On this page, you will find generic descriptions of literature subjects that correspond to the MIT Bulletin (Course Catalog).

21L.000[J] Writing About Literature
(Same subject as 21W.041J)
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-HW

Intensive focus on the reading and writing skills used to analyze literary texts such as poems by Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare or Langston Hughes; short stories by Chekhov, Joyce, or Alice Walker; and a short novel by Melville or Toni Morrison. Designed not only to prepare students for further work in writing and literary and media study, but also to provide increased confidence and pleasure in their reading, writing, and analytical skills. Students write or revise essays weekly. Enrollment limited.

21L.001 Foundations of Western Literature: Homer to Dante
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Studies a broad range of texts essential to understanding the two great sources of Western conceptions of the world and humanity’s place within it: the ancient world of Greece and Rome and the Judeo-Christian world that challenged and absorbed it. Readings vary but usually include works by Homer, Sophocles, Aristotle, Plato, Virgil, St. Augustine, and Dante. Enrollment limited.

21L.002 Foundations of Western Literature: From Shakespeare to Now
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Complementary to 21L.001. A broad survey of texts, literary, philosophical, and sociological, studied to trace the growth of secular humanism, the loss of a supernatural perspective upon human events, and changing conceptions of individual, social, and communal purpose. Stresses appreciation and analysis of texts that came to represent the common cultural possession of our time. Enrollment limited.

21L.003 Reading Fiction
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Introduces prose fiction, both short stories and the novel. Emphasizes historical context, narrative structure and close reading. Enrollment limited.

Currently offered this semester:
21L.004 Reading Poetry
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Emphasis on poetry in various forms (lyric, epic, and dramatic), chiefly in English-speaking countries. Syllabus usually includes works by Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, Keats, Dickinson, Frost, Eliot, Langston, Hughes, Lowell, and Plath. Enrollment limited.

Currently offered this semester:
21L.005 Introduction to Drama
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-A, CI-H

A study of the history of theater art and practice from its origins to the modern period, including its roles in non-Western cultures. Special attention to the relationship between the literary and performative dimensions of drama, and the relationship between drama and its cultural context. Enrollment limited.

Currently offered this semester:
21L.006 American Literature
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Studies the national literature of the United States since the early 19th century. Considers a range of texts – including novels, essays, films, and electronic media – and their efforts to define the notion of American identity. Readings usually include works by such authors as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, Emily Dickinson, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Sherman Alexie, and Toni Morrison. Enrollment limited.

Currently offered this semester:
21L.007 World Literatures
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Introduces students to a coherent set of textual and visual materials drawn from different geographical regions, languages, artistic genres, and historical periods. The focus may vary but usually cuts across national boundaries. Includes non-English works read in translation and examines different kinds of writing, both fiction and nonfiction. Pays special attention to such issues as identity formation, cultural contact, exploration, and exile. Previously taught topics include contemporary writing from Africa and South Asia, the impact of the discovery of the New World, and Caribbean literature.

21L.008[J] Black Matters: Introduction to Black Studies
(Same subject as 24.912J, 21H.106J, 21W.741J, WGS.190J)
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-A/H, CI-H

Interdisciplinary survey of people of African descent that draws on the overlapping approaches of history, literature, anthropology, legal studies, media studies, performance, linguistics, and creative writing. Connects the experiences of African-Americans and of other American minorities, focusing on social, political, and cultural histories, and on linguistic patterns. Includes lectures, discussions, workshops, and required field trips that involve minimal cost to students.

21L.009 Shakespeare
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Focuses on the reading of six to eight of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as their adaptation for stage and/or film. Selected texts cover the range of genres in which Shakespeare wrote (i.e., history, comedy, tragedy, and romance). Special emphasis in some terms on performances and adaptations of Shakespearean drama around the world. Plays studied vary across sections and from term to term, and have recently included Henry IV Part 1, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King Lear, Othello, and The Tempest. Enrollment limited.

Currently offered this semester:
21L.010[J] Writing with Shakespeare
(Same subject as 21W.042[J])
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-HW

Focuses on writing and speaking using Shakespeare as a model and means for mastery of English language skills. Emphasizes the development of students’ ability to write clearly and effectively in a range of genres with an awareness of audience. Designed to increase students’ confidence and pleasure in verbal communication and analysis of language. Students write frequently, give and receive feedback, improve their work through revision, and participate actively in class discussions and presentations. Enrollment limited.

