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CLS 201 — Shell Shock: The World Wars in Literature, Art, and Film (An MLA-Style Course)

Quarter: Fall
Day(s): Wednesdays
Course Format: On-campus (About Formats)
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Sep 27—Dec 6
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: Sep 29
Units: 2
Grade Restriction: Credit only; no NGR/letter grade
Tuition: $590
Instructor(s): Miles Osgood
Limit: 18
Class Recording Available: No
Status: Closed
Please Note: No class on November 22
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
7:00—8:50 pm (PT)
Sep 27—Dec 6
10 weeks
Refund Date
Sep 29
2 Units
Grade Restriction
Credit only; no NGR/letter grade
Miles Osgood
Please Note: No class on November 22
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)

Please note: This course is open to students who have not previously enrolled in an MLA-style course through Stanford Continuing Studies.

This course aims to introduce those interested in pursuing a degree in the Stanford Master of Liberal Arts program to the kind of seminar they would likely encounter in the program. Students will face the same kind of intellectual challenges, the same kind of opportunities to engage in weekly discussion, and the same kind of stimulus to write persuasive research essays. Students are required to take this course for credit, submit written work, and contribute to class discussions, as happens in all MLA seminars. However, this course may not be taken for a letter grade, though students’ written work will receive extensive feedback from the instructor. For more information on the MLA Program, visit mla.stanford.edu.


For writers and artists all around the world, the Great War exploded the traditions of a “botched civilization” and initiated a new era. In the words of Ezra Pound, “The age demanded an image.” The images that answered the call, from 1914 through 1945 and beyond, were some of the most varied and striking in all of cultural history, as the rise of total warfare and mass politics coincided with the rise of modernism and experimental art. Between the cataclysms of the front lines and the iconoclasm of the avant-garde, the age was marked by shell, by shock, and by the two combined.

In this course, we will consider not only how novels, poems, films, and artworks captured the chaos of two world wars, but also how writers and artists took up arms themselves in political and cultural conflicts. Starting with the competing visions of mechanized war offered by Italian futurists and Britain’s “war poets,” we will look at narratives of courage and desertion at the end of World War I (by Robert Graves, Ernest Hemingway) and prophetic criticisms of the Treaty of Versailles (John Maynard Keynes, T.S. Eliot). Turning to the interwar years, we’ll look at the art of propaganda (Sergei Eisenstein, Leni Riefenstahl), protest (Virginia Woolf, Pablo Picasso), and direct action (George Orwell, W.H. Auden). Finally, we’ll discuss the responsibility that art holds after World War II, in response to the horrors of air raids (Eileen Chang, Kurt Vonnegut), mass murder (Primo Levi, Anna Akhmatova), and nuclear bombs (Marguerite Duras, Alain Resnais). 

Lecturer, Structured Liberal Education (SLE), Stanford

Miles Osgood received a PhD in English from Harvard and has been teaching literature and philosophy at Stanford since 2019. His work, which has received multiple teaching and writing awards, focuses on global modernism and 20th-century culture. Having previously worked as an assistant editor for Oxford University Press and as a course designer for edX, he is currently building a special program on “Storytelling and Mythmaking” for the Stanford English department. Osgood's essays have been published in Slate, n+1, The Washington Post, Modernism/modernity, and ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Tim Kendall, Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology (ISBN 978-0198703204)
(Required) Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway Library Edition (ISBN 978-1476764528)
(Required) George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (ISBN 978-0544382046)
(Required) Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (ISBN 978-0684826806)
(Required) Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (ISBN 978-0812988529)
(Recommended) T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land (ISBN 978-0393974997)
(Recommended) Hope Mirrlees, Paris (ISBN 978-0571359936)
(Recommended) Eileen Chang, Love in a Fallen City (ISBN 978-1590171783)
(Recommended) Anna Akhmatova, Requiem and Poem without a Hero (ISBN 978-0804011952)