Gemstones of this course year

GemstonesTo complement my last post, I decided to write about the most helpful resources I used this year in order to prepare the two modules I had registered for (‘Intro. to English Language’ and ‘Renaissance & Restoration’). Almost all of these are specific to the BA English degree syllabus, but perhaps students from other disciplines are curious about what we read or may be interested in some of the topics. Prospective students of these two modules may find something interesting among the titles I mention.

In ‘Intro. to English Language’ I was quite happy with the recommendations that the subject guide provided. I particularly liked Ingo Plag’s Word-formation in English for one of the topics I was preparing, and it called to my attention issues that I had not thought about when reading the most basic and general The Study of Language by George Yule. John Saeed’s Semantics was also very illuminating, merging language and philosophy, though admittedly one of the hardest to read on this module.

However, the treasure trove of interesting finds was in ‘Renaissance & Restoration’, perhaps because I love literature modules and everything seems interesting to me when studying them.

I found a ‘key concepts’ series from Palgrave, and I read Key Concepts in Renaissance Literature by Malcolm Hebron. This is a very useful and concise book to get your head around the Renaissance context. It is not really detailed, but it is devoid of any difficult jargon and you can browse through the index if you are interested in the overview of a particular topic, genre or critic stance. These are discussed in essays that are very easy to read, and at the end of a given essay the author gives more sources to pursue the topic, which will considerably reduce the time you spend going around searching for interesting and relevant reads. I have already purchased other Key Concepts for next year!

Another very useful introductory collection was the Very Short Introduction series. I first came across it when I studied Approaches to Text and had to read Jonathan Culler’s Literary Theory. A Very Short Introduction. While these books are short and only hint about wider topics, they are salvation if you want to understand basic concepts and get familiarized with new vocabulary. In the last pages they offer a bibliography directing you to more detailed sources. However, such sources are not always up-to-date, and some may focus only on critical interest in a particular decade, e.g the 60s, the 80s. I read The Renaissance. A Very Short Introduction by Jerry Brotton and Machiavelli. A Very Short Introduction by Quentin Skinner. Quentin Skinner is a leading scholar in Renaissance thought, and I also found other interesting titles written by him, such as Visions of Politics: Renaissance Virtues, a volume from the collection Visions of Politics that analyzes some writers from the Renaissance period, including Thomas More as well as Machiavelli.

First page: Paradise LostAn invaluable resource was The John Milton Reading Room, and it helped me immensely in preparing Milton’s works Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Not only can you can find the text with useful margin notes that call your attention to important issues (including edition issues, usually overlooked by students), you also have a very insightful and comprehensive bibliography at the end of each text that will reduce the effort of research a lot. In addition, you can also access other writings by Milton that can help in constructing his persona in his context (for example, Areopagitica). For any Milton student or even someone that is curious about Milton, this website is awesome.

This year I was really scared because I knew I could not elude poetry if I wanted to write a balanced examination in ‘Renaissance & Restoration’. I generally prefer fiction and prose, and shy away from poems and plays. This, of course, is partly founded in the fact that I have little to no clue of metric, rhythm or rhetorical figures. In level 4 I could more or less get away without poetry, but level 5 really requires you to plunge into the three major genres (prose, poetry and drama). So when this book popped up in my suggestions for purchase on a major retailer website, I did not doubt for a single second. The book is The Poetry Toolkit: The Essential Guide to Studying Poetry. It has everything you need, along with examples from contemporary poetry as well as a few classic examples. It also discusses some genres and their evolution through time. I did poem analysis with it by my side so I could consult it, and rapidly got the gist of a basic poem analysis. While it will not help with detailed and specific issues of each genre (e.g issues of Renaissance love poetry) and context issues, it will certainly give you pointers and ideas to follow through, and I found it very useful for the technical details of poetry.

Something that may benefit students regardless of the degree they are studying is a good student planner. This year I purchased the Palgrave Student Planner 2016-17 (they issue a new one each course year), and was very happy with it, the only thing I lamented was not finding it sooner, I found it in mid-January. It is also cheap, but very helpful for having everything uni-related in one single planner.

Last, but not least, having access to an Online Library along with access to many leading journals thanks to the Athens account provided by the University of London also played a great part in minimizing research efforts. Do not forget to use the resources provided by the University, for those of you that are in isolated places or have difficulty finding secondary reading material, these resources can help you greatly.

I want to finish by saying that I am very happy with what I chose to study this year. In ‘Renaissance & Restoration’ I found many authors that I had not considered or read before and studying them in some depth has proved interesting albeit challenging. More’s and Machiavelli’s visions of ideal society and humanity in general have encouraged me to pursue utopian and dystopian representations in the forthcoming modules. It is exciting when studying something fuels curiosity, isn’t it?

Ana is studying the BA English by distance learning in Luxembourg.

2 thoughts on “Gemstones of this course year

  1. An extremely useful article. You are quite right. As its happens, I am reading for the LLB. I have to say most of the prescribed textbooks are not very helpful. They confuse rather than illuminate. But as luck would have it, the Law Masters series published by Palgrave MacMillan really helps. The books are very user friendly. So they share similar attributes with the ‘key concepts’ series you mentioned in your article. Your article has help me making up my mind to use that series instead of the prescribed textbook. I know I will not get good grades in doing so. But my memory has never been good at the best of times. And having passed 50, I have to accept limits imposed by nature. I have now decided to settle just for a 2:2. English is my second language. I have always wanted to find out more about the language. I have been itching switching to English ever since I registered for the LLB. I suppose a plus in using the Law Masters series is that I can finish my LLB quicker so I can then turn my attention to the English degree.


  2. Hi Anthony! Thank you for your thoughtful comment. As you say, sometimes it is not easy to deal with the prescribed textbooks, although in English there are very few prescribed texts, and we have quite a lot of freedom to construct our syllabus. For me, this is part of the thrill, constructing my own syllabus and selecting good texts to help me in my studies, it is at the same time difficult and exciting! Best of luck with your studies!


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