This course will explore representations of the police and law enforcement in literature and popular culture from the nineteenth century to the present. Students will begin with a study of the history of policing and its emergence in the nineteenth century, as well as its relationship to the rise of detective fiction. They will then explore the links between policing, imperialism, and slavery, reading literary and historical accounts of policing in these contexts. We will then discuss two novels that problematize the relationship between policing and state power: Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907) and Megha Majumdar’s A Burning (2020). The course will conclude by looking at contemporary police procedurals, including American and Hong Kong television shows.
Students will study the history of policing and its representation in literature and popular culture, and learn to think critically about the role of popular culture in shaping cultural and social understandings of the police. They will also develop skills in writing about popular culture as well as historical and literary texts.
This course was originally scheduled to take place in-person on Thursdays from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. To accommodate online learning and allow for more flexibility this semester, the course will instead follow this structure:
- Recorded MP3 Lecture on Mondays: Each week, a recorded mp3 lecture (usually about 50 minutes in length) will be posted onto Moodle, with an accompanying powerpoint, on Monday by 12 p.m. Students should listen to the lecture before Thursday’s tutorials.
- Live Tutorials on Thursdays: We will have an interactive tutorial on Zoom (and eventually face-to-face, if permitted) on Thursdays from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. The tutorial will be run as a discussion seminar with students sharing their thoughts on that week’s assigned reading. If students are unable to participate in a live tutorial discussion on Zoom due to technological issues, they will have alternative modes of participating in class through discussion groups. Tutorials will not always take the full two hours.
Participation: 10 percent
Popular Culture Analysis: 20 percent
1000-word analysis and contextualiation of a work of nineteenth-century popular culture (for instance, a newspaper article, poster, broadsheet, advertisement, guidebook, etc.)
Term Paper: 35 percent
Argument-based essay about either The Secret Agent or A Burning.
Final Project: 35 percent
Students will be able to choose from several options for this final project. These options include the following: 1. Choose a novel, television show, film, video game, etc., featuring the police and write an argument-driven essay analyzing and contextualizing it, or 2. Write an essay analyzing a Hong Kong or online museum related to policing, law enforcement, or correctional services. Other options will be announced in class.
Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale, Oxford World’s Classics, ISBN: 9780199536351
Megha Majumdar, A Burning
Other readings will be made available on Moodle.