Text Box: Lit 379: Early Modern Literature: Brave New World: Literature, Geography, Printing

Autumn 2008
Dr. Meg Roland

Office Hours: By appointment.

--from The Shepherd’s Kalendar, c. 1507

Course Description:

The early modern era brought to England the glittering but dangerous court of the Tudors, new poetic forms, bitter religious conflict, encounters with new lands, and the growth of printing.  As part of the context for reading literature of the Tudor era and seventeenth century, we will study early modern maps and, more locally, delve into our own university rare book room to each explore, in depth, a single early printed book.  Read behind the popular Tudor’s series on Showtime.


Extended Description:

This term our class will focus on the period of English literature and history marked by the reign of the Tutors, from 1485 to 1603, and mid-way into the seventeenth century.  Our primary focus will be on the sixteenth century and its pivotal role in the transition from the medieval to the early modern.  This period is also known as the Renaissance, especially when used to reference Italian and Continental literature and art.  The term “Renaissance” means a re-birth and is used to signify the renewed interest on the part of Humanists in classical texts and learning; until the mid-1400s knowledge of the Greek language and Greek texts was quite limited.  In 1453, with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, scholars fleeing Constantinople brought with them Greek manuscripts and their knowledge of Greek.  As one example germane to our course of study, the Geographia, written by Claudius Ptolemy in the 1st century A.D. in Greek, was first translated into Latin in Italy in the mid-1400s, significantly shaping geographic knowledge in Europe on the eve of the age of exploration.  The term “Early Modern” has increasingly been used to refer to English literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to emphasize English popular culture, literary forms and the impact of the Reformation in relation to  modern social and intellectual conceptions. 


Thus the sixteenth century is both a period of revived classical learning, known as the development of Humanism, a period of nascent modernity, yet also a period very much connected to medieval literary forms and authors.  It is also marked, of course, by the influence of two of the most powerful royal personalities in English history: Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I.  We will read texts written for the court and consider the impact of these monarchs on the literature of the period.  Our reading in this period will, of course, include the poetry and playwriting of perhaps the most influential writer in English, William Shakespeare.  We will read a fair amount of poetry written for an aristocratic audience during this period and learn some basics about prosody and poetic structure, in particular, the classic form of the sonnet.   But we will also read texts “from below,” texts such as the popular Shepherd’s Kalendar that were meant for a broader, though still limited, audience. 


Cartography and Printing:













Our study of the literature of the period will be informed by two concurrent cultural developments of the period: the development of print culture and the development of the cartographic representation of geography—a new print practice intimately connected with exploration and colonization.   In the late 1500’s William Caxton set up the first printing press in England:  we will consider the relationship between the material form of books and the reciprocal impact of print and culture.  We will welcome a guest scholar to campus: Dr. William Kuskin will talk about early modern printed texts and contemporary graphic novels.  As Dr. Kuskin has noted, the history of the early book “can teach us how the transition from one mode of production to the next inflects cultural practice in lasting ways” (Caxton’s Trace).  As we currently find ourselves in the midst of another major transition--from print to digital culture--we can draw parallels to current changes in literary practice and writing culture.

To ground our study of the early book in the materiality of the book, we will take two field trips: one to our own university archives and one to Multnomah County Library’s Wilson Room, a notable collection of rare books.  Each student will conduct a “biography” of a book by researching its early print history and by learning to handle rare books in a research setting.  We will deepen out experience of being bibliophiles—lovers of books!  Of course, being “post-moderns,” we will also learn to use online databases (ESTC, EEBO) to help us discover information about a book’s early print history and locate which research libraries hold copies of the book.


Despite increasing exploration and the proliferation of world maps printed on the continent, English printers chose not to produce world maps during the sixteenth century; I’d like to engage our class in pondering this paradox and consider the role of narrative in the dissemination of geographic thought in England.  We will look to literary and popular texts to investigate the ways in which English geographic imagination played out in verse and prose rather than in cartographic representation.  We will also look at world maps from the late medieval and early modern period that were circulating in England and, after the mid sixteenth century, produced in England.


Learning Outcomes:

LAC Learning Outcomes: This class meets the Liberal Arts Core Outcome LLE4:   Demonstrate familiarity and proficiency in scholarly writing within their major discipline.  It may also be used to meet AIB4: Critically discuss how works of art embody and/or contest socio-cultural contexts and values, OR HCD5: Interpret artifacts or events as products of cultural, economic, and social processes.

