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Extended Study to Ireland

ENGL 330 & ENGL 302: The Invention of Ireland, Medieval and Modern

On-campus linked courses followed by three weeks in Ireland

Directors: Prof. Michael Coyle & Prof. Morgan Davies, Department of English
On-campus course: Spring 2012
Tentative travel dates: May 22 - June 14, 2012
Course credit: Two credits


None; sophomores and juniors preferred

When Irish writers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries sought the means to legitimize Irish literature in the eyes of the world, they turned to the native Irish literary tradition of the early Middle Ages, where they found the kinds of epic, heroic, and mythological materials that would enable them to place their own tradition on an equal footing with those of other European nations. What they found was also a tradition deeply rooted in the landscape of Ireland: from the itinerary-based narratives to be found in the Irish Life of St. Patrick and the epic Tain Bo Cualnge to the vast collections of toponymic legends known as the Dindshenchas, Ireland itself figures as perhaps the most important literary creation of all — an all-encompassing palimpsest of history, the past kept present in the very landscape and its monuments. And this carefully constructed "Ireland" was a crucial part of the literary inheritance taken up by modern Irish writers like Yeats and Synge, for whom Ireland itself was an equally important source and subject for their work.

Students who take both English 330 and English 302 will have the opportunity to gain an informed critical perspective on how modern Irish writers appropriated and recreated their ancient literary heritage, and in the process they will also have the chance to develop a more refined and sophisticated insight into how and why the past can continue to matter in the present - a dynamic that was just as important in 12th-century Ireland as in 20th-century Ireland. The extended study component of the course will enable students to come to terms in a direct, immediate way with the importance of the relationship that has been unusually fruitful and determinative.

Participation and Registration

Students are required to take both of the linked courses: English 330, "The Invention of Ireland," and English 302, "Medieval Celtic Literature: The Irish Narrative Tradition." Students who have not taken the on-campus component of the course cannot join the off-campus extended study component in Ireland. Conversely, all students who take the on-campus component of the course must also participate in the extended study component.

Students must register for both English 330 and English 302. Final enrollment in these courses will be decided on the basis of instructors' permission.

Course Structure

English 330 and English 302 will function as discussion-oriented courses of reading. Students will meet once a week for the first 12 weeks of the semester, and they will use the final weeks of the term to complete term papers of around 15 pages on topics to be arranged in consultation with the instructor. Students will also be asked to hand in periodic short written exercises during the course of the on-campus portion of the class, and to make one 15-20 minute presentation in class. For the extended study portion of the course, students will write a 6-10 page paper on one or more of the sites or monuments we have visited in Ireland that are relevant to the student's term paper topic; in these papers, students will reflect on what their experience of such sites might add to the perspectives they have taken in their seminar papers.

English 330: The Invention of Ireland

Focusing on the so-called Irish Renaissance and the subsequent period of early statehood, but moving eventually forward toward the present day, this course will look at how Irish writers and poets worked to shape a distinctively and sometimes acutely self-conscious Irish tradition. During the four centuries and more of their domination of Ireland, the English worked steadily to eradicate all overt signs of Irish culture. Thus, writers of the Irish Renaissance saw themselves as having virtually to resurrect Irish literary traditions and even the Irish language. This course will be linked to Professor Davies's English 302 so that students will be able to see, first, the ancient traditions which the moderns sought to revive and appropriate and, second, how the ancient traditions survived in much-altered forms and were made to serve questions of modern national identity.

English 302: Medieval Celtic Literature: The Irish Narrative Tradition

When Frank O'Connor gave his A Short History of Irish Literature the subtitle A Backward Look, he was alluding not only to his own perspective on the tradition but also to the persistent orientation toward the past that has characterized much of Irish literature from its beginnings. In this course, we will examine those beginnings in the form of heroic and historical sagas, mythological tales, saints' lives, and other more miscellaneous narratives written between the seventh and the twelfth centuries, which help make Ireland's the richest — and the most exorbitant — vernacular literary tradition of early medieval Europe.  Like the texts we will be reading, we will be concerned with the interaction of Christian and native modes of literature and thought, with the relationship between past and present, and with the connections between a historically charged landscape and the literature it helped to generate.  But we will also be taking up such elemental matters as kingship and law, love and betrayal, sex and death, and the rich lexicon of metaphors to be milked from a primitive dairying economy.  This course will be linked with Professor Coyle's 330, which will enable us all to consider in greater depth and complexity the question of how the past can continue to be useful, or even vital, to the present.


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