Sample Syllabus

By David Buchanan

This is an outline of one possible course syllabus based largely on resources available at Red Flags. It is intended as an upper-level undergraduate or graduate course in English, Comparative Literature, or Canadian Literature. I offer it as a means to demonstrate how site resources might be used for pedagogical purposes. Suggestions for the development of this outline, other courses, or alternative learning strategies are welcome.

Title: Early Proletarian Literature in English in Canada

Abstract: This course offers a survey of early proletarian literature in English in Canada from 1872-1919. The term “proletarian literature” refers to literature by, for, or representative of working-class people. The date range highlights a critical period in the modernization of Canada, from the Nine-Hour Movement to the Winnipeg General Strike. The course outlines the growth and diversity of proletarian literature as well as development of the labour movement in response to industrial capitalism. Emphasis is placed on the use of mixed format periodicals to effectively communicate alternative political views, encourage larger readerships, and shape progress in modern industrial society. Poetry, songs, novels, images, and other forms of communication that served to educate, agitate, and otherwise shape social practices are considered. Topics developed throughout the course include the consequences of modernity, downmarket print history, and processes of effective communication, including the role of popular literature, the representation of history and progress, and the potential impact of communication practices on identity formation.


Week 1: Introduction: Canadian literature and the consequences of modernity

·      Heron, Craig. “The Craftworkers’ Challenge.”

·      Verzuh, Ron. “Entrepeneurs of Protest.”

Week 2: The early labour press and the mixed format periodical

·      Watt, F. W. “The Growth of Proletarian Literature in Canada, 1872-1920.”

·      Verzuh, Ron. “Cradle of a Workers’ Press” and “The Nine-Hour Crusade.”

·      Buchanan, David. “The Ontario Workman.” Red Flags.

·      The Ontario Workman, Toronto, 1872-1875. [selections]

Week 3: International influences

·      Overview: Fabianism, unionism, strikes, disasters, the National Policy, Marx in translation, Progress and Poverty, transnational publishing, the Knights of Labor

·      Bellamy, Edward. Looking Backward, 2000-1887. 1888. [selections]

Week 4: Popular fiction in the early labour press

·      Verzuh, Ron. “A Maritime Miners’ Friend.”

·      Buchanan, David. “The Trades Journal.” Red Flags.

·      The Trades Journal, Spring Hill, 1880-1891.

o   Collins, Wilkie, ed. “How I Married Him: The Confession of a Young Lady.” 1882.

o   Braddon, M.E. Like and Unlike. 1887. [selections]

Week 5: Labour advocates

·      Verzuh, Ron. “Agitate, Educate, Organize.”

·      Buchanan, David. “Palladium of Labor.” Red Flags.

·      Palladium of Labor, Hamilton, 1883-1886. [selections]

·      Verzuh, Ron. “The Knights War of Words.”

Week 6: Politics, literature, and readership

·      Verzuh, Ron. “Thompson’s Last Stand.”

·      Buchanan, David. “Searching for a ‘newer and truer literature’: Politics and Communication in The Labor Advocate.”

·      The Labor Advocate, Toronto, 1890-1891. [selections]

Week 7: Middle-class social problem novels

·      Gerson, Carole. “Introduction.”

·      Machar, Agnes Maule. Roland Graeme, Knight: A Novel of Our Time. 1892.

Week 8: Effective communication

·      Buchanan, David. “The Search for a Newer and Truer Literature: Thomas Phillips Thompson and The Labor Advocate.” Bibliographical Society of Canada.

·      The Labor Advocate [selections]

Week 9: Poetry and Songs

·      [selections from periodicals, including poems by women and international authors]

·      Thompson, Phillips. The Labor Reform Songster. 1892. [selections]

·      Gribble, Wilfred. [selections from The Western Clarion]

Week 10: Social practices, progress, and identity

·      Heron, Craig. “The Workers’ Revolt.”

·      Verzuh, Ron. “For the Masses Against the Classes.”

·      Buchanan, David. “‘Yours for the Revolution’: Communication and Identity in The Western Clarion.” English Studies in Canada.

·      The Western Clarion, Vancouver, 1903-1925. [selections]

Week 11: Revolutionary novels

·      London, Jack. The Iron Heel. 1908.

Week 12: Text and image

·      Images selected from labour periodicals.

Week 13: 1919 and beyond

·      The One Big Union Bulletin, Winnipeg, 1919-1934. [selections]

Additional Resources

Buchanan, David. Red Flags.