Here’s a syllabus…

Here's a syllabus question -- if I'm considering including a history book in my post-colonial lit. class, how much of the book do I need to use in order to make it worth buying for the students? Is a third of the book (about what I'd like to use) enough? I ran into this problem last semester too, with a different book -- I just don't need them to read an entire history book, but I do want them to have more history than just my lecture notes.

If it helps clarify the decision, the book I'm thinking of using (Minal Hajratwala's Leaving India) is still in hardcover, so is $26 new, but Amazon has it for 60% off, ($10.53), and you can also buy used copies online for about $6 + shipping, so a student should be able to get it for $10 with minimal effort.

I could, of course, make them read the whole book. But a good chunk of it is less directly post-colonial, and I'd rather they read more fiction / poetry instead.

And while we're on the subject, any great colonial or post-colonial poetry recommendations? My syllabus is very fiction-heavy at the moment, and I need to cut at least two novels to make the workload manageable for them, I think (my big crit in course evaluations last spring was 'too much reading'). It's also South Asia-heavy -- would particularly like more material from elsewhere.

Previous booklist:

  • King Solomon's Mines, H. Rider Haggard (Africa)
  • Kim, Rudyard Kipling (India)
  • A Passage to India (film) (India)
  • Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)
  • The Lion and the Jewel, Wole Soyinka (Nigeria)
  • Irish Writing: An Anthology of Irish Literature in English 1789-1939, Stephen Regan (excerpts) (Ireland, obviously)
  • Cracking India, Bapsi Sidhwa (Pakistan)
  • Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie (India)
  • the bone people, Keri Hulme (New Zealand)
  • A Small Place, Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua)
  • White Teeth, Zadie Smith (England)
  • other varied handouts
I never made it to White Teeth last semester, which is a shame. I'm probably cutting Kim, much as I love it, because it's dense enough that I need to go through it very slowly for the students to get it (most of them totally missed how funny it is, which is tragic), and we just don't have the time. Pfui. Will probably use Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King" instead. I'm not going to make them buy the Irish Writing anthology this time -- just give them various Irish short stories and excerpts. I'm really not sure what else to cut -- maybe Sidhwa's Cracking India, so we have enough time to do Midnight's Children properly? -- Rushdie was definitely rushed last time, and the students loved it, so I want to keep it.

Hmm...if I cut Kim and Cracking India, maybe it's not too S. Asia-centric after all. Although I wish there was bit more of other S. Asian countries than India. :-( I do start the semester with my short story "Oceans Bright and Wide", so they get a bit of Sri Lanka, but I'd really like to get something from Pakistan and/or Bangladesh in there too. A story or a poem or something. I can't remember if I have anything in the handouts -- will have to go through the stack and look. And while we're at it, somewhere from someplace in Africa other than Nigeria?

I think I'm actually going to try putting together a reader this time, for the first time ever, rather than just handing out extra handouts all through the course. Should be easier for them, and I think the organization in advance will be good for me. Although I'm sure a few extra handouts will find their way in anyway...

8 thoughts on “Here’s a syllabus…”

  1. $10 isn’t bad for a textbook, but if you’re going to compile a reader, why not add the relevant sections to the reader?

  2. I’m with Stacy – why not incorporate it into the reading packet? Alternatively, will the university purchase several copies and put them on reserve? My university had a reading room where all required and suggested course books and packets were available for reading. I’ve heard that’s even gone online now. Sure saved me money when there was an item I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy, but needed to read for a course.

  3. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    I think it’s too much material to put in the reading packet — it’ll be about a third of the book, so maybe 100 – 150 pages.

    I’d do reserve, but I’m teaching three sections of this course, so about 50 students, who’ll all need to read the material at the same time. And we’ll be using the history materials over several different weeks, so they can’t just read it in advance. So I don’t think reserve is really an option either — I can ask for a few copies to be put on reserve, but that won’t help most of the students.

  4. Well I’m obviously completely biased and incapable of answering your question, but just want to post and say I’m flattered! Thanks, Mary Anne, for considering it. (One idea from another prof: assign the third of the book that you want as required, then include another chapter or two as extra credit, or as an optional essay prompt, so that it doesn’t feel like a waste for the students who’ve bought the book.)

    Those are some of my favorite novels … I agree re Cracking India / Midnight’s Children, since they cover some of the same conceptual ground as well. Personally I hate Kipling 🙂 so I can easily agree w/cutting him as well! For beyond South Asia: Maybe a story from Nahid Rachlin’s short story book VEILS, or Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis — I think both of them address post-colonialism in a really interesting way, as it pertains to Western involvement in Iran, and are accessible too.

    have fun!

  5. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Hmm…I don’t usually venture out as far as Iran — might be a bit shaky conceptually for me. Would have to think about how it fits into post-coloniality. But I do love Persepolis, and I’m sure the students would too, so maybe I should go revisit that book. Thanks for the suggestion. 🙂

    Thai, you’ll read what I assign and like it. 🙂

  6. In terms of poetry book recommendations, I think Yvette Christianse’s “Castaway” is a good option. So is Grace Nichols’ “I Is a Long Memoried Woman.” And if you are looking for younger, South Asian writers, Meena Kandasamy has a lot of her work online, including her entire first collection. She can be an especially interesting poet in a post-colonial class, since she’s so theoretical herself, and deals with caste, gender and describes herself as a “Dalit” writer. There aren’t many Dalit writers who write in English!

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