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Romantics like Coleridge dismissed personification allegory because they thought it was a stale cultural code, elitist and  boring. Readers needed to know the secret handshake of political and social equivalences, they thought, and then narratives unfolded on a simple one-to-one basis.

The premise of this course is that they were completely wrong. We will find, primarily in the medieval period, when allegory as a narrative mode dominated discourse at all levels, extremely complex allegories that formally disprove the Romantics’ premises of simplicity and cultural dependence. And we will find that their appeal is cognitive, relying not upon cultural codes but upon universal human intellective, emotional, narrative and spatial capacities. The advantage to arranging this practically unexplored intersection of fields is that we will be dealing with allegories of great rigour and range from a period that truly valued the capacities of the form (i.e. the European Middle Ages), which will give us a lot to work with cognitively: if allegories are cognitive artifacts — in sum, evidence of our human status — these are ones that call upon the widest possible mental and bodily resources in their writers and readers alike, best illustrating the capacity of allegory to model human complexity. An additional bonus of the project will be examining potential analogies between medieval learned culture's overall sense that human systems were highly distributed and those currently being developed in cognitive science.

Professors Tolmie and Harris, along with Professor Connolly, Kate Dawson, and Robert Clapperton, and with the good offices of many agencies, on campus and off, are coordinating a scholarly workshop on Cognitive Allegory, to run on 26 June 2009, and an expectation of this course is participation in that workshop, including involvement in a poster session.

The Cognitive Allegory Workshop website is here.

Randy Harris
Hagey Hall 247, x35362
Office hours: 1:00-2:00 T, W
Home phone (Milton): (905) 876-3972
Sarah Tolmie
Hagey Hall 266, x36795
Office hours: 11:00-12:30 M, F

The reading list is on the course schedule.

Required (on reserve and in the bookstore)

Gibbs, Raymond W. 1994. The Poetics of Mind: Figurative Thought, Language, and Understanding. Cambridge: CUP; ISBN 0521429927, 9780521429924

Paxson, James J.  1994. The Poetics of Personification. Cambridge: CUP; ISBN 0521445396, 9780521445399

Langland, William. 2006 [c1380]. The Norton Critical Edition of Piers Plowman. Edited by Elizabeth Robertson and Stephen H. A. Shepherd. New York: WW Norton & Co. ISBN 0-393-97559-2

Bergman, Ingmar (writer and director). 1957. The Seventh Seal. Stockholm: Råsunda Studios.

Langley, Noel, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf (writers). 1939. The Wizard of Oz. Directed by Victor Fleming. Culver City, CA: MGM Studios.

Recommended (on reserve)

Turner, Mark. 1996. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language.  New York: OUP. ISBN 019512667X, 9780195126679

Stockwell, Peter. 2002. Cognitive Poetics: An introduction. London: Routledge. ISBN 0415258952

McQueen, John. 1970. Allegory. London: Methuen. ISBN 0416080502

Essay (22 July), 45%
Poster presentation (26 June), 15%

Weekly postings, 10%
Class discussion, 30%


The research essay is not only your major project of the term (45% + 15% for the related poster presentation), it should be your major learning instrument of the term. In many ways, all the rest of the course is a support system for the essay, and everyone else in the class, the professors and the students, are resources for the development of the essay. The research and the way you explore, marshal, and extend that research in the writing process, is what defines your understanding of the course. You should start thinking from very early on about which texts, which approaches, and which theorists you might want to develop arguments around and about, and test drive some of those arguments in class, or in discussion with us and each other outside of class, in person, by email, or by phone.

In case this does not go without saying: While your work will rest on the foundations we build up throughout the course, do not rely solely on the course readings and the presentations. You will need to do more research both on any object texts you are considering and on the relevant cognitive principle(s) you are investigating, as well as on any related literary theory.

Word counts are not an especially good measure of when you should stop writing your essay, or how far you should prune back your ramblings—let the matter determine the vessel—but if it's under 3000 words, you probably haven't developed enough matter for an appropriate graduate research essay, over 6000 and you've probably been either too ambitious or too undisciplined, or both.

You also need to target a publication with this essay: find a journal, write the paper with that journal in mind, and submit a memo with the essay outlining why your essay fits the journal. (Journals often have word count criteria, by the way, and you will be graded in part on how well your essay suits the journal you target.)

We (Professors Tolmie and Harris) are guest-editing a special number of Metaphor & Symbol on Cognitive Allegory, for Spring 2010, and we will be more than happy to consider submissions from the class for that issue. 

Note: all submissions must include a digital copy.

Grading will accord with the following rubric:

Articulation of your claim: 5%
Suitability of the essay to the selected journal: 5%
Quality of argument: 30%
Use of evidence, 25%
Summary of relevant research: 25%
Grammar and style (sentence and paragraph structure, diction, spelling, punctuation, agreement, ...) 10 %

Poster session

A significant component of your scholarly essaying grade will rely on a poster session at the Cognitive Allegory workshop.

