EN 3420 Syllabus

Welcome to Brit Lit I!

EN 3420  Rethinking Medieval and Renaissance Literature  (4 Credits)  

Professor Nic Helms (nrhelms@plymouth.edu)

I’ll be in touch daily this semester via email and MS Teams (an Office 365 app available in myPlymouth). You can send me an email or chat in either platform, or you can book an online appointment with me for any available time Mondays through Thursdays 9:00-5:00 PM.

I try to respond to all communications within twenty-four hours, except on weekends.

This course takes a contemplative approach to texts from the Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, Medieval, and Renaissance eras of English literary history. Students explore their pre-conceived notions of the medieval and Renaissance past to both “unlearn” and “learn.” Assignments require working creatively and critically with themes of love, fate, knowledge, power, and gender. Not open to students who have earned credit for EN 3611. Falls. (INCO)

Pre-requisites and/or co-requisites

Prerequisite(s): Junior status.

INCO: Integration Connection

We live in a world where scholarship is increasingly interdisciplinary. The educated person recognizes the challenges and rewards of drawing connections between fields of knowledge and of applying alternative methods of inquiry to solve problems.

Students take a three or four-credit Integration (INCO) course (either within the major or not), which brings content or methods of inquiry from two or more disciplines or perspectives to bear on a problem or question. The Integration course is a General Education capstone course, taken in the junior or senior year. As such, it should require substantial, although general, background and a high level of proficiency at most or all of the General Education skills.

(Integration Connections may be double counted with a major, minor, or any other General Education requirement.)

Aside: ‘Anglo-Saxon’ and Anti-racism

The work of rethinking Medieval and Renaissance literature begins now!

A major part of rethinking literature involves rethinking terms. In recent years, Dr. M. Rambaran-Olm (@ISASaxonists) has advocated in her scholarship and on social media for the field of Anglo-Saxon Studies to willingly rebrand itself as Early English Studies. She’s done this for two reasons: 1) “Anglo-Saxon” is a 19th century white supremacist coinage rather than a widespread term from the early medieval period; and 2) “Anglo-Saxon” is associated today with white supremacists.

‘Anglo-Saxon’ as a term and as a racial concept is one of the original cornerstones of contemporary white supremacy. It is a term in the PSU course catalog, which is why it shows up in the official course description above. It’s in most university course catalogs, most editions of early medieval literature, and all over the internet. It’s a reminder that rethinking takes time, work, and attention to detail.

Student Learning Outcomes

Use cultural, historical, and aesthetic contexts to inform their understanding of all kinds of texts.

Display analytical skill in their written responses to texts.

Write fluently and understand writing as an artistic and/or intellectual process.

Understand the conventions of literary genre as creative writers and critics.

Capably use research to accomplish their reading, writing, and thinking goals.

Understand the role of emerging digital technologies in writing, literature, and communication.

Draw connections between literature and contemporary society, tracing back the roots of present-day systems of oppression.

Recommended Texts

These texts are required reading but optional to purchase. I’ll also be offering free online versions of all of these, but I’ve ordered a few copies in the bookstore for those of you who would like print editions. Again, any editions are fine!

Heaney, Seamus / Beowulf / 9780393320978 / Norton 2001

Marie de France / The Lais of Marie de France / 0140447598 / Penguin 1999

Spenser, Edmund / The Faerie Queene / 0140422072 / Penguin 1979 (reissue)

Shakespeare, William / Othello / 9780743477550 / Folger 1993

Milton, John / Paradise Lost /  9780140424393 / Penguin 2003

Cavendish, Margaret / The Blazing World and Other Writings / 0140433724 / Penguin 1994

Course Modality

This course will be completely online and will contain optional synchronous sessions and required asynchronous assignments. The synchronous sessions are live video-chats on Microsoft Teams and will take place during our normally scheduled class times (Mon & Wed, 12:00-1:40 PM).

Participation in Teams sessions is optional, as are microphone and camera use. Come as you are, participate as you’d like! We’ll devote significant time on Aug 26 to discuss Microsoft Teams and WordPress, our digital platforms for the course.

Lectures or other class meetings for this course may be recorded by the university using USNH media platforms. (Most likely this will be in Teams). Such recordings may be available for educational use by other students enrolled in the class (including both for instruction and as a review tool), the course instructor(s), and other university officials who support course instruction. Your voice or image may be captured on the recordings, and by enrolling in this course you are consenting to such recording for these purposes.

If you’d like to not be recorded during segments of our synchronous sessions where such recording occurs, you’re free to turn off you microphone and camera during these sessions. If you have additional privacy concerns, please let me know.

Week 1 of Class

Monday, August 24: Class Introductions, Syllabus Discussion and Negotiation

Wednesday, August 26: Plymouth Create, WordPress, and Microsoft Teams workshop; introductory discussion of oppression

For Weeks 2-13, visit the Medieval, 16th Century, and 17th Century pages.

Syllabus Contents

Accessibility and Disability



Care and Campus Resources

Diversity and Inclusion

HyFlex Teaching

Land Acknowledgement

Student-Centered Teaching

Study Support


You made it to the end! And now, something completely different…