Professors Emeriti O'Connell and Pritchard; Professors Cobham-Sander, Frank, Hastie‡, Parham†, Sanborn, K. Sánchez-Eppler (Chair), and Sofield; Associate Professors Bosman, Brooks (Director of Studies), and Nelson*; Assistant Professors Christoff, Grobe, Guilford, Rangan†, and Worsley*; Writer-in-Residence Hall; Visiting Writer Kimani; Senior Lecturer Lieber; Lecturer B. Sánchez-Eppler; Five College Fellow Henrichs; Five College Visiting Associate Professor Adams; Visiting Lecturers Kapur and Stinson.
*On leave 2017-18.
†On leave fall semester 2017-18.
‡On leave spring semester 2017-18.
Major Program. Students majoring in English are encouraged to explore the Department’s wide range of offerings in literature, film and media, performance studies, cultural studies, and creative writing.
Majoring in English requires the completion of ten courses offered or approved by the Department. The Department organizes its courses into four levels. The courses numbered in the 100s are writing-attentive and writing-intensive courses that introduce students to a variety of genres and media, entail frequent writing, and cultivate students’ skills in close reading. The courses in the 200s emphasize a particular approach to method, genre, medium, period, or discourse. They include introductory courses in creative writing as well as literary, film, or cultural study. The courses in the 300s are electives designed to foster immersion into specific topics in literary, film, cultural studies and creative writing. They help students learn skills and/or study materials that will prepare them for independent work in their 400-level seminars. They are open, however, to both majors and non-majors across the college, and generally do not carry prerequisites for admission. Courses in the 400s are junior and senior seminars emphasizing independent inquiry, critical and theoretical issues, and extensive writing. These courses teach students the intellectual skills vital to framing a research question and conducting independent research.
Majors are required to take at least one 100 course, at least two 200 courses, at least two 300 courses, and at least two 400-level seminars. One of these courses must substantially address material from the period before 1800. While senior thesis and special topics courses also have 400 numbers, these individualized courses cannot count as the 400-level seminar.
In the early spring of each year, senior majors present independent work drawn from one of their 400-level seminars or from their senior theses at the English Department Capstone Symposium to fulfill the Comprehensive Requirement. The ten-minute presentations can take many forms and they will be organized into panels. The Comprehensive Requirement is fulfilled by presenting your work at the Symposium, participating in preparation sessions, and also participating in the conversations that are generated by your classmates’ presentations.
Majors may count towards the ten required courses up to three courses in creative writing. Normally, no more than two courses from outside the Department may be counted towards the major. Because 400-level seminars can lead in the senior year to a thesis project, the Department strongly urges majors to take at least one of their required 400-level seminars before the end of the junior year. The Department will not guarantee admission to a particular 400-level seminar in the second semester of the senior year.
Senior Thesis. The senior thesis provides an opportunity for independent study to any senior major who is adequately motivated and prepared to undertake such work. English majors apply for admission to the senior thesis courses (English 498/499), in April of their junior year. Admission to English 498/499 is contingent upon the Department’s judgment of the feasibility and value of the student’s proposal as well as of his or her preparation and capacity to carry it through to a fruitful conclusion. The Department assigns Thesis Advisors to students whose applications it approves.
To be considered for senior honors a student must submit to the Department a portfolio, which contains normally 50 to 70 pages of writing. The work may take the form of a critical essay, a short film or video, a collection of essays or poems or stories, a play, a mixture of forms, an exploration in education or cultural studies.
Before a student can submit a thesis, the final portfolio must be approved by the student’s designated advisor. Once the portfolio is approved, the Department appoints a committee of faculty examiners to read it. Following an interview with the student, the committee conveys its evaluation to the whole Department, which then makes the final recommendation for the level of honors in English.
Departmental Honors Program. The Department awards Latin honors to seniors who have achieved distinction in course work for the major and who have also demonstrated, in a submitted portfolio of critical or creative work, a capacity to excel in composition. Students qualify for Latin honors only if they have attained a B+ average in courses approved for the major; the degree summa cum laude usually presupposes an A average.
Learning Goals. By the time of their graduation, we expect that students who major in English will have become:
Adept at reading closely and writing well.
Skilled at critical writing about works in multiple genres, including both written texts, performances and visual narratives such as film. Some students may choose to create works of their own in verse, prose fiction or other media.
Attentive to the production of literary culture in a range of historical periods and social contexts.
Informed about the relationship between literary texts, literary criticism, and theories about cultural production.
Well versed in the literature associated with at least one specific area of concentration.
Capable of producing a well-researched long essay and/or completing a sustained creative project.
Graduate Study. Students interested in graduate work in English or related fields should discuss their plans with their advisor and other members of the Department to learn about particular programs, requirements for admission, the availability of fellowships, and prospects for a professional career. Many graduate programs in English or comparative literature require reading competence in several foreign languages; while to some extent these programs permit students to satisfy the requirement concurrently with graduate work, we would encourage those interested in graduate study to broaden their language skills while at Amherst. We would also encourage students to consider writing a thesis, for several reasons: to produce a polished writing sample they can submit with their application; to gain, and demonstrate, experience in sustained independent work; and to get a sense of the areas they might want to pursue in graduate school, some knowledge of which is essential for writing an effective admissions essay.
N.B. The English Department does not grant advanced placement on the basis of College Entrance Examination Board scores.
Engaging the Arts
When writing about literature, performance or, indeed, any form of art, you face a difficult task. In order to share your perceptions with readers, you must first conjure the artwork for them using nothing but words. The ancient Greeks had a name for this feat: ekphrasis, literally the “speaking out” of an experience or thing, the verbal description of a non-verbal work of art.
In this class, an introduction to literary study, performance analysis, and critical writing across the arts, we will study ekphrastic poems, prose, and plays in order to see how they conjure works of art. We will then test our own ekphrastic powers, not only on these literary works themselves, but also on art we encounter near Amherst College. Since this will require you to attend an assortment of performances (literary, musical, theatrical, and dance-based) and to visit museums, cinemas, and art galleries near campus, it will serve as your introduction to the wide range of cultural institutions in the area. You will be expected to engage in workshops in class and meet individually with the instructor outside class on a regular basis to discuss your writing.
Preference given to first-year students and sophomores. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Grobe.
2023-24: Not offered
Engaging Literature: Close Reading
Why study literature? In many contexts, including the contexts of most other academic disciplines, one reads in order to extract the gist of a text. By studying literature, we enable ourselves to do much more than that. Studying literature makes it possible to recover a relationship to language that we all once had, in which words and their interrelationships were new, strange, and rich with possibility. It makes it possible to develop a more acute awareness of the ongoing tension between language as units of meaning (words, phrases, sentences) and language as units of sound (the beat of syllables, the harmonization of one syllable with another). It even makes it possible for us to carry this sense of everything that is uncanny about language–the medium of our relationship to others and to ourselves–into our lives more generally, to recognize that in just about everything that we say, we mean more than we mean to mean. People who study literature are people who are capable of taking away from conversations, no less than from poems, much more than the gist, the summary, the bottom line. By dwelling on texts patiently, by slowing down the process of moving from mystery to certainty, by opening ourselves to the crosscurrents of potential meanings that are present at every moment in just about every sentence, it is possible for us to become more accurate and nuanced readers of just about everything that happens in our lives.
Open to first-year students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 18 students. Fall semester: Professor Cobham-Sander. Spring semester: Professor Sanborn.2023-24: Not offered
Engaging Literature: Craft, Conversation, Community
Literature engages us. It moves us, it delights us, it makes us ask hard questions. How do we engage literature? How do we respond to it in conversation, in writing, in performance, and in our communities? How do we write about literature in a way that effectively engages others?
This class seeks to engage you in a process of seeing literature and your own writing process anew. We will engage with authors, in person, in public, and on the page. We will attend literary events and enter into conversations among writers: authors who are influenced and inspired by each other, literary critics who give us illuminating interpretations, and literary historians who open our eyes to contexts heretofore unseen. Students will practice writing about literature in a range of modes from the personal essay to the book review to the academic paper. Frequent writing workshops will be geared toward the process of revising in a collaborative environment. A first course in reading fictional, dramatic, lyric, and non-fiction texts, this course also challenges Amherst College students to think of themselves as writers.
Preference given to first-year students. Limited to 18 students per section. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Grobe.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 111 and SWAG 111) Using a variety of texts–novels, essays, short stories–this course will work to develop the reading and writing of difficult prose, paying particular attention to the kinds of evidence and authority, logic and structure that produce strong arguments. The authors we study may include Peter Singer, Aravind Adiga, Willa Cather, Toni Morrison, George Orwell, Charles Johnson, James Baldwin, Alice Munro, William Carlos Williams. This is an intensive writing course. Frequent short papers will be assigned.
Preference given to first-year Amherst College students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Each section limited to 12 students. Fall semester: Professor Barale and Senior Lecturer Lieber. Spring semester: Senior Lecturer Lieber.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 112 and SWAG 106) This course will examine the phenomenon of “realism” in a variety of artistic media. We will study realism in the visual arts, film, television, and literature with a view towards determining the nature of our interest in the representation of “real life” and the ways in which works of art are or are not an accurate reflection of that life. Among the works we may consider are classic English novels (Defoe, Austen, Dickens), European and North and South American short fiction (Gogol, Zola, Chekhov, Henry James, Kafka, Borges, Alice Munro), essays and memoirs (Orwell, Frederick Exley, Mary Karr) and films, both documentary and fiction (Double Indemnity, The Battle of Algiers, Saving Private Ryan). Two themes will attract special attention: the representation of women’s lives and the representation of war. We will address such questions as the following: Is a photograph always more realistic than a painting? In what way can a story about a man who turns into a bug be considered realistic? How real is virtual reality? The course will conclude with an examination of the phenomenon of reality television.
This is an intensive writing course. Frequent short papers will be assigned. Preference given to first-year students and to students who have taken a previous intensive writing course and who wish to continue to work to improve their analytic writing. Admission with consent of the instructor. Each section limited to 12 students. Fall and spring semesters. Senior Lecturer Lieber.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 117 and EUST 117) [before 1800] Knights, monsters, quests, and true love: these are the things we associate with King Arthur and tales of his court. Why has Arthurian literature proved so enchanting to centuries of poets, novelists, and recently, filmmakers? In this introductory English course, we will read and watch Arthurian legends from Chaucer to Monty Python, examining the ways in which they have been represented in different eras. Beginning with the historical foundations of the King Arthur legend, we will examine how it blossomed and took form in later eras. Our focus will be on close literary and visual analysis of British, American, and French (in translation) versions of these legends. We will also discuss what cultural forces lie behind the popularity of Arthurian legend in certain eras: later medieval England and France; the Victorian era; and twentieth-century England and America. There will be frequent writing assignments and presentations, as well as a final creative project.
Open to first-year students and sophomores. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Nelson.