Department Outcomes:

1.       Develop well-argued interpretations of texts based on close reading.

2.       Demonstrate the ability to critically examine the relationship between literature and its historical and cultural contexts.

3.       Demonstrate knowledge of literary history and major literary movement.

Additional Outcome:

Use the cross-disciplinary study of geography, cartography, and book studies to read and interpret early modern literature.


Required Texts:

Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. B: The Sixteenth Century/ The Early Seventeen Century. 8th Edition New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2006.

Handout of Critical Essays: These will be given out in class.

Hacker, Diana.  The Writer’s Reference.  New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2003.  This is the writing handbook adopted by the university for use by all undergraduate students.  This should reside by your computer to be consulted for all written assignments.  If you already have a good writing handbook, you may substitute that text. 


Gibaldi, Joseph, ed. MLA Handbook for Writer’s of Research Papers, 6th edition. New York: MLA, 2003.


About the Instructor:

This course follows my own passionate interests in material culture of the book and early printed maps.  I am thrilled to be teaching this course as it gives me the opportunity to read more widely in the early modern period, the “sister” period to my primary research interest, the late medieval period.  I did my dissertation at the University of Washington on Caxton’s edition of Le Morte Darthur and the impact of emerging geographic paradigms on the editing of that text by Caxton.   My Ph.D. is in medieval literature and textual studies. 


This past summer, I attended a seminar in London on early cartography, spending a week with the foremost authorities on English cartography and handling many early maps in the Map Room at the British Library under the direction of the British Library map Curator Peter Barber (a thrill!).  In the spring, I will be giving a paper at the Renaissance society of America on research I have done on the Shepherd’s Kalendar and Compost of Ptolemy.  Later in the spring I have been invited to give a plenary talk at an Interdisciplinary conference of geographers, historians and literary scholars at UCLA.  The conference is titled Mapping Medieval Geographies.


Writing in the Discipline

Probably unbeknownst to you, this class is designated a Writing in the Discipline (WID) class, as are all “period studies” in the ELW program.  This means that we will meet the university requirement (one I wholeheartedly support) that students meet Liberal Arts Core Outcome LLE4:   Demonstrate familiarity and proficiency in scholarly writing within their major discipline.

Information about WID courses:

In WID courses, writing assignments have been designed that provide significant opportunities for students to learn about a discipline or a particular body of knowledge, its methods of scholarship and modes of communication.


All WID courses are characterized by the following:


1) Informal, ungraded, or minimally graded writing is used

as a mode of learning the content material.


2) Students practice the conventions of writing in their

discipline and the proper use of materials from external



3) Students complete at least 5,000 words (20 pages) of

writing, of which at least 2,000 words (8 pages) are

polished, formal assignments that have been revised.


4) Students are guided through the whole writing process

and are expected to revise drafts based on feedback

from peers and faculty.


Documentation Style

Students writing papers for English Literature and Writing classes should use the MLA documentation and citation system.  Information on MLA and other citation styles can be obtained from A Writer’s Reference, the MLA Handbook (see above), and from the Marylhurst University Writing Center.


Class Routine 

We are a small seminar of self-selected, bright students.  I will ask each of you to prepare some questions for class on a particular week. Class will be a mix of discussion, student presentations, films, and peer groups.  It is essential that you come prepared for class by having read the readings and that you participate in class discussions.  We have two field trips scheduled that please the inner bibliophile in you and we have a guest speaker on the evening of October 27th.  This lecture is required although it does not meet during our regular class time.  Please see me if this poses a difficulty for you.  For the weekly reading and assignments please see the Class Schedule handout.



One short paper (2-4 pages) that explores a geographic metaphor in one of the literary texts we are reading or that provides a close reading of the text.


One book “biography,” preferably done in Powerpoint, presented to the class.  Research either a book in our university archives or in the Wilson Rare Book Library to learn about its publication history.  You could research a text that we are reading for class or work with a text in the archives.  You will learn to use the Short-Title Catalogue and Early English Books Online to help locate images of the early printed text.


Literary Geospace—To be honest, I don’t actually know what this assignment will be exactly!  My idea is to ask you to provide a spatialized reading of a work of literature, or a literary reading of a map.  We will figure this assignment out together.  What does it mean to read a text for its spatiality?  This assignment can be done collaboratively and could be done as a hypertext project.  Let’s have fun with this.


Final Paper—an eight-page paper that explores the relationship of a work of early modern literature in relation to cartography and geography.  We will have time to prepare a draft to be read by peers and to get feedback from me (per the WID philosophy).


