Teaching Popular Romance

Published articles about teaching romance can be found here.

A detailed overview of teaching popular romance fiction, written by Eric Selinger and published in the Encyclopedia of Romance Fiction, can be found free online in draft form. Below are more details about individual courses and those who have taught them.

From at least 2019 Julie Moody-Freeman has taught ABD 221 "Romance, Gender, and Race" at DePaul University: "This course examines how writers represent gender and race in the romance genre. The course begins with a study of the literary elements that comprise popular romance novels. [...] Questions to be addressed include: How does a writer's gender and racial/ethnic identity shape the representations of race and gender in romance fiction and cover design? How have writers complicated the popular romance plot to address the issues of gender, race, class, and age? How do writers utilize the romance novel during specific historical periods to address social, political, and health issues? The course concludes by examining how the internet has transformed the writing, publishing, purchasing, and reading practices for the writers, publishers, and readers of romance novels with black characters. [A cached description of the course being offered in 2023 can be found here]. 

Francesa Pierini taught a fourteen-week seminar, "‘Critical Approaches to the Modern and Contemporary Anglophone Romance Novel (From A Room with a View to Fifty Shades of Grey)’ [...] at the Department of English of University of Basel in the Winter term of 2020" and wrote an article about it for the Journal of Popular Romance Studies. Given the success of the seminar, Pierini was "inspired [...] to design a new seminar on YA literature and romance to be offered to students in the winter term of 2022. My hope is that the Department of English will soon be able to offer a small cluster of undergraduate seminars focusing on the romance genre."

Maria Nilson, associate professor at the Department of Comparative Literature at Linnæus University, Sweden, and Helene Ehriander, associate professor at the Department of Comparative Literature of the same university, have (as of the end of 2020) taught a summer course on romance every year since 2014: "The ten-week course is taught online and awards 7.5 ECTS [European Credit Transfer System] credits." More details here.

In the spring of 2020 Denise Williams has been co-teaching "an honors seminar" called "Moving Past Bodice Ripping to Shredding the Patriarchy: Romance Novels as Tools for Justice." More details can be found in this transcript of a podcast at Shelf Love (scroll down to 00:15:51 minutes) and at Denise's website.

Dr Lynda Gichanda Spencer, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Literary Studies in English at Rhodes University, discussed her teaching of African romance fiction as part of a panel at the IASPR 2020 conference. There are a couple of paragraphs about her 2019 third-year elective course titled Global Chick-Lit or Trans-Global Literature? Re-reading Contemporary Women’s Fiction in this online paper.

Jessica Van Slooten of the University of Wisconsin Green Bay would have been giving a presentation at the cancelled 2020 Bowling Green State University romance conference about teaching romance:

As a feminist literary scholar who teaches in both the English and Women’s and Gender Studies Programs, I teach romance novels in women’s and gender studies classes. I use novels like Alyssa Cole's Duke by Default and Alisha Rai’s Wrong to Need You to introduce students to disciplinary threshold concepts. Threshold concepts, a framework developed by Jan Meyer and Ray Land, “can be considered as akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. [...] As a consequence of comprehending a threshold concept there may thus be a transformed internal view of subject matter, subject landscape, or even world view” (1). Threshold concepts are particularly important in Women’s and Gender Studies, as students grapple with new concepts that explain their experiences and identities; romance novels are ideal texts to showcase these concepts.
At the same conference Rebecca Baumann of Indiana University - Bloomington would have been discussing
how mass market romance novels can be used in courses on the History of the Book. Such courses often focus on the “great books” (usually written by and for men) of Western literature, but in my class “The Book, 1450 to the Present,” we examine Harlequin Romances alongside the Gutenberg Bible, the first folio of Shakespeare, and Pickwick in parts.

Dr Jessica Matthews has taught ENGH 202: Why Women Read Romance at George Mason University. Details about the syllabus, required texts, secondary sources and the class blog are online. She's also discussed the design of the course and how she selects the primary texts at The Popular Romance Project. In Spring 2017 she taught English 309: The Popular Romance and details about it can also be found online.