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2020, Spring 2022
This seminar explores the particular pleasures and interpretive problems of reading and writing about three very long works of fiction–novels so large that any sure grasp of the relation between individual part and mammoth whole may threaten to elude author and reader alike. How do we gauge, and thereby engage with, narratives of disproportionate scale and encyclopedic ambition? How do we lose, or find, our place in colossal fictional worlds? As befits its interest in the losing and finding of place, the course introduces students to college-level literary study. Short papers on different aspects of the novels will be assigned most weeks. In a recent version of the course, the seminar’s three novels included George Eliot’s Middlemarch, the first volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood. Although the novels for fall 2017 have not yet been selected, they are likely to display similar historical, geographic, and stylistic diversity.
Limited to 18 first-year students. Fall semester. Professor Christoff.2023-24: Not offered
Reading, Writing, and Teaching
This course considers from many perspectives what it means to read and write and learn and teach both for ourselves and for others. As part of the work of this course, in addition to the usual class hours, students will serve as weekly tutors and classroom assistants in adult basic education centers in nearby towns. Thus this course consciously engages with the obstacles to and the power of education through course readings, through self-reflexive writing about our own varied educational experiences, and through weekly work in the community. Although this course presses participants to reflect a great deal about teaching, this course does not teach how to teach. Instead it offers an exploration of the contexts and processes of education, and of the politics and desires that suffuse learning. Course readings range across literary genres including essays, poems, autobiographies, and novels in which education and teaching figure centrally, as well as readings in ethnography, sociology, psychology, and philosophy. The writing assignments cross many genres as well.
Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Lecturer B. Sánchez-Eppler.Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023
With a focus on the skills of close reading and analytical writing, we will look at the ways in which writers imagine illness, how they try to make meaning out of illness, and how they use illness to explore other aspects of experience. This is not a course on the history of illness or the social construction of disease. We will discuss not only what writers say about illness but also how they say it: with what language and in what form they speak the experience of bodily and mental suffering. Readings may include drama by Sophocles, Molière and Margaret Edson; poetry by Donne and Mark Doty; fiction by José Saramago and Mark Haddon; and essays by Susan Sontag, Raphael Campo and Temple Grandin.
Preference given to first-year students. Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Bosman.Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Fall 2023
Film and Writing
(Offered as ENGL 180 and FAMS 110) A first course in reading films and writing about them. A varied selection of films for study and criticism, partly to illustrate the main elements of film language and partly to pose challenging texts for reading and writing. Frequent short papers. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Guilford.Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023
Women Writers of Africa and the African Diaspora
(Offered as ENGL 216, BLST 203 [D], and SWAG 203) The term “Women Writers” suggests, and perhaps assumes, a particular category. How useful is this term in describing the writers we tend to include under the frame? And further, how useful are the designations "African" and "African Diaspora"? We will begin by critically examining these central questions, and revisit them frequently as we read specific texts and the body of works included in this course. Our readings comprise a range of literary and scholarly works by canonical and more recent female writers from Africa, the Caribbean, and continental America. Framed primarily by Postcolonial Criticism, our explorations will center on how writers treat historical and contemporary issues specifically connected to women’s experiences, as well as other issues, such as globalization, modernity, and sexuality. We will consider the continuities and points of departure between writers, periods, and regions, and explore the significance of the writers’ stylistic choices. Here our emphasis will be on how writers appropriate vernacular and conventional modes of writing.
Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2017-18. Visiting Lecturer Bailey.2023-24: Not offered
Making Literary Histories II
[before 1800] What is “English Literature,” and how does one construct its history? How do we decide what counts as “English,” and what counts as “literature”? What is the relationship between histories of literature and political, social, religious, and intellectual histories? What is the role of gender, race and class in the making of literature, and the making of its histories?
These are some of the questions we will ask as we read masterpieces of English literature from the mid-seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth century, alongside works that have not always been thought of as part of the canon, by women, slaves, exiles, political radicals, anonymous, and unpublished writers. Writers we will study include (but are not limited to) John Milton, Aphra Behn, John Dryden, Anne Finch, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Olaudah Equiano, Samuel Johnson, Phillis Wheatley, William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, and Mary Shelley.
This course is the chronological sequel to “Making Literary Histories I,” though it is not necessary (or even necessarily desirable) to take the classes in chronological order.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Worsley.
2023-24: Not offered
Writing Poetry I
A first workshop in the writing of poetry. Class members will read and discuss each others’ work and will study the elements of prosody: the line, stanza forms, meter, free verse, and more. Open to anyone interested in writing poetry and learning about the rudiments of craft. Writing exercises weekly.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Preregistration is not allowed. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Fall semester: Writer-in-Residence Hall. Spring semester: Visiting Lecturer Kapur.Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023
(Offered as THDA 270 and ENGL 222) A workshop in writing for the stage. The semester will begin with exercises that lead to the making of short plays and, by the end of the term, longer plays--ten minutes and up in length. Writing will be done in and out of class; students’ work will be discussed in the workshop and in private conferences. At the end of the term, the student will submit a portfolio of revisions of all the exercises, including the revisions of all plays.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Not open to first-year students. Fall semester: TBA. Spring semester: Playwright-in-Residence Congdon.2023-24: Not offered
Sound, Movement, and Text: Interactions and Collaborations
(Offered as THDA 255, ENGL 223, and MUSI 255) This studio course is designed as an interactive laboratory for dancers, composers, actors, writers/poets, vocalists, and sound artists to work together to create meaningful interactions between sound, movement, and text. Working individually and in collaborative groups, students will create original material in the various media and experiment with multiple ways to craft interesting exchanges and dialogues between word, sound, and movement or to create hybrid forms. The emphasis in the course will be to work with exercises and structures that engender deep listening, looking, and imagining. Some of the questions that inform the course include: How do music, voices, electronic, digital, and natural sounds create a sonic world for live performance and vice versa? How can movement inform the writing of text and vice-versa? How can we successfully communicate and collaborate across and between the different languages of sounds, words, and movement? We will have a series of informal studio performances, events, and installations throughout the semester with a culminating final showing/listening at the end of the semester.
Requisite: Previous experience in composition in one or more of the central media, or permission of the instructors. Limited to 16 students. Spring semester. Professor Woodson and Visiting Instructor Meginsky.
2023-24: Not offered
Fiction Writing I
A first course in writing fiction. Emphasis will be on experimentation as well as on developing skill and craft. Workshop (discussion) format.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Preregistration is not allowed. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Fall semester: Visiting Lecturer Stinson. Spring semester: Professor Frank.Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023
Narrating the Nation
The autobiography occupies a unique position as it can be read as a personal tale inscribed in a larger narrative about a community, race, or even nation. And although an autobiography can be read as history, creative writers are not bound by rigorous research strictures as those imposed in the production of history, which gives them the license to make, unmake or remake history.
This course is focused on writing creative nonfiction, and drawing from a selection of autobiographies from different parts of Africa over the past fifty years, we shall map out continuities and discontinuities in the way authors envision their private memories as extensions of national narratives, and the complexities that come with this “burden of history.”
We shall examine how, if at all, the African autobiography has evolved in both form and content, over this period. Using the readings as models, students will write a story that illustrates an intersection between their lives and historical contexts. Student writing will be workshopped.
Readings may include There was a Country by Chinua Achebe, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, The African Child by Camara Laye, Head Above Water by Buchi Emecheta, The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper, Boyhood by J.M Coetzee, Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, Down Second Avenue by Es’kia Mphahlele, Aké–The Years of Childhood by Wole Soyinka, and Dreams in a Time of War by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Preregistration is not allowed. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Fall semester. Visiting Writer Kimani.2023-24: Not offered
Introduction to Performance Theory
The term “performance” can refer to any of the stylized doings that define our world. This, of course, includes the traditional performing arts, but it also encompasses religious rituals, public ceremonies, political protests, sports events, social media use, etc. “Performance” can even describe the regimented behaviors that structure our everyday lives, whether we’re aware of them or not.
In this course, you will explore this full range of performance through readings, screenings, and attendance at live performances. We will be guided in our approach by critical and theoretical texts in the interdisciplinary field of “performance studies.” Guiding questions will include: How is a performance different from a text? How do we enact a shared reality? How have the major forces shaping our world (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity, nationality) been created and sustained through acts of performance?
Students in this course will be required to complete regular, short exercises and writing assignments. A final exam, inviting creative approaches to critical topics, will assess mastery of the ideas in this course.
Spring semester. Professor Grobe.2023-24: Not offered
Three, Two, One: Reading Small Drama
How small can drama get while remaining “dramatic”? That’s the question at the heart of this introductory course in drama. Early in the twentieth century, it wasn’t unusual to see a stage filled with dozens of actors, but over the last seventy years these onstage crowds have thinned. Three-, two-, and one-person dramas are now just as common as twenty-person plays once were.
In this course, you will study plays by writers who have found fresh inspiration within these tightening constraints. Using a small number of performers, they nonetheless find ways to explore massive social issues, draw out deep psychological truths, and test the limits of theatrical representation. As experiments at the lower limits of theater-making, these “small dramas” will help you isolate and study the most fundamental elements of drama. Once you understand these elements, you will see how playwrights use them–not only to construct a theatrical world, but also to conjure onstage the forces that shape our world.
In recent years, featured playwrights have included Eugene O’Neill, Samuel Beckett, Athol Fugard, Paula Vogel, Michael Frayn, Caryl Churchill, debbie tucker green, David Mamet, Cherríe Moraga, Suzan-Lori Parks, Young Jean Lee, Rajiv Joseph, and Amherst’s own Annie Baker. Beyond studying “drama” (narrowly defined) we also consider the place of other practices (e.g., performance art, stand-up comedy, and cabaret) within the history of solo performance.
Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Grobe.2023-24: Not offered
This course explores the unique challenges of experiencing performance through the page. While this course is not intended as a survey of dramatic literature or theater history, students will be introduced to a variety of drama from across the English-language tradition. The organizing theme of the course may change slightly from year to year, but the goal will always be to explore a wide array of theoretical and methodological approaches to drama. Of particular interest will be the relationship of play-reading to other reading practices. What does a play demand of the reader that a novel, a poem, or an essay does not? How must the central elements of storytelling or world-making (character, plot, setting, dialogue, point of view, etc.) change when they are required to appear onstage?
Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Professor Bosman.
[Before 1800] Readings in the comedies, histories, and tragedies, with attention to their poetic language, dramatic structure, and power in performance. Texts and topics will vary by instructor.
Limited to 50 students. Fall semester: Professor Grobe. Spring semester: Professor Bosman.Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2023
A first course in the critical reading of selected English-language poets, which gives students exposure to significant poets, poetic styles, and literary and cultural contexts for poetry from across the tradition. Attention will be given to prosody and poetic forms, and to different ways of reading poems.
Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Professor Sofield.Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023
How do long poems come together–and hold together? Can they maintain a lyric intensity, or do they inevitably give way to the looser energies of narrative or extended meditation? We will read works in many forms–including heroic couplets, ballad stanzas, and free verse–by poets from the eighteenth century to the present, including Alexander Pope, Walt Whitman, Amy Clampitt, James Merrill, and Paul Muldoon.
