This course explores literary history as a mode of inquiry, asking how authors and their creations have responded to predecessors, and how such responses have transformed literature in English over time. The course examines both how literary traditions have been constructed in the past and what conceptual tools we now have available for defining and describing literary traditions. The course includes material from before 1800 and after 1800, as well as material from at least two national literatures. The texts included span at least two centuries, with at least one portion of the course focused on poetry.
What are the defining features of humans? What do humans share with other animals, monsters, or technologies? What don’t they share? Why is it so difficult to define the human? Each of the literary works we’ll read in this section explores these questions, building on literary predecessors and influencing successors–sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, minimally, or obliquely. In every case, these texts reveal particular (and sometimes surprising) ways that writers have defined the human. We’ll discuss how those definitions are influenced by philosophical thinking, how they shape social behavior and personal relationships, and how writers from a variety of eras and cultures have contributed to evolving debates about the species that can’t seem to stop redefining itself.