A New Syllabus
Most literary study has happened not in published scholarship, but within classrooms—classrooms at a broad range of institutions of higher education. Despite the sheer breadth of classroom-based literary study, disciplinary historians have rarely researched classroom practice. Instead, they narrate the discipline’s history as a contrapuntal swing between eras in which we championed literature for its aesthetic value and eras in which we modeled ourselves after the sciences by producing knowledge about the world in which texts were written. This book eschews familiar oppositions between teacher-critics and scholar-researchers, in order to explore, instead, the archival documents that remain from the twentieth-century classes taught by key literary critics and scholars. Reconstructing eleven courses taught at a range of colleges and universities in the US and the UK, this book finds an entirely new history for the discipline. It shows that literary history and bibliographic research flourished in early twentieth-century undergraduate classrooms; and the persistence of historical and materialist approaches to literary study through those decades long imagined as uniformly New Critical in orientation. It also shows mid-century poet-critics studying poetry rather than poems, often with quantitative methods developed in classrooms.
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