Undergraduate Spring term optional modules

Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Literature, Dr Juha Virtanen, gives an insight into the Spring term core and optional modules for undergraduate students.

Core module: Thinking Through Theory

As the core module for the Spring Term, this first-year module will introduce you to the theories that underpin the study of English, from the work of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud in the nineteenth century all the way to some of the most recent developments in twenty-first-century theories of race, gender and sexuality. Together, we will ask the big questions animating your English degree: what is literature? How do we interpret it? What does it tell us about the world? We will learn how to use theory as a way of thinking about literary texts, but also how to consider theory as a form of literature in its own right.

Most of the reading for this module will be available to students online, but if you wish to start exploring before you arrive, the module convenor Dr Will Norman recommends you consider reading:

  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (Vintage, 2018). This classic work of revolutionary politics will start you thinking about social classes and culture, as well offering a glimpsed vision of “world literature” 
  • Sigmund Freud, A Case of Hysteria (Dora), trans. Anthea Bell (Oxford World’s Classics, 2013). Freud’s strange case study of a real patient from the late nineteenth century will get you thinking about how we create and understand narratives, and questioning the role of gender and sexuality in the act of interpretation 

The module’s teaching team looks forward to thinking through – and thinking about – theory with you in the Spring Term.

Optional modules

Right/Write to the World: Displacement, Social Movements, Political Action

In this optional module for the Spring term, you will experience the power of literatures and arts that make a different better world, where we all have rights. You will travel across the globe and through 500 years to explore ways writers, poets, artists and filmmakers from different backgrounds have struggled to claim different rights, including human rights, animal rights, environmental rights and more. You will experience a range of literatures and arts and be introduced to charities and activist networks, all of which are committed to responding to key moments, movements and mobilities, and that have made a massive socio-political, economic and environmental impact.

There are no set books for the module. You will be provided with a reader and online material that consist of fictional and non-fictional works that are written, performative, audio-visual, and archival. As preparation, here are some core topics and relevant materials recommended by the module convenor Dr Bahriye Kemal:

The module will provide you with the chance to develop your own project that raises public awareness about a specific right, so that together we will make a different better world. It would be a good idea to start thinking about the specific right you would like to focus on and to start reading around it, this could include relevant proses, poems, a charity, a podcast and so on.

Romantic Ecologies and the Modern Invention of Nature

How can nature be invented? Before the Romantic era, writers such as Daniel Defoe talked of the horror, ugliness and ‘unhospitable terror’ of the Lake District. A hundred years later and the reputation of the region had been completely transformed into a place of beauty and contemplation. In this optional module for the Spring term, we will consider the literature from the Romantic period in order to think about how its debates are still with us today. The legacy of Romanticism might be seen in our understanding of global warming and climate change, informed as it is by Romantic concerns that urge us not to put the natural world in a frame on the wall, or to see it as a distant thing ‘out there’. Instead, they tried to make sense of what we were risking the loss of in the crazed rush to mechanisation, technology and urban living. Through the poetry, fiction, and essays that we will study, we will see how Romanticism is still with us, as are their concerns about the environment.

There are no set books for the module. Instead, your reading for it will be made available freely online. However, if you would like to start exploring before you arrive, you may wish to consider perusing the following texts:

  • Austen, Jane. (2019). Sense & Sensibility. Oxford: OUP.
  • Bate, Jonathan. (2001). The Song of the Earth. London: Picador.
  • Morton, Timothy. (2009). Ecology Without Nature. Boston, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Wordsworth, Dorothy. (2008). The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals. Oxford: OUP.
  • Wordsworth, William. (1995). The Prelude 1799, 1805, 1850. London: Norton.

You may also wish to watch this short documentary film, which one of the module’s students last year produced as her final project.

‘Black Girl Magic’: Contemporary Feminisms

In this optional module for the Spring term, you will have the opportunity to engage in focussed study of the literary, theoretical, and cultural contributions of women of colour to the Feminist movement, taking an intersectional and inclusive approach. You’ll be able to explore an exciting selection of feminist issues – from domestic labour to reproductive rights, and from sexual violence to mental health. Throughout, you’ll be able to study these intersections of Feminism in relation to race, sexuality, class, and disability.  Alongside literary and theoretical texts, the curriculum for the module will include a diverse array of cultural and political Feminist materials, including blogs, videos, music, and forms of activism.

Most of the reading for this module will be available to students online, but if you wish to start exploring before you arrive, you may wish to begin by reading the following texts:

  • Toni Morrison, Beloved
  • Zadie Smith, Swing Time

To find out more about the module, you may also wish to read the blog posts written by one of last year’s students, which is available in two parts here and here.