EN 3420 Syllabus

Welcome to Rethinking Medieval and Renaissance Literature! Or as I affectionately call the course, Brit Lit I.

For the Fall 2022 semester, we’re meeting in 204 Rounds Hall from 12:00-1:40 PM on Tues and Thurs each week. You can also participate via Teams. Links are in Canvas, and details are below under ‘Course Modality.’

For today’s class, please fill out the following form: https://forms.gle/zbY5easwoKGj71Ua7

EN 3420  Rethinking Medieval and Renaissance Literature  (4 Credits)  

Professor Nic Helms (they/them) (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 Tuesdays through Thursdays 9:00-5:00 PM.

For drop-in appointments, I’ll be in my office in Ellen Reed 14 (top of the main stairs on the left) on Thursdays from 10:00-11:45 AM.

I try to respond to all communications within twenty-four hours, except on weekends. (I treat the weekends as days of rest for me and for you! If something breaks over a weekend, let me know, but don’t worry: it can always wait until the following Monday.)

Syllabus Policies

Accessibility and Disability



Care and Campus Resources

Diversity and Inclusion

Habits of Mind

HyFlex Teaching

Land Acknowledgement

Student-Centered Teaching

Study Support


Mask up, please!

We are heading into another year of almost universal messaging that masking is a matter of individual choice, and that we should all just keep working even if we’re sick. My teaching and my courses firmly reject this grind culture. In this course, we remain determined to create and sustain a community of care. We consider masking, social distancing, and staying home if we’re symptomatic or testing positive to be our signs of concern and care for each other. These practices represent our embodied insistence that no one is disposable, and that no one needs to assume, or be exposed to, unnecessary risk of illness. Unless you have a medical condition that makes masking problematic, please join us in continuing to observe universal precautions, especially as the highly infectious BA.5 and other variants continue to cause illness and disruption. 

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.

Required Texts

Cobb, Keith Hamilton / American Moor / 9781350165304 / Ingram

Headley, Maria Davahna / Beowulf: A New Translation / 9780374110031 / FSG

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 hybrid, composed of in-person synchronous class sessions (in Rounds 204 during our regularly scheduled class time) and required asynchronous assignments. If for whatever reason you cannot attend class in person, the synchronous sessions will be accompanied by live video-chats on Teams. You are welcome to use Teams chat in class, whether you are attending in person or remotely.

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 the first week of class to discussing 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. (You can find these videos on 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

Tuesday, August 30: Class Introductions, Syllabus Discussion, and course tech overview (WordPress and Canvas workshop); introductory discussion of Intersectionality and Literature. No Posts due this week.

For Weeks 1-16, visit the EN 3420 Course Schedule page.