Neil Davison

Neil DavisonCourse Descriptions

Neil Davison
Associate Professor of English
Office: Moreland 240B
Phone: 541-737-1633
Email: ndavison at

Ph.D. University of Maryland 1993
M.F.A. Columbia University 1984
B.A. University of Maryland 1982

Class Expectations

A member of the Department since 1995, Neil Davison teaches courses in British Modernist Literature, works of James Joyce, 19th-and 20th-century Irish literature, Jewish cultural studies, 20th–century poetry, and Holocaust literature and film. In his classroom and scholarship, he focuses on Enlightenment Modernity, constructs of racial, gender, and religious identities, and how modernism informs the aesthetics and politics of nineteenth and twentieth-century texts. His work has also been influenced by Postcolonial theory, Masculinity Studies, and the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. He has a special interest in teaching the works of Joyce, Conrad, Shaw, Crane, Wilde, Virginia Woolf, Auden, Hemingway, Robert Lowell, V.S. Naipaul, Philip Larkin, and the Holocaust writings of Primo Levi, Aharon Appelfeld, and André Schwarz-Bart. He has published on Joyce, George Moore, Flann O’Brien, George du Maurier, W.B. Yeats, J. M. Synge, Schwarz-Bart, Philip Roth and others in such journals as Journal of Modern Literature, James Joyce Quarterly, Clio, Literature and Psychology, Jewish Social Studies, and Textual Practice. He has also placed poetry in Ironwood, Small Pond, Cimarron Review, Abraxas, West Branch, and other small-press magazines. His monograph, James Joyce, Ulysses, and the Construction of Jewish Identity: Culture, Biography, and “the Jew” in Modernist Europe (Cambridge University Press, 1996; paper edition 1998), examines Joyce’s career-long interest in European Jewry and 19th-century forms of anti-Semitism. Another monograph, Jewishness and Masculinity from the Modern to the Postmodern was published by the Routledge Studies in 20th-Century Literature series in 2010. He is presently at work on a critical biography of André and Simone Schwarz-Bart that focuses on race and gender in the collaborative expression of their Jewish and Afro-Caribbean identities.     

Davison Course Descriptions

English 208 Literature of Western Civilization

This is a survey course that engages both intellectual contexts and key literary texts of Western literature from the late 18th through the 20th century, a period often referred to as Enlightenment Modernity. We will first attempt to read, position, and understand Enlightenment pieces of literature as they give way to the Romantic movement of the late-18th and 19th centuries. A study of both English and Continental first-generation Romantic poetry will move into an examination of the second generation Romantic writers often referred to as the Decadent and/or Symbolist movement in Western literature. We will also read background materials and fiction from the Realist and Naturalist schools of literature. Finally, we will consider how Romanticism, Symbolism, and Naturalism planted the seeds of literary Modernism. If time permits, we may also attempt to move further into the 20th century and study texts that continue the Modernist aesthetic into the Postmodern, as well as address the more overt politics of race, colonialism, class, and gender in the mid-to-late 20th century. Grades will be based on a take-home mid-term exam and a two-hour, in class final.

English 330 The Holocaust in Literature and Film

Is the Nazi Holocaust of European Jewry ultimately beyond the human imagination? Should the generations who did not witness those events compose “stories” about it, or write “poetry” that attempts to envision or search for the redemptive in it? Can there ever be a film that allows us to understand its magnitude, rather than merely make spectacle or heroics from discrete parts of its known history? How do these historical events inform our own era’s violence and mass murder?

In this course we will study major pieces of fiction, memoir, and film that indeed attempt to re-imagine and gain insight into the Nazi vision of a world that, in their own terminology, would be completely cleansed of Jews. We will learn through supplementary documents about the history of European Jewry, religious-based anti-Jewishness, and racial anti-Semitism. We will position the Holocaust in the context of the wider racial science of the era, and through this, grapple with how pervasive race and racial hierarchy was, and often remains, to the Western mind. By way of these contexts, we will make reference to other genocidal actions that have occurred after the Holocaust and into our own century. Finally, through each text we study, we will consider the controversy of the uniqueness of the Holocaust, and whether its unimaginable horrors can ever be justly represented in forms that originated during more innocent periods of Western culture that preceded it—forms such as the traditional novel, the short story, poetry, and film.  

Students will be evaluated through two major assignments: a literary/historical analysis of one of the written texts we’ve studied in an essay mid-term format, and a comparative critique of two of the films we’ve viewed for the course. The second assignment will be a traditional, formal essay and mandate at least five critical sources other than the subject text in question.

Selection of essays posted on Blackboard
Aharon Appefeld, The Age of Wonders (1981)
Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (1960/1986)
Andre Schwarz-Bart, The Last of the Just (1960)
The World at War: Genocide, Thames Television Documentary (1982)
Schindler’s List, Directed by Stephen Spielberg, (1993)
Europa, Europa, Directed by Agnieszka Holland (1990)