Professor Eric Selinger has been teaching courses on popular romance at DePaul University, Chicago since 2006. By 2012 he had "taught about twenty-five courses on the genre, from large undergraduate surveys to senior and graduate seminars. The novels I've taught range from Christian inspirational romance to BDSM and LGBT romances, often accompanied by some range of essays and chapters from popular romance scholarship." More details can be found elsewhere on this blog, including this pair of posts from 2012 (1) and (2) relating to the 2012 ENG 383 (Women and Literature: Popular Romance Fiction) course.

Amy Krug has provided more details about her romance seminar than are available online:
I am a lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Dayton in Ohio/US, and I teach a writing seminar (to both honors first-years and second year students) based on popular romance. I have been teaching it since 2015.

Through the semester I give students different scholarly articles as they read different popular romance novels (Bet Me by Crusie, Dead Until Dark by Harris, Release Me by Kenner, and Romancing the Duke by Dare). We explore popular romance through the lenses of feminism, the other, literary criticism, and research. The students must come up with an authentic research question to ask and answer through secondary and primary research, resulting in an academic research paper at the end of the semester.

This class has been very successful on multiple fronts, including asking students to do "real" academic research and also giving them an appreciation for a form of literature they may have otherwise dismissed.

In Fall 2015 at Ithaca College Jennifer Wofford taught a seminar on romance fiction. More details here. Then
In the fall of 2017, in my first-year college writing seminar Reading Popular Romance, I piloted the "Category Romance Project," a classroom-based, large-group student research project that explored "vintage" category romances (20 years or older) from a social science perspective.
More details here.

In 2017 one of the Postgraduate MA Literature and Culture optional modules at the University of Birmingham (UK) was "Guilty Pleasures: Reading the Historical Romance."
Guilty Pleasures explores the phenomenon and development of the popular historical romance from the start of the twentieth century to the present day. You will also examine the history of reading the romance, from the start of mass-market romance publishing in the 1920s to the recent phenomenon of literary blogging and fandom.
In this module you will read a range of historical ‘romance’ novels from the Regency romance, to the mid-late twentieth century ‘bodice-ripper’, to the more recent phenomenon of the hybrid historical fantasia or paranormal/time-travelling romance. You will analyse the archetypal conventions, narrative structures, plot patterns and themes of the romance genre, exploring the commercial ‘category’ romance’ of Mills & Boon or Harlequin, and the bestsellers of acclaimed ‘Queens’ of romance such as Heyer and Holt, alongside and in dialogue with examples of the contemporary middlebrow (eg. Gregory), and what might be described as elite or ‘literary’ romance (eg. Fowles).
There is an undergraduate final year module version of this too.

In 2017 the syllabus for Trent University's ENGL-2706Y/2707H: Popular Fiction included
Week 5: Affective Reading and Romance; Rebecca
 A category romance of your choice
 Laura Vivanco
 Radway
In 2016 Heather Schell taught "Happily Ever After: Love Stories and American Culture" at George Washington University and in subsequent years has "taught a freshman writing seminar on Love and American Culture" (details here) which included "a class experiment with research on Twitter, which we saw as a perfect platform for combining romance and politics" (as discussed at more length in this paper).

At the University of Exeter Dr Joseph Crawford has taught 'Reader, I Married Him': The Evolution of Romance Fiction from 1740 to the Present (EAS3225).

In the academic year 2015-2016, the University of Alberta's Department of English and Film Studies offered:
English 693 B2: Literary Themes
Harlequin Romance: Reading the Life of a Genre
Winter 2016; W 1400­1650
Instructor: C. Devereux

