Be honest—it’s hard to overestimate the excitement that overtakes campus whenever a new WesMaps is released. Students now giddily browsing through the Fall 2011 set of courses might notice that the gateway course for English majors, English 201–The Study of Literature, has undergone significant changes. The course, now called Ways of Reading, has been divided up into distinct sections that emphasize specific sub-genres and themes. These sections have been given titles, such as Borrowing & Stealing: Authorship Originality, Literature and/as Performance, and Reading for Genre: Form, History, Theory. Additionally, the class which was previously open to sophomores will now have a handful of seats open to freshmen.
“Each new English 201 section will be very wide ranging, just like the current English 201,” said Chair of the English Department Joel Pfister. “But it will have a theme that unites the analytical project. That was less so of the current English 201: it was more like an exposure to lots of good literature.”
Pfister said that the idea to alter English 201 began when they were re-evaluating the course names and descriptions of English classes for the coming year.
“We had an English 201 review committee, and we began thinking about the title a little more,” Pfister said. “The current title ‘The Study of Literature’ really describes what it’s introducing students to…but we began to think of a title that would be more of a thesis statement.”
English 201, first established in the late 1970s, is a mandatory course for all English majors. The course, which includes a study of poetry, drama and prose, is intended to provide students with basic English skills such as scansion and analysis of different types of literary forms. Pfister said that he thinks English 201 has been a hugely successful gateway course, but that the change in title led to the re-evaluation of the course as a whole.
“English 201 instructors draw largely [from] the same text[s], but over the years, more and more, they would want to put in texts that they loved,” Pfister said. “So each version of 201 was already being customized by the instructor. It wasn’t a common syllabus, which we thought was a good thing…this thinking kind of led us to a whole new range of options.”
A past student of English 201, who wished to remain anonymous, said she considered her experience in 201 to be positive and voiced some concerns about the new 201 courses.
“The discussions that took place inside the classroom were usually helpful,” the student said. “It was like a book club. I also saw a real progression in my writing. I do think that these new 201 classes will be a good idea, but I’m wondering if you will still discuss the specific tools of how to read literature…will you learn scansion, narrative form, meter, rhythm? I’m sure you’ll learn that in some of the 201 classes, but how will it be applicable in all of them?”
Professor of English Stephanie Weiner, who currently teaches a section of English 201, expressed enthusiasm about the new focus of the courses.
“For myself, I enjoy the way that focusing on ways of reading opens out into larger questions about what literature is, how it makes meaning, and how it presents and shapes the world,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “In all sections of the course, we see how theoretical and historical perspectives emerge out of and inform textual analysis—and it’s exciting to explore that process.”
Pfister echoed Weiner’s enthusiasm about the course.
“We are super-charged,” Pfister said. “We can represent our classes more accurately and dynamically to our students, and say, ‘Yes, you should get involved in this because you’ve got a whole range of interests.’ In fact, we can say that literature is one of the most inter-disciplinary things you can study. There’s always more to literature.”