Omitted 2017-18. Writer-in-Residence Hall.
2023-24: Not offered
Reading the Novel
An introduction to the study of the novel, through the exploration of a variety of critical terms (plot, character, point of view, tone, realism, identification, genre fiction, the book) and methodologies (structuralist, Marxist, feminist, psychoanalytic). We will draw on a selection of novels in English to illustrate and complicate those terms; possible authors include Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Wilkie Collins, Henry James, Kazuo Ishiguro, Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, John Edgar Wideman, Emma Donoghue, David Foster Wallace, Monique Truong, Jennifer Egan.
Preference given to sophomores. Limited to 35 students. Fall semester: Professor Frank. Spring semester: Professor Sanborn.Other years: Offered in Spring 2023
A resourceful critic once called the novel “the great repository of pure and intense instances of life in print.” The aim of this course is to improve and enrich the student’s critical response to fiction, by identifying and taking pleasure in such instances of life in print. Questions of narrative procedure and literary value will be addressed in the lectures and papers. The first half of the term is devoted to some classic English and American works: Jane Austen’s Persuasion; Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers; Anthony Trollope’s The Warden; and novels by Henry James and Thomas Hardy. The remainder of the term will consider more recent writers from the last century and beyond such as Barbara Pym, Nicholson Baker, Ian McEwan, and Alice Munro.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2023-24: Not offered
The Many Peoples of the United States
No one course could begin to do justice to this title. Over 400 different indigenous cultures inhabited the territory for some 20,000 years before European conquest began. Africans from all of West Africa and smaller numbers from the whole continent arrived with the Spaniards and millions as slaves for English settlers. Immigrants from every European country came in the nineteenth century. Asia began to send its people as early as the 1840s. Later mainly Chinese in small numbers, Japanese, Filipinos, and some Koreans continued, though the great movement from Asia came with the revision of our immigration laws in 1965. The whole world is represented in this country.
The reading in the course will be primarily literary: memoirs, stories, novels, and poems. There will also regularly be short readings for some historical context. Much of the reading will focus on white working-class writings, African American literature, and on work from different Latino and Asian American countries of origin.
Limited to 65 students. Fall semester. Professor Emeritus O’Connell.2023-24: Not offered
Black Women's Narratives and Counternarratives: Love and the Family
(Offered as SWAG 202, BLST 242 [US], and ENGL 259) Why do love and courtship continue to be central concerns in black women's literature and contemporary black popular fiction? Are these thematic issues representative of apolitical yearnings or an allegory for political subjectivity? Drawing on a wide range of texts, we will examine the chasm between the "popular" and the literary, as we uncover how representations of love and courtship vary in both genres. Surveying the growing discourse in media outlets such as CNN and the Washington Post regarding the "crisis" of the single black woman, students will analyze the contentious public debates regarding black women and love and connect them to black women's literature and black feminist literary theory. Authors covered will range from Nella Larsen to Terry McMillan and topics will include gender, race, class, and sexuality.
Limited to 18 students. Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Henderson.2023-24: Not offered
A Primer to Children’s Literature
Children’s books are a site of first encounter, a doorway to literacy and literature. This course will offer both a history of book production for child readers in England and the United States and an exploration of what these first books can teach us about the attractions, expectations, and responsibilities of reading.
Limited to 80 students. Spring semester. Professor K. Sánchez-Eppler.2023-24: Not offered
When Corn Mother Meets King Corn: Cultural Studies of the Americas
(Offered as AMST 280 and ENGL 273) In Penobscot author Joseph Nicolar's 1893 narrative, the Corn Mother proclaims, "I am young in age and I am tender, yet my strength is great and I shall be felt all over the world, because I owe my existence to the beautiful plant of the earth." In contrast, according to one Iowa farmer, from the 2007 documentary "King Corn," "We aren't growing quality. We're growing crap." This course aims to unpack depictions like these in order to probe the ways that corn has changed in its significance within the Americas. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, students will be introduced to critical theories and methodologies from American Studies as they study corn's shifting role, across distinct times and places, as a nourishing provider, cultural transformer, commodity, icon, and symbol.
Beginning with the earliest travels of corn and her stories in the Americas, students will learn about the rich histories, traditions, narratives, and uses of "maize" from indigenous communities and nations, as well as its subsequent proliferation and adaptation throughout the world. In addition to literary and historical sources students will engage with a wide variety of texts (from material culture to popular entertainment, public policy and genetics) in order to deepen their understanding of cultural, political, environmental, and economic changes that have characterized life in the Americas.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professors Brooks and Vigil.2023-24: Not offered
Native American Literature: Decolonizing Intellectual Traditions
(Offered as ENGL 274 and AMST 274) In 2013, Amherst College acquired one of the most comprehensive collections of Native American writing in the world–nearly 1,500 books ranging from contemporary fiction and poetry to sermons, political tracts, and tribal histories from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Through this course, we will actively engage the literature of this collection, researching Native American intellectual traditions, regional contexts, political debates, creative adaptation, and movements toward decolonization. Students will have the opportunity to make an original contribution to a digital archive and interact with visiting authors. We will begin with oral traditions and the 1772 sermon published by Mohegan author Samson Occom and end with a novel published in 2014.
Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Brooks.2023-24: Not offered
Black Feminist Literary Traditions
(Offered as SWAG 208, BLST 345 [US], ENGL 276, and FAMS 379) Reading the work of black feminist literary theorists and black women writers, we will examine the construction of black female identity in American literature, with a specific focus on how black women writers negotiate race, gender, sexuality, and class in their work. In addition to reading novels, literary criticism, book reviews, and watching documentaries, we will examine the stakes of adaptation and mediation for black female-authored texts. Students will watch and analyze the film and television adaptations of The Color Purple (1985), The Women of Brewster Place (1989), and Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005) as well as examine how Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970) was mediated and interpreted by Oprah Winfrey’s book club and daytime talk show. Authors will include Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Gloria Naylor. Writing Attentive. Expectations include three writing projects, a group presentation, and various in-class assignments.
Limited to 20 students. Priority given to those students who attend the first day of the class. Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Henderson.Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Fall 2023
Videogames and the Boundaries of Narrative
(Offered as ENGL 277 and FAMS 333) In this course we will engage in a comprehensive approach to narrative video gaming–-play, interpretation, and design–-to explore how video gaming helps us to conceptualize the boundaries between our experiences of the world and our representations thereof. We will ask how play and interactivity change how we think about the work of narrative. What would it mean to think about video games alongside texts focused on similar subjects but in different media? How, for instance, does Assassin’s Creed: Freedom’s Cry change how we understand C.L.R. James, Susan Buck-Morss, Isabel Allende, or others’ discussions of the Haitian Revolution? And how do video games help us to reconceptualize the limits of other media forms, particularly around questions of what it means to represent differences in race, gender, physical ability? Finally, how might we more self-consciously capitalize on gaming’s potential to transform the work of other fields, for instance education and community development?
In this course, students will play and analyze video games while engaging texts from a variety of other critical and creative disciplines. Assignments for this course will be scaled by experience-level. No experience with video games or familiarity with computer coding is required for this course, as the success of this method will require that students come from a wide variety of skill levels.
Spring semester. Professor Parham.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 278 and BLST 212 [A]) This course will examine how African writers incorporate digital technologies into their work when they publish traditional print texts, experiment with digital formats, or use the internet to redefine their relationship to local and international audiences. We will reflect on how words and values shift in response to new forms of mediation; on the limits these forms place on the bodies they represent, and on the protections they occasionally offer. Students will read fictional works in print, serialized narratives on blogs, as well as other literary products that circulate via social media. Students also will be introduced to a selection of digital humanities tools that will assist them in accessing, analyzing and responding to these works. Course materials include print, digital and hybrid publications by Oyono, Farah, Adichie, Cole, Maphoto, and Wainaina, among others.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor R. Cobham-Sander.
2023-24: Not offered
Global Women's Literature
(Offered as SWAG 279, BLST 202, and ENGL 279) What do we mean by “women’s fiction”? How do we understand women’s genres in different national contexts? This course examines topics in feminist thought such as marriage, sexuality, desire and the home in novels written by women writers from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. We will draw on postcolonial literary theory, essays on transnational feminism and historical studies to situate our analyses of these novels. Texts include South African writer Nadine Gordimer’s My Son’s Story, Indian novelist Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, and Caribbean author Shani Motoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Shandilya.Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2023
Coming to Terms: Cinema
(Offered as ENGL 280 and FAMS 210) An introduction to cinema studies through consideration of a few critical and descriptive terms, together with a selection of various films (classic and contemporary, foreign and American) for illustration and discussion. The terms for discussion will include, among others: mise-en-scène, montage, realism, visual pleasure, and the avant-garde. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Professor Guilford.
Foundations and Integrations: Film and Media Studies
(Offered as ENGL 281, FAMS 220, and ARHA 272) “Foundations and Integrations” will be an annual team-taught course between a Critical Studies scholar and moving-image artist. A requirement of the Film and Media Studies major, it will build on critical analysis of moving images and introductory production work to develop an integrated critical and creative practice. Focused in particular around themes and concepts, students will develop ideas in both written and visual form. The theme for spring 2017 was “The Voice.”
Requisites: A foundations course in Critical Studies of Film and Media (such as “Coming to Terms: Cinema”) and an introductory film/video production workshop. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professors Levine and Rangan.
(Offered as ENGL 282 and FAMS 215) For better or worse, U.S. broadcast television is a cultural form that is not commonly associated with knowledge. This course will take what might seem a radical counter-position to such assumptions--looking at the ways television teaches us what it is and even trains us in potential critical practices for investigating it. By considering its formal structure, its textual definitions, and the means through which we see it, we will map out how it is that we come to know television.
Prior coursework in Film and Media Studies is recommended, but not required. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 45 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Hastie.2023-24: Not offered
Coming to Terms: Media
(Offered as ENGL 284 and FAMS 216) Media are not just audiovisual texts but also technological infrastructures, economic enterprises, ideological apparatuses, and artistic practices. This course provides an introduction to the analysis of modern media forms through a consideration of significant critical and analytical terms, together with a selection of media texts (ranging across print, photography, cinema, television, and digital media) for illustration and discussion. The key terms for discussion will reflect the complexity of how we define “media.” Topics may include: mass reproduction, authenticity and aura; print, time, and national consciousness; advertising, glamor, and myth; photography, indifference, and atrocity; cinema, race, gender, and spectatorship; television, liveness, and celebrity; digital media, buffering, and virality. Classes will combine lecture and conversation, and assignments will include several short critical essays and a midterm and final exam.
Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Rangan.Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2022, Fall 2023
Literature and Psychoanalysis
Why does it seem natural to read ourselves and other people in the same way that we read books? This course will introduce students to both psychoanalytic theory and literary interpretation, asking about their similarities as well as their dissonance. Why do novels of development and case-studies resemble one another? What can the Freudian understanding of the structure of the psyche teach us about the structure of narrative? And what do “illnesses” like hysteria and paranoia have in common with everyday acts of meaning-making and with the way we read literature? Each week pairing a psychoanalytic paper with a short story or novel, we will ask how psychoanalysis alters not only what we see in literary works, but also the way we understand our own acts of interpretation. Topics include the unconscious, dreams, childhood, the uncanny, desire, subjects and objects, and mourning.
Reading will include essays by Freud, Lacan, Winnicott, Melanie Klein, and others; and fiction by Jensen, Melville, Poe, Brontë, James, Flaubert, and Ishiguro.
Preference given to sophomores considering an English major. Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Professor Christoff.2023-24: Not offered
The Qur'an and Its Controversies
(Offered as RELI 285, ASLC 285 and ENGL 301) Islam is a religion with over one billion adherents across the globe. The Qur'an and Prophetic Traditions inform Muslim belief, socio-religious practices and rituals. They are the foundation of Islamic law and ethics; the main inspiration behind Islamic mysticism and arts; and motivations for Islamic piety. The Qur'an has served as a model for theories of the Islamic state, fundamentalism and ideology. As one of the most widely read and recited books in the history of humankind, it has given rise to a tradition of interpretation that spans well over a thousand years and encompasses commentaries composed in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Malay, Javanese, and Swahili. We will study the Qur'an’s thought world, including its major ideas, themes and symbols; the Qur'an’s literary style and structure; the Qur'an’s engagement with Jewish and Christian traditions; the historical process through which the Qur'an became the first Arabic book; the process through which it became a scripture vested with authority; and the divergent ways that Muslims have venerated and interpreted the Qur'an. We will focus on several salient questions: How did Muslims try to explain the seemingly contradictory material within the Qur'an? How did they try to explain the Qur'an’s proclamation that it is of supernatural origin? What methods of reasoning, literary devices, and sources of religious authority did Muslims invoke in order to fulfill the need for scriptural interpretation? How does the Qur'an conceive of itself as a scripture and of revelation? How does it engage with and respond to earlier scriptures such as the Bible?
Spring semester. Professor Jaffer.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2022, Fall 2023
Buddhist Life Writing
(Offered as RELI 252, ASLC 252, and ENGL 302) From the biographies of Gotama Buddha to the autobiographies of western converts, life writing plays a central role in teaching Buddhist philosophy, practice, history, and myth. This course explores the diverse forms and purposes of Buddhist life writing in the literary and visual cultures of India, Tibet, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Japan, and America. Reading the lives of eminent saints and laypersons, charismatic teachers, recluses, and political activists, the course aims to broaden understanding of how Buddhists have variously imagined the ideal life. We will pay particular attention to how literary and cultural conventions of genre guide the composition of lives.
Spring semester. Professor M. Heim.2023-24: Not offered
Narratives of Suffering
It’s possible to imagine people who have not yet suffered, who have not yet had a peculiarly intense and sustained experience of physical or psychic pain. Those imaginary people are, however, vulnerable to future suffering. Even more importantly, they live in a world in which many others suffer, so many that a refusal to attend to suffering amounts to a refusal of a meaningfully relational existence. Thinking and feeling in response to suffering is, accordingly, an inescapable aspect of what Henri Bergson describes as “a really living life.” But how do we respond to suffering, whether in others or in ourselves? How do we take it in without appropriating it? How do we express it without parading it? These questions and others like them are difficult, but the aim of this class is to create a space in which it is possible to take them up–to generate an intellectual and emotional atmosphere in which it is possible to learn how to live with what we can’t rise above. Readings include The Book of Job, Sophocles’s Philoctetes, Shakespeare’s King Lear, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, John Hersey’s Hiroshima, Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Sanborn.Other years: Offered in Fall 2023
Modern British and American Poetry, 1900-1950
Readings and discussions centering on the work of Thomas Hardy, W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and Wallace Stevens. Some attention also to A.E. Housman, Edward Thomas, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2016, Fall 2018, Fall 2023
Poetry of the Closet
This will be an historical survey, from the nineteenth century to the present, of poetry written by gay men and lesbians, both in and out of the closet.
Omitted 2017-18. Writer-in-Residence Hall.2023-24: Not offered
Readings of poets who have chosen to live in a culture other than their own, with an emphasis on T.S. Eliot in London, Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil, Thom Gunn in California, and Agha Shahid Ali in New England. Two class meetings per week.
Spring semester. Writer-in-Residence Hall.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2018, Fall 2022, Fall 2023
Lives on the Page
This course examines the way writers commit their own lives to the page and the many interesting hybrids that, falling somewhere in between fiction and non-fiction, writers have been experimenting with of late. Why have these hybrid forms become so dominant in the literary world? How do the assumptions and expectations we bring to fiction differ from those we bring to non-fiction? Why are forms that play with the relation between these forms so popular right now? What do they offer us, emotionally and intellectually? And what can they illuminate about literature, identity, the politics of representation, and social justice? This course will include a combination of critical and creative writing, and will approach readings on the level of craft so that we are always thinking of ourselves both as readers and as writers. Possible readings include: David Vann, Legend of a Suicide; Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts; Jeannette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?; James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain; Junot Díaz, This Is How You Lose Her; Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend; Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle; Michelle Tea, Black Wave; Beyoncé, Lemonade.
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professors Christoff and Frank.2023-24: Not offered
Childhood in African and Caribbean Literature
(Offered as ENGL 318 and BLST 362 [A/CLA]) The course will concentrate on Caribbean authors. It explores the process of self-definition in literary works from Africa and the Caribbean that are built around child protagonists. We will examine the authors’ various methods of ordering experience through the choice of literary form and narrative technique, as well as the child/author’s perception of his or her society. French texts will be read in translation.
Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Cobham-Sander.2023-24: Not offered
The Postcolonial Novel: Gender, Race and Empire
(Offered as SWAG 331 and ENGL 319) What is the novel? How do we know when a work of literature qualifies as a novel? In this course we will study the postcolonial novel which explodes the certainties of the European novel. Written in the aftermath of empire, these novels question race, class, gender and empire in their subject matter and narrative form. We will consider fiction from South Asia, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa. Novels include South African writer J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Caribbean novelist Dionne Brand’s In Another Place, Not Here.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Shandilya.
2023-24: Not offered
Literature as Translation
(Offered as EUST 303 and ENGL 320) Acts of translation underwrite many kinds of cultural production, often invisibly. Writers of the Harlem Renaissance, for instance, engaged with black internationalism through bilingualism and translation, as Brent Edwards has reminded us. In this course we will study literary translation as a creative practice involved in the making of subjects and cultures. We will read key statements about translation by theorists and translators, such as Walter Benjamin, Roman Jakobson, Lawrence Venuti, Peter Cole and Gayatri Spivak. We also will directly engage in translation work: each student will regularly present translations in a workshop format to produce a portfolio as a final project. The class will be “polyglot,” meaning that students are welcome to translate from any language of which they have knowledge; when they share translations, they will be asked also to provide interlinear, or “literal,” translations for those who may not understand the language they are working in.
Requisite: two years of college-level study of the chosen language. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Ciepiela.2023-24: Not offered
Tones in Black and White
(Offered as ENGL 321 and BLST 312.) Abdul JanMohamed argues that colonialism produces a compartmentalized world in which white authors write to extend their domination through demeaning depictions of blacks, while black authors use their writing to recuperate their people’s dignity through, to use Chinua Achebe’s inventive term, “re-storying.” The lingering question: what does this “re-storying” entail? And how do African writers imagine “whiteness”?
This multi-media course immerses students in songs, films and texts that imagine “otherness” to examine this black-white divide, and how it problematizes race and representation. Readings may include Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino, Ernest Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa, Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, Elspeth Huxley’s The Flame Trees of Thika, Tom Stoppard’s Night and Day, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat and Weep Not, Child, and John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me, and the following films: I Am Not Your Negro, Black Like Me, Black and White in Color. Students will provide both critical and creative writing.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 25 students. Preregistration is not allowed. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Spring semester. Visiting Writer Kimani.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as THDA 370 and ENGL 322) A workshop/seminar for writers who want to complete a full-length play or series of plays. Emphasis will be on bringing a script to a level where it is ready for the stage. Although there will be some exercises in class to continue the honing of playwriting skills and the study of plays by established writers as a means of exploring a wide range of dramatic vocabularies, most of the class time will be spent reading and commenting on the plays of the workshop members as these plays progress from the first draft to a finished draft.
Requisite: THDA 270 or the equivalent. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 10 students. Spring semester. Playwright-in-Residence Congdon.2023-24: Not offered
Fiction Writing II
An advanced level fiction class. Students will undertake a longer project as well as doing exercises every week exploring technical problems.
Requisite: Completion of a previous course in creative writing. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Preregistration is not allowed. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Spring semester. Visiting Writer Kimani.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2022, Spring 2023
Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales
[before 1800] The course aims to give the student rapid mastery of Chaucer’s English and an active appreciation of his poetry. No prior knowledge of Middle English is expected. A knowledge of Modern English grammar and its nomenclature, or a similar knowledge of another language, will be helpful. Short critical papers and frequent declamation in class. The emphasis will be on Chaucer’s humor, irony, and his narrative and dramatic gifts. We will read most of the poetic Tales and excerpts from the two prose Tales. Three class hours per week.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Nelson.2023-24: Not offered
Fictions and Fantasies of the Middle Ages
[before 1800] What is medieval? Most people learn very little about the foggy period from 500-1500 that lies between the end of the Classical era and the start of the Renaissance. What we do learn usually consists of stereotypes. Such stereotypes include (in no particular order): jousting, chivalry, repression of women, religious fervor, medical ignorance, lice, Crusades, King Arthur, economic injustice, knights, ladies, and plague. How are these stereotypes produced and reinforced online? What is their relationship to historical “fact”? In each module we will take up texts, objects, and concepts that have constructed and reconstructed our ideas about the Middle Ages in order to learn about the ways objects and texts contribute to alternate (and often competing) views of the past.
The course is divided into three different (yet intersecting) modules: Maps, Buildings, and Lives. I have invited some guest speakers who conduct research in different fields to come to our class and push our conversations in interdisciplinary directions. As we explore these areas, I would like us to think of the ways our materials disrupt and/or confirm popular views of the past.
Fall semester. Visiting Professor Adams.
