Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module ENGL45030: Adventures in Reading: Romantic Books and Political Possibilities

Department: English Studies

ENGL45030: Adventures in Reading: Romantic Books and Political Possibilities

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2020/21 Module Cap None.


  • Students must hold a good BA degree in English or a related subject to be eligible for entry onto the MA programmes in the Department of English Studies


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To explore the question of what is lost if we read Keats’s or Landon’s poems only in a Norton Critical paperback or a Broadview edition—or on one of the many literature websites (e.g. poetryfoundation.org)
  • To ask why might it have mattered to Romantic-period authors and readers in what kind of format—magazine, codex, pamphlet, gift book—their poetry and prose appeared
  • To consider to what extent Romantic texts themselves ask, and propose answers for, these very questions
  • Methodologically, to combine rigorous close reading and formal analysis with theories of the book and histories of reading in order to illuminate the play of meaning between poetics and format
  • To examine how the meanings of texts shift as they move from one material format to another, as well as how the texts themselves encode such movements, while focusing on the place of the codex book in the textual ecology of the Romantic period
  • To track how Romantic writers, in a transatlantic age of revolutions and abolitionist movements, understood the technology of the book to participate in the perception and creation of political possibilities.


  • Readings for this module range across the genres of poetry, essay, letter, and novel and may include work by such authors as William Blake, Lord Byron, Olaudah Equiano, William Hazlitt, Felicia Hemans, Leigh Hunt, John Keats, Charles Lamb, Letitia Landon, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Prince, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Henry David Thoreau, Phyllis Wheatley, and William Wordsworth. Topics covered may include the technology of the book, the talking book trope, the unfinished book, resistance to the materiality of books, remediation and poetic figuration, repeat reading, relations between reading and walking, the snug study versus the public library, and ruination by books.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On completion of this module, students will possess:
  • Knowledge of the conditions of mass print in the Romantic period
  • Knowledge of the range of writing about the book as a physical object in the Romantic period
  • Knowledge of various Romantic perspectives on the benefits and dangers of reading books
  • Knowledge of Romantic-period practices of remediation
  • Knowledge of methodological possibilities for combining close reading with book historical approaches to texts
  • Knowledge of how writers—in an age of political revolutions, reform movements, slavery, and abolition—imagined the political implications of the book as a reading technology
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • Advanced critical skills in the close reading and analysis of literary and historical texts;
  • An ability to offer advanced analysis of formal and aesthetic dimensions of literature;
  • An ability to articulate and substantiate at a high level an imaginative response to literature;
  • An ability to demonstrate an advanced understanding of the cultural, intellectual, socio-political contexts of literature;
  • An ability to articulate an advanced knowledge and understanding of conceptual or theoretical literary material;
  • An advanced command of a broad range of vocabulary and critical literary terminology.
Key Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • an advanced ability to analyse critically;
  • an advanced ability to acquire complex information of diverse kinds in structured and systematic ways;
  • an advanced ability to interpret complex information of diverse kinds through the distinctive skills derived from the subject;
  • expertise in conventions of scholarly presentation and bibliographical skills;
  • an independence of thought and judgement, and ability to assess acutely the critical ideas of others;
  • sophisticated skills in critical reasoning;
  • an advanced ability to handle information and argument critically;
  • a competence in information-technology skills such as word-processing and electronic data access;
  • professional organisation and time-management skills.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Students are encouraged to develop advanced conceptual abilities and analytical skills as well as the ability to communicate an advanced knowledge and conceptual understanding within seminars; the capacity for advanced independent study is demonstrated through the completion of two assessed pieces of work.
  • Typically, directed learning may include assigning student(s) an issue, theme or topic that can be independently or collectively explored within a framework and/or with additional materials provided by the tutor. This may function as preparatory work for presenting their ideas or findings (sometimes electronically) to their peers and tutor in the context of a seminar.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 9 fortnightly 2hrs 18
Independent student research supervised by the Module Convenor 10
Preparation and Reading 272
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 3000 words 40%
Essay 2 3000 words 60%

Formative Assessment:

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University