Theories & Methods of Lit Study

ENG 625B: Theories and Methods of Literary Studies

M 6:30 – 9:00 pm

John David Zuern


This class is designed to introduce fundamental concepts of literary theory, techniques of literary research, and genres for scholarly writing in the field. With its broad representation of current approaches to literary scholarship and their historical antecedents, the course will give you opportunities to identify your own orientation within the domain of literary studies and to develop the research methods, interpretive procedures, and conceptual frameworks that are most conducive to the critical projects you want to undertake. In addition to developing your expertise as a professional researchers and writers, the course encourages you to become a confident, critical reader of scholarly publications in the field. The course will reinforce your knowledge of literary devices, including figures of speech, narrative structures, and poetic forms. I’ve chosen primary texts that foreground these features. We will also give some attention to the extension of traditional forms of literature in print into graphic and digital formats.

The key questions we will pursue include: What counts as evidence in literary-critical arguments? How do we assess the validity of a literary-critical argument? How do different theoretical frameworks direct us to particular kinds of evidence and argumentative strategies? How do critics engage their peers’ scholarship responsibly in support of their own ideas? What are some of the ethical and political ramifications of literary-critical projects?

Assigned readings in theory and criticism will include selections ranging from ancient literary theory to examples of more recent theoretical models of literary production and critical analysis. The reading schedule will juxtapose the earlier and primarily European material with selections from more current and more global theoretical conversations, including those located within the Pacific, to show how critics and theorists of today continue to respond to (and in some cases to resist) particular critical and philosophical traditions. The literary texts we will read will emphasize, in different ways, the intersections between literature and the environment, which will be a guiding theme for the class.

Student Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this class you should be able to

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with a broad range of theories and methods in literary studies
  • Mobilize key concepts in literary studies in your own scholarly writing
  • Engage in critical dialogue with scholarship in literary studies and other disciplines in your own scholarly writing
  • Articulate and support a critical argument in oral presentation formats and respond productively to questions and comments from peers
  • Articulate and support a critical argument in a written proposal for a conference presentation, article, or book chapter
  • Articulate and support and support a critical argument in a written conference presentation
  • Articulate and support an evaluative argument in a book review
  • Document your sources accurately and consistently using a standard academic citation style


  • an in-class roundtable presentation on a panel of two or three other students
  • a presentation at the 625 colloquium
  • a written conference presentation
  • a book review

Required Texts (subject to change)

Jetñil-Kijiner, Kathy. Iep Jaltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter. U of Arizona P, 2017.

Long Soldier, Layli. Whereas. Greywolf, 2017.

McDougall, Brandy Nālani. The Salt Wind/Ka Makani Pa‘akai, Kuleana Oiwi Press, 2008.

Morrison, Toni. A Mercy. Vintage, 2009.

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, editors. Literary Theory: An Anthology, 3rd ed, Wiley-Blackwell, 2017. (please use this edition)

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Arden Shakespeare, 1997. (please use this edition)

Additional readings will be provided.