Undergraduate English Courses

358:200 Once Upon A Time: Why We Tell Stories

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Tell me a story.

Why is story-telling a nearly universal human phenomena? Is a world without stories human at all? We use stories to explain our beginnings, memorialize our past, and discover meaning—including our own. We begin our lives hearing stories and we live our lives by understanding the stories of others and creating our own. Yet, still, as Thomas Carlyle once proclaimed, storytelling has "an alarming relationship to lying" and parents caution children, "Don't tell stories."

Once Upon A Time probes the tensions in this paradox. We have a deep need to tell stories and discover meaning, even our own meaning, in stories. At the same time, our deep skepticism worries that stories are something fanciful and not quite the way towards truth.

Focusing on stories from Genesis and Homer to 21st century graphic narratives and retellings of fairy tales, this course considers why we need stories and how we tell what we tell. Why is the journey home such a frequent motif? How is story-telling used to create, instruct, and transform societies? How is it used to sell products? Why and how have genres like the detective story and emergent forms like graphic novels conformed to or challenged the conventions of story-telling?

This course is particularly recommended for students who intend to pursue majors or minors in anthropology, classics, communication, comparative literature, criminal justice, English, History, journalism, any language and literature programs, philosophy, political science, psychology, sociology, and women's and gender studies. The course carries credit toward the major and minor in English. It is also appropriate for life sciences and physical science majors seeking Core or elective credit. Once Upon a Time can be used to meet the SAS Core Curriculum goals in Arts and Humanities [AHp].