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October 24, 2014

20 Best Online University Courses on Books and Literature

Rajit Dasgupta




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There are plenty of reasons to take practical courses in college, but an education in the humanities is just as important. Studying literature is like studying the history of thought — it means taking a look at social and cultural moments that moved writers to produce great works of art. By reading and discussing literature, you learn more about what it meant to be alive during a specific period of time, and what it means to be alive today.

Below are 20 courses on all kinds of literature — from classical dramas to contemporary novels and even on niche subjects like comic books and science fiction. If you ever wanted to truly get between the lines and into the mind of the author, today is your lucky day

Theory:

    1. Introduction to the Theory of Literature : Need an explainer on big-picture questions behind literature? What counts as literature? What is its purpose? Why do we care? This course from Yale University will delve into 20th century literary and the thinkers behind it, like Barthes, Freud and Lacan to try and illuminate those questions.
      Level: Beginner | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on
    2. Literature and Ethical Values : This course from MIT OpenCourseWare analyzes competing points of view in classical and modern ethical philosophy. Studying Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mills, the class will see how systemic ethical philosophy has changed over history, and where it stands today.
      Level: Beginner | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on

 

Classical Greek and Roman Literature:

  1. The Ancient Greek Hero : Although this course is over and archived, the material from this exploration of the ancient Greek archetype is riveting and informative. The course, taught through Harvard’s extension school, analyzes what exactly the ancient Greeks meant by “hero” and “anti-hero,” and how their definition differs from ours today.
    Level: Beginner | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on
  2. Classical Literature: The Golden Age of Augustan Rome : A review of the monumental texts from the golden age of Latin literature. This course covers Rome’s transition period from a republic to an empire under Augustus Caesar, and how Roman society reorganized itself under this new form of government.
    Level: Beginner | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on

 

Renaissance and Victorian Literature:

      1. Victorian Literature and Culture : Covering Queen Victoria’s (quite long) reign, from 1837 to 1901, this course analyzes the fiction and nonfiction works from this time period and how they relate to social and political changes that were happening. Students will read classics like the Brönte sisters, Charles Dickens, Lord Tennyson and more.
        Level: Beginner | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on
      2. Renaissance Literature : The Renaissance period is known as a time of exploration and discovery — and this course focuses on both the geographical and cultural voyages of that time. Students will read works from the Middle Ages to the late 17th century such as famous playwrights Marlowe and Spenser.
        Level: Beginner | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on
      3. The Divine Comedy: Dante’s Journey Through Inferno : In this course, students will engage with Dante Alighieri’s colossal poem about human freedom. By reading the poem through the online program MyDante and participating in edX forums, students will grapple with the text and try to fully understand the themes of identity in Dante’s work. Currently in progress, but looks like there’s a part II coming up.
        Level: Beginner | Duration: 6 weeks | Start date: Currently in session
      4. Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Text, Culture, Performance : An in-depth look at Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, from the University of Birmingham. According to the course description, the “sole prerequisite” is being curious to understand why this play has remained so significant in the past four centuries. So if you’re interested in learning more about the lasting influence of Hamlet and his contemporaries, check this course out.
        Level: Beginner | Duration: 6 weeks | Start date: TBD
      5. Shakespeare and his world : If he was alive today, Shakespeare would be 450 years old. This course from the University of Birmingham looks at how Shakespeare’s words endured for just as long. By analyzing the historical and cultural moment in which his plays were written, students will learn more about the playwright and explore important themes in his work. In progress now, but new students are welcome.
        Level: Beginner | Duration: 10 weeks | Start date: TBD
      6. Literary Studies: The Legacy of England : The English always had a unique sense of humor. This course analyzes the use of humor irony in English literature, from the Medieval ages to the 19th century.
        Level: Beginner | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on

 

20th Century Literature:

      1. Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World : As Joan Didion once famously said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” What kind of social and cultural climate makes us tell science fiction stories? In this course, from the University of Michigan, you’ll find out. Students will read everything from the Grimm brothers to Ray Bradbury to Mary Shelley’s influential Frankenstein.
        Level: Beginner | Duration: 11 weeks | Start date: Currently in session | Read reviews
      2. Laura Ingalls Wilder: Exploring her life and work : If you read Wilder’s beloved Little House on the Prairie series growing up, you might love this course. Students will explore just how well Wilders’ work, which was published during the Great Depression, represents the age of pioneers in the American West. A fascinating opportunity for anyone who’s ever wanted to learn more about both the author and her work.
        Level: Beginner | Duration: 10 weeks | Start date: Currently in session
      3. The Fiction of Relationship : This course from Brown might thrill liberal arts majors — it explores how relationships (romantic, platonic, professional, complicated or otherwise) show up in narrative works. Students will read some of the greats: like Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, Toni Morrison, Kafka, and Herman Melville. (I’d personally recommend the course solely for the reading list.)
        Level: Beginner | Duration: 14 weeks | Start date: Currently in session | Read reviews
      4. Plagues, Witches and Wars: The Worlds of Historical Fiction : The University of Virginia offers this course on historical fiction — a genre that’s often overlooked or studied in conjunction with other forms of writing. The course covers classic examples (like A Tale of Two Cities) and modern ones as well (like The Ghost Bride, a novel about colonial Malaysia).
        Level: Beginner | Duration: N/A | Start date: TBD

