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From King Arthur to Game of Thrones: New Summer Course Takes Students on a British Pop Cultural Journey

By Margaret Chantung

This summer, two Literature and Writing Studies professors are taking students not only on a two-week study abroad trip across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom, but on a pop cultural journey that spans a millennium.

The course, titled The British Invasion in U.S. Pop Culture, explores popular literary, cinematic, musical and theatrical traditions in the British Isles. From the 5th century legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table to the modern day television series Game of Thrones, the course analyzes how British popular culture both entertains and satisfies audiences while probing deeper into what that means for American society.

“British popular culture is consumed voraciously in the United States,” said Associate Professor Heidi Breuer, a medieval and renaissance British literature scholar. “We want to tap into that interest and use it to catalyze a scholarly inquiry about exactly why we are so fascinated—what are the things that are positive about it as well as what’s problematic, especially in regard to race, class, gender and sexuality.”

Students will travel first to London, England, where planned excursions include a Tower of London tour, Sherlock walking tour, a visit to the Harry Potter Warner Brothers studio and a James Bond walking tour. From there the course will go to Cardiff, the capital and largest city in Wales, to explore the folklore and mythology of King Arthur as well as for a Dr. Who interactive experience. The trip will conclude in Dublin, Ireland, with a visit to Trinity College, home to The Book of Kells, a literary pub crawl and tours of film sites from the HBO series Game of Thrones.

“We’ve selected a lot of locations that will do double duty for us,” said Associate Professor Rebecca Lush, an expert on colonial and transatlantic literature. “These places offer some of the strongest, most lasting influential aspects of British culture that we’ve assimilated into our American culture juxtaposed next to 21st century cultural sites that are important and popular now.”

Both Breuer and Lush have a love for British culture, but aren’t afraid to turn a critical eye to it.

“For me, popular culture is a lens through which to see how the character types and narrative patterns that were invented in the 16th through 18th centuries continue to get recycled to celebrate a new sense of Americanness,” said Lush. “Taking students to these locations in London, Wales and Ireland is a way for them to understand the multifaceted transatlantic undertones that they have always assumed to be American.”

Added Breuer: “We are celebrating the aspects that are fun, enjoyable and satisfying while also looking at how British pop culture perpetuates ideological structures that have gone on for a long time.”

The course, which includes the two-week abroad trip from May 21 to June 2 and an additional two-week online component, satisfies three units of upper-division credit. Open to CSUSM students and the community through Open University, application materials are due Tuesday, Feb. 16.

For more information, visit the CSUSM Study Abroad website.