Thinking Beyond the Canon

Journal: Hastac

When we think about a syllabus, often there are visions of a packet full of background information on the course material, the required texts for the class, what is expected of the students, student learning outcomes, and a tentative class schedule for the semester.  However, this is not the case with this syllabus being discussed in this article.  In the article from the hastac journal titled “Thinking Beyond the Canon” by Flora de Tournay, Tournay identifies the complexities with this syllabus in regards to canon.  When you have several marginalized authors in the curriculum for the course, it is assumed that this would give students the chance to respond critically to the novels.  However, that is not always the case in some college classes and does more harm than good to the students.

With this new approach to the syllabus, it opens up possibilities for commentary, visual representations, and even notes left by the students.  For example, Tournay says this about the syllabus, “Self-authoring or -authorship, which here functions as the methodological manifestation of my own pedagogical approach, is also reflected in the course’s proposed content” (Tournay).  What this means is that the students are taking charge with the curriculum and in turn, the syllabus is a product to this activity.  In this course, the required readings are from African-American writers (which are either Queer or Female) that have been not discussed in your average English Literature college course.  All of these texts were mainly autobiographical, which includes the cultural history this author has endured in their life.  In a way, this gives students a chance to read the text like you are a writer.

Besides the texts being discussed during this course, the students are given essays that discuss the exclusion around the canon and what sort of hardships are faced when talking non-canonical literature.  Activities in this course would include group work, in-class free writes, and longer writing exercises; those writing exercises would be evaluated by their peers in class and several workshops would be assigned on the day of class.  The pedagogical goal is for the students to think deeper in literature at the higher education level and practice composition at the same time.  With revolving around the idea the marginalized authors and how the students can write about how the authors are not included in the canon, this affirms their chance to be co-designers of this composition course.

I found this article very relevant to Backwards Design because of the syllabus is designed to revolve around outcomes and desirable results (which is included in Grant Wiggins’s “What is Backwards Design?” chapter).  On top of that, in my creative writing course, I am an instructional assistant for, poet Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta shared with the class a crucial story.  She was a curator for a reading series, but only academics were allowed to this reading series.  To circle back to this article, Acosta and Tournay bring up a similar theme: exclusion.  The goal is to advise students to look at the deeper aspect of exclusion of these marginalized authors of literature and how to take authority over the discussion to focus more on inclusion outside of the canon.

You can see the syllabus here:

Teaching “Glocal Landon” within British Romanticism (Pedagogy)

Journal: Pedagogy (Project Muse Standard Collection)

It is important to realize that sticking to the canonical Literature being taught in College does not always work.  This concept gives us little chance to explore the “British Romanticism” period.  Jacqueline Labbe’s article from Project Muse titled “Teaching ‘Glocal Landon’ within British Romanticism” makes a strong case for teachers to use patterned themes from other cultures and connect to one of the Romantic Period’s poets Letitia Landon.  Labbe points out that Landon is not even considered high on the list of authors being discussed between the Romantic Period and the Victorian Period (With William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, William Blake, and John Keats’ work being required for a course compared to Landon).  The author further makes it known that “By focusing on the historical period and how it organizes genre along with national culture(s), rather than attempting to confine its writings to a homogeneous pattern of writing, teachers can bypass some assumptions about canon and instead construct a syllabus responsive to the themes and aims of the course itself” (Labbe, 202).  Sticking to the cultural human aspect to relatable patterns to Literature of the Romantic Period is suited to be more effective in the classroom setting than fixating on everything canonical.

Most of Letitia Landon’s poetry circles in on romantic issues with unhappy relationships or marriages.  Landon had even created this “Love” characterization and from there, teachers can connect with a diverse amount of authors (from the east all the way to Italy); this would be an accessible way to discuss these stories in class and find different themes that circles back to Landon.  All of Landon’s work provides a voice for each narrative and in turn, realize this idea of Love being lost is seen in different foreign stories.  In fact, Labbe continues to point Letitia Landon was used as a starting point for an MA course on the Romantics.  One week students might be studying the British Romantics, another week India and The East, and the last week would be solely on the Britons and Italy.

During the week when students focused in on the texts relating to the East, the students were required to look at plays, novels, and poems that reflected the key ideas found during this time period with Landon’s poems.  For example, famous philologist William Jones (during this time period) said this about language in regards what the students looked at in his article ‘Discourses Delivered before the Asiatic Society’: “The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a  wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of the verbs and the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source” (Jones, 204).  In response to Jones’ discourse on language, it is very crucial to understand the importance of Sanscrit and the use of grammar with the language.  Students had a good look over Jones’s translations on hymns and provided a sense of the form being used.  All of the students came to the conclusion that his language in the poems have the correct names in the language and at the same time, trace back to the English.  Now how does all of this relate to Letitia Landon?  The students in this course focused on Landon’s poem The Zenana.  What was discovered is that the narrative is identified with the imagery found in Indian Literature.  No matter what language or culture the story comes from, the image is a strong craft strategy when it comes to writing.  The author’s job would be showing the readers, not telling them.  In The Zenana, Landon’s reoccurring character Love connects to so many cultures that it fits right into the India Literature during the time period.

By using close reading skills and identifying imagery with Landon’s poetry, students had been to be keenly focused on the author’s voice than continue to point back to canon.  Landon is commonly widespread diversely in Literature circles because of her common patterns with love and romance.  This course overall was based on making Letitia Landon’s work a level playing field compared to Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, William Blake, Samuel Coleridge, and John Keats’ work.


I found this article very interesting because I know some English Literature instructors follow the canon and others have several other works that follow a pattern with one another.  I really believe a student should learn about other diverse texts that pertain to the class.  Other cultures will circulate around a common theme in their stories and if applicable, teaching the students more about what is outside the canon seems like they would be able to engage more in a discussion.  Following the canon with all your classes seem tiresome after a while and while it might be effective in some cases, Labbe’s argument leads me to believe every culture seems to lead us back to the theme from the original author.