Professors Brooks*, Cobham-Sander‡, Frank‡, Hastie, Parham*, Sanborn, and K. Sánchez-Eppler‡; Associate Professors Bosman, Mireles Christoff, Grobe (Chair), Nelson, and Rangan; Assistant Professors Abramson*, Guilford, Lawson*, Myint, Roberts, and Worsley; Writer-in-Residence Lee; Lecturer and Director of the Creative Writing Program Kapur; Lecturer and Director of the Intensive Writing Program Reardon; Senior Lecturer B. Sánchez-Eppler; Lecturer Sweeney; Visiting Professors L. Sanders and Thiam; Visiting Lecturers Masiki and E. Sanders; Postdoctoral Fellow Yang.
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. Level and period requirements should be fulfilled with courses from Amherst College English Department offerings. 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 their 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 work must be approved by the student’s designated advisor. Once the thesis 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.
*On leave 2022-23.†On leave fall semester 2022-23.‡On leave spring semester 2022-23.
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.
Eighteen seats reserved for first-year students. Limited to 18 students. Professor Sanborn.2023-24: Not offered
This poetry workshop is made for buddies: the ones you build and the ones you bring. Although most poets love to go solo, the contemporary writers we will study in this course prove how writing can be better with friends.
In this course, we will look at contemporary poets who collaborate: to perform, to further their own collections, to create their passion projects. We will look at poetic movements that planted the seed for twenty-first century partnerships and examine contemporary collaborations that prove there’s poetic strength in numbers.
Requirements for this course include a desire to experiment with collaboration. Students are encouraged to register with a friend as a way to begin their writing partnership but will also be paired with a partner or group within the course to write with. Completion of this course will include the creation of two sets of collaborative work. Partners will decide if this means writing individual poems that are in conversation with each other, or writing work collectively. This is a great course for non-majors and good friends.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Lawson and Visiting Lecturer Dan Bernitt.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL and FAMS) Unlearning Media is a module of introductory film and media courses that seek to learn new ways of understanding or making media by unlearning everything we believe we know about them. Focusing on a range of contemporary media phenomena, and taught by FAMS instructors specializing in critical studies, creative practices, or both, Unlearning Media courses delve deep into our relationships with media forms, devices, or practices that we secretly love, openly resent, or have simply stopped noticing. By turning things sideways and pausing on unexpected details, or taking the time to explore hidden alleyways and histories, we will discover how media get under our skin and shape what we believe to be true—and how they might yet unlock our imagination of what could be. In Fall 2022, Unlearning Media will be taught by Professor Rangan and the topic will be True Crime. Focusing on the recent boom in true crime documentary films, series, and podcasts, we will look to the past and future of the true crime genre to understand what drives the audience appetite for crime stories, and what narratives are missing that can help us understand why the world feels like a scary place—and point to ways to fix it.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Rangan.Other years: Offered in Fall 2022
The world is ending, the planet is dying, civilization is falling to ruin – now what? For millennia, theatermakers have asked and answered this question through their art. Why does theater keep staging such scenes of devastation and renewal? In this course, you will read a selection of such apocalyptic plays, as well as works in other genres that ask us to imagine that, when all else has withered away, the theater will somehow survive. Course materials will range from medieval morality plays and Shakespearean tragedies to recent novels, avant-garde theater, and Broadway musicals. With the help of texts by and about BIPOC performers, we will also ask: For whom, exactly, is the world supposed to be ending? For whom did it end at least once already – whether years or centuries ago? And what does theater offer to communities who have already survived the apocalypse, or who currently live in apocalyptic times?
As an introduction to college-level studies in English, this course teaches the fundamental skills of close reading, attentive viewing, deep discussion, powerful writing, and effective revision.
Readings may include:
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Everybody
Everyman (anonymous 15th-century morality play)
Adrienne Kennedy, Motherhood 2000
The Crucifixion and The Last Judgment (medieval cycle plays)
Caryl Churchill, Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen
José Rivera, Marisol
Larissa FastHorse, What Would Crazy Horse Do?
