CFP Roundtable: Democracy and the Crisis in the Literature Survey Course

deadline for submissions: 
July 1, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
**MMLA - Cincinnati**
contact email: 

As the “Crisis in the Humanities” continues to witness a decline in all things humanities courses throughout post-secondary curricula under the echoing waves of COVID, teachers of English survey courses are left to do some cleaning up with regard to what we teach as far as the surveys go. In addition to the COVID slope, the number of English majors continues to wane, and some colleges are even restructuring semester scheduling. When the dust settles, where does that leave the last vestibule of the formal introductory map to English studies, the venerable “survey course” – the one, staunch and steadfast bastion of the once bustling English departments? The goal of this particular roundtable aims to enhance the professional welfare of teachers of foresaid once-called “survey literature” courses. Because many questions remain. Do we need three survey courses of American/British/World literature? Do we need two – or even to separate them anymore (viz. can there be a survey course “American Literature” instead of “American Literature 1” etc.?)? Should we be rethinking using the old doorstop-heavy anthologies in favor of smaller texts, online snippets, or two or three books? And what if our semesters have been trimmed down to a quarter or even shorter, as some have?

Ideas to consider:

  • Should we even attempt a “survey” course and call it that name?
  • Can we combine surveys? (e.g. where British Literature 1, 2, or 3 becomes simply "Survey of British Literature")
  • Will a close study four or five texts suffice to introduce students to American, British, World literature, etc.?
  • What new ways can we think of to make the history of literature – its scope, breadth, diversity – even possible in a terrain such as the one we’re facing now?
  • Can we give more power to students in the survey course, meaning make it more democratic?

Quite simply, what do we “owe,” in terms of these foundation courses, to the shared truths that undergird functional democratic institutions? What are we trying to do in these courses? Let's reflect on that and try to envision a future state of these courses.

I’d like to have an active dialogue about practices that foster success for students in survey literature courses, both in the practical and theoretical sense, and maybe some new ideas for what the future holds for these courses.

All abstracts and a brief bio to Michael Modarelli @