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BA Art History and English Literature / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
Sex, Disease and the Body: 1660-1800

Unit code ENGL33082
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? No



In this course, we will explore how eighteenth-century British writers and artists represented the body, paying particular attention to the intersections between the body and sexuality and/or health.   We’ll consider different kinds of bodies—male versus female, healthy versus diseased, black versus white, old versus young, human versus animal—as well as different bodily processes, from sexual function to excretion.  We’ll also consider the various metaphors used to conceptualize the body and its uses (or abuses). Was the body a gift from God?  A commodity to be bought and sold via practices like prostitution or slavery?  A machine? A network of vibrating nerves? Looking at a range of art and literature produced between 1660 and 1800 (including cartoons, caricatures, engravings, poems, and novels), we will consider how and why eighteenth-century writers and artists imagined sex, disease, and the body. 


 - to analyse different theories of the body’s functions and processes and how they relate to imaginative portrayals of the body between 1660 and 1800
- to discuss different metaphors used to conceptualize the body and bodily processes in eighteenth-century literature and art
- to consider issues like gender and sexuality, race, aging, and how they affect representations of the body 
- to read works in a range of different genres and media, including cartoons, caricatures, popular engravings, poetry, novels, and non-fiction prose
- to engage with selected critical writings on eighteenth-century texts.
- to develop skills of critical thought, speech, and writing.

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course successful students will be able to:
- demonstrate familiarity with eighteenth-century works in a range of different genres (verse, allegorical prose, fictional prose, etc).
- discuss how ideas about the body developed in the long eighteenth century.
- discuss how theories about the body influenced, and were influenced by, representations of the body in imaginative literature and art.
- discuss how different bodies (the body politic, the body natural, the king’s body, the female body) and body parts were represented in the eighteenth-century imagination.


Intellectual skills

By the end of this course successful students will be able to:
- identify and explicate some of the changes in formal literary and artistic practice that occurred over the course of the long eighteenth century
- situate the works of several eighteenth-century writers and/or artists within their historical and cultural contexts


Practical skills

By the end of this course successful students will be able to:
- use textual evidence to formulate convincing critical arguments about course texts
- summarize and engage with the arguments in secondary texts
- generate thoughtful written work on course texts and themes
- speak clearly and articulately on course texts and themes
- introduce and defend ideas in a presentation

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course successful students will be able to:

- demonstrate skills of critical reading and critical thought
- present observations and arguments clearly and articulately
- construct clear, well-supported, and thoughtful critical prose
- engage in courteous and constructive discussion and/or debate with other seminar participants.

Employability skills

Oral communication
The participation mark will encourage you to practice your speaking skills in class: conquering embarrassment and nervousness is the first step in preparing yourself for a job interview. The seminar presentation will help you to develop teaching skills: these will be useful not only if you plan to go into education, but also in any career in which you are obliged to outline and explain information¿to clients, customers, coworkers, etc.
Written communication
The coursework and exam essays will develop your literacy, critical thinking, and writing skills. Advanced literacy is the primary skill you bring with you to the job market as a student of English and/or American literature. Writing well won¿t prove to prospective employers that you're intelligent - but it will certainly go a long way towards making them believe that you are.
The attendance mark for this course is designed to get you into the habit of going to work, even when you don't feel like it. As Woody Allen said, '80% of life is showing up.'

Assessment methods

Portfolio of weekly assignments 50%
Essay 50%


Feedback methods

 Students will be offered
- an optional meeting for formative feedback on the presentation
- formative and summative written feedback on the presentation
- an optional meeting for formative feedback prior to submission of the essay
- summative written feedback on the essay
- a meeting, after submission of the essay, to discuss summative feedback and provide formative feedback for the exam
- summative written feedback on the final exam (on request)

Recommended reading

 Indicative Reading List
Please contact the course unit director to confirm specific texts for next year.

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year* (you must buy the Penguin edition)

poetry by John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester (eg. “The Disabled Debauchee,” “Tunbridge Wells,” “The Imperfect Enjoyment”)

poetry by Jonathan Swift (eg.“The Lady’s Dressing Room,” “A Beautiful Nymph Going to Bed,” “The Progress of Beauty,” “Strephon and Chloe”)

Tobias Smollett, Humphry Clinker (Penguin edition; focus on volume 1)*

Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey (OUP edition)*

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility (OUP edition)*

We will also study graphic art by Hogarth, Gillray, Rowlandson, and others.  

All works marked with an asterisk must be purchased or checked out from the library.  All other course texts and images will be provided online and in a free course booklet. 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Fieldwork 2
Lectures 11
Seminars 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Noelle Gallagher Unit coordinator

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