Tim Crouch, Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation
Annie Baker, The Antipodes
Jordan Harrison, The Amateurs
Anne Washburn's Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play
Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven
William Shakespeare, King Lear
DeLanna Studi, And So We Walked
Sarah Ruhl, Eurydice
Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown
Limit of 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Grobe.2023-24: Not offered
Why do we laugh at some jokes but not others? What makes something funny? This class will explore humor as a core rhetorical concept to study audience, genre, purpose, context, and exigency. We will analyze how situational and language humor work in essays, stories, and visual media. Students will build their critical reading and writing skills through short, low-stakes weekly writing and three major papers. We will consider how the intersectional identities of authors and audiences (i.e.: how class, race, gender, and disability, among others) influence joke construction and reception. As we read, we will pay close attention to the way that writers use humor as a tool for social critique and to release tension. Students can expect to build a toolkit for creating arguments with evidence, and they will frequently revise the content, organization, and language in their work. We will work together to develop a community of writers who can mutually support each other through the writing process.
Preference given to first-year Amherst College students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2022-23. Lecturer Reardon.2023-24: Not offered
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. Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2022-2023. Senior Lecturer Emeritus Lieber.2023-24: Not offered
How does migration transform identity? Which techniques do writers use to express and recreate this complex experience on the page? What role can language and narrative technique play in forging a sense of self and home? How might writing be related to refuge? Reading across genres of poetry, fiction and memoir, this class explores how writers have described the experience of locating themselves while departing, arriving or living in between. The course will cover topics such as alienation, assimilation, generational memory, survival, nostalgia, hybridity, and transformation. Students can expect a wide range of writing assignments, both analytical and creative. Readings may include Bapsi Sidhwa, Amitav Ghosh, Zadie Smith, José Olivarez, Warsan Shire, Suji Kwock Kim, Fady Joudah, Edwidge Danticat, Eduardo Corral and Ocean Vuong.
Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Lecturer Kapur.Other years: Offered in Spring 2023
This course explores media literacy and the rhetoric of news through readings of a range of multimedia news and academic articles. It asks students, through critical writing, to come to terms with our responsibilities as engaged citizens for understanding, and acting on, the information we encounter in the news. Together, we will examine the way that journalists present the written word in print and digital spaces to inform, analyze, and present opinions–as we do the same in our own writing. We will pay close attention to the way that reporter teams explicitly and implicitly build arguments, use evidence, organize texts, and edit their own work, with an eye on developing strategies for using these skills in class assignments, and transferring them to other classes as well. Through writing projects that ask students to examine conversations on current events, particularly those relating to social and racial justice, students will develop skills to evaluate and contribute to the multimedia news landscape.
Preference given to first-year Amherst College students. Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Lecturer Reardon.2023-24: Not offered
In this course we will weather famous storms featured in literary, artistic, and cinematic works from the nineteenth century through the present day. Together, we will make our way through snow, sleet, hurricanes, cyclones, tropical storms, superstorms, and everyday rain showers. This topic will provide a unifying thematic thread for a class focused on the fundamentals of close reading, viewing, writing, and revision. We will examine how various genres, narrative styles, and authorial voices engage this common topic in strikingly different ways. We will also use storms to learn about literary and aesthetic concepts such as the sublime, and to think about the basic building blocks of narrative. How do storms blur lines between setting, plot, characterization, suspense, and closure? What does it mean for a setting to come to life or function as a character?
Together, we will discuss: How do stories of environmental violence and human violence collide? Who gets to tell the story of a storm? What stories emerge on either side of the ostensibly rupturing event itself, before and after the storm? How do storms expose and exacerbate disparities along racial and socioeconomic lines? Can reading local storm stories provide a way of thinking about global climate change?
Some of our storms will be based upon actual events, including Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, and Irene; this will raise complex questions about the boundaries between history and art.
Possible works include paintings by J. M. W. Turner; short stories by Kate Chopin, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Ben Marcus; novels by Zora Neale Hurston, Ben Lerner, and Jesmyn Ward; film by Behn Zeitlin, and documentary by Spike Lee.
Limited to 18 students. In the fall semester, ten seats reserved for first-year students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Abramson.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 2022-23. Professor Nelson.Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2020, Spring 2022
(Writing Intensive) (Offered as ENGL 120, AMST 120 and EDST 120) 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. As an Intensive Writing course, this class further supports students as they hone deep reading strategies and multi-step writing processes themselves.
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 (ex: essays, poems, autobiographies, and novels) in which education and teaching figure centrally, as well as readings from other disciplines, which may include ethnography, sociology, psychology, and philosophy. As part of the work of Intensive Writing, students will examine not only the content of these readings but also how they are constructed. Specifically, they will study rhetorical features (ex: audience awareness and genre expectations), as well as the structures of argument and analysis, with an eye on developing reading and writing skills they can use in other courses across the College.
