Living London: Literature, Performance, Culture
London is a city of many worlds. Shaped by histories of empire and migration, London is a multiethnic metropolis and an international hub for literature and the arts. By engaging with literary works, an unparalleled theater scene, and London itself as living text, we will immerse ourselves in this dynamic global metropolis.
Message from Faculty Director
Greetings! I’m Nancy Cho, Professor of English, and delighted to direct the 2025 Living London Program. I joined Carleton in 1995 and this will be my third time taking students to London. My teaching in English and American Studies ranges widely. I have particular interests in cities and the literary imagination, immigration and multiculturalism, Asian American literature, and drama and performance.
Relative to other destinations, London may appear familiar but is ready to surprise you. London is richly layered—a place where traces of the Roman past are still visible and where an 18th century building on Brick Lane houses a mosque that once was a synagogue and before that a church. London truly is a global city in its multicultural diversity and it excels as a place to study literature and theater. Literary history is alive all around you, evoked by the blue plaques marking where Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf once lived. And theater is part of public life. Indeed, you might just see an actor from one play show up in the audience at another, or have the opportunity to chat with an actor at a pub after a performance.
This program is best suited for students who are eager to experience and think hard about culture in every sense: high culture, street fashion, museums of all kinds, performance both on the stage and off, bookstores and libraries, food markets, neighborhood histories, and tiny playhouses as well as huge theaters on the West End. Also crucial is an open-ness to learning about the racial and cultural diversity of Londoners and to discuss challenging questions about the politics of British identity. A former student on this program set a personal goal of doing or seeing one new thing every day while in London. I can think of no better approach.
Professor Nancy Cho, Professor of English, Yale University, BA; University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), MA, PhD.
- To understand how London is and has been imagined and constructed as metropolis, national capital, center of Empire, and global hub in literature, art, museums, and architecture
- To deepen appreciation and understanding of all aspects of theater, through regular engagement with live performance at a wide range of venues
- To gain a broad understanding of London as a multicultural metropolis through the study of literature and theater and urban field exploration
- To develop cultural and geographic knowledge, experience, and skills for perceiving London’s “living text” (e.g., its peoples, natural and built environment, and material culture)
- To challenge and expand our cultural, aesthetic, and personal values through exposure to new ideas and environments
The program is open to Carleton students of any major. Participants are urged, prior to the start of the program, to take a 100 or 200 level English course.
Course of Study
ENGL 279: Living London Program: Urban Field Studies (6 credits)
A combination of background readings, guided walks and site visits, and individual exploration will give students tools for understanding the history of multicultural London. Starting with the city’s early history and moving to the present, students will gain an understanding of how the city has been defined and transformed over time, and of the complex cultural narratives that shape its standing as a global metropolis. There will be short written exercises (creative and analytical), informal mini-presentations, and a final group presentation focused on a particular urban site.
Instructor: Local Faculty and Nancy Cho
ENGL 281: Living London Program: Reading Multicultural London (6 credits)
A wide range of British writers have depicted London as a site of displacement, diaspora, community, and belonging. From the “Windrush Generation” in the 1950s to the present context of Brexit, this course will examine the depiction of multicultural London in fiction, film, and essay. Selected texts will reveal how diverse writers have been shaped by London and in turn shaped its narratives. Readings may include Samuel Selvon, Hanif Kureishi, Monica Ali, Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy, Kamala Shamsie, and Xiaolu Guo; and we will incorporate relevant museum exhibits and cultural events.
Instructor: Nancy Cho
ENGL 282: Living London Program: London Theater (6 credits)
Students will attend productions (at least two per week) of classic and contemporary plays in a range of London venues both on and off the West End, and will do related reading. We will also travel to Stratford-upon-Avon for a 3-day theater trip. Class discussions will focus on dramatic genres and themes, dramaturgy, acting styles, and design. Guest speakers may include actors, critics, and directors. Students will keep a theater journal and write several full reviews of plays.
Instructor: Jane Edwardes
Students will stay in fully-equipped apartments in South Kensington and in small hotels and hostels while on overnight excursions.
Field trips within London will include the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Brixton (the center of Caribbean culture), Spitalfields/Brick Lane (the heart of the Bengali community), the port of Greenwich and the Royal Observatory, and the Docklands/Limehouse (site of London’s first Chinatown). Group excursions beyond London will include trips to Liverpool, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Oxford.