However, other types of text such as screenplays, nonfiction, song lyrics, and online communication through blogs and other means, could now be considered literature under the contemporary understanding of the term.
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The English Literature programs in most major US institutions will largely study the traditional literary texts. An English Literature major will likely examine texts including poetry, drama, and prose fiction, perhaps briefly covering more contested forms of literature in their chosen path. If you choose to study Literature in the US, you will learn how to read different texts and analyze the style, use of different types of language, and meaning, in depth.
You will also learn how to write clearly, concisely and analytically in stylistically different forms. Generally, Literature courses are divided into different focuses: British Literature, American Literature, World Literature, and periods pre and post You will have core courses in several of these topics and will also be expected to choose a focus of your own interest, such as creative writing or drama. You will ultimately gain a much more in-depth understanding of the texts you cover than is possible from solo-reading, and learn how to express your knowledge through written analysis and presentation or class discussion.
A Literature degree provides transferable skills that teach you to deconstruct and analyze in order to provide a critical viewpoint in all areas. As an international student, studying English Literature demonstrates to an employer that you have a strong grasp of the English language and are proficient in professional English. There are several different paths for careers in literature as a graduate. You can also take graduate courses and become a teacher, lecturer, or journalist, with common crossovers for graduating English students including business, law, and education. Or you can use your analytical skills to move into unexpected careers such as marketing, advertising, or pretty much anything you are willing you adapt to.
Far more, too, has been published on this subject than is usually realized even by many of the students who have recently taken some interest in the subject. But because much of the detailed research this century has been carried out by individuals working in isolation or, at best, by various schools of researchers out of touch with the work of other groups, the subject as a whole has made little progress over the last generation or so, whether in consolidating what is already known, in criticizing some of the earlier limiting preconceptions, or in publicizing the results to date.
The purpose of the chapter is twofold.
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First, there have been so many assumptions and speculations about both Africa and oral literature that it is necessary to expose these to clear the way for a valid appreciation of our present knowledge of the subject. For though there are far more collections of African oral art than is usually realized, they are of very uneven quality and their usefulness depends on a knowledge of the theoretical preconceptions of the collector. But until the mid-century there was no available evidence to refute the popular European image of Africa as totally without literary pretensions.
By about the s the position changed. African linguistic studies were emerging as a specialist and scholarly field, and this in turn led to a fuller appreciation of the interest and subtleties of African languages. The main motive of many of these linguistic studies was to aid the evangelization of Africa, and grammars, vocabularies, and collections of texts appeared by and for missionaries. There was close collaboration between linguists and missionaries, and many of the great collections of texts in the nineteenth century were a result of professional or amateur linguists working in full sympathy with the missionary movement and published under its auspices.
This was revealed not only in linguistic work and in the comparative analysis of social and political institutions, but also in the field of literature: in the school of comparative mythology and in the impetus to collection arising from the publications of the Grimm brothers in Germany. There is of course some variation in size and quality, but by and large these editions compare favourably with many more recent publications.
Most include complete texts in the vernacular with a facing translation usually into English or German, and occasionally a commentary most often linguistic. There was little attempt to relate the texts to their social context, elucidate their literary significance, or describe the normal circumstances of their recitation. There are many questions, therefore, which these texts cannot answer. Nevertheless, the very size of many of these collections, presenting a corpus of literature from a single people, often throws more light on the current literary conventions among a given people than all the odd bits and pieces which it became so fashionable to publish later.
And the linguistic and missionary motive was not always so narrow as to exclude all interest in the wider relevance of these collections.
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A number of scholars noted the connections between their work and the progress in comparative studies in Europe. Bleek, for instance, significantly entitles his collection of Hottentot stories Reynard the Fox in South Africa , to bring out the parallelism between African and European tales. Although at first some people refused to believe that tales of such striking similarity to European folk-stories and fairy-tales could really be indigenous to Africa, this similarity of content gradually became accepted.
There was a general recognition, often accompanied by some slight air of surprise, that the negro too was capable of producing works which manifested depth of feeling and artistry and showed him to be human in the fullest sense of the word. Both the climate of opinion to which he felt he had to address himself and his own conclusions on the basis of his study of the language come out clearly in the preface to the early work by Koelle, African Native Literature, or Proverbs, Tales, Fables and Historical Fragments in the Kanuri or Bornu Language , published in It is illuminating to quote this eloquent and early statement at some length:.
It is hoped that the publication of these first specimens of a Kanuri literature will prove useful in more than one way. It is vain to speculate on this question from mere anatomical facts, from peculiarities of the hair, or the colour of the skin: if it is mind that distinguishes man from animals, the question cannot be decided without consulting the languages of the Negroes; for language gives the expression and manifestation of the mind.
Considered in such a point of view, these specimens may go a long way towards refuting the old-fashioned doctrine of an essential inequality of the Negroes with the rest of mankind, which now and then still shows itself not only in America but also in Europe Chatelain Even in the nineteenth century some general volumes appeared in which the literary creations of African peoples were set in the context of their life in general. This point is worth making.
Recent scholars of the subject too often give the impression that they are the first to recognize the true nature of these texts as literature although it must indeed be admitted that not only has it been difficult for this approach to gain popular acceptance, but for much of this century it has for various reasons been overlooked by professional students of Africa. Many of those working in this field in the nineteenth century, however, were quite clear on the point. These fables, he writes, form. The fact of such a literary capacity existing among a nation whose mental qualifications it has been usual to estimate at the lowest standard, is of the greatest importance; and that their literary activity.
