ENGL: 1200 seeks to cultivate in every student a lifetime habit of frequent, intelligent, and satisfying reading. The course focuses primarily on “ways of reading,” asking students to become aware of themselves as readers, to learn how to deal with different kinds of texts, and to understand how texts exist within larger historical, social, political, and cultural contexts. The central concern of the course is the act of interpretation, as students use and refine their skills of reading, speaking, and writing to respond critically and sensitively to literary texts. Books taught in ENGL: 1200 give students readings of quality and breadth. They come from several genres (fiction, drama, poetry, essay, etc.), more than a single century, and more than one country. The authors students read exhibit a significant diversity of race, gender, and social background.

Students in GEL are usually NOT English majors, but this introductory course asks big questions about the pleasures and purposes of literature, and sometimes it prompts students to pursue further humanities study. 

The Textbook Committee

The textbook committee is comprised of GEL instructors who  work together to revise and expand the comprehensive book list, create and curate materials to help GEL instructors, and maintain this webpage of GEL resources.


Enrico Bruno is a PhD candidate (ABD) in English studying American literature from the late 19th century to today. His literary interests include African American literature, (post)Plantation studies, and queer of color critique. He is currently at work on his dissertation about embodied flight in African American literature. His most recent GEL course was titled Legacies of the Plantation and explored how the attitudes and patterns of behavior on the antebellum plantation left a legacy that extends far beyond 1863 and into the present. Previous courses included Somewhere on the Outside—a class focused on the theme of alienation in literature—and Fantastic Literature—a course designed to expose students to various fabulist genres.

Before coming to Iowa, he earned a BA in English and Creative Writing from The College of New Jersey and worked in the publishing industry in NYC. He joined the textbook committee to help make the book list more inclusive and to work on the GEL website.


Reid Dempsey is an MFA Candidate in Literary Translation and a PhD Candidate in English at the University of Iowa. Conscious and skeptical of the conflation of literary studies with the English language, his research interests include discourse analysis, multilingualism, sociolinguistics, and the poetics of translation. His current research explores the impact of translation discourse on 19th century education and life writing concurrent with the rise of industrial linguistic nationalisms. His most recent course in GEL, “On Margins: Limit, Annotation, and Experience in Literature” reflects on the margin as metaphor both for 20th century social structures and for the textual function of language.

Before coming to Iowa, Reid earned a BA in Linguistics, German Studies, and English from the University of Arizona. He joined the textbook committee to raise the profile of translators and translation in the curriculum.

Jeremy Lowenthal is an English PhD candidate and GEL program assistant and instructor at the University of Iowa. His GEL course “Literature in the Aftermath of Catastrophe,” which offers students credit towards the UIowa Resilience and Trauma-Informed Perspectives Certificate, explores the role that literature can play in the transmission of historical catastrophes to present-day audiences still reckoning with their aftermaths. Building from his work in the classroom, his research focuses on the manner in which twentieth-century writers from Toni Morrison to Sylvia Plath sought to (re)engage collective traumas through the unique allowances of inter- and transmedial forms.

Following the completion of his undergraduate at the University of California, Davis, Jeremy earned his MA in the humanities from the University of Chicago in 2015. Before joining the University of Iowa, he worked as an adjunct instructor at Harold Washington College and as a legal writer for the immigration law firm Hudson Legal Group. His work on the textbook committee represents an important extension of this advocacy.

Maddison McGann is a PhD student in English studying Victorian fiction and periodicals. Her literary interests include Victorian reading, reviewing, and print culture, and her current research focuses on the co-constitutive relationship between nineteenth-century print culture and the novel. In particular, Maddison is interested in exploring how the genre of the periodical review—with all of its cultural, economic, aesthetic, and ideological underpinnings—was both shaping and shaped by the Victorian novel.

Before coming to the University of Iowa, Maddison earned her BA in English from the University of South Florida and her MA in the Humanities from the University of Chicago. She joined the textbook committee in order to help GEL instructors think about how they might incorporate nineteenth-century texts into their curriculum in new and accessible ways.

Khaled Rajeh is an MA student in Literary Studies who is interested in the interaction between American modernism and Arab-American literature, along with its influence on the development of Arabic literature in the 20th century. He is now working on a translation of the Iraqi-Assyrian poet Sargon Boulus. His GEL course takes a comparative approach to coming-of-age literature across cultures. The two novels, Joyce's Portrait of the Artist and Rihani's The Book of Khalid help us explore questions around maturation, the nature of literary language, and the role of the artist in society.

He joined the textbook committee out of a love for teaching and commitment to build teaching resources for present and future GEL instructors.  

Paul Schmitt is a PhD candidate (ABD) in English at work on his dissertation focusing on global agriculture, infrastructure, and ecology in and across forms of media and literature from the late twentieth-century to present. His work in the classroom parallels his community engagement work with the local non-profit organization, Iowa Valley RC&D. Paul's GEL course "Reading and Writing Out of Place" examines the ways places and people mutually shape one another, and how writers represent that relationship. "Crises and Catastrophes" explores how we experience, understand, and respond to crises (from the personal to the global), and how reading and writing allow us to grow in resilience to the many challenges we face today.

Before coming to Iowa, Paul received his BA in Literature w/ Writing Emphasis from Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. He joined the textbook committee in order to provide insight into literary works that can be read productively through an ecocritical lens.

Konrad Swartz is a PhD student in English whose research interests lie in the transformation of literary and narrative form in British literature during the eighteenth and nineteenth century in response to the mediated character of ‘total war’ executed abroad upon the Continent and at the Colonial ‘periphery.’ Key to his scholarship are questions of aesthetic representation, media, violence, and affect—and his teaching is no different. From previous GEL courses on history, justice, and memorial, to his current GEL course which considers the place of hope and disappointment at the level of the political and the personal, Konrad encourages his students to take literatures seriously as a means of discernment and as action itself, grappling with and challenging our unjust world.

Konrad earned a degree in English and Creative Writing from Eastern Mennonite University before arriving in Iowa. He joined the textbook committee to speak to the role of pre-Victorian texts in the GEL classroom and advocate for the texts our students will inevitably—at first—label ‘weird.’