Thinking Law with Shakespeare
(Offered as LJST 317 and ENGL 337) [Research Seminar] It is well known that Shakespeare’s texts put into play an intricate set of juridical terms and forms. The premise of this course is that we can retrieve from this “putting into play” a unique way of thinking about modern juridical order at the moment of its inception. Through the close reading of three Shakespearean texts, we will trace the way these works "put into play" some of the most basic concepts of modern Anglophone jurisprudence (such as person and impersonation, inheritance and usurpation, contract and oath, tyranny and sovereignty, pardon and mercy, matrimony and patrimony, and civil war and empire, marriage and divorce). The aim of this inquiry will not be to apply jurisprudence to Shakespeare’s texts; nor will it be to use Shakespeare’s texts to humanize a legal training that otherwise would risk remaining sterile and unfeeling; nor, finally, will it be either to historicize Shakespeare's texts (limiting them to a particular place and time) or to universalize those texts (treating them as the exemplar for all of humanity). It will be to treat the play of juridical terms and forms within Shakespeare’s texts as an occasion to think law with Shakespeare, and as such to learn to rethink the genesis and basis of modern Anglophone jurisprudence more generally.
Recommended requisite: LJST 110. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Sitze.2023-24: Not offered
Early Women Writers
(Offered as ENGL 339 and SWAG 339) [before 1800] “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” Virginia Woolf famously said in 1929. What did the landscape of women’s writing look like before women were allowed such liberties, and what effects did their social conditions have on their writing? This course focuses on the work of early female writers, from the medieval to the Romantic period–many of whom are still overlooked today.
We will survey a range of writing by women from 1350 to 1850, putting English and American poets into conversation with political agitators, religious mystics and martyrs, the authors of woman-centered periodicals, and novelists. Our readings will include well-known works by Aphra Behn and Jane Austen along with lesser-known and even anonymous women-authored poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Secondary readings by feminist critics and historians such as Virginia Woolf, Judith Butler, and Toril Moi will frame our discussions. We will ask, how did women writers participate in or drive the invention of new literary forms, such as the periodical and the novel? Does women’s writing have specific formal or stylistic characteristics, and are these affected by women’s social standing and access to education? What does an English literary history that fully includes women’s writing look like, and how does it differ from standard literary histories?
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professors Nelson and Worsley.
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016, Fall 2023
Great English Writers
[before 1800] A study of six classic writers from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: Ben Jonson, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Swift, and Samuel Johnson. Among the readings are: Jonson, poems and Volpone; Milton, Comus, “Lycidas” and Paradise Lost; Dryden, poems and critical prose; Pope, “The Rape of the Lock,” Essay on Man, The Dunciad; Swift, Tale of a Tub, Gulliver’s Travels, poems; Johnson, poems, Rasselas, Prefaces to Shakespeare and to the Dictionary, passages from Boswell’s Life of Johnson.
Fall semester. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2023-24: Not offered
British Romantic Poetry: Nature and the Imagination
Can reading poetry change our understanding of our environment? How might the way we perceive nature be conditioned by the ways in which writers have imagined it? In turn, how might the way we perceive our own imaginations be conditioned by ideas about the natural world? Although “nature” might seem like a universal and unchanging concept, British Romantic writers did much to invent our modern perception of it. This course questions what “nature” might mean, and how it developed alongside changing ideas about the imagination.
We will read the writings of William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth, Charlotte Smith, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Keats, and Felicia Hemans alongside seventeenth- and eighteenth-century theories of the imagination by David Hume, Edmund Burke, and Immanuel Kant. We will also make frequent visits to the Mead Art gallery in order to experiment with some of these imaginative theories. Finally, we will debate what impact this history has had on current environmental discourse, contemporary ethics, and the Green movement. Some critics have argued, for instance, that the Romantics’ reverence for nature is more destructive than it might at first seem. Might it be more environmentally responsible to get rid of the Romantic concept of “nature” altogether?
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Worsley.2023-24: Not offered
The Victorian Novel
This course offers students an immersion in nineteenth-century British fiction, from Jane Austen to Joseph Conrad. Reading a selection of the long novels (both serious and comic, restrained and emotionally overwrought, domestic and imperial) that continue to shape our sense of what the novel is and does, we will ask how the Victorian novel’s imagination of things like love and sex, gender and politics, the relation between the aesthetic and the social, and race, ethnicity, and empire, remain with us still. Engaging with a range of critical approaches to the novel and to novel reading, we will also consider the nineteenth century as the birthplace of theoretical approaches (such as Marxism and psychoanalysis) that continue to shape the ways we read, live, and think. Writers may include: Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, and Joseph Conrad.
Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Christoff.2023-24: Not offered
Modern British Literature, 1900-1950
Readings in twentieth-century writers such as Henry James, Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis, Ford Madox Ford, Virginia Woolf, Evelyn Waugh, W.H. Auden, Robert Graves, George Orwell, Ivy Compton-Burnett.
Spring semester. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 350 and AMST 350) [before 1800] American Origins is a course in Early American literature and history. It explores when and how this country began. We readily forget that it only became the “United States” in 1789. Before that and from early in the European conquests, it was “the (Spanish, or French, or English, or Dutch) colonies,” or “America” and thus but a part of European settlements in both the Southern and the Northern hemispheres. It was also a place known as “Turtle Island,” with indigenous trade networks that traversed the continent. It was also a foreign land to which countless African people were brought as slaves, men and women who adapted and made this land their own. These simultaneities and complexities frustrate any comprehensive narrative of the period.
This will, then, be an experiment in shaping a transnational Early American literature and history course. Our goal is to expand the geographic and temporal boundaries of the subject using archival, print, and digital sources. We hope to learn multiple ways of reading the “texts” of early America: print books, pamphlets, broadsides, petitions, manuscripts and graphic media–and innovative scholarship. These will give us some access to the many peoples reshaping what was, in fact, a very Old World.
The end goal is for students to design a syllabus that can be used in secondary schools, or for a future course at Amherst.
Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Limited to 36 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Brooks and Professor Emeritus O’Connell.
2023-24: Not offered
Unraveling Nationalism in American Literature
(Offered as ENGL 353 and AMST 353.) This course begins with the premise that if we are to understand the rise of nationalism in our time, it is worthwhile to grapple with its roots. Although these roots reach back long before the beginning of the United States, we will focus on nationalism during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as it was linked to debates about race, social Darwinism, colonialism and immigration. Some of the guiding questions will include: How was nationalism entangled with Anglo-American claims to “native” American identity? What was the relationship of nationalism to colonialism, including military actions and legal acts that contained and dismembered Native American nations? How can we understand these ideologies and policies in relation to U.S. territorial expansion, and in relation to laws and policies that sought to contain the borders and keep some immigrants out of the national body? How did Jim Crow laws deny African-Americans access to an American national identity? How can citizenship be understood in relation to both Jim Crow and immigration laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act? How did authors of color assert self-determination in their work, to intervene through creative expression and representation? Most important, how might literature (and literary analysis) create a vital space for grappling with this complex terrain? To wrestle with these questions, we will read closely literary texts written during the period between 1880-1930 in conversation with recent critical scholarship, as well as fiction and creative non-fiction set in this tumultuous time.
Limited to 40 students. Spring semester. Professor Brooks.2023-24: Not offered
Emily Dickinson’s poetry is rich in what she called “illocality.” Her writing characteristically dissolves images and refuses all specificity of place or event, and yet no writer is more intimately connected to a single particular place. Dickinson wrote almost all of her poems within this one house on Main Street in Amherst. We will have the extraordinary opportunity to read these poems here, to study both her individual life and her practices of literary expression in the place where she lived and wrote and with access to many of the artifacts and records of family and local history. We will study Dickinson’s biography, her poetic practices, and her historical context. In exploring the social and political situation of her poetry we will pay particular attention to local materials and history. Most class meetings will be held in the Dickinson Homestead and coursework will include projects of use to the Dickinson Museum.
Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor K. Sánchez-Eppler.2023-24: Not offered
Democracy and Education
Many Americans believe that a free public educational system is crucial in a democratic society. What concretely does this mean? The question has shaped a persistent and unresolved debate throughout American history to the present, as it will our work together. Two fundamental and contradictory questions have centered nearly every controversy: (1) Should education be a competitive system to establish and legitimate a hierarchy of merit? (2) Should schools focus on the fullest development of each student so as to enable her or him to participate equally in a democratic society contributing her or his individual gifts and differences? Another assumption also moves through these debates: that schools are the primary generators of equality or inequality.
The course will not seek to resolve these questions and issues, but to explore how the different assumptions structure what can be taught and learned and by whom. The texts for the course will range across a number of disciplines: philosophy, cognitive psychology, literature, sociology, and political science and theory. John Dewey’s Democracy and Education will be the framing text. Considerable attention will go to the educational reforms of the last thirty years including the role of institutions such as Teach for America, charter schools, etc.
Recommended requisite: ENGL 120 or an equivalent course or experience in public education. Limited to 45 students. Spring semester. Professor Emeritus O’Connell.2023-24: Not offered
Readings in English and American Fiction, 1950-2010
Novels and short fiction, mainly comic, by such writers as Evelyn Waugh, Saul Bellow, Flannery O’Connor, Elizabeth Taylor, Kingsley Amis, John Updike, Philip Roth, Nicholson Baker, Ian McEwan, Jonathan Franzen, Barbara Pym. The effort will be to refine and complicate one’s performance as a critic of these writers and their books.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2023-24: Not offered
The American Short Story
This course will introduce you to the American short story by way of some of the best-known authors of the last century and a half. Although sometimes dismissed as a minor, slight or amateurish literary form, the short story, in its brevity and density, demands close and careful attention. We will track the development of the short story as a form through careful close reading, as well as consider the historical and literary contexts that shaped the texts on our syllabus. We will also trace some of the leading critical debates around the emergence and evolution of the short story form as we develop theories of our own. Through engaged discussion and focused writing activities, students will learn how to analyze, raise critical questions of, and produce arguments about short fiction. Authors will include Alexie, Anderson, Baldwin, Barthelme, Cheever, Chestnutt, Cole, Curtis, Davis, Diaz, Egan, Ellison, Faulkner, Gilman, Hawthorne, Hemingway, Irving, Jackson, Jen, Larsen, Melville, Moore, Morrison, O’Connor, Poe, Saunders, Toomer, Foster Wallace, Welty, Wharton, Yu.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2017-18.
Bad Black Women
(Offered as SWAG 329, BLST 377 [US], and ENGL 368) History has long valorized passive, obedient, and long-suffering black women alongside aggressive and outspoken black male leaders and activists. This course provides an alternative narrative to this misrepresentation, as we will explore how “bad” is defined by one’s race, gender, class, and sexuality as well as how black women have transgressed the boundaries of what it means to be “good” in U.S. society. We will use an interdisciplinary perspective to examine why black women have used covert and explicit maneuvers to challenge the stereotypical “respectable” or “good” black woman and the various risks and rewards they incur for their “deviance.” Students should be aware that part of this course is “immersive” and consequently, students will participate in a master class that will explore how dance operates as a way to defy race, class, and gender norms.
Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Priority given to students who attend the first day of class. Writing Attentive. Limited to 18 students. Expectations include a master dance class, three writing projects, a group presentation, and various in-class assignments. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Henderson.Other years: Offered in Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021
“I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be extra-vagant enough, may not wander far enough beyond the narrow limit of my daily experience, so as to be adequate to the truth of which I have been convinced,” Thoreau writes in Walden. “Extra vagance! it depends on how you are yarded.” The aim of this course is to seek in a series of fictional extravaganzas by American authors a better understanding of how we are generally yarded, as readers of stories and novels, and what opens up for us when that yard expands. What does a wildness of invention, an insistent pressure on the confines of literary forms, make it possible for us to feel and know? What aspects of American cultural history are exposed to our view when writers freewheelingly generate, in Melville’s words, “more reality than real life itself can show”? Readings include Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, William Wells Brown’s The Escape, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, Lydia Davis’s Break It Down, and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Sanborn.2023-24: Not offered
A Decade Under the Influence: U.S. Film of the 1970s
(Offered as ENGL 373 and FAMS 353) U.S. film in the 1970s was evident of tremendous aesthetic and economic innovation. Rife with but not limited to conspiracy, disaster, love and war, 1970s popular films range from the counter-cultural to the commercial, the independent to the industrial. Thus, while American cinema of the first half of the decade is known as the work of groundbreaking independent “auteurs,” the second half of the decade witnessed an industrial transformation through the emergence of the giant blockbuster hit. With a focus on cultural and historical factors shaping filmmaking and film-going practices and with close attention to film form, this course will explore thematic threads, directors, stars, and genres that emerged and developed during the decade. While the course will largely focus on mainstream film, we will set this work in some relation to other movements of the era: blaxploitation, comic parodies, documentary, and New American Cinema. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Prior coursework in Film and Media Studies is recommended but not required. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Hastie.2023-24: Not offered
Spike Lee’s Joints
(Offered as ENGL 374, BLST 330 [US], and FAMS 358) In offering extended formal considerations of Spike Lee’s cinematic oeuvre–in particular his uses of light, sound, and color–this course is interested in how shifting through various modes of critical inquiry can enable or broaden different kinds of cultural, political, or historical engagement with a film. This semester we will also pay special attention to the question of what it means to encapsulate a particular cultural moment, particularly vis-à-vis the often differing demands of fictional and non-fictional representation.
Omitted 2017-18. Professors Parham and Drabinski.2023-24: Not offered
The Documentary Impulse
(Offered as ENGL 377 and FAMS 383) This course focuses on the documentary impulse–that is, the desire for an encounter with the “real”–as a way of understanding the different philosophies and ideologies that have shaped the history and practice of documentary. We will approach canonical studies of the modes of documentary (e.g., expository, observational, poetic, reflexive), placing pressure on concepts whose resonance or antagonism has shaped the notion of documentary, such as spectacle, authenticity, reality, mimesis, art, fiction, and performance. In addition to encountering canonical documentary films and major debates, we will analyze documentary as a complex discourse that has been shaped by multiple media forms (such as photography, television, and new media) and exhibition contexts (the art gallery, the cinema, the smartphone). Assignments will include group presentations, analytical exercises, and a final research paper. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Recommended requisite: A prior introductory film course. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Rangan.
2023-24: Not offered
Cinema and Everyday Life
(Offered as ENGL 381 and FAMS 351) Film theorist Siegfried Kracauer declared that some of the first films showed “life at its least controllable and most unconscious moments, a jumble of transient, forever dissolving patterns accessible only to the camera.” This course will explore the ways contemporary narrative films aesthetically represent everyday life–capturing both its transience and our everyday ruminations. We will further consider the ways we incorporate film into our everyday lives through various modes of viewings (the arthouse, the multiplex, the DVD, the mp3), our means of perception, and in the kinds of souvenirs we keep. We will look at films by Chantal Akerman, Robert Altman, Marleen Gorris, Hirokazu Koreeda, Marzieh Makhmalbaf, Terrence Malick, Lynne Ramsay, Tsai Ming-liang, Agnès Varda, Wong Kar-wai, and Andy Warhol. Readings will include work by Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Marlene Dietrich, Sigmund Freud, and various works in film and media studies. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Not open to first-year students. Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Hastie.2023-24: Not offered
American Avant-Garde Cinema
(Offered as ENGL 382, ARHA 382, and FAMS 381) This course examines the history of American avant-garde film, paying special attention to the alternative cultural institutions that have facilitated experimental cinema’s emergence and longevity in the U.S. since the 1940s. Through critical readings and weekly film screenings, we will analyze some of the major tendencies that have defined the postwar American avant-garde, including the poetic and amateur filmmakers of the ’40s and ’50s, the underground film and political documentary movements of the ’60s, the structural film and women’s cinema formations of the ’70s, the turn toward small-gauge and found footage practices in the ’80s, and more contemporary engagements with hand-made film and expanded cinema. Special emphasis will be given to the broader institutional practices that have surrounded the production and maintenance of avant-garde film culture. Examining critical histories of radical filmmaking collectives, cooperative distribution centers, art film societies, critical journals, and experimental film archives, we will consider how the avant-garde’s interest in creating an alternative cinema necessitated a dramatic reorganization of existing modes of filmic production, distribution, exhibition, reception, and preservation. Screenings of films by Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Andy Warhol, Barbara Rubin, Newsreel, Michael Snow, Barbara Hammer, Saul Levine, Peggy Ahwesh, Jennifer Reeves, and others will be included. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Requisite: One 100-level or 200-level FAMS or ENGL course, or consent of the instructor. Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Guilford.
Intimate Film Cultures
(Offered as ENGL 383 and FAMS 360) What’s intimate about cinema? Since its invention, cinema has spurred pronouncements on the emotional, affective, and even spiritual impact of the filmic image, as well as deeper examinations of the specific devices through which films produce intimate experience (the close-up, the kiss, etc.). For classical film theorists, such devices were often invested with redemptive potential, though more recent cultural theorists have issued strong rejoinders to such claims. Isn’t intimacy crucial to the workings of modern power? Doesn’t cinema structure intimate relations in accordance with normative ideologies? Examining such issues, this course considers how matters of intimacy have organized critical discourse on a range of intimate film cultures, from surrealism to the melodrama, underground film, queer independent cinema, and contemporary diasporic cinema. Examining film theory alongside diverse contributions to the emerging field of intimacy studies, we will ask how recent inquiries into the politics of intimacy force us to rethink the problems and potential of cinema.
Requisite: One 200-level FAMS or ENGL course, or consent of the instructor. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Guilford.
Television and Experience
(Offered as ENGL 384 and FAMS 382) As one of our most dominant, even omnipresent media forms, television is something most of us experience every day. But Television Studies scholarship does not always take on the question of “experience” as a central part of its analysis. This course will take experience as the central component of our study. The first unit of the course will consider phenomenological approaches to television criticism, centering on those elements of televisual form that delineate an experience different from other media. Our second unit will focus on historical experience, with an emphasis on Civil Rights era television, African-American productions and/or stars, and African-American audiences. Our third and final unit will consider the platforms and devices through which we experience television in order to query how “television experience” changes over time and what elements of it have remained constant. The course will blend lecture and discussion. Readings will be both theoretical and historical. Students will produce regular reading summaries, two formal essays, and a digital final project.
Some previous coursework in FAMS may be useful. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Professor Hastie.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 388 and FAMS 240) A first workshop in narrative screenwriting. Through frequent exercises, readings and screenings we will explore the fundamentals of scene and story shape as they’re practiced in mainstream American commercial filmmaking while taking a broader look at what a screenplay might be outside of that world. We’ll look at two modes of writing that are often at odds with each other: the well-established craft of three-act screenwriting within the Hollywood tradition, on the one hand, and the more elastic possibilities of the audio-visual medium as exemplified by the so-called “art film,” on the other. One three-hour class meeting per week.
Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Preference will be given to English and FAMS majors. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Please complete the questionnaire at https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/departments/film/major/forms. Omitted 2017-18.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2015, Spring 2023
Literature and the Nonhuman World
Like every other aspect of human culture, literature interacts with biology–with, in Elizabeth Grosz’s words, “a system of (physical, chemical, organic) differences that engenders historical, social, cultural, and sexual differences.” The aim of this course is to make that fact as intellectually fruitful as possible. What happens to our understanding of literature if we think of it as an expression of life? What happens, that is, if we think of literature as one of the countless things that emerges from a non-personal, non-teleological process of evolution? And what happens if we think of individual works of literature as potential ways of getting closer, conceptually and sensually, to life, to the difference-making process within which we all find ourselves? Readings will include Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, James Welch’s Winter in the Blood, J. M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello, and the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wallace Stevens, and Elizabeth Bishop. A background in the natural sciences is welcome but not necessary.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Sanborn.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 412 and EUST 412) [before 1800] This course introduces students to the hands-on study of medieval manuscripts. Students will examine materials in the Frost Library archives, as well as print and digital facsimiles of medieval manuscripts, to learn about how medieval literature was copied and read in its own time. Students will learn the skills of paleography (reading old handwriting) and codicology (analyzing the materials and assembly of old books) in order to conduct original research on these materials. They will also learn about medieval and early modern book culture. The course includes a field trip to the Rare Books library at Harvard University.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Nelson.
2023-24: Not offered
Handbooks of (Digital) Humanism
[before 1800] Writers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England were very self-conscious about how they used language: they thought deeply and critically about how, when, and why to use certain kinds of rhetorical figures, whether common metaphor or less common pyramis (a poem structured like a pyramid).
This class begins from the idea that today’s digital creators employ the same method to control digital media: we too use figures that shape how we think about the possibilities for creation. But most of us are not as self-conscious about these figures: for example, a cloud is diffuse, nebulous, untethered from the physical world. But the cloud is in fact dependent on a series of servers, on the coal that produces the energy to maintain those servers, on the wires that make wireless capabilities possible, etc. This course will explore the humanist rhetorical handbooks of the English literary Renaissance as a means to two ends: one, to better understand the literary production of canonical authors like Shakespeare; and two, to engage with digital humanisms and the rhetoric of digital creativity in the twenty-first century. We juxtapose readings from Renaissance rhetorical handbooks with poetry and essays from that period and with digital humanities scholarship. As a final project in this course students will produce a digital rhetorical handbook that will account for the internet.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Five College Fellow Henrichs.2023-24: Not offered
The Unprinted Page: Working with Manuscripts
(Offered as ENGL 415 and AMST 365.) This course will focus on the manuscript culture of nineteenth- and twentieth-century America, using manuscripts as a means of thinking about the act of writing, the implications of audience and publication, and the relations between the private and public word. We will study the private forms of diaries, letters, and scrapbooks. We will look at the traces of the writing process in manuscripts of ultimately published works–the window into the literary creation that manuscripts provide. The heart of the course will be independent research with students drawing on rich local archives to do some manuscript recovering of their own. As part of the preparations for the Amherst College bicentennial, research this semester will focus on materials written by Amherst students over the past two hundred years. A core aspect of coursework will be developing an online exhibition to analyze and share these materials to produce a literary history of Amherst College.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor K. Sánchez-Eppler.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 417 and EUST 417) This course explores creative responses to the destruction of European Jewry, differentiating between literature written in extremis in ghettos, concentration/extermination camps, or in hiding, and the vast post-war literature about the Holocaust. How to balance competing claims of individual and collective experience, the rights of the imagination and the pressures for historical accuracy? How does the Holocaust in American culture differ from the Holocaust narrated in Jewish or European languages? Readings from a variety of literary genres are complemented by consideration of Holocaust memorials, museums, film, and critical theories of representation.
