Literatures of the World

NOTE: This course fulfills the W focus; and the 1700-1898 historical breadth requirement for the English major because of its course content. 

And it fits on the Literary Histories and Genres pathway.

Course Description:

This course approaches multiple literatures of the world through the prism of colonialism and its aftermath. Following Columbus’s journey of 1492, waves of people migrated out from Europe conquering and settling (occupying) lands across the globe and displacing indigenous peoples. This modern colonialism transformed the world utterly. Modern colonialism is in fact one of the foundational historical processes of the contemporary world and the British Empire was an especially prominent example of this colonialism. This course explores literatures of the world in the context of both colonialism and its aftermath (postcolonialism); it explores both the wide variety of ways in which the processes of colonialism come to be depicted in literatures of the world written in English and the ethical issues associated with these depictions.

We will begin the semester with works—in full or in excerpt—written during colonialism by authors commonly regarded as British—William Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift, James Hutton, Captain Meadows Taylor, Mary Shelley and Joseph Conrad. Then we will turn to writers who wrote out of and in opposition to occupation/colonialism—Piilani and Chinua Achebe. We will end the semester with V. S. Naipaul, Nadine Gordimer and a collection of poetry by Hawaiian authors like Haunani-Kay Trask and Wayne Westlake who provide more contemporary perspectives on  occupation/colonialism and postcolonialism. Thus, the course will take us to the literatures of Britain, the Caribbean, Africa, and Hawai`i (and also touching on India, though we are not reading a literary work by an Indian author).

Colonialism raised difficult, even harrowing, questions for both colonizers and colonized: how can the conquest of another people be justified? why should racial difference be given a large importance in human affairs? when and how should oppression be resisted? what is the ethical value of victimhood? We will engage these and similar questions through readings drawn from select literatures of the world, through readings of critical texts, class discussions, formal written assignments, structured activities such as debates, and regular web-based activities.

Required Texts (tentative):

  • William Shakespeare, The Tempest (Norton Critical Edition only)
  • Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (excerpts on Laulima)
  • James Hutton, Thugs and Dacoits of India (excerpts on Laulima)
  • Captain Meadows Taylor, Confessions of a Thug (excerpts on Laulima)
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Norton Critical Edition only)
  • Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (on Laulima)
  • The True Story of Kaluaikoolau: As Told by His Wife, Piilani (on Laulima)
  • Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (Norton Critical Edition only)
  • V. S. Naipaul, Miguel Street
  • Nadine Gordimer, July’s People
  • Poems by Haunani Kay-Trask, Wayne Westlake, Brandy Nalani Macdougall and other Hawaiian authors (on Laulima)
  • Supplementary Reading on Laulima


Assignments and Class Work:

Students will write two in-class exams (a combination of short questions and short essays), two six-page take-home essays (inclusive of Works Cited), and brief online responses to some of the readings. The exams and essays—each of equal weightage—will constitute 80% of the grade. The remaining 20% will be based on the brief in-class and web-based assignments, class participation and attendance.