Contextualising Literature: From Genesis to Generation X

Module code: EN3152

Module co-ordinator: to be confirmed

This module considers the question of context in literary studies. It defines what a context is and assesses its importance in literature: when did context become so dominant in literary studies and why? It addresses the fundamental questions of what kinds of context there are and how much weight should be attached to each. It also focuses on the material contexts of literature by introducing students to the rich literary book culture from the Middle Ages to the internet.

From a theoretical approach on the definition of literature in context, this course will engage and build on texts that may already be familiar to you. We will focus on the reading of literature from a material perspective that will give you a sound knowledge of how to read texts as material objects. Issues of commodification, objectification, and consumption will be explored and questioned in relation to books and authors across the English literary period with a particular focus on:

  • the Bible
  • Chaucer
  • Malory
  • Wyatt
  • Jonson
  • Woolf 

You will consider a selection of manuscript and digital documents and explore how they relate to ideas about the plurality of texts, the acceptance of textual variance, the absence of canonicity, and different perceptions of 'authority'.


Weekly seminars are based on discussion and individual or group presentations. We may start with books that provide an overview of the subject, such as Barry, Literature in Contexts, and Kelliher and Brown, English Literary Manuscripts. Copies of additional material will be made available by your tutor. A few practical sessions led by staff in Special Collections at the library will help you learn how to decipher difficult manuscript documents.

By the end of the course you will have gained...

  • The ability to relate critically to the concept of literature in contexts
  • The ability to analyse and evaluate literary material cultures
  • The ability to read handwritten literary manuscripts
  • Teamwork, attention to detail, and problem-solving skills


  • One essay of 5,000 words. Transcription exercises will be set but are non-assessed.