ENGL 2504 British Literary History after 1660

Instructor contact:

Dr. Rebecca Schneider (she/her)


About the Course:

This section of ENGL 2504 surveys how Black people, including African slaves and free people of color, influenced British literary history after 1660. The course covers both representations of Black lives by non-Black authors as well as Black self-expression in myriad literary forms.

The first unit investigates the construction of black masculinity in the British literary imagination largely through the historical African-Jamaican figure of Jack Mansong and the Black British actor Ira Aldridge. We will begin with Aphra Behn’s short novel Oroonoko (1688), sometimes considered to be the first novel in English. Then we will read Edward Young’s play The Revenge: A Tragedy(1721) paired with William Earle’s novel Obi; or, The History of Three-Fingered Jack(1800). We will supplement our close reading and critical inquiry with Frances Botkin’s Thieving Three-Fingered Jack: Transatlantic Tales of a Jamaican Outlaw(2017).

In our second, shorter unit we will attempt to revise, or at least broaden, the concepts of both race and gender introduced in the first unit. We will consider texts through which black British citizens speak for themselves on their own terms (as far as can be determined). First we will read portions of Gustavus Vassa’s (a.k.a. Olaudah Equiano) Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano(1789), Robert Wedderburn’s The Horrors of Slavery(1824), and The History of Mary Prince(1831). These texts will also allow for discussion of the abolition movement and a nuanced look at the factors that spur social change. We will close the unit and the term with the poetry of Warsan Shire, in Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth(2011), and Dorothea Smartt, in Reader, I Married Him & Other Queer Goings-on(2014).

Objectives for doing literary analysis in this course:

  • Comprehend basics like what actions are happening to which subjects/things in course texts. What’s literally in the text? (Assessed via weekly reading quizzes.)
  • Intuit or deduce the possible implications of the events in course texts. What’s just below the surface? (Assessed via online discussion and the formal essay.)
  • Synthesize personal experience and knowledge of the world with ideas/topics in course texts. Synthesize knowledge gained through research. (Assessed via the BIPOC literary history essay and the formal essay.)
  • Analyze a text’s implications to identify the stakes of the narrative. What’s significant about the implications? (Assessed via online discussion and the formal essay.)
  • Identify and evaluate gaps in your existing knowledge about topics introduced by course texts. Decide what additional info you may need in order to complete your textual analysis. (Assessed via background context posts and the formal essay.)

Required texts:

Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko and Other Writings. ISBN 978-0199538768 (this edition required)

Botkin, Frances. Thieving Three-Fingered Jack. ISBN 978-0813587394

Earle, William. Obi; or, The History of Three-Fingered Jack ISBN 9781551116693(this edition required)

Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Any edition.

Prince, Mary. The History of Mary Prince. Any edition.

Shire, Warsan. Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth. ISBN 978-1905233298

Smartt, Dorothea. Reader, I Married Him & Other Queer Goings-on. ISBN 978-1845232870

Grading criteria:

Canvas homework (worth 50% of your overall grade), including weekly reading quizzes, background context posts, and student-created discussion question prompts.

BIPOC literary history (25% of overall grade) inspired by the premise of the course itself, you will brainstorm, draft, research, and submit a Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color (BIPOC) literary history of your hometown (or region/state) “after 1660.”

Literary analysis essay (25% of overall grade): 5-8 pages making a concise claim based on analysis of an assigned literary text and four or more secondary sources. It should demonstrate awareness of a specific real-world context that relates to your analysis of the literary text.


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