Sunday, October 10, 2010

Teaching Civil War Writings in the Literature Classroom

A one-day symposium organised by the English Subject Centre, held at the
University of York, 3 March 2011

Programme Enquiries and Registration:


Involvement of all kinds welcomed: Please register interest or offers of
participation to Kevin Killeen

Literature courses in the Renaissance and Restoration have long had
covering the period of the civil war, so obviously central to the events
the period, but equally so traumatic that it did not lend itself to the
production of texts that have habitually made it into the English Canon.
Traditionally, the period has been represented, or perhaps misrepresented
by the 'Cavalier Poets' or Browne's Religio Medici and, on the other side
of the regicide and restoration, by Marvell and onto Milton, leaving a
yawning gulf around the most important events of the era. Changes over
recent decades in canon, methodology and political perspectives have
altered the shape of English literature in many respects, but have not, in

general, provided new possibilities for teaching the civil war. This free
one-day symposium will aim to explore how this might be changed. It will
invite ideas on teaching texts that are not specifically 'literary' and
what are the parameters of the literature class, what is the role of the
historical in literature when it is not, specifically, being deployed as
'context' to explicate texts and how do we help students use the writing
the period to think conceptually about the nature of literature and its
relation to politics or religion. The event will consider problems of
periodisation, thinking through continuities and disjunctions with the
Restoration; the nature of disciplinary boundaries in the era - how, for
example, should a central philosophical text like Hobbes' Leviathan
function in the literature class? - and the evident ruptures in terms of
who wrote and published in the period, with its mushrooming of
by women, its anti-authoritarian and radical texts and its changing
of writing, in the emergence of pamphlet literature. The use of new social

media in teaching the texts of the civil war will also be a key topic of
the day. The event is premised on the idea that research into the civil
over the past two decades or so has outstripped and fallen radically out
kilter with the literature class. Much excellent historiography and
recuperation of texts (on for example women's writing, leveller thought,
pamphlet writing, drama of the civil war) has been produced over this
period, but this has evidently not been accommodated into teaching, in
because of the non-canonical and occasionally non-accessible nature of
material, but more centrally, the session will presume, owing to a lack of

a conceptual framework for teaching this material. The questions around
this, which the event will address, may be aesthetic (in what sense are
these texts worth teaching?), methodological (will such teaching be
primarily history with a smattering of literary texts?), pedagogic (how
will students respond to this material?) or may revolve around coherence
(is the disparate nature of these texts, generically speaking, such that a

coherent approach eludes the potential teacher?). We will consider a
of ways of enabling students to conceive of the era outside of comparative

genre-based notions of literature - material objects and the literary
apocalypse and literary style; the breakdown of censorship and the nature
of dissent; war and genre - to circumvent what might be perceived as a
of a strong central canon. We will also ask participants to 'donate'
in advance, which we hope to collate as a teaching resource for those
attending the seminar.


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