This course name and description ONLY applies to academic year 2021-2022

ENGL 13186-8: What is Modernity?

Instructor: David Thomas

Because “modernity” is what we inhabit and find therefore familiar, we’re not often very mindful about it, just as we don’t normally think about breathing air. And also, even when the idea of modernity is raised to consciousness, there are quite varied interpretations of its significance. Is it about secularism versus religion? Enlightenment? The advent of Capitalism? Technology? Is it corrosive to the rule of tradition and custom? Does it revise what people once meant by the term human nature? Did it start in the 1600s, or the 1750s, 1850-ish, or about 1910?. This course will explore how a legitimate answer to all these questions can be “Yes!” We take stock of that variation by exploring four facets of modernity in particular: political modernity, economic modernity, social modernity, and aesthetic modernity. Although we will take a multidisciplinary approach, the course will be anchored in literature and a selection of narrative and poetic works from the late 1600s to the 20th Century and to today. Likely longer fiction texts include Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders; Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; and Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway. We will also explore a film or two (we will decide together which films[s]), visual arts, music, and other arts. Graded work involves active participation, periodic reading journals, and several short papers. • Aesthetic: Centered on the arts, especially as a scene of innovation and as a vehicle of social criticism; • Political: Centered on the displacement of absolutist governmental forms by representative, increasingly democratic governments; • Economic: Centered on capitalism, industrialism, and critiques thereof; • Social: Centered on ideas about public deliberation, the navigation of cultural and religious differences, philanthropic activism, and much more.