Swifterature: Belgian University Offers Taylor Swift-Inspired Literature Course

Koktail Magazine

24 Aug 2023

Attention Koktail Swifties! Ghent University in Belgium is introducing an innovative literature course centred around the artistic value of Taylor Swift's discography

Starting this autumn, students can enroll in “Literature: Taylor's Version,” to be curated by assistant professor Elly McCausland.

McCausland, known for her blog “Swifterature”, where she draws parallels between the themes, imagery, and language usage of pop sensation Taylor Swift and literary figures like Sylvia Plath, Charles Dickens, and William Shakespeare, will leverage Swift's body of work to explore literature spanning from the Mediaeval era to the Victorian age. The curriculum will cover a wide range, from Geoffrey Chaucer's “Troilus and Criseyde” to Shakespeare's “The Tempest”, and from Charlotte Brontë's “Villette” to contemporary authors such as Margaret Atwood and Simon Armitage.

McCausland earned her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Oxford University, specialising in English Literature and Medieval English Literature. She further pursued her academic journey and attained a Ph.D from the University of York in the United Kingdom. 

Stated in the course syllabus, Swift is known for her prolific and deeply personal songwriting as she frequently intertwines references to classic literary works into her music. “Using Swift’s work as a springboard, we will explore, among other topics, literary feminism, ecocriticism, fan studies, and tropes such as the anti-hero. Swift’s enduring popularity stems, at least in part, from the heavily intertextual aspect of her work, and this course will dig deeper to explore its literary roots.”

The registration process is open to everyone, including individuals who don't identify as Swift enthusiasts or may not be familiar with her music. The primary objective of the course is to critically analyse Swift as both an artist and writer, utilising the popularity of her music as a gateway to explore a body of literature that could have influenced her artistic output.

Throughout the semester, students who are part of the course will be evaluated based on a “reflection report”, which even has the potential to take the form of a song, as well as a 4,000-word essay that explores the importance of one of the class’s assigned texts in the literary canon. 

While it is the first course of its kind in Europe, the poetic verses of Taylor Swift are already included into the curriculum of several colleges throughout the United States. Stanford University's module has dubbed the 12-time Grammy Award winner as “The Last Great American Songwriter”. Furthermore, New York University, Arizona State University, Berklee College of Music, and Rice University in Houston have all established dedicated classes to explore Swift's journey in lyrics, musical composition, and the intersections of her work with feminism, gender studies, and American identity.

However, Swift isn't the first artist who attracted academic attention. In 2016, the University of Texas introduced an English Literature course centred around the analysis of Beyoncé's visual album “Lemonade” and its connections to Black feminism. The following year, the University of Copenhagen initiated a course titled “Beyoncé, Gender, and Race”.

McCausland further remarked, “I will wholeheartedly embrace all the developments in this course. I'm genuinely enthusiastic to witness the innovative ideas the students will bring forth”.