Reading & Composition

Reading & Composition

Making (Up) History: Historical Fiction, Fictional History, and the Meaning of the Past
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Kyle Ralston
2-3:30 pm
279 Dwinelle

In this R1B course we will explore fictional (and often fantastical) depictions of and engagements with real events of the past - that is, with history. Over the semester, we will examine and discuss films and literature which incorporate descriptions, references, personal recollections, and even richly imagined accounts of historical events or periods into the fictional(ized) stories they tell and worlds they construct. However, rather than drawing a line between the factual and the fictional elements of these works, we will instead focus our attention on the varied and various ways these literary texts and films give meaning to events of the past, or perhaps even make that meaning themselves. By looking beyond questions of truth and historical accuracy, we can pose new questions about the roles of literature and film in reaffirming, questioning, and revising what history means. The fictional texts we will read closely and discuss together, alongside excerpts from historical and literary theorists, will ask - and sometimes force - us to reconsider what we think we know about how and why history is made and explore the peculiar and unexpected ways in which history, like fiction, is also made up.

This is a writing- and reading-intensive course. A substantial amount of time will be devoted to writing instruction and workshops as we develop our critical reading and analytical writing skills. Students will be required to practice these skills actively by participating in class discussion, reading (and rereading) carefully, and writing (and revising!) both an analytical essay and a research paper.

Suggested/potential course texts (non-exhaustive)

Maryse Condé, I, Tituba

Daniel Defoe, Journal of the Plague Year

Horace Ode III.2 with Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et decorum est”

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

Hilary Mantel, “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher”

Toni Morrison, Beloved

George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo

Shakespeare, Henry V (or another of the histories)

Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Voltaire, Candide

Colson Whitehead, Underground Railroad

Christa Wolf, Medea

Virginia Wolff, To the Lighthouse



Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

Quentin Tarrentino, Inglourious Basterds

Guillermo del Toro, Pan's Labyrinth


Plus potential short theoretical readings excerpted from: Adorno, Aristotle, Bakhtin, Benjamin, Koselleck, LaCapra, Miller, White (among others)