Recommended requisite: A prior college-level course in literature and/or twentieth-century European history. Students not majoring in English or European Studies are welcome. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18.2023-24: Not offered
Writing the Novella
An advanced writing workshop devoted to the reading and writing of novellas, which will be the fall 2017 version of Fiction Writing II. We will study such novellas as Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Jane Smiley’s The Age of Grief, and Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day, in order to get a sense of the parameters and scope of this in-between form. Students will write up to ten pages per week with the aim of composing and revising a work of 70-80 pages by the end of the semester.
Requisite: A previous fiction-writing workshop. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 10 students. Preregistration is not allowed. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Fall semester. Professor Frank.2023-24: Not offered
[before 1800] By studying selected Shakespeare plays and their afterlives in literature and performance, we will explore the fate of culture over centuries of global mobility. What qualities of Shakespeare’s works render them peculiarly adaptable to a world of intercultural conflict, borrowing and fusion? And what light does the translation and adaptation of Shakespeare shed on the dialectic of cultural persistence and change? Our examples may include European literature and theater; American silent film and musicals; post-colonial appropriations in India, Africa and Latin America; and versions in the drama, opera and cinema of China and Japan. The course includes an independent research project on a chosen case study.
Requisite: ENGL 338 (Shakespeare). Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Bosman.2023-24: Not offered
Technology and Performance
In this course, we’ll explore the history (and the fantasy) of the performing machine on stage, on screen, and beyond. It’s easy to think of technologies as dead things that enhance the live performances of humans. This course will ask you to do something harder: to find the liveness in a machine and to take its agency seriously. We will watch how new technologies tangle with humans in performance, and we will ask: what happens when human actors begin to accept a new technology as their scene partner–or their identity?
The course will consist of a few themed units (e.g., Robot Performance) with primary sources including plays (e.g., from R.U.R. to Hataraku Watashi), films (e.g., from Metropolis to Ex Machina), and popular performance (e.g., from “doing the robot” to the latest Janelle Monáe). Secondary readings will run the gamut from cultural history and performance theory to reports on contemporary developments (e.g., in artificial intelligence, biomimetics, and theatrical robotics). Other units might cover: communication technologies, vocal and bodily prostheses, or musical instruments and other resonant things.
You will be required to do some short-form writing and oral presentation throughout, but the course culminates in an extended research project of your own devising.
Recommended requisite: At least two intermediate, writing-attentive courses (e.g., 200-level courses in English). Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Grobe.2023-24: Not offered
The Play of Ideas
We don’t just think, speak, or write our ideas; we perform them, too. Think TED Talks. Think political movements. Think 400-level seminars in English. In this course, you will read plays that are fueled by an argument and arguments that look an awful lot like plays. Readings will range from ancient philosophical dialogues to modern “plays of ideas”–from essays on pedagogy to works of social theory. As the semester wears on, you will begin to research your own angle on our central theme: Ideas performed. Your final project will be a mock prospectus, in which you imagine this “angle” turning into a thesis project–creative, critical, or a mixture of the two.
Previous experience with drama or performance theory might help, but is hardly required for enrollment. As a matter of fact, this course works best when students from a wide range of majors enroll. The reading load isn’t heavy, but expectations are high that you will turn up to class prepared to engage in an active discussion. I mean, would you show up to a performance not knowing your lines, or fail to speak when you heard your cue? I didn’t think so. See you there.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Grobe.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Spring 2021
A poetry writing course, but with a strong emphasis on reading. Students will closely examine the work of various poets and periods, then attempt to write plausible imitations of their own, all by way of learning about poetry from the inside, as it were.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Preregistration is not allowed. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Fall semester. Writer-in-Residence Hall.2023-24: Not offered
Medieval and Renaissance Lyric
(Offered as ENGL 441 and EUST 374) [before 1800] In this course, we read a selection of English and other European lyrics (in translation) from the twelfth through the seventeenth centuries. An exciting, fertile era in poetic innovation, these centuries see the dawn of the first romantic love poetry in these languages, the invention of new forms like the sonnet, and the invention of the lyric “anthology.” Reading the lyrics of the French troubadour poets, Chaucer, Petrarch, Wyatt, Donne, Shakespeare, and the many brilliant anonymous poets of medieval England, we will examine both the text and contexts of these short poems. Close readings will be put in dialogue with cultural contexts (such as the volatile court of Henry VIII, in which Thomas Wyatt wrote), and the material contexts of the lyrics (the medieval and early modern manuscripts and books in which they first appeared). We will further think about how the term “lyric” emerges as a privileged poetic category, by reading contemporary “defenses” of poetry and thinking about why the word “lyric” only appears in the sixteenth century. Does the “lyric” poem change once it is defined? How do later works speak to the earlier tradition?
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Nelson.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2014, Fall 2016, Spring 2020, Spring 2022
Make It New
[before 1800] “Make It New”–Ezra Pound’s modernist call to reject late-Victorian poetic sentiment and harmonious measures–was not the first time a poet and those he championed had attempted, with notable success, to change the course of poetry in English. William Wordsworth had stated in 1798 that poetry should be written in the language men speak, not, as he saw it, in elevated diction in the service of explicit moral instruction. And roughly two hundred years before that John Donne brought unprecedented dramatic energy and new forms to poems of love and faith. These three interventions mark critical changes in how poetry would be written in the decades that followed. This seminar will engage these historic shifts in how poets thought about the subjects of their poems and about the styles appropriate to those subjects. The course will focus on three innovators and on three poets in the next generation whose work was inflected by them: Donne and George Herbert, Wordsworth and John Keats, and T.S. Eliot (Pound’s great friend and collaborator) and Anthony Hecht.
English and non-English majors are welcome, as well as sophomores with a strong interest in poetry. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Sofield.2023-24: Not offered
Lyrics and More
What are the antecedents of the central line of poetry in English as one finds it early in the twenty-first century? Given the great variety of English-language poetry today, the term “central line” may be disputable; what is not disputable is the tradition of secular and religious lyrics and odes that derives from the major poets of the early seventeenth-century: John Donne, Ben Jonson, George Herbert, and Andrew Marvell. The lyric and the ode are recast two centuries on by, among others, William Wordsworth, whose development of the monologue inaugurates another genre much practiced in the following two hundred years. Lyric, ode, and monologue become the principal modes in the work of John Keats, Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Hardy, Robert Frost, and Philip Larkin. In this seminar students and instructors will read closely, and discuss, these ten poets. A short paper or two, and a longer one in conclusion.
Open to juniors and seniors. Students not majoring in English are welcome. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Emeritus Pritchard and Professor Sofield.2023-24: Not offered
Avant-garde poetry resists definition. In this class, we will explore poetry that defies convention, be it formal (exploding the poetic verse line), material (appearing outside of the conventional venues of the published, mass-produced book), or linguistic (using everyday language rather than poetic diction). We will read widely from a range of twentieth- and twenty-first century poets as well as important nineteenth-century forebears. The course will center on the movements and schools of avant-garde poetry in the Anglo-American tradition, such as modernism (T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein); the Harlem Renaissance (Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson); the Beat Poets (Allen Ginsburg, Gary Snyder); the New York School (Frank O’Hara, Ted Berrigan); the Black Arts poets (Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni); the Language Poets (Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein); and contemporary poets (Nathaniel Mackey, Alice Notley). We will also look at artists’ books, broadsides, and other poetry that makes interesting use of the conventional materials and layout of poetry and poetic books. We will ask, how do these poets and movements challenge the aesthetic and poetic conventions of their time(s)? How do they expand or challenge the boundaries of poetic forms and subjects? What opportunities and constraints do avant-garde approaches offer to poets of color and/or women poets?
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Nelson.2023-24: Not offered
The Value of Literature
Why, Rita Felski asks, are people “willing to drive five hundred miles to hear a band playing a certain song, or spend years in graduate school puzzling over a single novel?” Concepts like “cultural capital,” “the hegemonic media industry,” or “interpretive communities” do not fully explain “why it is this particular tune that plays over and over in our heads, why it is Virginia Woolf alone who becomes an object of obsession.” Something else has to be involved, a “rogue something,” in the words of Toni Morrison’s narrator in Jazz, that you “have to figure in before you can figure it out.” In this seminar, students will first explore the phenomenon of aesthetic valuation, then turn to a consideration of when, why, and for whom literary experiences are valuable, and finally embark on independent research projects in which each of them studies a single author in depth and experiments with ways of articulating (in a class presentation and in a final essay) the kinds of value that that author may be said to have.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Sanborn.2023-24: Not offered
Toomer, Faulkner, and Morrison
(Offered as ENGL 454 and BLST 442) William Faulkner and Toni Morrison are generally understood as two of the most important writers of the twentieth century. In a country that works hard to live without a racial past, both authors have brought deep articulation to what it means to experience that which is often otherwise ignored and regardless unspoken. This semester we will explore several key novels from each author’s oeuvre, looking for where their texts converge and diverge. We will also spend time with Jean Toomer–-a modernist writer critical to understanding what might be at stake in Faulkner and Morrison’s writerly manipulations of time, space, place, and memory–-and with several philosophical texts that will help us to conceptualize what it means to “know” something like race or to “understand” history.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Parham.2023-24: Not offered
Race and Relationality
(Offered as ENGL 455 and BLST 439 [US]) When we say “race relations,” we are using a phrase drawn from early twentieth-century American sociology, a phrase that conjures up a scenario in which already existing racial groups are separated by prejudice and misunderstanding. As many sociologists and historians have argued, we need a new paradigm, one that implies neither that race is a primordial reality nor that racism is merely an informational problem. In this class, we will begin by familiarizing ourselves with critical race theory and with theories emerging from the “relational turn” in psychoanalysis. We will then bring both of those theoretical traditions to bear on Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition, Nella Larsen’s Passing, William Faulkner’s Light in August, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, Sandra Cisneros’s Woman Hollering Creek, and Sherman Alexie’s The Toughest Indian in the World. In our discussions of these works, we will be aiming not to become (impossibly) post-racial, but to imagine, collectively, different futures for our (inevitably) racially inflected relations.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Sanborn.2023-24: Not offered
Ghosts in Shells? Virtuality and Embodiment from Passing to the Posthuman
(Offered as ENGL 456, BLST 441 [US], and FAMS 451) This class begins with narratives about individuals who pass–that is, who come to be recognized as someone different from whom they were sexually or racially “born as.” Such stories suggest that one’s identity depends minimally on the body into which one is born, and is more attached to the supplementation and presentation of that body in support of whichever cultural story the body is desired to tell. Drawing on familiar liberal humanist claims, which centralize human identity in the mind, these narratives also respond to the growing sophistication of human experience with virtual worlds–from acts of reading to immersions in computer simulation. But what kinds of tensions emerge when bodies nonetheless signify beyond an individual’s self-imagination? As technology expands the possibilities of the virtual, for instance surrogacy, cloning, and cybernetics, what pressures are brought to bear on the physical human body and its processes to signify authentic humanness? Rather than ask whether identity is natural or cultural, our discussions will project these questions into a not-so-distant future: What would it mean to take “human” as only one identity, as a category amongst many others, each also acknowledged as equally subject to the same social and biological matrices of desire, creation, and recognition? We will approach these questions through works of literature, philosophy, media history, and contemporary science writing.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Parham.2023-24: Not offered
Indigenous American Epics
(Offered as ENGL 458 and AMST 358) [before 1800]
This course will delve deeply into Indigenous literatures of “Turtle Island,” or North America, and will also extend to the Pacific. The Quiché Maya Popol Vuh (Council Book), the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Great Law of Peace, the Wabanaki creation cycle, and the Hawaiian mo’olelo of Pele and her sister Hi'iaka are rooted in longstanding, complex oral narratives of emergence and transformation, which were recorded by Indigenous authors and scribes. These texts will enable us to consider how the temporal and spatial boundaries of America are both defined and extended by colonization, and disrupted by Indigenous texts and decolonial theory. We will close read these major epics as works of classical literature, narratives of tribal history, and living political constitutions.