Currently offered this semester:
21L.011 The Film Experience
Prereq: none
3-3-6 HASS-A, CI-H

Concentrates on close analysis and criticism of a wide range of films, including works from the early silent period, documentary and avant-garde films, European art cinema, and contemporary Hollywood fare. Through comparative reading films from different eras and countries, students develop the skills to turn their in-depth analyses into interpretations and explore theoretical issues related to spectatorship. Syllabus varies from term to term, but usually includes such directors as Coppola, Eisentein, Fellini, Godard, Griffith, Hawks, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Tarantino, Welles, Wiseman, and Zhang. Enrollment limited.

Currently offered this semester:
21L.012 Forms of Western Narrative
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Examines a wide assortment of narrative forms, from Homer to the present, and considers why and how stories are told. Focuses on the close reading literary and cultural issues, the emergence of different narrative genres, and how different media affect the construction and interpretation of narratives. Syllabus varies by terms, but usually includes materials such as epics, novels, tales, short stories, films, television programs, graphic novels, and interactive games. Enrollment limited.

21L.013 The Supernatural in Music, Literature and Culture
(Same subject as 21M.013J)
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-A/H, CI-H

Explores the relationship between music and the supernatural, focusing on the social history and context of supernatural beliefs as reflected in key literary and musical works from 1600 to the present. Provides a better understanding of the place of ambiguity and the role of interpretation in culture, science and art. Explores great works of art by Shakespeare, Verdi, Goethe (in translation), Gounod, Henry James and Benjamin Britten. Readings will also include selections from the most recent scholarship on magic and the supernatural. Writing assignments will range from web-based projects to analytic essays. No previous experience in music is necessary. Projected guest lectures, musical performances, field trips. Enrollment limited.

Currently offered this semester:
21L.014 Empire: Introduction to Ancient and Medieval Studies
(Same subject as 21H.007J)
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Interdisciplinary investigation of three of the best-documented pre-modern empires: the Roman empire of Augustus, the Frankish empire of Charlemagne, and the English empire in the age of the Hundred Years’ War. Focuses on how large, multi-ethnic empires were created, sustained, legitimated, and contested through conquest, government, literature, art, architecture, thought, social relationships, economic organization, and technology. Students examine several different types of evidence, read across a variety of disciplines, and develop skills to identify continuities and changes in ancient and medieval societies. Enrollment limited.

21L.015 Children's Literature
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Analyzes childrens literature from a variety of eras and genres, taking even the most playful texts seriously as works of art and powerful cultural influences. Considers the types of stories adults consider appropriate for children, and why; how opinions about this subject have changed over time and across cultures; and the complex interplay of words and images in childrens books. Limited to 18.

 

Currently offered this semester:
21L.017 The Art of the Probable
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Examines literary texts and/or films in relation to the history of the idea of probability. Traces the growing importance of probability as a basic property of things and the world, as well as a measure of the reliability of our ideas and beliefs. Connects the development and use of probabilistic reasoning (e.g., in the lottery and in statistics) with literary and cultural concerns regarding the rationality of belief, risk and uncertainty, free will and determinism, chance and fate. Discussion of the work of scientific and philosophical pioneers of probabilistic thought (e.g., Pascal, Leibniz, Bernoulli, Laplace, and Einstein) in conjunction with works by Shakespeare, Voltaire, H. G. Wells, Pynchon and Stoppard, among others. Enrollment limited.

21L.018 Introduction to English Literature
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Examines the rich heritage of English literature across genre and historical period. Designed for students who want to know more about English literature or about English culture and history. Studies the relationship between literary themes, forms, and conventions and the times in which they were produced. Explores (for instance) Renaissance lyrics and drama, Enlightenment satires in word image, the 19th-century novel, and modern and contemporary stories, poems and film. Enrollment limited.

21L.019 Introduction to European and Latin American Fiction
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Studies great works of European and Latin American fiction. Attention to a variety of forms including: the picaresque, epistolary, realist, naturalist, and magical realist fiction. Emphasizes ways in which the unique history of each country shaped the imaginative responses of its writers. Authors include Cervantes, Laclos, Goethe, Mann, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Zola, Unamuno, Woolf, Garcia Marquez, and Allende. Taught in English. Enrollment limited.

