Literature beyond the Curriculum

A Level English students visited the University of Salford for an exploration into South African literature that took them beyond the boundaries of the curriculum to engage with different voices from outside their own cultures and gain a wider perspective in the process.

The lecture day was hosted by the academics behind the ‘South African Modernism 1880-2020’ project. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, this project seeks to bring African artists into the forefront of the modernism movement and to support the development of decolonised curriculums in English Studies.

During the seminar, pupils looked at Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm, the first South African novel; Mhudi by Solomon Plaatje the first black African author of an English-language novel; and Peter Abrahams’ Mine Boy, published and set in the lead-up to apartheid. The concepts they explored included how gender and class norms intersect with racial norms and how Plaatje and Schreiner represent ‘Afromodernity’ which predates ‘Euromodernity’. The girls were challenged to think about how ideology shapes their thought processes and how Marxist theory argues that the economic organisation of a society creates the superstructure.

Emboldened by the lecture day, pupils came away ready to not only question literature or the historical context but the world we live in today. Year 13 pupil Anya commented: “The trip to Salford enabled us to gain a fascinating insight into different approaches to literature. Most interesting to me was the lecture on postcolonial literary theory, which I now hope to apply through the analysis of a South African novel for my A Level coursework.”

Here at Withington, pupils are encouraged to engage with their studies beyond the set curriculum through such opportunities, but also take a proactive approach to further explore what is of interest to them. Mrs Suttle, Head of English, reflected: “The lecture day was brilliant. The girls were an absolute credit to the school and engaged with the undergraduate lectures and seminars with aplomb.”