Take an historical journey through literature


We’ve launched a revolutionary digital course today (Wednesday 23 April 2014) which will give you and people from across the world a unique glimpse into the extraordinary life, culture, drama and literature of the traditional English country house.

If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey and Pride and Prejudice you’ll be able to delve into 450 years of literature inspired by and set in some of the country’s most magnificent buildings such as Chatsworth House.

The Literature of the English Country House is our second FutureLearn Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) – transforming education and making learning free and accessible to all.

The eight week course is ideal for literature lovers and costume drama enthusiasts who would like to discover the secrets behind the exquisite English country houses which are steeped in history, romance and sometimes scandal.

Did you know? You can use #FLHouseLit to talk about this course onTwitter.

Professors Susan and Jim Fitzmaurice

Dr Jim Fitzmaurice, Director of Distance Learning, said: “On this course we will be introducing learners to literature as it derives from 450 years of the English country house and we will be seeing how that literature shapes our understanding of the country house.

“We will be travelling together on an historical journey through literature visiting notable country houses around Yorkshire and Derbyshire. You will gain an insight into the life of these country houses and learn about some common misconceptions.”

Learners will explore the magnificent 17th century wall paintings of Bolsover Castle often hailed to be the best of their kind in the country and visit Haddon Hall, frozen in the time of William Shakespeare and a great inspiration for the great gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe 200 years later.

Dr Fitzmaurice will use a wide range of texts spanning the history of literature from Thomas More’s Utopia to Oscar Wilde’s Canterville Ghost, plays from Shakespeare, poetry from Margaret Cavendish and brief passages from Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

Throughout the course participants will learn techniques to analyse literature and make their own connections with the English country house.

Professor Susan Fitzmaurice, Head of the School of English, who is running the course said: “It is rare to encounter literary texts in such close proximity to the contexts, buildings and landscapes that inspired, informed and provoked them.

“This MOOC illuminates poems, plays and prose texts vividly by connecting them to those contexts, buildings and landscapes through a historical lens.

“Leading experts who are passionate about their subject introduce fresh ways of approaching this literature by walking the learner through the world of the English country house.

“If you think historical English literature is crusty and boring, we’re hoping that our MOOC will change that and teach you how to engage with more confidence.”

The Literature of the English Country House follows the success of our first FutureLearn MOOC, Discover Dentistry, which ran earlier this year. More than 4,000 people signed up to the innovative course which delved into the intriguing world of dentistry from molars to canines.

Marie Kinsey, Academic Lead for MOOCs, said: “Many people have visited an English country house or know about them through things they've read.

"This course breaks new ground because it brings together the life and culture of the English country house over 400 years with books, poems and drama set in that world. Leading experts from the School of English will help you learn more about the English country house, and how to dig more deeply into texts that feature aspects of country house life."

The Literature of the English Country House – sign up today

  • Registration for the course is now open and learning will begin on 2 June 2014.
  • The online lecturers will not only take you on a literary journey but give you the unique opportunity to go through the key hole of six of Yorkshire and Derbyshire’s most famous addresses.
  • There are no prerequisites for registering for this or any of our other MOOCs. Education or academic background is not important – budding learners simply need an internet connection.