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Frankenstein to Canadian lit: English Department has it all

April 22, 2013

Looking to add a little excitement to your schedule next semester? The Department of English at Arizona State University offers a variety of interesting courses that will make going to class feel like an adventure.

“Monsters and Magic in English Literature” (Eng 221), taught by professor Rosalynn Voaden, focuses on the representation of monsters such as Frankenstein and the Green Knight in classic works. Voaden says that in reading the texts, students are asked to consider what makes a character a “monster” and how we then define what it means to be human.

Reading these texts also sheds light on the morals and values being emphasized during a time period.

“Each culture creates a monster that reflects the anxiety, fears and concerns of that particular period of time and place. The Green Knight, for example, is monstrous but also has chivalrous values that were being stressed during the 14th century,” said Voaden.

If medieval culture is more your thing, Voaden teaches a course titled “Saints, Mystics and Martyrs” (Eng 415) that is open to students in Barrett, the Honors College. The course examines iconography and tradition of religious legends, including Mary Magdalene, Francis of Assisi and Joan of Arc.

“I like to surprise students. They tend to think the middle ages were very boring, but this gives them an idea of the range and how a person from the 1300s isn’t all that different from a person now,” she said.

Voaden has also brought her Canadian heritage to ASU with a course titled “Sex, Death and Snow: An Introduction to Canadian Literature.” It is currently the only one of its kind at ASU and draws attention to authors such as Margaret Atwood, Joseph Boyden, Jane Urquhart and Margaret Lawrence.

“It’s great fun. I got tired of people not knowing anything about Canada so this is a nice way to teach them,” she said.

Another opportunity for English majors to broaden their horizon is by enrolling in “The Bible as Literature” (ENG 356) taught by professor Robert Sturges. In a unique twist, the course studies select religious texts as literary documents. Students gain an understanding of plot, imagery, character and theme as they read chapters from Genesis, First Samuel, Judges and the Book of Revelation to name a few. The class also will read classic literature such as Milton, Hawthorne and William Blake to see the similarities in theme and character.

“When I first started teaching, I realized that many English majors didn’t seem to know much about the Bible," Sturges said. "The Bible and Shakespeare are probably two of the biggest influences on literature, whether seriously or ironically. If you appreciate the sources of what you are reading then you can appreciate how they are being used.”

Pop culture fans can indulge their fandom by enrolling in professor Julia Himberg’s “TV and Sexuality” course (FMS 394) that examines the role of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters in popular television shows such as "Glee," "The L Word," "American Idol" and "Project Runway." Students question how networks promote these characters, as well as how they impact the representations. Himberg further encourages participants to think critically about what these characters and shows teach audiences about sexuality.

For more information about these and other exciting opportunities, visit

The Department of English is an academic unit in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.