Harlequin Enterprises began publishing paperback reprints in Winnipeg in 1949. In 1957, the company acquired distribution rights for the popular romance novels published by British company Mills and Boon. By 1971, Harlequin had purchased Mills and Boon and its publications had arguably become iconic in the field of category or series romance fiction: “Harlequin Romance” is a name that had by the late twentieth century come to epitomize the brand of romantic narrative the company has been so successful in producing. In this course, we will consider the rise of Harlequin Enterprises, looking at the English­-language contexts within which the romance genre emerged in the middle of the twentieth century, the publishing company, the marketing of the romance, and, of course, the novels themselves, in a range of texts from the 1950s to the 21st century. We will consider the expansion of the Harlequin brand in the past two decades, as well as some other popular romance genres in circulation in the 1950s and 60s, such, notably, as lesbian pulp fiction and medical romance. We will also look at contemporary and recent texts that build on the Harlequin tradition (such as chick lit), at e­books and the industry, at a recent lawsuit pertaining to e­books and Harlequin, and at critical and historical studies of Harlequin and romance fiction (Leslie Rabine, Janice Radway, Tania Modleski, Alison Light, Paul Grescoe, Laura Vivanco, Margaret Ann Jensen). The object is to trace the life of a genre from its emergence as an identifiable— branded—category through its legacies and afterlife. (details here)

In Spring 2015 Dr Katharine Dubois (who writes romance as Katharine Ashe) and Laura Florand taught The Romance Novel: History, Culture and Form at Duke University. A brief outline was posted at TMT in 2014. More information can be found at Unsuitable, the course's blog.

In 2014/15 the Department of English and Comparative Literature (DECL), College of Arts and Letters of the University of the Philippines offered a Special Topics (English 198) course on Reading the Romance Novel. The syllabus has been made available by Dr Lorie Santos.

In 2012 a "single semester module, delivered in fourteen weekly ninety-minute units, focusing on the (British) popular romance and three novels from the Regency and desert romance subgenres in particular: Georgette Heyer’s Bath Tangle (1955), E.M. Hull’s The Sheik (1919), and a recent Mills & Boon category romance, Marguerite Kaye's The Governess and the Sheikh (2011)" was taught "at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg (Bavaria, Germany) to second- and third- year BA and teaching degree students". Details have been published in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies.

In 2010 "a unit on historical fiction" was offered at the University of Tasmania, Australia (UTAS),  "in which students read Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester alongside literary classics such as William Shakespeare’s Henry V and Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe." A detailed pedagogy report on the course was published in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies. In 2014, Dr Lisa Fletcher again included romance as part of a more broadly focused unit: HEN211 Popular Genres/HEN311 Popular Genres focuses on popular romance fiction, fantasy, and steampunk. 

The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee offers Film Studies 212-002, Intermediate Topics in Film Studies: Genres of Romance Across Media, TR 2:00-3:50, Katie Morrissey. The sample syllabus from a previous year included The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer and Hot Target by Suzanne Brockmann.

In 2013 Professor Karin E. Westman of Kansas State University included Georgette Heyer's Frederica among the required texts for ENGL 698 "Capstone: Jane Austen and Her Legacy." A similar course, "English 360: Women Writers" which focused on "the continuing literary legacy of Jane Austen" was taught in 2011 by Teresa Huffman Traver at California State University.

Professor Andrew Goldstone of  Rutgers University has offered a course on Popular Reading: Low to Middling Genres, 1890-1945. In 2012 this included E. M. Hull's The Sheik. In 2010 he taught a similar course and placed Hull's novel in the context of Ethel M. Dell's The Way of an Eagle and Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm.

In 2010 romance authors Cara Elliot and Lauren Willig taught a course at Yale University. Their Syllabus for Yale College seminar on "Reading the Historical Romance Novel" and Supplemental Reading List for "Reading the Historical Romance Novel" can be downloaded from Cara Elliot's website.

In 2010 Dr. Paula R. Backscheider of Auburn University taught "ENGL 4710: Popular Genres: The Romance."

In 2008 Dr Jo Koster taught Experience Liberated: Comparative Literature Seminar in the Romance at Winthrop University. The syllabus and other details remain online.

If you know of any other online syllabi for courses on popular romance fiction, or which include popular romance fiction, please let me know.


  1. Thanks for creating this resource! It's been incredibly helpful as I work up my syllabus/reading list for my own DIY Romance MFA. I'll be blogging about my process at romancemfa.com and, of course, will keep following your blog!

  2. Glad it was useful. I'm looking forward to seeing the syllabus of the Romance MFA once it appears!