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Topics Courses Spring 2020

Otherness and Truth 

Instructor: Shaobo Xie

One of the defining features of contemporary critical thought is its infinite openness to the Other. In Foucault’s view, otherness is the hallmark of truth, and, as critics like Frédéric Gros and Barry Smart have pointed out, he never failed to anchor his concept of truth in a certain notion of otherness, ceaselessly formulating otherness without domesticating it into doctrine. At the heart of the legacies left behind by Levinas and Derrida is their infinite respect for otherness as well. Along the same lines, Alain Badiou notes in Philosophy in the Present, “The philosopher is always a stranger, clothed in his new thoughts,” for genuine philosophical commitment is “marked by its internal foreignness” (21).

This course explores such internal foreignness as encountered in a selection of leading critical thinkers and creative writers, situating them as a constellation of figures of radical otherness. Among the critical and theoretical texts are Foucault’s The Courage of Truth, Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Levinas’s Entre Nous: On Thinking-of-the-Other, Deleuze and Guattari’s “The Desiring Machines,” Derrida’s Specters of Marx, Lyotard’s “The Other’s Rights,” Said’s Representations of the Intellectual, Badiou and Žižek’s Philosophy in the Present, Rancière’s Dissensus, Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern, Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto,” and Agamben’s “What Is the Contemporary?”. Literary texts include works by Samuel Beckett, J. M. Coetzee, Tayeb Salih, Tom McCarthy, and Toni Morrison.

Topics Courses Winter 2020

What is a literary canon exactly? What significance might a canon hold for literature students in the 21st century? Could a canon be a weapon? What role might canonical literature play in the colonization of people, places, and minds? Are canonical literary texts reliable representations of the best that has been thought and written or are they instruments that repress the voices of others and mask the dynamics of domination. Do canonical texts present seamless, coherent statements and objective views into historical moments or are they flawed documents; full of cracks and fissures that contain within themselves the signs of their own distortions, erasures, and silences? How is the process of decolonization of places, people, and minds, facilitated through the conversations between literary texts? What difference do different voices make in a critical engagement with questions of canon and literary texts? What forms of literary criticism are produced through the juxtaposition of modern writers with classical and canonical literary texts?

Slavery considered Black people things instead of people. How did enslaved authors fight against this kind of representation? How do contemporary North American authors revise these earlier ways of representing slavery? We will begin by close reading short stories about slavery and race. Then we’ll compare two famous nineteenth-century slave narratives, Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglassand ask how gender affects the experience of the enslaved. We’ll end by considering how Toni Morrison’s masterpiece Beloved rewrites these earlier representations, developing our own contribution to the critical conversation around Beloved.

This course will introduce students to literary studies and the methods it uses. Through close reading, critical writing and rewriting, and thoughtful discussion about specific texts, students will develop the practical skills necessary to succeed as a University English major.

This course asks us to trace connections between key issues in Canadian and U.S. Law & Policy (i.e. Truth and Reconciliation, Residential/Boarding Schools, Indian Removal, MMIW, Oil and Mineral Rights, etc.) and the literatures/textual productions produced by FNMI/Native authors. As a community, this class will explore issues, policies, histories, and laws within Indigenous literature/text on Turtle Island (North America). This course engages in dialogues addressing policy and law and its relationship to creative production highlighting Indigenous survivals, resistance, struggles, and sovereignty within popular culture (speculative fiction, comics, film, music, genre literature, and poetry) from across the U.S. and Canada.

At the time of her death in 1817, Jane Austen had a modest following among a few critical readers. Two hundred years later, she is a pop culture phenomenon. Austen is a multi-million pound literary brand with new merchandise and new adaptations of her novels produced every year. In this course, we will analyze Austen’s novels and the popular culture that surrounds them. We will read three of Jane Austen’s most popular novels--Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility--as both literary critics and fans. What literary techniques did Jane Austen pioneer? Why are her novels still so popular today? Do we read Austen for the romance or the realism? How can one author belong to both high culture and pop culture? Will the real Jane Austen please stand up?

What qualities made a bestseller in the Victorian period? In what sense can a work of literature be seen as a commodity? Paying special attention to the material conditions of publication in the nineteenth century, such as serialization and illustration in periodicals and newspapers, we will look at the literary marketplace from approximately 1850 to 1900. Alongside works of literature, we will also consider other forms of commodity in the Victorian marketplace, from soap to cookbooks. Works we will study may include Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, Tennyson’s In Memoriam, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, George Du Maurier’s Trilby and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, as well as cultural commodities such as Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery Book and John Everett Millais’s advertisement for Pears Soap.

This course looks at the longer history of literature written by women for women. This semester a major focus of study will be a case study in the reception and adaptation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a work that has been foundational in establishing the conventional trajectory of courtship and marriage narratives in literature and on film. We will start with readings in amatory fiction, early seduction narratives, that critique the idea of the virtuous caretaking of women by men. Next, we proceed through Austen’s classic novel and move through a series of works that reproduce and, crucially, reimagine its romance narrative. In this seminar, we will focus on questions of genre, adaptation, Austen fandom and, most crucially, the lived experience of women as readers and writers. Seminar participants will be expected to participate fully in class discussion, activities, and culture. All students in this course will prepare a seminar presentation and undertake primary and/or secondary source research in writing a substantial research paper.


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