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English Freshman Course and Intensive Descriptions Fall '19

Course descriptions from the English Department to supplement the information in the college catalogue.

I. Introduction to Literary Study

English 170

English 170, Approaches to Literary Studies, is designed as an introduction to the discipline of literary studies.  While each section has a different focus (see descriptions below), they have a common agenda: to explore the concerns and methods of the discipline.  Topics range from specific critical approaches and their assumptions to larger questions about meaning-making in literature, criticism, and theory.  Assignments will develop skills for research and writing in English, including the use of secondary sources and the critical vocabulary of literary study.

Each section explores a central issue, such as “the idea of a literary period,” “canons and the study of literature,” “nationalism and literary form,” or “gender and genre” (contact the department office for current descriptions). Assignments focus on the development of skills for research and writing in English, including the use of secondary sources and the critical vocabulary of literary study. 

As an introduction to the discipline, English 170 is recommended, but not required, for potential majors.  It is open to first-year students and sophomores, and others by permission. Although the ideal sequence of English courses for first-year students interested in majoring in English is English 101 in the Fall and 170 in the Spring, 101 is not a prerequisite for 170.  First-year students wishing to take English 170 in the fall semester must have AP English credit. Students should not take 101 and 170 during the same semester.  Note that English 170 does not fulfill the Freshman Writing Seminar requirement. 


Mr. Chang             WF      12:00-1:15       CLS

Approaches to Literary Studies

Topic for 2019a:  Tools for Reading Narrative

Everyone today has a story to tell. But are all stories worth telling? What makes for a good story? What’s the difference between telling stories and telling lies? In order to come to terms with the “narrative turn” in the arts and sciences we will adapt a dueling approach: the first technical and the second imaginary. On the one hand, we will pillage useful studies of narrative from the ancients to the moderns. Here our goal will be to acquire a durable set of tools and concepts: plot, description, narrator, free indirect style, focalization, storyworlds, etc. On the other hand, to test these lenses, we will examine (and perhaps create) fictional texts that both bind and unravel narrative conventions. These might include: Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, Eileen Chang’s Love in a Fallen City, Franz Kafka’s “The Burrow,” Daniel Clowes’s graphic novel Ghost World, and short stories by Ernest Hemingway, Kathy Acker, Alice Munro, Lydia Davis, Mary Butts, and others.

I. Introductory Intensives


Ms. Kane              M         6:00-6:50         INT    

Improvisational Writing

This intensive uses techniques of improvisational generation of creative material, drawn from schools such as Oulipo, writers such as Raymond Roussel, and teachers such as Ruth Danon. All of them aim to subvert the critical mind in order to allow the unexpected to emerge in directed free writing exercises. The intensive consists of such writing exercises, as well as direction in using the material that emerges as a platform for further work and drafts.  It focuses on the genres of fiction and poetry.

This is a .5 unit intensive limited to 8 students.


Mr. Perez             W        1:00-3:00         INT    

Building a Queer Oral History

(Same as WMST) This intensive seeks to provide students with practical training and experience in conducting oral history interviews. The goal is for each student, by the end of the semester, to contribute an oral history (including transcription) to the Vassar College LGBTQ Oral History Archive. In addition to practical training, students will read about oral history methodology and theory in preparation for interviewing their subjects. Students will also familiarize themselves with the LGBTQ Oral History Archive collection. Additionally, students will collaborate in expanding the LGBTQ Oral History Archive to include a queer mapping component that geo-locates queer spaces and memories at Vassar and within Poughkeepsie. Our goal is to complement the oral histories in the collection with a map that documents the spaces that hold queer memories for our narrators. 

This is a 1 unit intensive limited to 4 students.