English R1A

Reading and Composition: Creation Stories of the Premodern World

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
7 Spring 2019 Homans-Turnbull, Marian
MW 5-6:30 189 Dwinelle

Book List

Dalley, Stephanie, trans.: Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others; Snorri Sturluson: The Prose Edda; Tedlock, Dennis, trans.: Popul Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life; Wetherbee, Winthrop, trans.: Bernardus Silvestris: Poetic Works

Other Readings and Media

Additional readings will be made available via bCourses, including selected translations from the Sanskrit Rig Veda and Hebrew book of Genesis. 


How did the world as we know it come into being? Was there anything else before it? Who made it the way it is, and did they do it on purpose? For at least as long as humans have written stories, we have speculated about origins.

Towards an understanding of why these questions have motivated so many and varied responses, this course will survey some of the oldest texts that imagine the creation of the world and the beginning of human life—including sources from ancient Mesopotamia and India, medieval Iceland and France, and late Mayan Central America. We will examine how they imagine people in relation to their environments and each other, and the social structures and practices each presents as original; we will consider what, if anything, these texts present as wrong with the world, and how they explain or account for it. With the central goal of developing critical reading and analytical skills, we will discuss the literary genres and forms used to write about creation, and the rhetorical strategies involved—the ways in which stories make arguments, and arguments make use of stories. We will also attend to the mediated forms in which these stories reach us, and discuss the histories of conquest and canon formation, practices of editing and translation, and other forces that shape our reception.

In addition to reading and thinking, we will be guided by the goal of developing your expository and argumentative writing skills. We will talk not only about how course readings make arguments, but also about how to identify compelling questions, communicate clearly in writing, and make persuasive arguments of your own. You will develop, draft, peer-edit, and revise several short essays over the course of the term.

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