Undergraduate prospectus

Course Information

The Canon: A Short History of Western Literature

Module summary

Module code: ENGL1091
Level: 4
Credits: 30
School: Liberal Arts and Sciences
Department: Humanities and Social Sciences
Module Coordinator(s): John Morton



The course will enable students to understand the notion of literary tradition by familiarisation with a wide range of literary work from different genres. Students will be encouraged to understand literary works as aspects of a wider culture and to develop close reading skills. The course will develop students written and oral communications skills and enhance students’ essay writing and examination abilities.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course a student will be able to:

1 Demonstrate an understanding and knowledge of: the concept of literary tradition and of the literary canon
2 Demonstrate an understanding and knowledge of the concept of literary tradition and of the literary canon and the notion of literary works as aspects of a wider culture
3 Demonstrate an understanding and knowledge of changes in language and form across time and how these changes affect literature
4 Carry out close textual analysis in seminar discussions and essays
5 Trace relevant thematic and formal relations between the texts studied on the course
6 Analyse a text rather than describe it.

Indicative content

The course traces a tradition of literature in English through the chronological study of significant prose, poetry and drama from Homer to the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. As well as introducing a canon of English literature the course will consider the ways in which that canon is constantly being rewritten or challenged and will examine the relationship between literary works and wider culture. Term One could include The Odyssey by Homer, or another work of Classical literature. Thereafter the works could include: extracts from Chaucer and Paradise Lost; a representative Shakespeare play such as King Lear; extracts from an early novel such as Pamela; extracts from key essays by Paine and Wollstonecraft. Term Two could include examples of the novel such as Frankenstein and Jane Eyre; poems by Wordsworth, Tennyson, Hardy, Yeats and T.S. Eliot; plays by Beckett or Bond; postcolonial / postmodern re-writings such as Wide Sargasso Sea. The chronological structure of the course allows for an overview of developments in literary form that include the epic, Romantic poetry, realism, Modernism and postcolonial postmodernism.

Teaching and learning activity

There will be a lecture followed by a seminar. Lectures will draw out connections between texts in order to show how literature works by reading and re-reading the past. Lectures set the texts and their authors in a historical context, showing how literature is also a reading of a particular culture at a particular moment. The teaching in seminars will focus on students developing their close reading, critical and oral presentation skills in relation to the learning outcomes of the course.


Summary and Assessment of three scholarly articles/essays - 25% weighting, 40% pass mark.
Learning outcomes 1, 2, 5 & 6.
Three 750-word summaries of a scholarly articles or essays, using a proforma to be provided, from a list of suggested essays to be provided in the course handbook. 2250 words.

Essay - 45% weighting, 40% pass mark.
Learning outcomes 1 - 6.
An essay on any one of the texts studied with the exception of the exam text. Students must refer in detail to at least one secondary source. 2500 words.

Exam - 30% weighting, 40% pass marks.
Learning outcomes 1 - 6.
One question a contextual close reading of a passage from the exam text, the other a thematic answer on any text not previously studied. 2 hours.

Students are not required to pass all elements of assessment in order to pass the course.

Formative assessment - Students will be asked to conduct a 500-word diagnostic textual analysis of a poetry extract early in term 1. As this is a course which is offered to, and taken by, many students from outside the core discipline of English Literature, it will enable them to develop their skills in a non-assessed way in preparation for the essay and exam.