At Berkeley

English 166: Age of Crisis

There was a recurring plague, a changing climate, a never-ending war, a failed revolution and a cruel reaction, paranoia and persecution, political strife and inept leadership and a widespread sense that everything had gone wrong and could never be fixed again: fourteenth-century England might have been a mess, but it’s our kind of mess. The silver lining? During this period of crisis, a public eager to read English literature emerged. The literary corpus that spoke to this public––poems dedicated to protest, mourning, and joyous invention––is as inventive and resilient as any in the language.

English 110: Love in the Middle Ages

New York, Morgan Library MS M.245 fol. 11r

Set aside the stereotypes: there’s more to medieval love than gallant knights and fair maidens. In this course, we’ll traverse the many ways one could write about love before 1400. Some medieval authors cultivated divine love, while others told dirty jokes; some celebrated marriage, while others derided it; some regulated gender expression, while others subverted its norms––and sometimes the same author did all these things at once. This class will focus on works written in France and England during the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, as well as their antecedents in medieval Arabic and Hebrew love literature.

English 176: Medieval Futures

We usually think of speculative fiction as forward-looking. But it’s no accident that the most popular modern sci-fi saga narrates the struggles of knights and monks “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”: even when our imagination projects forward, it looks backward, too. This course traces the strangely central role of the Middle Ages in modern genre fiction and popular culture. We begin with the ways in which medieval writers themselves pioneered recurrent features of speculative fiction, from time travel to space exploration. From those early experiments in the fantastic and marvelous, we turn to modern novels and film that borrow form, content, and setting from the Middle Ages. To supplement our understanding of these works, we will read short excerpts from the medieval texts that inspired them. Throughout the class, we will ask what role the past plays in fantasies about the future, and what that tells us about the attitudes of the present regarding religion, race, gender, politics, and the literary imagination.

English 166: Games of Thrones

At Harvard

Expository Writing 20: Ecological Crisis

The news just keeps getting worse… Against a steady drumbeat of local calamities, our shared global crisis continues to unfold: international agreements are abrogated or ignored, global greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise, and geophysical “tipping points” keep getting crossed. It’s hard not to despair. But this course will ask you to move beyond despair. We will think seriously about the hard questions climate change poses: how should governments and peoples prepare for, and adapt to, a changing climate? How do we stave off the worst-case scenarios, and how should we mete out responsibility for the damage that’s already certain to occur? How might our society––our politics, our culture, our sense of justice and our narratives of ourselves––transform as climate change continues to unfold? And how can we mobilize people and governments to fight climate change?