Ultimately, students will come together as a community of writers who support one another as they reflect on their experiences as tutors and develop their own academic writing voices.
Preference given to first-year Amherst College students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Lecturer Reardon.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
(Offered as EDST 121 and ENGL 121) This course considers belonging and community in the college context, with a focus on reading and writing as part of a practice of making meaning of the college experience. Students will learn about the history of higher education as they research and reflect on the contemporary college landscape. They will analyze learning as a process: how it is understood by scholars and teachers; how it is shaped by cultural and rhetorical contexts; and how students engage with it. The course will consider equity and access and how students’ intersectional identities (i.e.: how class, race, gender, and disability, among others) impact the way they navigate college. As part of the work of this course, students will collaboratively work toward a community-engaged project centered on college access.
Assigned texts will include a range of sources (books, articles, podcasts, videos) from literature and education studies. As they read, listen, and view materials, students will examine not only their content but also how they are constructed. Specifically, they will study rhetorical features (ex: audience awareness and genre expectations), as well as the structures of argument and analysis, with an eye on developing reading and writing skills they can use in other courses across the College. Ultimately, students will come together as a community of writers who support one another as they reflect on their experiences and develop their own academic writing voices.
Preference given to first-year Amherst College students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Lecturer Reardon.Other years: Offered in Spring 2022, Spring 2023
This is a course about the ongoing, changing relationship between the three earliest forms of verbal artistic expression. Before there was drama, before there were novels, there were poems, songs, and stories, each a distinct genre but unimaginable without the others. Why did verbal art take those first forms? What are their defining features? What does each of them give us that the others don’t, or don’t quite? And in the modern context, in which they tend to be separated, what makes it possible for them to catalyze one another, to reveal one another’s qualities? What might a deepening awareness of their interrelationship make it possible for us to experience and understand?
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Sanborn.Other years: Offered in Spring 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.
Limited to 18 students. 10 seats will be reserved for first-year students. Fall semester. Lecturer Sweeney.Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Fall 2023
(Offered as ENGL 162 and BLST 162 [D]) African and African-descended people have a long-documented and intimate relationship to the natural world as a source of healing, nurture, and wealth. However, for a people who were stripped of their land in colonial Africa, exploited to work the land by European enslavers in the New World, and hung from trees in the American South, and who still have a precarious relationship to water in such places as Flint, Michigan, and post-Maria Puerto Rico, inhabiting the earth is complicated. How might we begin to tell this entangled history? What kinds of stories have Africans and their descendants developed to address their relationship with nature? What does the term “environmental justice” even mean to and for people of African descent today?
In this course, we will encounter a range of texts, including slave narratives, novels, poems, visual art, and performance written by and about Black subjects, to begin to understand how various authors, artists, and activists represent the rich relationship between blackness and the natural world. Readings may include works by Olaudah Equiano, W. E. B Du Bois, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Zora Neale Hurston, Derek Walcott, Jamaica Kincaid, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, T. Dungy, Britt Rusert, Kimberly N. Ruffin, among others.
Limited to 18 students. Ten seats reserved for first-year students. Fall semester. Professor Cobham-Sander.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 163 and BLST 163) This seminar introduces students to the study of African American arts and expressive culture. Deploying a broad, interdisciplinary approach, we survey influential works of twentieth and twenty-first century African American fiction, music, drama, painting, and photography in order to understand the tendencies and trends associated with what scholars sometimes refer to as “the black aesthetic.” We will pay particular attention to “masterpiece” works—i.e. extraordinary works of art that have been widely acknowledged as watershed, influential, and enduring. What makes a (black) work of art a “masterpiece”? How have African Americans historically turned to the arts and expressive culture as sites of sociopolitical critique? What role have artists played in building and sustaining what the poet Fred Moten refers to as “the black radical tradition” (i.e. a tradition of black resistance, rebellion, and creative worldmaking). Some of the masterpieces which we will explore will include Toni Morrison’s Beloved, August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, Romare Bearden’s The Block, Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, Suzan Lori Parks’s Top Dog/Underdog, James Vanderzee’s The Harlem Book of the Dead, Ellis Wilson’s Funeral Procession, Anna Deveare Smith’s Fires in the Mirror, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and Nina Simone’s Greatest Hits.