Assessment and Evaluation

Your final grade will be calculated on the following basis:

10%        Class participation and preparation for class. 

20%        Mid-term paper

20%        Book Biography

20%        Literary Geospace Assignment

30%        Final Paper.  10% of this grade includes having the draft ready by the due date and participation in the peer review process.


v  Participation:  This includes preparation for class and timely attendance at all classes.  It also includes active reading in preparation for participation in class discussion and having drafts ready for peer review. I am going to make a blog for this class and ask each of you to be the lead blog poster one week of the term by providing a synopsis of one of the texts assigned and posing some questions for class discussion.


You must complete all assignments to get a grade in the course; assignments must be handed in during class on the day they are due.  Late papers will receive a reduced grade.  Weekly attendance is extremely important to me and is required; please be punctual.  More than one absence will lower your grade by a half step for each additional absence (i.e. from B+ to B).  Contact me in case of medical or family emergencies.  I encourage each student to make an appointment for a conference with me to discuss your paper proposal as well as your work and ideas related to the class.

A = 100-93, A- = 92-90; B+ = 89-87; B = 86-84; B- = 80-83 C+ = 79-77; C= 76-74; C- = 73-70.


Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is based on sharing my love of literature with students in an environment that is intellectually challenging and that asks students to work to their highest potential.  The study of literature is one of the great preparations for a life infused with insight, independence, wit, intellectualism, beauty, pathos, and joy.  Somehow this will translate into meaningful work and civic engagement.  Through historical literature you can engage in a dialogue with voices from the past.  We will seek to contextualize and understand these voices, but be aware that these voices also seek us—be ready to listen!


Marylhurst is a non-traditional university with students who have busy lives.  Nonetheless, I expect my students to work to the same standards as their peers at any institution.  Henry David Thoreau claimed that the Concord River could be “read” as a great a river as the epic Euphrates or Nile, exclaiming, “Does not the sun shine on the Concord?”  Likewise, when it comes to intellectualism and creativity, I similarly claim, “Does not the sun shine on Marylhurst University?”  I expect great things of you.

I work out of the theoretical practice of cultural materialism and new historicism.  I am particularly passionate about book history and the way in which manuscript and book production and the materiality of books are key aspects of literary meaning.  Right now I am working on two books: a materialist history of the Malory texts (manuscript and print) and a study of literature and cartography in late medieval and early modern England.


Marylhurst Writing Standards

Writing is one of the central activities through which students learn, communicate, and demonstrate learning. Academic writing differs from other forms of writing in that it usually:

·         is appropriately narrow in focus,

·         presents an argument based on sound critical thinking,

·         draws upon and properly acknowledges the work of others, and

·         presents new understanding in an organized fashion.

Unless otherwise indicated by the instructor, all writing in Marylhurst University classes, from electronic bulletin boards, to personal essays, to formal research papers, will be evaluated on the basis of Standard American English, quality, creativity, effectiveness of argumentation and reasoning, and accuracy of information.  In addition, academic writing will be evaluated on the selection and use of appropriate supporting material.  Any information not original to the student must be cited in a recognized format—for example, APA, MLA, or Chicago—appropriate to the academic discipline.  Use of information or material from outside sources without proper citation is plagiarism and grounds for disciplinary action, see “Academic Honesty” in the 2002-04 Marylhurst Catalog, page 15, and “Conduct Code” in the Student Handbook.


Student Rights and Responsibilities

All members of the Marylhurst community are expected to act in ways that foster the university’s primary function of education.  Conduct that interferes with this educational responsibility will be dealt with directly.

Please refer to the Marylhurst University Student Handbook, for specific information about student rights and responsibilities, as well as the policies and procedures.  The Handbook is available online at: http://www.marylhurst.edu/student/resources/studenthandbook.html. For further information contact the Coordinator of Student Services at 503.636.8141, ext. 3344.



Turning in work created by another student or downloaded from the internet, failing to credit another’s ideas or words, or submitting papers intended for another class are typical instances of academic dishonesty.  If it is determined you have done so intentionally, you are likely to fail the assignment and possibly the course, despite points earned through other work. Engaging in plagiarism can result in dismissal from the University.  If you have questions about quoting or citing the works of other writers, ask me or the writing center tutor. 


Need for Accommodations 

Students who experience disabilities are encouraged to contact the Coordinator of Disability and Student Services at 503-636-8141, ext. 3344; TTY 503-699-6301; or email gstanfield@marylhurst.edu for assistance in requesting classroom accommodations.