soldiers storming the beach

The English Patient: Studying Great Power Politics with Literature


This course was available in the past and may be presented again as part of the Open Enrollment curriculum.

Set in Italy in 1944, Michael Ondaatje’s Golden Booker Prize-winning novel The English Patient offers a unique lens to examine the hallmarks of international relations: nationalism, realism and liberalism, and how they interact together.

While events in Europe and Asia revealed great power politics had reached a definitive turning point, the novel’s four protagonists share a remote, intimate wartime existence in an isolated Tuscan monastery. Multiple narrators contemplate time-honored themes of loyalty, nationality, imperialism and geography against the backdrop of the fall of the British Empire as the Second World War comes to an end. As the characters gradually map together the pieces of their post-war lives, the world’s great powers do the same.

This course aims to examine how changing national boundaries and ideologies in the post-war era created our modern world order. With unsettling beauty and insight, The English Patient begs the question: as the sun set on the British Empire, where will the sun set – and rise – next?

Course Outline

Required Texts:

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient, Vintage Books, November 1993. ISBN 978-0679745204

John Hutchinson & Anthony D. Smith, eds., Nationalism. Oxford Readers, Oxford University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-19-2892607


Online registration deadline: Dec. 22, 5 PM CT

Remote courses require you to login to Canvas to access the Zoom Classroom. You will receive an invitation to join Canvas about a week before your course begins. Please visit the Liberal Arts Student Resources page to find step by step instructions for Canvas and Zoom: Online Learning Resources