Fall semester. Professor Roberts.Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023
(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. Twelve seats reserved for first-year students. Open to first-year and sophomore students. Fall semester: Professor Hastie. Spring semester: Visiting Professor L. Shapiro Sanders.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
(Offered as ENGL 182, EDST 182 and FAMS 182) How has childhood been imagined across the twentieth century and into our own present? Since the Victorian era, childhood and the experience of being a child have been associated with innocence (and experience), nostalgia (and regret), and a simpler (while deeply complex) time of life. Yet across literature and media, childhood is constructed after the fact, by adults whose perceptions are shaped by their understanding of childhood as a distinct and discrete set of experiences. In this course, we will explore constructions of British and American childhoods on page, stage, and screen, exploring two foundational late Victorian/Edwardian intermedial texts (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan), before venturing on a journey exploring cinematic depictions of childhood over the course of the twentieth century. We will examine twentieth-century films depicting children and popular genres designed to appeal to child audiences; how media texts represent children as they navigate conceptions of gender, sexuality, race, and class; and children as both consumers and producers of media in the twenty-first century. Students will explore different genres and modes of expository writing, including personal essay and close textual analysis and do an independent, guided research project. Students will gain a familiarity with key terms and methodologies in English and Film & Media Studies; an ability to think and write critically about literary and cinematic texts; an awareness of historical, social and cultural perceptions of childhood in Britain and the United States; confidence in reading primary and secondary sources; and proficiency in analytical writing, including sentence-level clarity, building arguments, using evidence, and working with and appropriately citing a variety of sources.
This course is designed for entering first-year students. Non-English/FAMS majors and Five College students are welcome. Limited to 18 students. Eighteen seats reserved for first-year students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Professor Sanders.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 212 and ARHA 212) [Before 1800] This course will explore the major pictorial narrative traditions of Mesoamerica, focusing on manuscripts of the Aztec, Maya, and Mixtec peoples, as well as other media, including texts and images from murals, ceramics, monuments, and mirrors. These visual and narrative media continue to play important roles in the preservation of Indigenous identity, solidarity, and cultural identity within nation states; the course will examine public, popular, and fine arts reviving, repurposing, and supporting resistance using this imagery.
Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Lecturer Couch.2023-24: Not offered
[Before 1800] Until the recent past, and still in high schools and many collegiate institutions, courses that intend to survey American literature represent that oeuvre as nearly exclusively the work of white male writers. In this survey we will often encounter writings by American Indians from different nations, by women, by African Americans, as well as more commonly taught writers like Melville, Thoreau, and Emerson.
Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Emeritus O’Connell.2023-24: Not offered
Survey courses have in our time increasingly disappeared, except in most high schools. Attempts to make them sufficiently inclusive have seemed impossible. The chosen approach in this course is to concentrate on the remarkable literatures created by African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, bi-national writers, and working-class writers. We will also read “classic” writers like Willa Cather and Fitzgerald along with some of the working-class writers from the Thirties.
Omitted 2022-23. Professor Emeritus O’Connell.2023-24: Not offered
[Before 1800] What is “English Literature,” and how does one construct its history? What counts as “England” (especially in relation to Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, and to ancient Greece and Rome)? What is the relationship between histories of literature and political, social, religious and intellectual histories? What is the role of gender in the making of literature, and the making of its histories? These are the kinds of questions we will ask as we read texts from the seventh through the seventeenth centuries, including works such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (in translation) and writers from Chaucer and Margery Kempe in the Middle Ages to Margaret Cavendish and John Milton in the Renaissance.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Nelson.2023-24: Not offered
Poetry is an act of discovery. We write to discover what we don't know or understand aboutourselves and the world around us. To make these discoveries we must pay attention: practiceclose observation, question our assumptions, and test our truths.We must also pay attention to what’s happening in our bodies as we write: the breath, pulseand heartbeat that gives poetry life. When we practice embodied writing we include our wholeselves in our creative work.In many ways, poetry is a kind of research, and not so different than other fields. In this class,we'll look at poems that have curiosity and attention at their core: scientific, historic, culturaland social. We'll develop our abilities as researchers and writers through on-site exercises, thecultivation of a writer's notebook, close readings and regular writing practice.We'll look at poems by Elizabeth Bradfield, Tishani Doshi, Aracelis Girmay, Camille Dungy, JennGivhan, Layli Longsoldier, Danez Smith, Ross Gay and others, and make our own curious,embodied poem collections.The majority of our time will be spent practicing: there will be multiple writing assignmentseach week. Reading will be a crucial component of our efforts. Writing assignments anddiscussions of technique will be based in assigned texts. Both reading and writing assignmentswill address issues of form, musicality, syntax, imagery, diction and tone.The workshop format requires the constructive, critical attentions of each and every member ofthe class. We will discuss the ground-rules and work out the logistics of our workshop duringthe first class. Everyone should expect to read their work aloud, and the work of others, in class,many times during the semester. Class participants must be willing to read deeply, writeregularly, and engage in class discussions with energetic curiosity.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Spring semester: Visiting Professor Olander.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
