Introduction to the Study of Literature (English 101)

Moacir P. de Sá Pereira (

Spring 2017, ARC LL03, MW 15:30–16:45

Office Hours: 244 Greene, 506, T 15:00–16:30

Course description

Designed for English majors and minors, this course examines three intertwined questions: What is literature? Why do we read it? and How do we read it? As we will see, any attempt to answer these three questions will take us through various historical, spatial, political, and cultural fields. More precisely, the course will follow a path of engaging with primarily American, English-language aesthetic objects (poems, plays, novels, short stories, essays) alongside a wider scholarly apparatus that has tried to codify, restrict, (de)politicize, champion, demystify, appropriate, critique, quantify, or simply complicate those objects. In so doing, we will see how the study of literature has several histories, geographies, and politics in its relationship with various cultures.

Goals of the course


Course requirements & policies


Plenary sessions

English 101 features four plenary sessions led by four faculty members in the English department. With these sessions, the faculty will give you the opportunity to be exposed both to the diverse set of interests that occupy our department as well as the diverse faculty itself. Each faculty member will be presenting on work that we will have read in class. The plenaries are scheduled for Thursdays and Fridays, as noted below.


25% The success of any course is directly related to the levels of engagement brought both by the instructor and the students. As such, class participation is vitally important. Similarly, though attendance is logically required for class participation, it is not sufficient. This class requires active participation both inside the classroom and outside.

You can miss up to three meetings without penalty, and you can use these opportunities tactically, to provide space and time to either fulfill other obligations or recuperate from the previous night. I don’t care why you didn’t come. I start to care with the fourth absence, and I start to require documentation. Repeated unexcused absence quickly gobbles up the class participation component of the grade and begins to threaten your ability to even pass the course.

Plenaries cannot be missed.

In a discussion-oriented class, “active participation” involves the following components. All of these are necessary to receive maximum points for participation:

First essay

15% The first essay will be in response to a prompt. It should be 900–1200 words long.

Second essay

10% The second essay features a reading of a passage from a work we have read for class. You should show the passage’s importance to the text as a whole. This essay should also be 900–1200 words long. It should also include, marked on the page, the various “templates” (in the Graff and Birkenstein sense) you make use of. It should be handed in either during Prof. Deer’s plenary or by 5 p.m. in my mailbox on the second floor of 244 Greene St.

Second essay rewrite

10% The rewrite of the second essay is an opportunity to build upon the second essay by incorporating some of the additional texts you have been exposed to in the presentations. This rewrite should be 1200–1500 words long, and it should also feature the aforementioned templates.


20% Throughout the semester, secondary texts have been paired with with primary reading for that day. At the beginning of the semester, you will choose a secondary text and present on it later in the semester. The presentation should be 10–15 minutes long. A good presentation will provide context for the secondary text itself, feature a thorough summary of the secondary text and its argument, and close with links between the secondary text and that day’s primary text. Slides, etc., are not necessary. The presentation will be accompanied by a short document (800 words) laying out the same information as the presentation did to be turned in at the same time as the presentation.

The texts for the presentations will not be easy to read, understand, or even summarize. These presentations will, hence, require time to prepare. As with any assignment, make use of office hours to help clarify any questions you may have.

Final essay

20% The final essay is a critical work on one of the primary texts we have read. It should build on the reading techniques from the first two essays as well as make use of at least one of the secondary texts from the course. A short précis of the essay (up to 600 words) is due two weeks earlier. It should be the essay in miniature—a prose outline, illustrating the essay’s structure, context, and argument.

Because of the expanded context and argument, the essay will include some added research, aided by the skills learned at the library. The strategies Graff and Birkenstein provide will help frame this context and build the argument. The final version of the essay should be 1800–2200 words long.



The assignment instructions, though detailed in the syllabus, may be enhanced or supplemented during the course. If you have any questions about an assignment, you should ask for clarification early. The assignments are due on the dates noted in the syllabus.

The writing can be submitted electronically, except for the second essay and its rewrite, which must be submitted in paper form. I prefer 2up (two pages per sheet), two-sided printing. Documents should be formatted sanely: 12pt type and double-spaced.

Late assignments jeopardize both your and my rhythms in the class, so they will be penalized. I will give you feedback and will happily discuss any work with you, but grades should be considered final.


As indicated above, attendance is required. Three absences will be excused without supplemental documentation, and I encourage you to use these tactically. Catching up is your responsibility.