21L.020[J] Globalization: The Good, the Bad and the In-Between
(Same subject as 21G.076[J])
Prereq: none
3-0-6 HASS-H, CI-H

Examines the cultural paradoxes of contemporary globalization. Studies the cultural, linguistic, social and political impact of globalization across international borders and on specific language communities. Students analyze contending definitions of globalization and principal agents of change, and why some of them engender backlash; learn to distinguish what is considered new, hybrid, and traditional; identify the agents, costs and benefits of global networks; and explore how world citizens preserve cultural specificity. Students also develop cultural literacy through study of second language and culture, research, development of virtual materials, and interactions with MIT’s international students. Students cannot receive credit without simultaneous completion of a 9-unit language subject. Preference to freshmen.

21L.021 Comedy
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Surveys a range of comic texts in different media, the cultures that produced them, and various theories of comedy. Authors and directors studied may include Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Moliere, Austen, Wilde and Chaplin. Enrollment limited.

Currently offered this semester:
21L.022[J] Darwin and Design
(Same subject as 21W.739[J])
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

In The Origin of Species, Darwin provided a model for understanding the existence of objects and systems manifesting evidence of design without posing a designer, and of purpose and mechanism without intelligent agency. Texts deal with pre-Darwinian and later treatment of this topic within literature and speculative thought since the 18th-century, with some attention to the modern study of feedback mechanism in artificial intelligence. Readings in Hume, Voltaire, Malthus, Darwin, Butler, Hardy, H.G. Wells, and Freud. Enrollment limited.

21L.023[J] Folk Music of the British Isles and North America
(Same subject as 21M.223[J])
Prereq: none
3-1-8 HASS-A, CI-H

Examines the production, transmission, preservation and the qualities of folk music in the British Isles and North America from the 18th century to the folk revival of the 1960s and the present. Special emphasis on balladry, fiddle styles, and African-American influences. Enrollment limited.

21L.024 Literature & Existentialism
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Introduction to literary works associated with existentialism, a nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophical movement known for its exploration of fundamental questions about the individual in modernity. Existentialist writers, artists, and philosophers focused on what it means that human beings exist finitely, oriented towards their own death; to what extent free will and reason are or are not governing principles of existence and action; how an individual might live a meaningful life in a society that itself is sick, illogical, absurd or without meaning; how catastrophes and the devastations of war upend understandings of ethics; and what forms of sensation adequately describe the contemporary human experience—waiting, disgust, nausea, anguish, anxiety, estrangement and alienation, confusion or boredom, or perhaps radical doubt? This course explores the aesthetic languages that existentialist writers and artists deployed to think through these fundamental questions, ones with which twenty-first-century thinkers are still grappling.

Currently offered this semester:
21L.044[J] Classics of Chinese Literature in Translation
(Same subject as 21G.044[J], WGS.235[J]; Subject meets with 21G.195)
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H

Introduction to some of the major genres of traditional Chinese poetry, fiction, and drama. Intended to give students a basic understanding of the central features of traditional Chinese literary genres, as well as to introduce students to the classic works of the Chinese literary tradition. Works read include Journey to the West, Outlaws of the Margin, Dream of the Red Chamber, and the poetry of the major Tang dynasty poets. Literature read in translation. Taught in English.

21L.048[J] International Women's Voices
(Same subject as 21G.022[J], WGS.141[J])
Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Introduces students to a variety of fictional works by contemporary women writers. International perspective emphasizes the extent, if any, there is an identifiable female voice that transcends national boundries. Uses a variety of interpretive perspectives, including sociohistorial, psychoanalytic, and feminist criticism, to examine texts. Authors include Mariama Ba, Isabel Aleende, Anita Desai, Maxine Hong Kingston, Toni Morrison, Doris Lessing, Alifa Riyaat, Yang Jiang, Nawal Al-Saadawi, and Sawako Ariyoshi. Taught in English. Limited enrollment.

21L.301[J] Doing Right
(Same subject as 24.190[J])
Prereq: none
2-0-4
Examines how literary fiction dramatizes a variety of ethical issues, such as self-protection and altruism, lawfulness and justice, and gender and race. Discussions focus on unpacking the ethical implications of literary texts and the literary means by which these implications are communicated. Students are encouraged to attend the Technology and Culture public forums whenever relevant to the text at hand.