Posters are a relatively widespread research dissemination method in the sciences, including the social sciences, especially for presenting experimental results and outlining works in progress. They are distinctly less common in the humanities to this point, but organizations the Modern Language Association and the National Communication Association use them increasingly at the larger US conferences, and disciplines like geography and history are incorporating them into this year’s Congress. Effectively, poster presentations work this way: scholars set up a display, highlighting their findings and arguments, often with drafts of papers they can distribute, while other scholars look about for displays that catch their interest; when a wandering scholar comes to a display, the displaying scholar sums up his/her case and a conversation ensues.

We are using this method in Cognitive Allegory as part of your invention process with your course essay, integrating you and your research ideas into the Workshop, so that you have a basis from which to discuss your work with the  (highly impressive) slate of scholars coming in for the Workshop.  

The poster is an exercise in rhetoric and communication design: you will need to incorporate graphics and text; shape the communicative flow with titles, placement, typeface, colour, space management, and the like; and effectively communicate the nub of your research argument, in the context of previous scholarship and your theoretical stance.  Your audience will include each other, us, and some of the finest medieval and cognitive-poetic scholars in the land, and you should solicit feedback from everyone so that the paper which comes out of this process is sharper and stronger.

Grading will accord with the following rubric:

Typography (space, weight, colour, placement): 20%
Use of graphics (appropriateness, clarity, integration): 20%
Use of text (clarity, succinctness, coherence, style and grammar), 20%
Scholarship (research question, critical context, argument): 20%
Overall effectiveness (the integration of the whole package), 20 %


Please keep in mind that this is a seminar: you are expected to take an active role in the development of the course. Come to class prepared, contribute to discussions, participate in our collective growth in understanding the overlaps between cognition and allegory. In particular, think reflectively about all the readings, and think publicly.

We will use a merit/demerit policy to evaluate your participation. Merit will be awarded primarily on the quality of participation: asking relevant questions; making relevant observations; complementing or advancing someone else's contribution; and generally being a constructive rhetor. Quantity of participation is a positive factor to the extent that more quality contributions is preferable to making fewer quality contributions, but talking for the sake of talking is not a good idea. Demerit will be assessed reluctantly, and only on the basis of repeated instances. The grounds for the demerit system are:

Weekly postings (8 required)

The posts are 300-to-500-word opinionated summaries: synopses of the week's readings, inter-larded with some evaluation of their cogency, relevance, and value. We want to see (1) that you have read them, and (2) that you have thought about them, and (3) we want to start the discussion before we get into the classroom. They should be posted on the Angel course page by 6:00 PM on the Sunday before the class. Everyone is expected to read all the posts before coming to class; we also encourage commenting on one another’s posts, as we will be doing occasionally ourselves, but it is not required.

The discussion papers  will not be graded: you will get the full 10% simply for doing them all and submitting them on time, 7.5% if you miss one deadline, 0% if you miss more than one--yes, you read that correctly: 0%. We consider the discussion papers integral to the life of the course.

No postings are required for the weeks of 6 May, 26 June, 1 July, 8 July, or 22 July.

Allegories du jour

We will have weekly allegories du jour (ok, ok, they should be allegories du semaine, but that's not as catchy). Depending on class size and coverage requirements that class, we will have miniclip presentations from everyone on some allegorical encounter they recently had--lexical, narrative, or figurative. Perhaps you read something that used the word allegory in an especially telling, or capacious, or egregious way. Maybe an episode of The Smurfs was particularly rife with allegorical mappings that morning, or a pundit launched into a revealingly subversive personification over the weekend. Come to class every week prepared to briefly (<5 min) mention some such encounter. These little spiels will be taken into account with your class discussion grade.

Middle English

We will be working with some Middle English texts. We don't anticipate this to be an obstacle for any English graduate student, and we will offer some assistance to those who need it (some in-class instruction, and an extra session or two as needed). Chaucer can be managed fairly easily with a glossary, and the Piers Plowman text we are using comes in facing-page translation. But we do expect the distinctive linguistic elements of these texts to be taken seriously and to enter into our critical discussions of them.

Draconian principles

No late assignments will be accepted, no extensions will be granted, and no incompletes will be awarded, without very strong reasons.

Marxist principles

We will have fun, lots of it. "Yesterday," to quote the master, "is dead. Tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it."

Herakles's Choice

House of Fame

Pilgrim's Progress

The Other Side of the Hedge

In the Penal Colony

Please submit suggestions to Professor H


House of Fame (HTML)

ORB Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies


Internet Medieval Sourcebook

Digital Scriptorium

New Catholic Encyclopedia


Center for the Cognitive Science of Metaphor

Mark Turner page

Reuven Tsur page

A special issue (4.1) of the Stanford Humanities Review

Wikipedia metonymy entry