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English Literature students can now study Game of Thrones


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Students undertaking English degrees at the University of Virginia are now being offered the chance to study HBO TV series Game of Thrones.

The series, adapted from George R.R. Martin’s popular book series ‘A Song Of Ice and Fire’, forms part of a four-week course which requires students to study both the books and TV series. This class counts for an English credit towards completion of the degree and some of the topics that will be covered are life in the aftermath of violence, the value of honour, race, gender roles, identity formation and fan fiction.

The course is being run by Lisa Woolfork, Assistant Professor of Virginia’s English department, who has published her own book and whose academic career thus far has focused on American slavery. According to Woolfork, the purpose of the class is to teach students how skills that are used to study literature are “very useful skills for reading literature and TV in conjunction”. She also feels that there are issues in the books which are meaningful and are illuminated through literary analysis.

One student, a fourth year English major named Madlyn McAulifee, claims that the course is valuable. She said: “As society progressed, books became the things everybody turned to talk about. But now it’s television and film. It’s so literary – how in-depth it is, how robust it is, how much there is to discuss about it, but we’re also very concerned about the pop culture aspects, how we as viewers receive Game of Thrones”. She went on to say that she felt it was important to apply the same principles that you would to literature to TV and film as well.

This unusual course is not the first of its kind to be offered in American universities. In New York, you can study ‘The Sociology of Miley Cyrus’, at another college in the country you can learn about media, gender and historiography in AMC’s ‘Mad Men’. If you’re a big fan of hip-hop, you can study Jay-Z and Urban Theodicy in Georgetown, USA. Even respected university Duke offers a class entitled: ‘California, Here We Come: The OC And The Self-Aware Culture of 21st Century America’.

The Virginia course culminates in a group-based creative project, where students are asked to write their own chapter for the saga. Woolfolk said: “All of them have to connect in some way to how Game of Thrones has sustained itself as a cultural phenomenon.

Evan Sacks, an alumni of Virginia University, expressed his envy at the course becoming available after he had graduated: “It would be fascinating to discuss the show’s complexities in an academic setting. I haven’t had many opportunities to have intellectual conversations about the show, and it would be fun to do so on a day-to-day basis.”

“Some are writing a prequel graphic novel; others are working on spoilers… I want them to consider, ‘how do you track the progress of a book to a TV series to this large phenomena, and how does that transform?’ Literally speaking, it’s very diverse and rich text. It has lots of layers, lots of characters, and it’s very smart.”

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