FAQs for English 244

English 244: Theory

  • What is English 244? This course explores theoretical formulations that inform the work of literary study, examining what different methodologies value, how they are articulated, and how they assign meaning to texts. The course focuses on at least three distinct critical methods, and it includes both the use of theory in interpreting specific literary texts and the critical scrutiny of theoretical texts themselves.
  • How much literature should I assign in English 244? While it’s not required that you teach literary texts in English 244, it is highly recommended. However, the primary focus of the course should still be the theoretical texts. If your course, for example, is organized around three units then it would be reasonable to assign one short literary or cultural text (such as a novella or film) in each unit to ground the theoretical discussion. You’ll notice that some of the sample syllabi use a critical work as a starting point to show students how the conversation in that critical work builds on several theoretical arguments. Students then read the key theories the critic has used to develop his or her own argument. This approach might be one way of organizing a unit in English 244 and integrating a literary text.
  • Should I assign some kind of introductory text that defines and explains the role of theory in literary studies? Yes, you might want to consider beginning your course with some kind of text that helps define the role of theory in literary studies since your students will likely have had limited exposure to theory. (Some instructors have assigned excerpts from Jonathan Culler’s A Very Short Introduction to Literary Theory.)
  • Is there an imperative to survey theory in this course or to give students as much coverage of theory as possible? No, this course shouldn’t attempt to survey theory but instead should focus on three theoretical schools. (However, it’s understandable if there is some overlap between the schools.) The goal is to teach students to see how theory can provide diverse and often conflicting approaches to the study of literature. The course, however, shouldn’t only focus on postcolonial theories or queer theories. Rather, you might have a unit on postcolonial theory, a unit on queer theory, and a unit on affect theory. While there might be some overlap between the units, you should make sure to also teach theories from different traditions.
  • Where can I find sample syllabi and assignments from past sections of English 244? Please click here for sample syllabi. Here are Karen Weingarten’s prompts for the first and second papers she assigned. More sample assignments can be found in the links above.
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About Karen Weingarten

Karen Weingarten is an assistant professor at Queens College.
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