This fall of 2020, almost all classes at Simon Fraser University, including all SFU English graduate seminars, will be offered remotely, using a combination of Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms and Canvas, SFU’s online instruction system. We are very much aware of the technological and social conditions that bedevil online education during a pandemic: on the one hand, students have varying access to computer equipment, Wi-Fi and data plans; too, instructors and students alike are attempting to conduct classes working from often-cramped housing conditions, mindful of family health and economic concerns, social isolation, and ramped-up ethnocentrism and racism. In the face of this, we also believe in the research and teaching that we do, and that the interpretation of literary and critical discourses not only has its own value, but can help us better understand the social and cultural conditions of our present day crises. To better communicate the specifics of how we will teach and learn in the fall semester, I have asked the professors responsible for graduate courses to briefly describe their plans (Please keep in mind that conditions may change, and that these are tentative plans from mid-summer 2020).

–Clint Burnham, Graduate Program Chair


Professor Carolyn Lesjak will be teaching English 810, Studies in Theory I: The Marxist Legacy and Contemporary Theory

As with all the courses in our department this coming fall, English 810 will be taught remotely. We will hold what would have been our in-person evening seminars via Zoom—at the same time as scheduled (4:30 p.m. on Thursdays), but not for anything like the four hours that we would have been together when meeting in-person (We’ll do other things to keep the conversation going). Indeed, our study of Marx and the Marxist legacy will allow us to consider such new phenomena as the infamous “Zoom fatigue” in relation to Marx's concept of abstract labor, and to think, more generally, about what Marx got right about his world and ours and where we might want to rethink his ideas, and those of later Marxists. Marx and Marxism have rarely been so referenced and relevant as they are today, with socialism “in the air,” Angela Davis arguing for the deep connections between race and capitalism, racism and superexploitation, the resurgence of the Indigenous rights movement, pipeline protests, and calls to decolonize the university, and the need for collective responses to global crises more in evidence than ever. Over the course of the semester, we will work together to bring Marxist and other contemporary analyses to bear on this range of issues, in the hopes of honing our ability to read the past and the present and to act today.


Professor Leith Davis will be teaching English 820, Studies in Print Culture Theory: Theoretical Approaches to Print Culture History and Theory of the Book

This course was originally designed to involve “embodied humanities” methods. In addition to doing reading about the history of mediation, the course was to include three media labs (ballad listening and singing; writing with quill pens and reading manuscripts; and visiting a working printing press and having a chance to print). Well, the best laid plans gang aft agley, as Robert Burns says. We obviously won’t be meeting together in an embodied fashion in the upcoming semester. Nevertheless, I am still committed to the methodology of experiential learning, and so I will be looking for ways in which we can shift what we do to a remote environment. I am currently in conversations with ballad singers to see about the Zoom possibilities for singing. I think I can get together packages of feathers and ink to send out to you individually through the post and we can do some quill pen creation and writing in a Zoom meeting, too. As for the printing press, that’s a tough one. I really wanted you to have the experience of putting type together and doing the hard labour of letterpress printing. As I presume you don’t all have a letter-press at home, though, we’ll probably just have to do a remote tour of a press. In short, it sure won’t be the way that I wanted it to be. Nevertheless, we will do our best, and I am committed to making this a great experience. In fact, I hope to involve even more at-home experimental activities that you can do individually or in small remote groups (paper-making, ink-making, following an 18th-century recipe, writing a ballad and more!). The course will combine synchronous learning with asynchronous activities. We will assess as we go along to see how things are going.


Professor Paul Budra will be teaching English 829, Studies in Shakespeare: Shakespeare and Interface

English 829 will be taught online in the fall of 2020. Our meetings will be held on Zoom and many of our discussions will take place in Canvas forums. Students will be directed to a host of digital archives and other electronic resources and will deliver their own presentations live via Zoom or as a recorded digital file. Bizarrely, this makes a certain pedagogical sense because in this course we will be looking at how technologies, from the codex to the Zoom performance, structure cognitive engagement with the works of Shakespeare. This course is about interface, the inescapable media operations that determine our understanding and shape our relationship with Shakespeare’s texts, so it is not inappropriate that the course itself will be mediated through technology. We will explore the implications of interface, in its many historical manifestations, while interfacing with the most current of them.


Professors Matt Hussey and David Coley will be teaching English 830, Medieval British Historiographies: The Rise and Fall of Everything

As the title, “The Rise and Fall of Everything,” so subtly suggests, historiographical literature of the early Middle Ages reflects on cataclysm: all too apt for our present moment. While the cultural traumas of the collapse of Rome or the conversion to Christianity or the Norman Conquest are historically distant, the dynamics of loss and recuperation we find in the synthetic, generative, and imaginative works of early medieval British and English might allow us to think about how we remake our past and present in the wake of catastrophe, and what for. The first few weeks will focus on interpretive and historical foundations: mentalities, ways of reading, critical methods, political and imaginative approaches to history. For the remaining weeks, we will work on primary texts alongside select secondary chapters and essays, ranging from the sixth-century Latin jeremiad by Gildas though to the 12th-century English poetic epic of Laȝamon’s Brut.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this class will be delivered via distance platforms: Canvas, Blackboard, Zoom, etc. These conditions challenge our ability to discuss together, exchange viewpoints, collaborate on ideas, test our understanding, and more, but the health and well-being of each other are our priority right now. I am hoping we all will do the best we can, with the understanding that sometimes the wifi will be dodgy, or books will be hard to get, or things in our lives will intrude. Despite our distance, I am hoping that academically, intellectually, and as a community we can do right by each other. The course will be team taught, so both David Coley and Matt Hussey will contribute to discussion, while we hope to centre the seminars on students’ interests, questions, and ideas. Introductory and framing lectures will be made available asynchronously, for watching in advance of a weekly synchronous discussion. Course readings will be available through our library or through Canvas. A few books will be available through the SFU Bookstore, but these are easily gettable from bookshops or online as well. The format of the synchronous meetings will vary week to week, but we hope to provide opportunities to collaborate with each other, as well as some "hands-on" work with texts, books, and artifacts, virtually delivered. We’ll be experimenting with poems, approaches, and pedagogies to try and make clear how exciting, weird, powerful, and challenging these texts and ideas can be.

Matt and David are excited to welcome you to the class. We wish we could all be together, but we will do everything we can to make this work as best as it can.


Professor Sophie McCall will be teaching English 844, Studies in Aboriginal Literature (MATE Program): This Place We Now Call Vancouver: Indigenous Reclamations of Land and Story

The events over the past few months have put into high relief the social divides and inequalities that have always existed in settler colonial Canada. As the most vulnerable in society pay the highest price, more than ever we must learn to value human relationships and an ethics of caring for one another. Learning during a global pandemic means we can’t meet in person for the foreseeable future–and we have to cope with the disembodied space of Zoom, with its eerie time lags and erasure of facial expressions. Yet learning from home gives us a rare opportunity to prioritize introspection and to pursue more personal, self-directed, creative-critical projects that perhaps we’ve had the intention of pursuing for some time. This course will strike a balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning, with an emphasis on creative-critical inquiry that involves self-reflection, oral history, journaling, and observations of the unceded lands and waters of this place in relation to the course readings. Our goal is to peel back the layers of history and build archives of stories told and untold, registered and neglected, of where we live, how we live, and whose lands we live on.