Reading each long text (in English translation) over several weeks, we will study the tribally and regionally-specific contexts of each epic narrative as well as the “intellectual trade routes” that link them together. We will also consider the place of these epics within American literature and history and their contributions to historical and contemporary decolonization. In exploring these narratives, we will discuss the ways in which they challenge conceptual boundaries, considering categories such as land/place, gender, sexuality, and other-than-human beings.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Brooks.2023-24: Not offered
The Spiral of Time in Native American Novels
What if the past is not behind us, but spiraling within our present? How are indigenous conceptions of time expressed in Native American writing? How do Native novelists enable us to imagine a past, present, and future that are intertwined, embedded in place, and spiraling in constant motion? How does the creation of a fictional world, so similar to ours, allow us to envision alternative models of gender, sexuality, race, and nationhood? This seminar will invite in-depth exploration of contemporary Native American fiction, through frameworks drawn from oral traditions, indigenous languages, literary media, and scientific theory. Authors will include Sherman Alexie, LeAnne Howe, Thomas King, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Craig Womack, among others.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Brooks.2023-24: Not offered
Film and Video Curation
(Offered as ENGL 462, FAMS 462, and ARHA 462) In recent years, curating has taken on an increasingly central role in the production of contemporary media cultures. As the practice of selecting, organizing, and presenting cultural artifacts for public exhibition, curating often determines the sorts of media forms audiences have access to and the frameworks through which those media forms are interpreted. Curating requires a facility with a wide variety of skills, from historical research to critical analysis, communication, administration, and creative thinking. Yet it also entails an attentiveness to the complex socio-political issues that subtend all approaches to cultural representation.
This course introduces students to the history, theory, and practice of film and video curation, paying special attention to the curation of experimental media. Students will learn about curating in both theoretical and practical ways, analyzing a variety of conceptual issues and debates that have emerged from historical and contemporary approaches to experimental film and video exhibition, while also embarking on creative assignments designed to allow them to begin developing their own curatorial perspectives. Through weekly screenings, readings, and discussion seminars, as well as visits to off-campus arts venues and cultural institutions, we will examine the different registers of film and video exhibitions that are regularly shaped by curators (program, sequence, exhibition space, text, and formats, etc.), as well as the broader social and political stakes of media curation. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Requisite: At least one foundational course in FAMS or ARHA. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Professor Guilford.
The Confession: Theory and Practice
(Offered as ENGL 477 and FAMS 455) Confession is arguably central to expressions of postmodern selfhood in TV talk shows, YouTube videos, tweets, and Facebook updates. It also informs the evidentiary logic of our civil apparatuses (legal, medical, humanitarian) and infuses the fabric of our diplomatic, familial, and intimate relations. Indeed, we might say that the confession is the preeminent practice through which we understand the “truth” of our selves.This course investigates the many meanings and itineraries of the confession. We will focus on the various institutional sites that have shaped confessional regimes of truth (such as the church, the school, the clinic, the prison, the courtroom), as well as the role of media forms (from autobiographical video to cinematic melodrama and reality television) in consolidating and challenging these regimes. Readings and assignments emphasize a twinned engagement with media and cultural theory. Topics include: narratives on coming-out, truth and reconciliation, hysteria, torture, the female orgasm, insanity defenses, and racial passing. One two hour-and-forty-minute class meeting and one screening per week.
Requisite: At least one foundational course in FAMS or equivalent introductory film course, plus any one course in cultural studies/literary theory/gender studies/race and ethnicity studies. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Rangan.
2023-24: Not offered
“Having a Voice”: Theories of Voice and Documentary
(Offered as ENGL 478 and FAMS 478) Documentary’s difference from fiction is frequently understood in terms of its emphasis on the spoken word. In documentary studies, voice, rather than point of view, is the standard parlance for describing the unique social perspective of a documentary film. Voice is also the metaphor of documentary’s social mission: some of the most influential histories of documentary are narrated as a history of giving--and having, or appropriating--the right to speak. Rather than approaching the voice as a pre-existing social fact or content, this course will ask how discourses of documentary mediate our understandings of voice. Readings will include classic texts on the cinematic voice alongside contemporary and historical theories and counter-histories of voice from a variety of critical and disciplinary contexts, including philosophy, sound, music, disability, race, gender, and sexuality studies. Screenings will draw widely from documentary and experimental film. We will ask: how are Western philosophical discourses of voice unacknowledged influences on the formal expressions of the spoken word in documentary? And conversely, how do the conventional documentary expressions of speech, such as voice-over, interview, testimony, conversation cultivate normative and counter-normative modes of listening?
This is an advanced discussion seminar that places a heavy emphasis on speaking in class. The course also includes a final research paper.
Requisite: ENGL 280/FAMS 210, or equivalent introductory film course, plus any one course in cultural studies/literary theory/gender studies/race and ethnicity studies. Special consideration will be given to students who have taken a documentary course (whether theory or production). Open to juniors and seniors, and to sophomores with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Rangan.2023-24: Not offered
Conversations with Experimental Filmmakers
(Offered as ENGL 481, FAMS 481, and ARHA 481) This seminar explores different ways of entering into conversations with experimental filmmakers. Through weekly screenings, in-class visits by contemporary artists, and rigorous examinations of artists’ writings, interviews, and related theoretical texts, we will seek to develop critical and creative vocabularies through which to interact with an array of experimental films and videos. We will ask: What sorts of aesthetic, conceptual, and political keywords do contemporary filmmakers draw on to frame their artistic practices? How do these terms/frameworks challenge established approaches to film analysis? And how might we elaborate new ways of thinking and speaking about film in an effort to respond to this critical challenge? Topics examined in this course may include: expanded cinema, modularity, and performance; artist-run labs and the new materialism; experimental ethnography, locality, and cultural representation; landscape films and the Anthropocene; the politics of intimacy in the diary film; and abstraction, representation, and gender.
Requisite: At least one foundational course in FAMS or ARHA, or consent of the instructor. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Guilford.
Inventing Film Theory
(Offered as ENGL 486 and FAMS 421) As an upper-division seminar in film theory, this course will offer an in-depth examination of historically significant writings that analyze film form and its social functions and effects. Our particular focus will be on the production of film theory in a collective setting: the film/media journal. Thus, the course will consist of several units, each centering on a particular journal in generally chronological order (such as the Modernist Close Up; two phases of the French Cahiers du Cinéma, which has set foundations for both studies of authorship and semiotic-ideological analysis; the U.S. journal focusing on experimental and independent film, Film Culture; and the leading feminist journal of media studies, Camera Obscura). Through this structure, we will consider how ideas have developed and transformed, often in dialogue with one another and on an international stage. Our purpose will be threefold: to understand the context for the production and development of film theories; to comprehend a wide range of changing theoretical notions, writing styles, and critical methodologies; and to create our own dialogue with these works, considering especially their impact on their own contemporaneous film viewers and on viewing positions today. The final project, which we will develop through the semester, will be a web-based journal of film studies, which will put into practice the ideas and conversations of the course. One three-hour class meeting and one film screening per week.
Prior coursework in Film and Media Studies is strongly recommended. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Hastie.2023-24: Not offered
Independent Reading Courses.
Fall and spring semester. The Department.2023-24: Not offered
The Creole Imagination
(Offered as ENGL 491 and BLST 461 [CLA]) What would it mean to write in the language in which we dream? A language that we can hear, but cannot (yet) see? Is it possible to conceive a language outside the socio-symbolic order? And can one language subvert the codes and values of another? Questions like these have animated the creolité/nation language debate among Caribbean intellectuals since the mid-1970s, producing some of the most significant francophone and anglophone writing of the twentieth century. This course reads across philosophy, cultural theory, politics, and literature in order to consider the claims such works make for the Creole imagination. We will engage the theoretical and creative work of Édouard Glissant, Maryse Condé, Wilson Harris, Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, Patrick Chamoiseau, Jamaica Kincaid, and Edwidge Danticat. We also will consider how these writers transform some of the fundamental ideas of psychoanalysis, poststructuralism, and critical historiography. At stake in our readings will be the various aesthetic and political aspects of postcolonial struggle–how to think outside the colonial architecture of language; how to contest and subvert what remains from history’s violence; and how to evaluate the claims to authenticity of creolized New World cultural forms.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Cobham-Sander.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Fall 2023
Literary and Critical Theory
This course introduces students to the basic concepts and methods of literary and critical theory, a body of work that explores and critiques modern assumptions about truth, culture, power, language, representation, subject-formation, and identity. Surveying a wide range of authors and approaches (postcolonial, gender studies and queer theory, critical race theory, psychoanalytic, etc.), we will also draw on the expertise of our own faculty, bringing in weekly guest speakers to help explain particular methodologies and to tell us about how they engage with theory in their own scholarship. In this upper-level seminar, students will grapple with complex theoretical texts, consider the place of theory in literary studies and in film, media, and cultural studies as well, and begin to imagine ways of putting theoretical ideas to work for themselves.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Bosman.
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023
Students intending to continue independent work begun in ENGL 498 are required to submit a five-page prospectus describing in detail the shape of the intended project along with a substantial writing sample from the work completed in ENGL 498. Students beginning a new project who wish to apply for English 499 must submit a five-page description and rationale for the proposed independent study. Those who propose projects in fiction, verse, playwriting, or autobiography must submit a substantial sample of work in the appropriate mode; students wishing to undertake critical projects must include a tentative bibliography with their proposal. Please consult the English Department website for deadlines and for more information on the senior honors process.
Preregistration is not allowed. Admission with consent of the instructor. Spring semester.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023