Literary London: A Class with Culture

July 29, 2011

It isn’t common to hear the words “For my homework, I get to go to to England!” The students of Winter Quarter English 595 did just that -- during Spring Break, they got to study abroad for one week in London.  The course begins with a study of literature written about or set within the city in different time periods. Vastly more novels, plays, poems, journals, and essays have been written about London than about any city in America, or almost anywhere else. Along with readings, this course may include other cultural media, such as film, visual arts, music, or maps. While it isn’t possible to cover everything concerning the literature of London in only ten weeks, taking a trip to the city is a great way to enhance the experience. 


During Winter Quarter 2011, Professor Hannibal Hamlin was the instructor of English 595. In his class, his goal was to  sample the literature of and about London across the chronological spectrum from Shakespeare's day to the present, but other professors may teach the class a bit differently. In order to register for this class, undergraduate students must be rank two or above, have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 and have completed at least ten credit hours in English beyond 110. Graduate students are also eligible if space allows.


So what should students expect out of the trip? To quote Professor Hamlin, “I think potential students should know just how fabulous London is – one of the greatest cities in the world – and how exciting it is to follow the footsteps of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Dickens, Virginia Woolf – even Bridget Jones and Harry Potter.”


The time spent in London is filled with activities. This particular trip included viewing two plays:  King Lear, presented by The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford and Flare Path in London. Students had lunch at a classic British pub, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, and high tea at the National Portrait Gallery Restaurant. They visited the famous churches and cathedrals of the area, including Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's, Southwark Cathedral, and St. Bartholomew the Great. A trip to Hampton Court Palace was also in order, and students were able to see Henry VIII’s rooms and the palace gardens.  Experiencing life in London is another part of this journey – students rode on the Tube, walked through St. James Park in spring flower, saw the marching band of the Irish Guards, and walked by the Thames.


Students also have time on their own to do as they please, which may include shopping, checking out the music scene in Soho and Camden, or visiting Londons' theater district to see big-name musicals like Les Mis.

Literary London isn’t just for English majors, either. Students of all majors and backgrounds are welcome to take this trip. The diverse group who went to London included English majors, a French major, a History major, a Psychology/English double major, an Electrical and Computer Engineering major, and two Biology/Anthropology double majors.

Kate Scherer, an Electrical and Computer Engineering major, writes of the trip: “I would recommend English 595: Literary Locations to any student, of any major, who is interested in enriching their college experience. This trip was a fantastic experience for me.

“My favorite part of the trip was touring St. Paul's Cathedral. The building was so beautiful and the space felt sacred. I really liked the look and the atmosphere of the church. We saw Nelson’s tomb and a simple tomb for Christopher Wren the architect who rebuilt (and redesigned) St. Paul’s after the Great Fire of 1666. Some of the students in our group climbed the 365 feet of stairs to the very top of St. Paul’s to see the view.

“I was amazed by the amount of history on every street in London. Churches scarred by the Blitz share the streets with modern office buildings and 17th century pubs. The trip was a fantastic immersion in British culture. This visit to England will always be remembered as a high point of my undergraduate experience.”

Natalie Elwer, OSU '11
Website Features Intern, Spring 2011