English 287:  Great Books (Spring 2005)

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Our course in Spring 2005 is designed to enable students to get practice in thinking through, privately and in group discussion, sophisticated literature from a variety of times and places, and at the same time to acquaint themselves with some of the acknowledged masterpieces of literature in the Western Tradition.  

Please consult the more detailed discussion of the Goals of the Course in order to get clear on the implications of this apparently simple statement.


In the course of the semester, we will read through and discuss 10 works of various kinds from different subcultures within the larger Western Tradition.


Period (first appearance)

Type (one set of classifications)


The Odyssey 
Dark Age/Archaic Greece (around 800-750 BCE) heroic epic poem Heroic Age Greece (c. 1200 BCE)
Crito, & 
Classical Greece (c. 370 BCE) philosophical dialogues (concerning the last days of Plato's mentor Socrates) Classical Greece (399 BCE)
The Inferno 
(Part One 
of The 
Divine Comedy)
Late Medieval Italy (1306) allegorical dream vision Late Medieval Italy (c. 1300)
Baroque/Enlightenment France (1664) comic drama Baroque/Enlightenment France (c. 1660)
Enlightenment France (1759) philosophical tale mid-18th-Century France 
von Kleist:
Romantic Period Germany (1808) historical novella Reformation Germany (early 1520s)
Black Elk:
Black Elk 
U.S. Great Depression (1932) oral autobiography late 19th-/early 20th-Century frontier America
Bertolt Brecht:
The Life 
of Galileo
Great Depression, World War II and immediate aftermath (1938/1943/1954) untragic quasi-historical drama Counter-Reformation Italy (1609-1642)
Cat's Cradle
(U.S., 1963) postmodern satiric novel The 1950s (or perhaps the late 60s), America and the Caribbean
E.L. Doctorow: Ragtime  (U.S., 1975) magic realist novel of historical fantasy late 19th- / early 20th-Century New York

For information on which editions to acquire, and where to get them, see Texts for the Course.

Although we will primarily be taking up these works individually, we will also see how a number of the later ones are (among other things) "carrying on a conversation with" some of their predecessors, and that this contributes in an important way to their overall meaning.

The table above gives you a chronological picture of the order in which our works emerged in history. In our course, however, we will follow the order in which the texts are listed in the link above.  After our initial reading (Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle), we proceed chronologically not by authorship but according to the time in which we are invited to imagine the events presented in our various works to have occurred.  We will proceed 

For the reading assignments by date, see the Course Schedule.


The course grade will be based on a series of quizzes, regular participation in discussions on the course message boards, two out-of-class essays, and a final exam.

For important details, see Grades.

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   Contents copyright © 2005 by Lyman A. Baker

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  This page last updated 12 January 2005.