Eng 500:  Short Response Essay on Canons and "Culture Wars"


    Choose from one of the three topics below and write a short response paper (about 900 words) on it.  These topics all deal with cultural politics and its effects on graduate study, as reflected in our readings on the history of English studies, canonicity, and literary history.  You may do further reading for this paper, but it is not required.

The paper should be prepared according to the conventions of MLA style and is due on Wednesday, October 13.  You must submit it in the form of an electronic file (either through email or a floppy disk).  Do keep a hard copy of your own, in case either the transmission of your electronic file is unsuccessful or I misplace the floppy disk you turn in.


1.  We have read and discussed several selections on the history of the profession, its effects on the current shape of English studies, and the relation of literary studies to the larger society.  Write an essay that examines how this reading and discussion have changed your perspective on literature, academia, or graduate study.  Be careful to narrow your focus sufficiently, so you can develop your position adequately in 3 or 4 pages.  Some examples: you might reflect on critiques of Matthew Arnold's influence on literary criticism;  you might discuss the role of literary education in the expansion or maintenance of empire; or you might weigh in on the so-called conflict between research and teaching.

2.  Discuss the role of value and evaluation in literary studies.  How has our reading on the politics of canon-building or the contingencies of value affected your understanding of the "masterpieces" of literature?

3.  It has been said that the task of writing literary history is both impossible and inescapable.  Discuss its complexities from a selected perspective.   Some possibilities:  How do our readings demonstrate that "the procedural decisions literary historians make are themselves historically determined" (Patterson 189)?  Another angle: What, in your view, is the relation between literary and extra-literary history?  Yet another: Reflect on the problems of the relation between dominant and sub- cultures in literary history.