English R1B

Reading and Composition: What Is Enlightenment?

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2013 Mangin, Sarah
MWF 9-10 222 Wheeler

Book List

Coetzee, J.M. : Elizabeth Costello; Shelley, Mary: Frankenstein; Swift, Jonathan: Gulliver's Travels;

Recommended: Hacker, Diana: A Writer's Reference, 7th edition

Other Readings and Media

A course reader


What constitutes cultural progress? How do we value the potential of a life and a mind? This course will explore some of the complicated legacies of the European Enlightenment. To begin, we will survey ways in which the Enlightenment remains both an ideal and an illusion as it is currently invoked in debates about American prisons and cognition in the Internet age. We will then turn to consider a variety of source materials from the crackling public sphere of the eighteenth century—popular magazines, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the paintings of Jacques-Louis David—all of which debate the nature of humanity and citizenship. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello will help us interrogate broader ethical, perceptual, and political anxieties about Enlightenment compacts in modernity. 

Amid these cultural contexts, our goal is to develop the range and depth of your thinking when approaching the college essay; we will consider matters of sentence craft alongside those of organization and critical reflection. In the final portion of the course, each student will investigate a topic that brings the themes of our readings into new focus and write a research paper. While we might not answer definitively the question of the course title, our task is that of transmuting “enlightenment” into essay form—into the convincing presentation of your discoveries.

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