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COURSE NAME: "Special Topics in English Literature: Slave Narratives and the Novel"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2018

INSTRUCTOR: Shannon Russell
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 1:30-2:45 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: EN 110 with a grade of C or above

This is a reading and writing intensive course. Students in 200-level literature classes are required to produce 4-5,000 words of critical writing. An in-depth treatment of a current area of special concern within the field of English Literature. Topics may vary.

This course considers the importance and influence of slave narratives in themselves, and in relation to their creative afterlife in the novel.  Students will begin with an understanding of the historical context of these works and the transatlantic slave trade. They will be introduced to the conventions of the genre of slave and free men and free women writings through analysis of the autobiographies of Ouladah Equiano, Mary Prince, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, among others.  From that understanding, we will then consider how aspects of these narratives are deployed or reworked in a selection of novels, including Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and Colson Whitehead’s recent Pulitzer prize-winning novel, The Underground Railroad. This course will focus on how slave narratives and the novels that they influenced reveal transatlantic connections. We will discuss the relevance of gender in these narratives, debates related to the conception of freedom and nation building, the use of reading and education as a liberating force, and the way these texts were implicated in definitions of the human.

By the end of the course, students will understand the conventions of slave narratives and their context, as well as the way those conventions are translated into later fiction.  
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Slave Narratives Frederick Douglass and Harriet JacbosModern Library EditionISBN-1- 0679783288  
Uncle Tom's CabinHarriet Beecher StoweOxford World's Classics ASIN B 011DC4IVA  
Never Let Me GoKazuo IshiguroFaber and FaberISBN-10 0571258093  
The Underground RailroadColson WhiteheadFleetISBN-10-0708898408  
FrankensteinMary ShelleyBroadview131-978-155481-103-6  

Two essays 2,000-2,500 words (8-10 pages) eachEssays should be typed and follow MLA style guidelines and include secondary sources. The first essay is worth 20% and the second is worth 25% of the final grade.45 %
Presentation Students will do a visual and oral presentation which may address assigned aspects of slave narratives, and/or historical context. 10%
Mid-term exam 15%
Participation Attendance is mandatory and does not contribute to participation grades. Participation involves class collaboration and demonstration that students have read and engaged with the material. Students may be asked to do reader responses or to formulate discussion questions for the day's reading.10%
Final Exam 20%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


Attendance is mandatory. Students who miss more than three classes  -- whether absences are justifiable (religious holidays, illness, funeral attendance) or not -- will be required to produce an additional five-page essay assignment to be arranged with the instructor and due no later than the last week of classes, to avoid an overall reduction of their final grade for the class. Final grades are reduced by one grade level (an overall final grade of A- will change to B+, for example) once absences exceed three in a semester.  Should absences exceed six, students will be asked to withdraw from the class or will be required to do additional work beyond the extra essay assignment, to justify their participation in the course.  It is advisable to notify the professor by the beginning of the second week of classes, if you know you will be absent from class for religious or other reasons. Two late arrivals count as one absence.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


EN 299 Slave Narratives and the Novel

This is a Moodle course.  More detailed information about readings and assignments will be posted to the Moodle each week. On registration for the class, students will be given the Moodle key.

Week 1 

Tues. Sept. 4  

Introduction to the course and its requirements

Thurs. Sept. 6  

Historical context to British and American slavery, and the transatlantic slave trade.  

Read excerpts from The Narrative of the Life of Ouladah Equiano and The Narrative of Mary Prince, Written by Herself 

Week 2  Autobiography and the question of reliability

Tues. Sept. 11 

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

Thurs. Sept. 13 

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave 

Week 3 Gender and Slavery

Tues. Sept. 18 

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave 

Thurs. Sept. 20  

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs

Fri. Sept. 21(Makeup day for Nov. 1) 

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs

Week 4

Tues. Sept. 25 

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacob

Thurs. Sept. 27 

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs

Week 5

Tues. Oct. 2

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin       First Essay Due

Thurs. Oct. 4

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin


Week 6

Tues. Oct. 9

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Thurs. Oct. 11Mid-term exam


Week 7

Tues. Oct. 16

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Thurs. Oct. 18

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin


Week 8

Tues. Oct. 23

Frederick Douglass The Heroic Slave

Thurs. Oct. 25 

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein


Week 9

Tues. Oct. 30

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Wed. Oct. 31 Frankenreads and Inaugural Literature Matters Lecture: Fiona Sampson In Pursuit of Mary Shelley

Thurs. Nov. 1No class


Week 10

Tues. Nov. 6

Kazuo Ishiguro Never Let Me Go

Thurs. Nov. 8   

Kazuo Ishiguro Never Let Me Go

Fri. Nov. 9 (Makeup day for Nov. 1st

Kazuo Ishiguro Never Let Me Go


Week 11

Tues. Nov. 13  

Kazuo Ishiguro Never Let Me Go

Thurs. Nov. 15

Kazuo Ishiguro Never Let Me Go


Week 12

Tues. Nov. 20

Colson Whitehead The Underground Railroad

Thurs. Nov. 22No class Thanksgiving Holiday


Week 13

Tues. Nov. 27 Second Essay Due

Colson Whitehead The Underground Railroad

Thurs. Nov. 29  

Colson Whitehead The Underground Railroad


Week 14

Tues. Dec. 4

Colson Whitehead The Underground Railroad

Thurs. Dec. 6 

Colson Whitehead The Underground Railroad