UCLR-E 100 Guidelines
UCLR-E 100: An Introduction
Welcome to UCLR-E! The course’s acronym (University Core Literature in English) is unhappy, but as a teaching experience, it can be delightful. The course is a shared trust across all ranks and specialties in the Department, and its first rule is: make it work for you and your students. There are a few expectations that all UCLR-E sections should meet, but even these admit of wide variation. I’ll go over these below, and offer some suggestions that may be useful to new instructors.
Here are the firm requirements, taken both from the original model syllabus as it was approved by the University, as well as some further clarifications from the Department:
- “Must introduce students to the essential forms of literature and the tools for understanding and interpreting it”
- “Each syllabus must include works drawn from at least two periods, and must reflect cultural difference.”
- “Students in each section will be expected to learn the conventions of the three major forms of literature—poetry, drama, and prose.”
- No more than two weeks should be spent on genres other than poetry, drama, and prose
- Most of the syllabus should be composed of materials written in English, not in translation
- UCLR-E has no required writing component, and literary knowledge should be its focus
What this means in practice:
1. “Periods and diversity”: UCLR-E is a course about literary difference. Interrogations of difference—“cultural,” national, regional, sexual, racial, gender, bodily, or any other that you can make meaningful—should be integrated into the core of the syllabus. Historical difference, though, is specifically required, and it’s important that each syllabus, regardless of its variations, include materials from at least “two periods.” “Period” is a deliberately flexible formation here, but you’re encouraged to think ambitiously. It’s an opportunity to push students into historicizing each text, and all texts against each other. While this doesn’t mean that you must pitch the 13th century against the 21st century, with everything in between along for the ride, it does mean that a particularly narrow view of “period”—one that considers, for instance, a few decades in one national tradition expansive enough to mark multiple “periods”—is against the spirit of the course. More to the point, such a view (say, 1960-2020, or 1800-1860) just leaves too many interesting opportunities on the table.
2. “Three major forms”: Every section of UCLR-E should work on poetry, drama, and prose. It’s not required that every syllabus devote equal attention to each form, but that’s a good starting point. “Prose” may certainly mean “the novel,” but it need not. Other genres and media forms can be included, as well: some syllabi include TV, film, graphic novels and comics, or video games. But the department has determined (as of 10/2/2019) that no more than two weeks in total be spent on anything other than “poetry, drama, and prose.”
3. UCLR-E: The “-E” is important. We share this course with several other departments, including Modern Languages and Classics. Our sections (-E) are students’ unique opportunity to explore literatures written in English, and so the department recommends (as of 10/2/2019) that “most” of each syllabus be composed out of material originally written in English. You certainly may include literature in translation—this is another opportunity to think about difference, so consider making the translatedness of the text a focus. But think carefully before representing an entire genre, or historical period, with only literature in translation.
4. “Essential forms of literature”: UCLR-E can be many things, but there are also some things it isn’t. It’s a course on literary knowledge, which means the University expects some other forms of knowledge to be handled elsewhere. UCLR-E is not a writing seminar, and while writing may be an important component of your assessment regime, the course should not give over too many sessions to drafting, revising, or reviewing student compositions. In fact, UCLR-E does not require any particular assessment, and no amount of writing is currently required. Many of us do require substantial student writing—but if you do, this work should largely be in addition to the literary work done in seminar, not a replacement for it.
5. Other suggestions:
Challenge your students and challenge yourself. This is an introductory course, but there’s nothing remedial here. Show the students the sort of heavy thinking literature can do, and the wondrous pleasures this sort of thinking can elicit. The course can and should be hard: expect your students to manage demanding readings and complicated thinking, and they’ll rise to meet your expectations. Don’t leave something off the syllabus because you think it will be difficult, and don’t aim low in your assignments. It’s accepted that some students might struggle with Core courses in other disciplines, and I think it’s fine if some do so here. Our job is to help them through the struggle, not design an experience without real demands.
Adapt the course to your interests and expertise. Do what you’re good at, and try to model your passions and masteries for your students. The sample syllabus that we have on file for the course is not a rubric—almost no sections look like it, and you don’t need its two (or any) weeks on elegies unless you really want them. UCLR-E can easily be a “special topics” course: if you want to run a seminar on “Joy in American Writing, 1670-2020,” then go for it. So long as you manage the core expectations and outcomes of the course, this can be rewarding both for you and your students. If you’re a graduate student, for instance, this can be a good opportunity to see how your dissertation (or at least part of it) works out in the wild. It’s also a good place to push your dissertation beyond its limits, since a good UCLR-E syllabus is often broader than many dissertations, which have professional reasons for being tailored to very specific historical, national, or conceptual formations. At the very least, if you’re writing on a particular issue, this is a good chance to see what happens with the same thing three hundred years removed, and elsewhere.
Adapt the course to your insecurities. Consider using the course as an opportunity to get outside your comfort zone, and teach (at least for a little bit of the syllabus) beyond your immediate professional training. For instance, I usually teach a new Shakespeare play each semester, because my training here consists of one seminar in graduate school, for which I did some of the reading. It’s bracing to expect yourself to deliver high quality instruction on alien material, and I’m not going to get the space to think about Shakespeare anywhere else in my teaching. I wouldn’t advise composing a syllabus largely out of stuff you haven’t read or taught before, but I also wouldn’t advise composing it entirely out of stuff you have, either. This is especially true for faculty who teach literature courses other than UCLR-E—this is the place to play and explore.
Don’t let either your insecurities or expertise get the better of the syllabus. Every so often, someone will embark on the bold adventure of giving over half (and almost always the first half) of the syllabus to a single big book. Eight weeks on Daniel Deronda is almost never a winning idea, even if it’s all you’ve been reading recently, or the only way you’re going to get yourself to read it finally. The syllabus needs a rhythm of regular change. Likewise, if you’re basing the syllabus out of your dissertation or current scholarly project, make sure you’ve got some ear for audience. Students can do heavy reading—but a very narrowly tailored thematic or set of texts can get exhausting for everyone not living in our own heads. Be generous to yourself, and your students.
Jack Cragwall, Director of Undergraduate Programs