English Department Pursues World Literature Initiatives

Posted: January 4, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Art Taylor

The National Endowment for the Humanities recently approved a proposal spearheaded by English Department faculty members to expand and enhance the teaching of world literature at the undergraduate level. The initiative focuses specifically on five broad geographical regions: Latin America, the Middle East, East Asia, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Professors Amal Amireh, Joel Foreman, John Burt Foster, Tamara Harvey and Alok Yadav contributed to the proposal.

“Our interest in world literature is part of the general move toward globalization in academic studies, but many of us have been trained primarily in Western literature,” says Foster.

“We’ve all been students, for example, in survey courses on British literature, so we have a model when we teach similar surveys. But there’s often a steep learning curve to teaching beyond those traditional borders. We need an expert introduction to world literature ourselves, so we can offer our own students the best learning experience possible.”

To that end, one of the highlights of the program, which extends throughout the 2006 calendar year, is a weeklong workshop with experts on each of the major geographical areas under discussion – all with an eye toward designing future courses at the sophomore level and potentially for nonliterature majors.

Scheduled for the week before Memorial Day at Mason’s Fairfax Campus, the workshop will be open to instructors from Mason and several local and regional universities with strong interests in world or comparative literature: Northern Virginia Community College, Virginia Commonwealth University, North Carolina State University, University of Georgia, University of Alabama, University of Texas and Southern Mississippi University.

Several undergraduate world literature courses inspired by this initiative will debut as early as fall 2006. Individual courses will give equal attention to at least three parts of the world. The courses can include Western literature in addition to the five designated regions, sampling notable, representative writers from these areas.

“Mason has already inaugurated a World History course that’s achieved notable recognition,” says Foster, “but literature can open up the world in equally compelling ways. And with Mason’s recent ranking as the most diverse college in the country according to the Princeton Review, these courses will give our students the opportunity to see the same type of diversity within the classroom that they see across campus.”

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in Not Just Letters, the English Department newsletter.

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