Greatest Hits of the Humanities, Part II: Literature and Writing

Head-on photo of Buster Keaton crouched on the cowcatcher of a steam locomotive.

Buster Keaton in The General (1926), one of the films explored in 21L.011 The Film Experience. (Public domain image.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Herewith, Part II of our list of the most visited OCW course sites in the Humanities, this part featuring Literature and Writing courses. [See Part I here.] Naturally, most writing courses entail a healthy amount of reading, so there is some natural overlap between these two academic ventures, and instructors often sail their boats on both ponds.

Literature and writing are fed and replenished by many related disciplines. So it’s worth noting how many of these courses also venture far upstream into other territories, such as film, history, biology, cooking, photography, and mobile technology.

While assignments distinguish all academic courses, in literature and writing courses they form the heart of the experience, so be sure to check those out.

Painted portrait of woman seated in front of a dark background.

Portrait of Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell. (Image courtesy of


  • 21L.011 The Film Experience taught by Professor David Thorburn
    “Through comparative reading of films from different eras and countries, students develop the skills to turn their in-depth analyses into interpretations and explore theoretical issues related to spectatorship.”
  • 21L.448J Darwin and Design taught by Professor James Paradis
    “This course covers social development, social behavior, social cognition and social neuroscience, in both human and non-human social animals. Topics include altruism, empathy, communication, theory of mind, aggression, power, groups, mating, and morality. Methods include evolutionary biology, neuroscience, cognitive science, social psychology and anthropology.”
  • 21L.707 Reading Cookbooks: from The Forme of Cury to The Smitten Kitchen taught by Ina Lipkowitz
    “ . . . students will visit the past through cookbooks to learn about what foodstuffs and technologies were available and when, and how religious and nutritional concerns dictated what was eaten and how it was cooked. Students will also learn about the gender dynamics of culinary writing and performances and the roles people played in writing and cooking recipes.”
  • 21L.003 Introduction to Fiction taught by Wyn Kelley
    “This course investigates the uses and boundaries of fiction in a range of novels and narrative styles–traditional and innovative, western and nonwestern–and raises questions about the pleasures and meanings of verbal texts in different cultures, times, and forms.”
  • 21L.000J Writing about Literature taught by Wyn Kelley
    “Through the ways they engage with their own texts and those of other artists, sampling, remixing, and rethinking texts and genres, writers reflect on and inspire questions about the creative process. We will examine Mary Shelley’s reshaping of Milton’s Paradise Lost, German fairy tales, tales of scientific discovery, and her husband’s poems to make Frankenstein (1818, 1831); Melville’s redesign of a travel narrative into a Gothic novella in Benito Cereno (1856); and Alison Bechdel’s rewriting of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) in her graphic novel Fun Home (2006).”

See all Literature courses on OCW >

Photo of a handwritten diagram on sheet of paper, with numerous blocks of text interconnected with arrows.

Planning diagram for a short story. (Image courtesy of Simon Scott on Flickr.)


  • 21W.755 Reading and Writing Short Stories taught by Shariann Lewitt
    “Students will write stories and short descriptive sketches. Students will read great short stories and participate in class discussions of students’ writing and the assigned stories in their historical and social contexts.”
  • 21W.730-2 The Creative Spark taught by Karen Boiko
    “Under what conditions does [creativity] flourish—what ignites the creative spark? Attempting to answer these questions, this class explores ways creativity has been understood in Western culture: what we prize and fear about creativity and its wellsprings; how writers, artists, scientists and inventors have described their own creative processes; how psychologists and philosophers have theorized it; ways in which creativity has been represented in Western culture.”
  • 21W.735 Writing and Reading the Essay taught by Dr. Rebecca Blevins Faery
    “This is a course focused on the literary genre of the essay, that wide-ranging, elastic, and currently very popular form that attracts not only nonfiction writers but also fiction writers, poets, scientists, physicians, and others to write in the form, and readers of every stripe to read it.”
  • 21W.789 Communicating with Mobile Technology taught by Dr. Edward C. Barrett and Frank Bentley
    “Students work in small collaborative design teams to propose, build, and document a semester-long project focused on mobile applications for cell phones. Additional assignments include creating several small mobile applications such as context-aware mobile media capture and games. Students document their work through a series of written and oral proposals, progress reports, and final reports.”

See all Writing courses on OCW >
(MIT recently combined its Writing program with Comparative Media Studies into the CMS/W department, but has kept the 21W numbering for writing courses.)

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