Search | Directories | Reference Tools
UW Home > Discover UW > Student Guide > Course Catalog 

Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Katherine Cummings
ENGL 440
Seattle Campus

Special Studies in Literature

Themes and topics offering special approaches to literature.

Class description

English 440: “Tales of the City” I’ve borrowed the title from a series of fictions later produced as a television series about queer life in 1970’s San Francisco. This course is unlikely to return to that place and time, but I invoke the title to foreground what this capstone course will examine and to flag its approach. During the quarter we’ll read a number of urban fictions alongside visual media (eg., film and telelvision) and social theory that examine the city. A number of these texts explicitly or implicitly represent urban life as the model of national community; many home in on the disparity between the poor and the relatively well to do and/or the differential impacts of urban renewal. We’ll start our examination of the city with a flash back to the turn of the twentieth century representations of the city, briefly touch down on mid twentieth century representations of it, and fast forward to the present on which we will spend most of our time and which will include an examination of Seattle. Active participation in class, short responses to assigned readings, a group project, and 7-8 page final paper are required. Expect to read short fiction, essays and social theory—all collected in a course pack—in relation to visual media (for starters, Bladerunner and excerpts from The Wire) a few novels and one book length journalistic expose on New Orleans during hurricane Katrina. Books we’ll definitely read are Wideman’s Two Cities; Eggers Zeitoun and Baldwin's Another Country.

Student learning goals

1. Think critically about what they read 2. Make connections between literature, other cultural texts and their real world ramifications. 3. Write short critical responses to assigned readings and a 7-8 page final paper that demonstrate these critical skills. 4. Have a deeper, historical grasp of the role that cities have played in the shaping of American identity and challenges to it.

General method of instruction

This will be a discussion based class in which students are expected to participate.

Recommended preparation

This is an English capstone course, but I think the topic might well be of interest to non-English majors. Required texts are interdisciplinary.

Class assignments and grading

Students will be expected to write short critical responses to assigned tests (between 6-8) and final 7-8 page paper in addition to participating in a group project synced to class readings

Roughly 60-70% of the final grade will be based on class participation (i.e, in class discussion, the short critiques and group project). The remainder of the grade will be based on the final paper.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Katherine Cummings
Date: 12/04/2013