That’s what literature is about, isn’t it?—a record of one human being’s sojourn on earth, proffered in verse or prose that artfully weaves together knowledge of the past with a heightened awareness of the present in ever new verbal configurations.

~Arthur Krystal, “What is Literature?”


In their introduction to Literature: The Human Experience, Richard Abcarian and Marvin Klotz defend the reading of literature as something that can change us. They observe that we can “learn a great deal” about ourselves, about our own and others’ cultures, about the world, by spending time with a wide variety of books. In the process, they continue, our “[r]eading will make wise, humane, and just citizens of us all.”

But such deep change demands more of us than just passing our eyes over words. It demands more than simply skimming the surface of the language that streams around us everyday, flowing via social media, popular culture, news outlets, text messages, course materials, advertising, etc. It demands that we read actively as well as widely, that we open ourselves to the influence others’ stories can exert on our character, on our habits of being.

In this course, we’ll take those demands seriously by actively and critically reading, analyzing, and interpreting diverse works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama written by authors from diverse cultures and traditions. Additionally, we’ll ask after the ways digital media and technologies can augment and/or detract from the human experience of reading literature. Because the course is located online, it provides the ideal environment in which you can reflect on and develop your critical reading and thinking skills as they’re practiced and enacted in digital communities, which are media-rich and highly participatory. To this end, our curriculum is based on several assumptions about thinking and reading in the 21st century. It assumes,

  1. that reading is a social act;
  2. that the emergence, rapid evolution, accessibility, and prevalence of digital technologies demand that we think differently about how, what, where, why, and for whom we read;
  3. that learning to navigate, analyze, and meaningfully participate in the diverse, mass-mediated, multicultural environments that surround you will serve you well in college and beyond.

Working from and building upon these assumptions, together we’ll make this course’s online presence and participatory network a public record of our collective engagement with literary works as mediated and shared by digital tools. My hope is that doing so will help us better understand what it means to be human in a rapidly changing, media-rich world.