English R1B

Reading and Composition: Creation and Creativity

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
17 Spring 2013 Saltzman, Benjamin A.
TTh 11-12:30 225 Wheeler

Book List

Alexander (trans.), G.: Sidney's 'The Defence of Poesy' and Selected Renaissance Literary Criticism (Penguin Classics); Kaufman and Sternberg: The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity; Murray and Dorsch (trans.): Classical Literary Criticism (Penguin Classics); Robinson, K.: Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative; Strunk and White: The Elements of Style

Other Readings and Media

Students will also be required to purchase a reader containing material from Augustine, Bede, Chaucer, Genesis, Milton, Plato, and Shakespeare.


“It is only good for God to create without toil; that which man can create without toil is worthless.” – John Ruskin

Creativity was not always a concept applied to the human potential to conceive of something original, to invent something novel, to produce something out of nothing. Aristotle regarded poetic creativity as primarily a mimetic (imitative) process. In the Middle Ages, creativity (from Latin ‘creare’ [to produce]) seems to have belonged predominantly to the domain of God—the Creator of the universe, the Poet of the world. And it has been argued that “the Renaissance discovery of creativity” was an application of the medieval Christian idea of God as the ultimate Creator—having created the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing)—to the work of human ingenuity. The Renaissance application of this idea to human endeavors—supposing that humans too could create something out of nothing—is largely responsible, so the argument goes, for the way we conceive of creativity in the western world today. Two problems arise: first, the Middle Ages and the conceptions of creativity (both divine and otherwise) developed therein are not so simple; and second, how we think of creativity in the western world today has come under serious consideration from scholars of various disciplines (e.g., psychology, history, education). This course will examine classical, medieval, and early-modern ideas of creativity, narratives of creation, and a even few creative products (e.g., poems, sculptures, plays) in order to gain a deeper understanding of what it actually means to “create.” We will also survey the current state of the field of creativity studies. Over the course of the semester, each student will develop a unique research project that investigates some aspect or manifestation of creativity, whether ancient or modern.

Good research requires creativity. In this course, we will encounter the fundamental (and often paradoxical) burden of the researcher: on the one hand, the researcher must gather knowledge and take stock of what research and ideas have come before; on the other, in order for research to be significant, it must be “original,” it must uncover something new about the topic at hand, and it must—above all—produce new knowledge. While honing our reading and interpretive skills, we will have an opportunity to experience that burden and to discover the great joy of producing original research. 

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