New Massive Open Online Course launched: ‘The  Literature of the English Country House’

New Massive Open Online Course launched: ‘The Literature of the English Country House’

English - Article 5 - Photo 2 - English Country HouseA revolutionary digital course launched on Wednesday 23 April 2014, by the University of Sheffield, will give people from across the world a unique glimpse into the extraordinary life, culture, drama and literature of the traditional English country house.

Fans of Downton Abbey and Pride and Prejudice will be able to delve into 450 years of literature inspired and set in some of the country’s most magnificent buildings such as Chatsworth House – home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire which has been passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family and has one of Europe’s most significant art collections.

The Literature of the English Country House’ is the second FutureLearn Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) hosted by the University which is transforming education and making learning free and accessible to all.  The eight week course is ideal for Eighteenth Century literature lovers and costume drama enthusiasts who would like to discover the secrets behind the exquisite English country houses which are steeped in history, romance and sometimes scandal.

Dr Jim Fitzmaurice, Director of Distance Learning in the School of English, said: “On this course we will be introducing learners to literature as it derives from 450 years of the English country house and we will be seeing how that literature shapes our understanding of the country house.  We will be travelling together on an historical journey through literature visiting notable country houses around Yorkshire and Derbyshire. You will gain an insight into the life of these country houses and learn about some common misconceptions.”

Learners will explore the magnificent Seventeenth Century wall paintings of Bolsover Castle often hailed to be the best of their kind in the country and visit Haddon Hall, frozen in the time of William Shakespeare and a great inspiration for the great gothic novelist Anne Radcliffe 200 years later.

Dr Fitzmaurice will use a wide range of texts spanning the history of literature from Thomas Moore’s Utopia to Oscar Wilde’s Canterville Ghost, plays from Shakespeare, poetry from Margaret Caverdish and brief passages from Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.  Throughout the course participants will learn techniques to analyse literature and make their own connections with the English country house.

Professor Susan Fitzmaurice, Head of the School of English at the University of Sheffield, who is co-running the course said: “It is rare to encounter literary texts in such close proximity to the contexts, buildings and landscapes that inspired, informed and provoked them.  This MOOC illuminates poems, plays and prose texts vividly by connecting them to those contexts, buildings and landscapes through a historical lens.  Leading experts who are passionate about their subject introduce fresh ways of approaching this literature by walking the learner through the world of the English country house.  If you think historical English literature is crusty and boring, we’re hoping that our MOOC will change that and teach you how to engage with more confidence.”

There are no prerequisites for registering for this or any other MOOC hosted by the University. Education or academic background is not important – budding learners from around the world simply need an internet connection.  The online platform, by which the course is delivered, gives people of all ages the opportunity to take part in a unique, high quality, flexible and innovative learning experience – something which will be of great interest to fans of period dramas, such as Downton Abbey, which attracts more than 10 million viewers in America alone.

Registration for the course is now open and learning will begin on 2 June 2014. The online lecturers will not only take learners on a literary journey but give them the unique opportunity to go through the key hole of six of Yorkshire and Derbyshire’s most famous addresses.  ‘The Literature of the English Country House’ follows the success of the University’s first FutureLearn MOOC, Discover Dentistry, which ran earlier this year. More than 4,000 people signed up to the innovative course which delved into the intriguing world of dentistry from molars to canines.

Marie Kinsey, Academic Lead for MOOCs, said: “Many people have visited an English country house or know about them through things they’ve read.  This course breaks new ground because it brings together the life and culture of the English country house over 400 years with books, poems and drama set in that world. Leading experts from the School of English will help you learn more about the English country house, and how to dig more deeply into texts that feature aspects of country house life.”