Gold framed art on a red wall

This course will explore from multiple points of view why ruins are so popular:  whether those be architectural, literary, or political, or all of these simultaneously. We will read poetry, novels, and look at paintings of ruins.  Although the class mostly focuses on the Romantic era in Britain (1776-1832), I have widened that scope. We will discuss ISIL’s 2015 destruction of the ancient ruins of Palmyra in what is now Syria; we will explore Native American ruins; and we will delve into the aftermaths of COVID-19 and September 11, 2001. This class will be a chance to reflect on many years of history and how art has been used to help us find hope in the midst of change.

Explores a special topic in British literature written between 1660-1900 that crosses traditional divisions of nationality, history, and discipline.

Here are some themes we will explore:

  • How does a historical moment affect views of the Ruin? What happens when ruins are “new” rather than 100’s of years old?  Can the contemporary ruin be a site of hope or consolation? How do we cope with disaster and ruin?  How does the ruin invite us to rethink the past, present, and future? 
  • The Ruin as a hopeful harbinger of the past and present.
  • The Ruined City:  Ruin as representation of liberation, as a site dangerous to despotic rule and as a graveyard of hope
  • Literature as Ruin: Deliberate and inadvertent fragments in Romantic-era literature. 
  • Tourists and ruins:  travelers—in person and via reading and viewing—to the sacred space of the ruin
  • Native American ruins and the role of the gift shop
  • Contemporary Ruins:  and the ruins and impacts of September 11, 2001 and Covid-19. 

Possible readings:

  • Volney:  The Ruins of Empire (1791)
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge:  “Kubla Khan” (1797)
  • William Wordsworth:  “Tintern Abbey” (1798) Prelude,
  • Wollstonecraft:  Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman (1798)
  • John Keats:  Hyperion and the Fall of Hyperion (1820)
  • Mary Shelley: The Last Man (1826)
  • Tourist accounts

Reading Selections from:

  • Roger Célestin:  From Cannibals to Radicals:  Figures and Limits of Exoticism (1996)
  • James A. Swan: Sacred Ground in Natural:  The Power of Place and Human Environments (1991).
  • Johann Drucker: Graphesis:  Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (2014)

Expectations:  daily student participation; a midterm, a paper (5-7 pp), and a final creative presentation.

Repeatable: Repeatable for up to 9.00 total credit hours. Allows multiple enrollment in term.
Requisites: Restricted to students with 57-180 credits (Juniors or Seniors).
Additional Information:Arts Sci Gen Ed: Distribution-Arts Humanities
Departmental Category: British Literature after 1660

Taught by Jill Heydt-Stevenson.