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Unit information: Literature and the Sea: The Seafarer to The Shipping News in 2020/21

Unit name Literature and the Sea: The Seafarer to The Shipping News
Unit code ENGL20020
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Publicover
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


From The Odyssey onwards, the sea has afforded inspiration for a rich and strange sub-genre of literature: poems, plays, and novels have contemplated the sea’s mystery and depth; recorded the terrors and excitements of voyaging across its surface; and attempted to understand its attractions. Additionally, when authors confront the secretive, alien, and unfathomable oceans, they often do so in order to ask questions about themselves.

On this unit, which engages a cutting-edge area of critical study (sometimes dubbed ‘The New Thalassology’), we will examine some of the finest sea-writing in English. Beginning within the medieval period, and moving chronologically through Shakespearean drama, Romantic poetry, nineteenth-century novels, and twentieth-century texts, we will study with writers who, despite being in many respects very different, share a fascination with, and a desire to understand, the sea. Authors covered will include Shakespeare, Marvell, Byron, Coleridge, Melville, Tennyson, Conrad, T.S. Eliot, Plath, Rich, and Proulx.

Intended learning outcomes

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

(1) demonstrate a detailed knowledge and critical understanding of writing about the sea;

(2) show an in-depth understanding of recent literary-critical thought on the sea, especially in connection with eco-criticism;

(3) analyse and evaluate differing critical accounts of the primary literature;

(4) identify and evaluate pertinent evidence in order to illustrate/demonstrate a cogent argument;

(5) demonstrate skills in argumentation and academic writing, appropriate to level I/5

Teaching details

Teaching will involve asynchronous and synchronous elements, including group discussion, research and writing activities, and peer dialogue. Students are expected to engage with the reading and participate fully with the weekly tasks and topics. Learning will be further supported through the opportunity for individual consultation.

Assessment Details

  • 1 x 3000 word essay (100%) [ILOs 1-5]

Students will be given the opportunity to submit a draft or outline of their final, summative essay of up to 1,500 words and to receive feedback on this.

Reading and References

  • William Shakespeare, Pericles (any ed.)
  • Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, ed. by Tony Tanner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988)
  • James Hamilton-Paterson, Seven-Tenths: The Sea and Its Threshold (Faber and Faber, 2007)
  • Annie Proulx, The Shipping News (London: Fourth Estate, 2009)
  • Hester Blum, 'The Prospect of Oceanic Studies', PMLA, 125 (3) (May 2010), pp. 670-7
  • Naomi Oreskes, 'Scaling Up Our Vision', Isis 105.2 (2014), 379-91