Saturday, January 29, 2011

interdisciplinary pedagogy for literature and economics: a syllabus

Part two

Enough nattering about: here's a syllabus to suggest one way that this course could be taught. It's designed to cover a lot of ground, time-wise, but through a series of careful hops, rather than reading everything, or pieces of everything.

ENGL ###: Where Literature and Economics Meet

We do not think of the disciplines of literature and economics as having much relevance to each other: the former is about stories that are imaginary, and read for pleasure; while the latter is about “real” situations which affect the wellbeing of individuals, cities, and even nations.

This course is about investigating that conflict, and about seeing it not just as a conflict, but as a dynamic relationship between two disciplines that has developed throughout the last three centuries. We’ll be using the techniques of economic analysis to read literature in new ways; as well as exploring how imagination, creativity, and metaphor are vital components in the discipline of economics. Among the questions we will consider are: On what grounds do literature and economics intersect? Can we use math and statistics to study novels and poetry? What happens when we look at literature as a knowledge-producing discipline? What changes when we consider economics as a science of human emotion? How do authors use economic forces to create literary genres? How do economists use storytelling in order to do their jobs?

In the course of the quarter, we will read primary sources in the genres of fiction, poetry, and economic theory; and secondary sources that provide useful contextual information, and help situate both disciplines in their historical context. You’ll learn about how practitioners in each field have critiqued and/or embraced the other, and in studying the way that economic analysis affects the way that literature can be interpreted, you’ll gain greater insight into the reasons for tensions between the two fields today. You will also be able to look at each field separately from very new perspectives: how can literature work as a science? How can economics work as an art?

This course cannot substitute for a traditional economics class, and is not intended to serve as an economics course for non-business majors. Instead, it’s meant to give you the opportunity to explore how the two fields have shaped each other, and to provide you with a foundation for further study involving literature and economics, as well as experience that will be useful in looking at the intersection of other humanities and hard science fields.

By the quarter’s end, you should have developed:

• Familiarity with the common ground between the fields of economics and literature, and the relationship of the two disciplines to each other.

• Knowledge of economic principles and questions that affect literature production.

• The ability to form new critical questions about both literature and economics, and to analyze and discuss the role of each in terms of their categorization as art or science.

• Familiarity with the critical concepts of authority, ideology, and economic behavior, and with the different types of reasoning and literary devices that are common to both literary and economic genres.

• The ability to think critically about how knowledge about economics is distributed through multiple sources.

• Critical thinking skills for searching, gathering, evaluating, and presenting search data.

• Practice writing in different genres, including formal academic essays, and writing for the web.

Reading Schedule

Week 1: Defining economics, defining literature
Reading: various brief excerpts defining economics, and defining literature

Week 2:
Defoe: “An Essay on Publick Credit” (1710)
Maynwaring: “An Excellent New Song, Called Credit Restored” (1711)
Addison: “A Vision of Public Credit” (1711)
Smith: Excerpt, The Wealth of Nations (1776)
Wordsworth: “The Old Cumberland Beggar” (1800)

Week 3:
Malthus: Excerpt, An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798)
Blake: “The Chimney Sweeper” (Songs of Innocence) (1789)

Week 4: “Professional” authors, and publishing in the 18th century
The rivalry of Edmund Curll and Alexander Pope
Pope: “Moral Essays: Epistle IV” (1733)
Pope: Excerpts from “A Further Account of the Most Deplorable Condition of Mr.
Edmund Curll, Bookseller, Since Being Poisoned” (1716)
Curll: Excerpts from “A Compleat Key to the Dunciad” (1728)

Week 5: The emergence of the genre of economics
Ricardo, Excerpt, On the principles of political economy and taxation (1817)
Martineau: Excerpts from Illustrations of political economy (1832-4)
Dickens: “Bill-Sticking,” (1851) and “Shops and their tenants” (1839)

Week 6: The gay science vs. the dismal science
Excerpts from J. S. Mill and Thomas Carlyle
David Levy: Excerpt, How the Dismal Science Got Its Name
Ruskin: “The Veins of Wealth” (1860)

Week 7: Economics in the literary industry today:
Greco, Rodriguez, Wharton: “Changes in the book publishing industry, 1945-2005”
Dustin Kidd: “Harry Potter and the Functions of Popular Culture”
Ted Striphas: “A political economy of commodity codes”
Chris Anderson: Excerpt from Free: the future of a radical price

Week 8: Defining economics, defining literature II: the classification of arts and sciences
Martin Gardner: “Science and the Unknowable”
Karl Popper: “The Problem of Induction”
Paul Kristeller: Excerpt, “The Modern System of the Arts”
George Dickie: Excerpt, Art and Value
Daniel B. Smith: “What is Art for? (NY Times website)

Week 9: The transmission of economic information and authority
Student website presentations

Week 10: The conflict between literature and economics
Review of readings from Week 2 & 3
Focus question: When do literary and economic texts represent the real, and when do they represent the ideal?

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