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COURSE NAME: "Special Topics in English Literature: Transatlantic Connections: Slavery and Literature"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2019

INSTRUCTOR: Shannon Russell
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 10:00-11:15 AM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: EN 110 with a grade of C or above and one previous English literature class

An in-depth treatment of a current area of special concern within the field of English Literature. Courses offered previously include: Dickens and Englishness; Race, Class, Gender, Culture: The American Dream in Literature; The Innocents Abroad: Perceptions of Italy in American, European and British Writing; Topics in World Literature: Masterpieces in Western Fiction. This is a reading and writing intensive course. Students in 300-level literature classes are required to produce 5-6,000 words of critical writing. May be taken more than once for credit with different topics.

This course considers the importance of the transatlantic slave trade and its aftermath to American and British fiction.  Following a brief survey of the historical context of slavery and the slave trade, students will read British and American slave narratives and consider their creative afterlife in a selection of novels. They will be introduced to the literary conventions of the genre of slave, free men and free women writings through analysis of the autobiographies of Ouladah Equiano, Mary Prince, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs. From that understanding, students will then consider how aspects of these narratives are deployed or reworked in a selection of novels, including Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Charles Dickens's Dombey and Son,  Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. Focusing on the transatlantic links between these texts, topics for discussion will include: the relevance of gender in these narratives, the politics of the family, conceptions of freedom and national identity, the construction of reading and education as a liberating force, contemporary anxieties about capitalist economies and new technologies, and ethical debates about what it is to be 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.  They will also have created their own Storymap project.
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and Incidents in the Life of a Slave GirlFrederick Douglass and Harriet JacobsModern Library978-0-679-78328-2  
Dombey and SonCharles DickensOxford University Press978-0-19-953628-3  
Never Let Me GoKazuo IshiguroFaber and Faber978-0-571-25809-3  
The Underground RailroadColson WhiteheadLittlebrown978-0-7088-9840-6  
Mansfield ParkJane AustenOUP ISBN-10: 9780199535538  

Two essays 1,500 words eachEssays should be typed and follow MLA style guidelines and include secondary sources. Each essay is worth 20% of the final grade.40%
Presentation Students will do a visual and oral presentation which will provide historical context to our reading for the week. This material may be developed into the final Storymap project.10%
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%
Term Test 10%
Storymap ProjectStudents will receive training in how to use Storymap JS and will produce a storymap on an assigned topic. Storymaps might be related to plotting the influence of slave narratives on a specific novel, or mapping the use of slave tropes and concerns between novels. Storymaps can also explore a theme related to our discussion of slavery and literature. Suggested topics will be provided. The material used in the presentations may also be developed in the Storymap project. In this project students are expected to include written material with appropriate MLA citations.10%

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 399 Transatlantic Influences: Slavery and Literature

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

Week 1 

Tues. Sept. 3 
Introduction to the course and its requirements

Thurs. Sept. 5 
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  

Tues. Sept. 10
Jane Austen Mansfield Park

Thurs. Sept. 12 


Week 3 

Tues. Sept. 17 

Jane Austen Mansfield Park

Thurs. Sept. 19 
Jane Austen Mansfield Park

Fri. Sept. 20 (Makeup day for Nov. 1) 

Jane Austen Mansfield Park

Week 4
Tues. Sept. 24
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave 

Thurs. Sept. 26 
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave 

Week 5

Tues. Oct. 1
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs

Thurs. Oct. 3. FIRST ESSAY DUE
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs

Week 6

Tues. Oct. 8
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs

Thurs. Oct. 10    
Charles Dickens Dombey and Son

Week 7

Tues. Oct. 15
Charles Dickens Dombey and Son

Thurs. Oct. 17
Charles Dickens Dombey and Son

Week 8

Tues. Oct. 22
Charles Dickens Dombey and Son

Thurs. Oct. 24 
Charles Dickens Dombey and Son

Week 9

Tues. Oct. 29

NO CLAS (Makeup class Storymap presentations in last week of class TBA)

Thurs. Oct. 31    Term Test

Week 10

Tues. Nov. 5
Kazuo Ishiguro Never Let Me Go

Thurs. Nov. 7   
Kazuo Ishiguro Never Let Me Go

Week 11

Tues. Nov. 12  
Kazuo Ishiguro Never Let Me Go

Thurs. Nov. 14
Kazuo Ishiguro Never Let Me Go


Week 12

Tues. Nov. 19
Colson Whitehead The Underground Railroad

Thurs. Nov. 21   
Colson Whitehead The Underground Railroad

Week 13

Tues. Nov. 26 Second Essay Due
Colson Whitehead The Underground Railroad

Thurs. Nov. 28 Thanksgiving Holiday

Week 14

Tues. Dec. 3
Colson Whitehead The Underground Railroad

Thurs. Dec. 5
Summing up and Storymap presentations