intellectual changes that marked this period: the impact of Darwinism; the development of psychology and psychoanalysis; scientific and philosophical revolutions in the conception of time and space. Some of the topics we will be investigating include: the consequences of science and technology (modernisation, urbanisation, sub-urbanisation); definitions and re-definitions of Englishness; the invention of traditions; the critique of modernity; the fate of liberalism; the impact of photography, the mass media and new forms of communication from the telephone to the motor car.

Another useful resource is the ever helpful/dubious Wikipedia. They have a series of pages entitled XXXX_in_Literature which provide a year-by-year breakdown of significant literary works. This is extremely useful when working outside your research comfort zone and also for scoping out texts time-wise (I am not so great at remembering exact publication dates). See, for example: 1861 in Literature.

The result

Anyway, if you are interested, here's the result: Martin Paul Eve, Literature 1860-1945 Syllabus (2011). [PDF]