Alice L Pedersen
Examines the study of cultural forms, artifacts, and practices. May include art, art history, literature, theater, music history, ethnomusicology, dance, and/or religion. Topics and approaches may vary with instructor.
Fiction and rights: two novel ideas? What is the relationship between "human rights" and literature?
Both the novel and our modern conception of rights emerged in Europe during the period of the enlightenment. Scholars have argued that the two events are irrevocably linked – not only do novels “not work” without a central human figure, but also human rights “won’t work” without the ideals and narrative structure of the novel. In other words, rights are all about telling a compelling story: who, what, when, where, and why. So: who and what is that story about? And, what powers lie in the ability to name, narrate, and create?
In this class, we’ll examine this reciprocal and vexed relationship between the political, legal realm of rights and the aesthetic, seemingly personal realm of literature. Who is this human figure (both in rights and in books)? Who has historically been considered a "human", and who is its antithesis? How is this figure is racialized, gendered, and/or classed? How have these norms been challenged, and by whom?
Through this analysis, we will remain sharply attuned to how narrative norms and genre expectations can help and hinder this ideal of the human and his (her? their?) rights.
Primary texts might include works by Olaudah Equiano, Mary Wollstonecraft, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Mary Shelley, David Eggers, and the drafters of various Declarations. Additional theoretical texts include work by Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Lynn Hunt, WEB Du Bois, James Dawes, and Randall Williams.
Class will be run as a seminar, and students are expected to contribute in large and small group discussion every day. There will be one mid-term paper and a final exam, in addition to weekly shorter writing assignments and reading quizzes.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Most class periods will be a mixture of informal lecture, large group discussion, and small group work.
Please be prepared to read quickly. Most of our texts are 18th century novels are treatises, and we will be moving through them quickly. A typical reading load is 100-200 pages per night.
Class assignments and grading
Daily informal writing assignments and reading quizzes; a 5-7 page academic, analytic paper based on the course texts; a final exam.
20% in-class participation 20% Reading Captain 30% mid-term paper 30% final exam