Subsequent absence requires formal documentation. Otherwise it begins to harm your final grade. Though class participation is only part of the final grade, extreme absenteeism (more than six meetings missed) will put your ability to pass the course at risk.

Please show up on time to class, as well.


Our time in class is meant as a sanctuary from the distractions of the rest of the world. Additionally, our class relies on discussion and engagement, and the front of a laptop screen is a brilliant shield behind which a student can hide, even unintentionally. During our meetings, then, there can be no use of electronic devices. Please also set whatever devices you have but aren’t using to silent mode.


Communication is vitally important to the pedagogical process, and this course depends on clear communication in both directions. If you have questions, comments, or concerns, the best course of action is to come visit me during my office hours as noted at the top of this document. If your questions, etc., cannot wait until then, then clearly you can also email me. I should respond within 48 hours, but please write again if I do not.

This is a new course, meaning that there will be even more unfinished edges ready to scratch someone than in a typical course. We have a collective goal of learning, however, so if the unfinished edges get to be overwhelming, I’ll adjust the parameters of the course appropriately. I’m not out to catch you, nor is this course a process of grotesque punishment. Please don’t treat it as such.

Once more, with feeling: communication is vitally important to the pedagogical process. If you have concerns or worries, please let me know about them sooner rather than later.


If you have a disability, you should register with the Moses Center for Students with Disabilities (; 726 Broadway, 2nd Floor, 212.998.4980), which can arrange for things like extra time for assignments. Please inform me at the beginning of the semester if you need any special accommodations regarding the assignments.

Academic integrity

Please look at NYU’s full statement on academic integrity. Any instance of academic dishonesty will result in an F and will be reported to the relevant dean for disciplinary action. Remember that plagiarism is a matter of fact, not intention. Know what it is, and don’t do it.


This syllabus is available at the course webpage. A pdf version is also available. The source code and documentation for this document is available at its Github repository. The syllabus is ©2017, Moacir P. de Sá Pereira. It is licensed as Creative Commons 3.0 by-nc-sa, giving you permission to share and alter it in any way, as long as it is for non-commercial purposes, maintains the license, and gives proper attribution. Further information regarding the license, the history of the document, and influences can be viewed at the Github repository.


Required readings indicated with quotation marks (“”) will be available as pdfs. They should be printed out for use in class. The texts for presentations, save the Du Bois, are also available as pdfs.

The list of references at the end of the pdf version of the syllabus provides bibliographic details for all the texts for the course.

1. Who is it?

In the first section of this course, we begin by thinking about how literature can describe a person in the world and how that has changed over time.

2. Life during wartime

Next, we look to the role literature plays in the scope of war.

3. Around the world

What does it even mean to speak of “English” literature? Is this distinction important?

4. Who will survive in America?

Finally, how does the world reconstruct itself in an American milieu?


Thursday plenaries are 18:25–19:40 in the Event Space, 244 Greene. Friday plenaries are 11:00–12:15 in the Event Space, 244 Greene. “P:” is the secondary text for which a student will be presenting that day.

Week Monday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Who Is It?
23 Jan Introductions Johnson
30 Jan Johnson; P: Du Bois (Bethany) Barthes & Kempe;
6 Feb Kempe; P: White (Hannah) Kempe Dinshaw plenary Dinshaw plenary
13 Feb Library visit; Graff & Birkenstein Shakespeare; P: Foucault (Alex); 1st essay due
20 Feb No class Shakespeare; P: Benjamin (Elizabeth)
Life during Wartime
27 Feb Fallon; Graff & Birkenstein Klay Deer plenary Deer plenary
6 Mar Dos Passos; P: Martí (Marco) Roy 2nd essay due
13 Mar Spring Break
Around the World
20 Mar Coovadia; P: Dimock (Kaity) Coovadia; P: Cheah (Tim)
27 Mar Patel Patel Watson plenary Watson plenary; 2nd essay rewrite due
Who Will Survive in America?
3 Apr Hughes & McKay; P: Césaire (James) Brooks; P: Baldwin1 (Josh)
10 Apr Moraga; P: Fernández Retamar (Debbie) Moraga; P: Anzaldúa (Trishta)
17 Apr Rankine; P: Cheng (Ally) Rankine; P: Berlant (Emily)
24 Apr Row; P: Baldwin2 (Elia) Row Row plenary Row plenary; Final précis due
1 May Debrief No class
8 May Final essay due