module specification

SJ5001 - History of Critical Thinking (2018/19)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2018/19
Module title History of Critical Thinking
Module level Intermediate (05)
Credit rating for module 30
School Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities
Total study hours 300
90 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
210 hours Guided independent study
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Seminar 10%   15-20 minute group seminar presentation
Coursework 20%   2000 word (approx)
Coursework 20%   2000 word essay
Coursework 50%   A 2500 word essay
Running in 2018/19 No instances running in the year

Module summary

On ‘History of Critical Thinking’students will learn to understand, explain and utilise some of the key forms of criticism, theory and philosophy that have been related to literature.  They will do this by engaging with critical ideas 'in themselves' but also by reading literary texts to which these ideas can be appliedor in which they can be discerned. 

Theories and literary texts from different periods will be referred to.  They will be treated in roughly historical order.  Classical, Mediaeval, Enlightenment, Romantic, Modern and Postmodern literary texts will all be looked at.  Concomitant theories and philosophies will be considered alongside these. They will include classical aesthetics, rhetoric, rationalism, romantic philosophy, political economy, narratology, existentialism, humanism, structuralism, reader-response theory, psychoanalysis, feminist criticism, post-structuralismand postcolonial criticism.

Some of this material encountered on the module will be challenging.  However, it will be presented and worked through in an accessible way.  Theories will be explained clearly in lectures.  They will also be explored and elucidated through readings of literary texts that involve or are open to interpretation by them.  For example, existentialism might be explained as a philosophy and explored in a novel by Jean-Paul Sartre; postcolonial criticism might be explained in theory and applied to a short story by Salman Rushdie.  Various other means will also be used to illustrate, elaborate and explore ideas engaged with on the module.  These will include audio-visual presentations and individual and group exercises. 

Two main strategies will be employed to give the module coherence and to help student relate different aspects of it to each other.  The first of these will be historical.  As indicated above, literary and theoretical texts will be dealt with more or less in order.  The second strategy will be thematic. Texts will be considered in relation to three key themes: myth, self and language.  Many of the texts studied on the module can be seen to engage with these themes (which areof course not exhaustive; texts will be considered in other ways too).

The module will refer to and develop material introduced on all core level four English literature modules, especially 'Theory and Practice of Prose'.  It will anticipate work done on level six modules, especially 'The Novel and the Contemporary World’ and 'Book Print Hypertext'.

Module aims

History of Critical Thinking aims to:
• take account of the ways in which literature has developed and changed historically
• examine key ways in which these developments and changes have been understood
• do this with reference to particular critical, philosophical and theoretical ways of thinking about literature
• explore literary texts and literary theory in terms of three abiding themes that can be discerned in them: myth, self and language
• engage with equivalences and extensions of literature and literary theory (e.g. film, art, philosophy)


Literary texts referred to could include The Iliad by Homer, Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Bible, The Waves by Virginia Woolf, Good Morning Midnight by Jean Rhys, Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, Willard and his Bowling Trophies by Richard Brautigan, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and  Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.  Theorists and philosophers referred to could include Plato, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Matthew Arnold, F. R. Leavis, Simone de Beauvoir, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida.  Audio-visual material looked at could include Un ChienAndalouby Luis Buñel and Salvador Dalí, Not I by Samuel Beckett, The Gospel According to St Matthew by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Badlandsby Terrence Malick and The Wire by David Simon

Learning and teaching

The module will be taught in weekly sessions that combine lectures, seminar discussion and small group activities, plus additional scheduled online or face-to-face tutorials. Lecture summaries will be available on Weblearn along with other electronic resources that support the course. Students will have weekly set reading that will include novels, short stories, poems, poetry, literary criticism, literary theory, critical theory and philosophy. Class teaching may be enhanced by activities such as guest speakers and screenings.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

1. identify and understand some of the key ideas and schools of thought concerning the nature and purpose of literature
2. critically evaluate literary texts
3. use and explain literary and critical theories and philosophies
4. compare, evaluate and judge different forms of criticism, theory and philosophy
5. relate literature and literary theory to wider intellectual and cultural forms and practices

Assessment strategy

Formative activities and assessment:

● periodic reading comprehension and summary exercises
● individual or small group seminar presentations
● contribution to online activities/blogs/message boards
● staff feedback on seminar discussions
● staff feedback on written assignments
● peer evaluation by students

Summative assessment:

Assessment one
– 2000 word (approx) written assessment comprising three or four summary definitions of specified literary forms and literary-critical approaches.

Assessment two
– 2000 word essay comprising a description and assessment of a particular literary form, literary critical approach or critical theory with examples of its possible application.

Assessment three
– A 2500 word essay on a topic related to literary form, literary theory, critical theory or philosophy and their applications to and correspondences with literature or literature related culture. 

Assessment total = 6500 words


Aristotle, Poetics (Penguin, 1996)
Baudrillard: Simulations (New York: Semiotexte, 1983)
Barry, P., English in Practice: in Pursuit of English Studies (London: Arnold, 2003)
Borges, J.L., Labyrinths (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1970)
Derrida, J. Positions (London : Athlone, 1981)
Eagleton, T., Literary Theory, An Introduction (Oxford, Blackwell, 1996)
Easthope, A. and McGowan, K., A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader (Buckingham: OUP, 2004)
Kearney, R. and Rainwater, M. The Continental Philosophy Reader (London: Routledge, 1996)
Leavis F.R., and Thompson, D., Culture and Environment  (London: Chatto&Windus, 1933)
Lodge, D., The Modes of Modern Writing: Metaphor, Metonymy and the Typology of Modern Literature, (London: Edward Arnold, 1977)
Woolf, V., A Room of One’s Own (London: Penguin, 1993)
Wright, E., Psychoanalytic Criticism (Oxford: Polity, 1998)

Web Resources:

The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy:

Critical Theory Resources: