BA Art History and English Literature
Year of entry: 2020
Course unit details:
Humans and other Animals in Contemporary Literature
|Unit level||Level 3|
|Teaching period(s)||Semester 2|
|Offered by||English and American Studies|
|Available as a free choice unit?||No|
The question of what distinguishes humans from other animals has forever fascinated the human imagination. This course explores how the human-animal question is approached in contemporary literature. How do contemporary literary texts portray distinctions between humans and other animals? What are the philosophical, ideological, and political implications of such portrayals? If humans are distinguished from other animals on the basis of their possession of certain qualities such as speech, then what does this mean for groups of people who are deprived of their capacity to speak? Week-by-week, we will approach such questions by concentrating on literature that introduces us to rational beasts, poor beasts, migratory or colonized beasts, and of course to edible ones. In doing so, we will unearth connections between animal studies and feminism, post/colonialism, scientific innovations and environmental concerns, as well as consumerism and profit-driven economic systems.
The aims of this course are:
- to introduce students to 20th and 21st-century literary texts and to themes including exploitation, consumerism, scientific innovation, forced migrations, environmental concerns, inequality, and ethics;
- to introduce students to critical animal studies;
- to explore the intersections and connections between critical animal studies and feminism, post/colonialism, ecocriticism, and Marxism;
- to explore questions of cultural difference by engaging with texts by authors with different cultural and racial backgrounds;
- to read works in a range of different genres including the contemporary realist novel, the historical fantasy novel, speculative fiction, dystopian fiction, as well as ‘absurdist’ texts;
- to engage with relevant critical, philosophical, and polemical writings;
- to develop skills of critical thought, speech, and writing in relation to the topics listed in point 1 above;
- to develop teamwork organizational and presentational skills through preparing and delivering group presentations.
The texts and topics listed below are indicative:
-Atwood, Margaret, The Handmaid’s Tale – feminism and critical animal studies
-Butler, Octavia, ‘Bloodchild’ – ‘hosts and parasites’ / forced migration
-Coetzee, J. M., Elizabeth Costello – the rights of animals
-Ishiguro, Kazuo, Never Let Me Go – scientific innovation / exploitation / human farming
- Kay, Jackie, ‘Shell’ – transformation / crossing boundaries
-Ozeki, Ruth, All Over Creation – genetic modification, environmental activism, capitalism
-Suskind, Patrick, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – wealth inequality / animalization of the poor
Teaching and learning methods
This class will comprise of a 1 hour weekly lecture and a 2 hour weekly seminar.
The lecture and seminar in one of the weeks (e.g. week 7) will be replaced by a conference-style session which will include group presentations (15 minutes per presentation) and a Q&A session (c.5 minutes per presentation).
Materials (e.g. lecture slides, study questions, and handouts) will be posted on Blackboard each week.
Knowledge and understanding
By the end of this course, students should be able to:
- demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of critical animal studies;
- engage in thoughtful ways with a range of 20th and 21st-century literary texts;
- identify ways in which the human-animal question relates to key concerns such as the environment, consumerism, scientific innovations, as well as gender and wealth inequalities.
By the end of this course, students should be able to:
- think critically and make critical judgments about the depiction of humans and animals in literature and the implications of such depictions;
- analyse course texts in an effective and thoughtful manner;
- identify key problems in the glorification of concepts such as ‘nature’, ‘reason’, and/or ‘efficiency’, as well as understand issues concerning the concept of ‘value’ (inherent or added);
- reflect critically on key feminist, post/colonial, and ecocritical topics emerging from literary engagements with the human-animal question;
- develop and articulate reasoned arguments about the human-animal question in a selection of literary texts.
By the end of the course, students will have demonstrated that they are able to:
- plan and execute independent research on a specialist topic;
- synthesize material from different sources (e.g. critical, philosophical, and literary) in order to develop – orally and in writing – clear, reasoned and convincing arguments;
- make good use of library resources pertaining to the course;
- make use of and develop team-work skills in the delivery of a clear and engaging presentation on a topic relevant to critical animal studies;
- provide feedback to peers by asking questions in response to the presentations of other teams and/or by commenting on them in a respectful and constructive manner.
Transferable skills and personal qualities
By the end of the course, students will have developed the ability to:
- retrieve, sift, organize, synthesise, and critically evaluate material from a range of different sources;
- organize, prepare, and deliver oral group presentations in front of an audience (peers and instructor);
- display negotiating skills and put a point forward in a persuasive manner by participating in structured debates in class (during which a key argument is either defended or rejected);
- produce written work using appropriate language for an academic audience;
-demonstrate good networking and teamwork skills by working with others on the oral presentation and the in-class debates.
- This course enhances student employability by giving students a range of transferable skills. These include: logical thought; good oral and written communication skills; good presentation skills through formal class presentations and structured debates; resourcefulness in the ability to gather, interpret, analyze and/or evaluate critical sources; persuasiveness through participation in class debates; time management skills through the completion of deadline-driven work.
Formative or Summative
Weighting within unit (if summative)
1 x Oral Group Presentation
1 x Written Group Report
1 x Essay
-Atwood, Margaret, The Handmaid’s Tale
-Butler, Octavia, ‘Bloodchild’ from Bloodchild and Other Stories (students can be provided with a scan)
-Coetzee, J. M., Elizabeth Costello
-Ishiguro, Kazuo, Never Let Me Go
- Kay, Jackie, ‘Shell’, in Why Don’t You Stop Talking? (students can be provided with a scan)
-Ozeki, Ruth, All Over Creation
-Süskind, Patrick, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
|Independent study hours|
Timetable for 2019/20:
Lecture: Mon 2pm - 3pm
Seminar 1: Tue 9am - 11am
Seminar 2: Tue 1pm - 3pm