 

Contemporary Literature:

      1. 20th and 21st Century Spanish American Literature : Intended for Spanish-speakers, this course from MIT OpenCourseWare studies the poem, the short story, the novel and the autobiography in Spanish American literature. The course focuses on performing analytical readings of these works, and also addresses bilingualism in Spanish American writing and the recent boom of novels.
        Level: Intermediate | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on
      2. Popular Culture and Narrative : Like comics? This course studies how the graphic novel blurs the lines between highbrow and lowbrow, and elevates comics to a new cultural significance. The course also looks at how comics from the 20th century actually address social and cultural issues from their time period.
        Level: Intermediate | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on
      3. Contemporary Literature: Literature, Development and Human Rights : In this perhaps unconventional course, students will read and analyze literary works as well as historical documents, like statements from the International Monetary Fund and National Geographic, to better understand how we talk about international development. Although this course debuted in 2008, it sounds like a thrilling take on a complicated and ever-relevant subject.
        Level: Intermediate | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on
      4. Sexual and Gender Identities : This course looks at the contemporary debates on gender and sexuality. Studying texts by Foucault, Butler and other theorists, students will learn how to analyze how sex and gender are used in literary works and pop culture.
        Level: Intermediate | Duration: Self-paced | Start date: Always on

 

Poetry:

      1. Poetry in America: The Poetry of Early New England : This course, brought to you from HarvardX, looks at poetry from the Puritan times. Students will learn how some poets abided by literary norms at the time, and others rebelled against them — for interesting political and cultural reasons.
        Level: Beginner | Duration: 5 weeks | Start date: Currently in session
      2. Modern Poetry : From the University of Pennsylvania, this recurring course (often called ModPo for short) has gained popularity for teaching students how to make sense of traditionally “difficult” poems. Taught by Al Filreis, ModPo is a great introduction to modern poetry for beginners and fanatics alike.
        Level: Beginner | Duration: 10 weeks | Start date: Currently in session | Read reviews

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If you want to learn more, check out Springboard !


Rajit Dasgupta

A graduate in Economics, Rajit is all about learning – a little bit, every single day. He loves Music, Cinema, and Travel and makes sure every day of his life contains some combination of the three!

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The Department of English at Yale teaches the majority of freshmen in Yale College and graduates more than 100 English majors in every Yale class. Undergraduate courses are designed to develop students’ understanding of important works of English, American, and other literatures in English and to provide historical perspectives from which to read and analyze these works. At the graduate level, the department offers a broad range of courses that engage all the traditional chronological periods of British literature, American literature since its inception, and many of the contemporary interdisciplines. Learn more at http://www.yale.edu/english

Introduction to Theory of Literature
with Paul H. Fry

This is a survey of the main trends in twentieth-century literary theory. Lectures will provide background for the readings and explicate them where appropriate, while attempting to develop a coherent overall context that incorporates philosophical and social perspectives on the recurrent questions: what is literature, how is it produced, how can it be understood, and what is its purpose?

Milton
with John Rogers

This class is a study of Milton’s poetry, with attention paid to his literary sources, his contemporaries, his controversial prose, and his decisive influence on the course of English poetry. Throughout the course, Professor Rogers explores the advantages and limitations of a diverse range of interpretive techniques and theoretical concerns in Milton scholarship and criticism. Lectures include close readings of lyric and epic poetry, prose, and letters; biographical inquiries; examinations of historical and political contexts; and engagement with critical debates.

Modern Poetry
with Langdon Hammer

This course covers the body of modern poetry, its characteristic techniques, concerns, and major practitioners. The authors discussed range from Yeats, Eliot, and Pound, to Stevens, Moore, Bishop, and Frost with additional lectures on the poetry of World War One, Imagism, and the Harlem Renaissance. Diverse methods of literary criticism are employed, such as historical, biographical, and gender criticism.

The American Novel Since 1945
with Amy Hungerford

In “The American Novel Since 1945” students will study a wide range of works from 1945 to the present. The course traces the formal and thematic developments of the novel in this period, focusing on the relationship between writers and readers, the conditions of publishing, innovations in the novel’s form, fiction’s engagement with history, and the changing place of literature in American culture. The reading list includes works by Richard Wright, Flannery O’Connor, Vladimir Nabokov, Jack Kerouac, J. D. Salinger, Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, Maxine Hong Kingston, Toni Morrison, Marilynne Robinson, Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth and Edward P. Jones. The course concludes with a contemporary novel chosen by the students in the class.