A certain amount had been both recorded and published—in special collections, in general surveys of particular peoples, and as appendices and illustrations in grammatical works.
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There was a general appreciation of the cultural implications of the studies: the fact that Africa could no longer be treated as an area totally without its own cultural traditions, that these could be looked at comparatively in the context of European as well as of African studies, and, finally, that the texts recorded by linguists, missionaries, and others could be treated as at least analogous to parallel written forms.
Needless to say, this more liberal approach met with little popular recognition. The works were obscurely published and intended for specialist reading, and—perhaps even more important—the common myth that saw the African as uncultivated and un-literary was too firmly established to allow for easy demolition. Linguistic studies were considered to include African languages, and a series of specialist journals were published, some short-lived, others still continuing today, in which systematic work on various aspects of African languages, including oral literature, appeared.
Comparative surveys appeared which, though in some respects dated, are still among the best available. Seidel, for instance, lists love songs, satirical songs, war songs, epic, dirges, religious songs, and didactic poems as among African literary forms, and even makes some attempt to discuss their formal structure 8ff. To this general recognition of the subject was added a tradition of systematic empirical research. The extension of the German empire further stimulated the interest in African studies, and many texts were recorded and analysed by scholars publishing in German, above all in the areas under German rule—South-West Africa, German East Africa covering Tanganyika and Ruanda-Urundi , Kamerun, and Togo.
Figure 6. Even though their interests were primarily linguistic, and more purely literary or social aspects were little pursued, they established the subject as one worthy of serious study thus demanding systematic empirical research and recognized that the texts they recorded were a form of literature. Then German interest in Africa waned with the loss of their imperial interests; a number of valuable studies continued to be made by German writers and to appear in scholarly German journals, 17 but there was no longer the same stimulus to research and the solid foundations laid earlier were hardly built upon.
Much of the earlier ground was therefore lost, and until very recently the study of African oral literature has been relatively neglected as a subject of research in its own right. To understand these, it is necessary to include some account of the history of anthropology, for during much of the first half of the twentieth century it was anthropologists who tended to monopolize the professional study of African institutions and culture.
The various assumptions of anthropology in this period both directed research into particular fields and also dictated the selection of texts and the particular form in which they were to be recorded. But the rise first of the evolutionist and diffusionist schools and later of the British structural-functional approach resulted in certain definite limitations being placed on the study of oral art. Its central tenets, however, were clear. They included the belief in the concept of unilinear and parallel stages of social and cultural evolution through which all societies must pass; a concentration on the origins of any institution as being of the first importance; and, finally, the implicit and evaluative assumption that the direction of evolution was upwards—a progress from the crude communal stage of primitive life towards the civilized and differentiated culture of contemporary Europe.
Speculative pseudo-history and totally unverified assumption were asserted as proven fact. The stage of development attained by non-literate peoples could thus be equated and evaluated as the same as that once traversed by the prehistoric ancestors of European nations. The exact stage assigned to various non-literate peoples varied, but there was general agreement that most African peoples belonged to an early and low stage, and that their art, if any, would be correspondingly primitive.
They were variously described as dominated by the idea of magic, by totemism, or by their failure to distinguish between themselves and the animal world round them.
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Nevertheless, they had a direct effect on its study. Because interest was focused on broad evolutionary stages, few questions were asked about the idiosyncratic history, culture, or literary conventions of a particular people. The interest of anthropologists was turned away from the systematic collection or analysis of detailed literary texts and concentrated on generalized theory. But as it was not just a matter of esoteric academic interest but a reflection and apparent validation of many popular views, its rejection by professionals by no means implies the end of its influence.
They have also been lent apparent support by the actual selection and treatment of societies presented to the public. The so-called structural-functional school of British anthropology, associated in its most rigid form with the name of Radcliffe-Brown, concentrated on function , in particular on the function of stabilizing or validating the current order of things. This approach was naturally applied to literature as to other social data.
The idea that certain types of oral literature could have a utilitarian role was, of course, not new e. But, while chiming in with these notions, structural-functional anthropology took a particular form of its own.
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Its central theoretical interest was, at root, the functional integration and maintenance of society: and items of oral literature were regarded as relevant only in so far as they could be fitted into this framework. Most important is the implicit assumption that oral literature is not worthy of study as a subject in its own right and that it can be ignored except for passing references which fit in with a particular interpretation of society.
The result is that over the last generation or so practically no collections or analyses of oral literature have been made by British scholars. Altogether the emphasis was on brief synopsis or paraphrase rather than a detailed recording of literary forms as actually delivered. It regularly hosts visiting academics and writers, and maintains strong links with cognate departments and institutes such as the National English Literary Museum in Grahamstown.
While the undergraduate courses are wide-ranging, postgraduate courses and staff research focus on the fields of Early Modern to Romantic literature, World literature, and African literature. The core curriculum is also supplemented by various student activities, including the poetry collective, Cycle of Knowledge and the Honours year field trip to Olive Schreiner's sarcophagus on Buffelskop in Cradock.
Our courses cover a range of periods, genres and styles, from the early modern in England through to the global present, with a specific focus on Africa. Literature gives significance to human experience, providing a record of intense intellectual and emotional engagements with life. We teach students to analyse and understand the logic of literary meaning, to argue coherently and convincingly, and to write clearly. In addition, students encounter:.