English 174

Literature and History: History as Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2018 Thornbury, Emily V.
TTh 3:30-5 130 Wheeler

Book List

Keynes, Simon, and Michael Lapidge, trans.: Alfred the Great; McClure, Judith, and Roger Collins, trans.: Bede: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People; Thorpe, Lewis, trans.: Geoffrey of Monmouth: The History of the Kings of Britain

Other Readings and Media

A course reader.


Are the events of the world and human lives meaningful? And if they are, how do we discern the meaning?

History, as a form of narrative literature, seeks to answer these questions. In this class we will read a range of historical texts, with the goal of understanding the philosophies that helped their authors find meaning, and the literary techniques that allowed them to present their narratives as meaningful. Many of the issues we will address—the construction of authority and of identity; fictionality; realism as a literary effect—remain key questions in the study of narrative literature, whose contours were shaped by the creativity and skill of the histories we will read.

We will be reading two major histories in full: Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, and Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. Both drew on ancient and long-established genres; both were, in their way, radically experimental literary works which reshaped British literature. We will also consider excerpts from other writers ranging from Suetonius to Gibbon, and engage with intersecting genres like satire, polemic, biography, and hagiography. By the end of the course, students will have a better sense of how history has been created.

This section of English 174 satisfies the pre-1800 requirement for the English major.

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