This course explores the questions at the heart of creative nonfiction: What does it mean to tell a “true” story? And what does it mean to tell a true story “creatively”? A deep dive into essay, memoir, and genres of nonfiction that have yet to be named will allow us to form our own definitions of creative nonfiction. Through workshops that will encourage exploration, experimentation, and vulnerability, we will develop our own personal practices for writing from life. Writers in the earliest stages of their engagement with nonfiction are welcome, as well as writers who are seeking to hone their ongoing nonfiction writing and their possible senior projects. In Victor’s section, readings will draw from contemporary American writers of fiction and nonfiction such as Alexander Chee, Cord Jefferson, Jonathan Escoffery, T Kira Madden, Chanel Miller, Cheryl Strayed, Sheila Sundar, and Vanessa Veselka.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Section 01: Lecturer Sweeney. Section 02: Postdoctoral Fellow Yang.Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Fall 2023
How can we re-imagine ourselves and the world through our deeply felt personal questions? This course will focus on using personal non-fiction narratives to consider larger themes of politics, history, current events, and our ever-changing social reality. The course welcomes beginning writers who want to learn how to write more creatively without limiting censors and unnecessary judgment. The class will function as a cooperative workshop to help all write more fluently and with greater joy.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Writer-in-Residence Lee.2023-24: Not offered
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. Fall semester: Writer-in-Residence Lee and Professor Myiint. Spring semester: Lecturer D. Sweeney.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
(Offered as ENGL 228 and THDA 251) In this course, we will explore theories and practices of “liveness.” What do we feel as alive in literature, drama, film, and television? How do we experience liveness across the forms of media? How does live media vs. recorded media influence our perceptions of its authenticity, and how do we express authenticity in each form? We will explore these questions as we examine works from drama, music, and dance; digital marketing, social media, and social networking; political protest, news broadcasts, and public relations.
With this theoretical and critical background in mind, we will also work on adapting between media by taking an existing creative work and transforming it into a dynamic live-streamed event. Works may be in creative writing, theatre, dance, music, or similar form, and they can be an original creation or a work by another author.
Technological Requirements: To fully participate in the final project, students will be expected to have regular access to an iPhone or Android smartphone with a working camera and a Mac or Windows computer with a working camera. If you lack either of these things, we will work with Academic Technology Services to ensure you have access to this technology during the January term.
Completion of this course will include a live in-class performance on the final day. Previous experience in any form of live performance is encouraged, but not required.
Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Lecturer Bernitt.2023-24: Not offered
In this course, we will explore, through the reading and writing of fiction, our own personal journeys toward understanding race in America. Recognizing that these journeys are filled with myths, messiness, and mistakes, and that the truest stories are not always politically or socially comfortable to tell, we will look inward, rather than calling out. Together, we will create worlds on the page that are true to us and the people we love. Readings will draw from contemporary American writers of fiction and non-fiction such as Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, ZZ Packer, Danielle Evans, Ta-Nahisi Coates, Hilton Als, Jenny Zhang, Alexander Chee, and Anthony Veasna So. There will be very frequent writing, both through low-stakes reflections and in writing workshop with our peers.
Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Postdoctoral Fellow Yang.Other years: Offered in Fall 2022
Theater can boil things down to their essence, subjecting ideas and social issues to what one critic has called “great reckonings in little rooms." This course introduces you to the craft of play-reading by focusing your attention on exactly these sorts of “great reckonings.” Centered on the work of BIPOC, femme, and queer playwrights, this course features plays that tackle big issues but require few actors (three, two, one, or even none!) to produce.
As a foundational course in drama, this course will teach you the special skills involved in reading plays. As texts meant to be interpreted and staged by theater-makers, plays are radically under-determined things. As a reader, you cannot sit back and play the role of audience. You must also do the imaginative work of all those people–actors, directors, designers, etc.–who turn a play into a performance. This course will teach you the habits of mind that make this imaginative work possible.
Assessment in the course will be based on three things: (1) active participation in class discussions, (2) completion of regular reading responses, and (3) writing and revision of three mid-sized projects, one at the end of each four-week unit. These three projects will be modelled on the sort of documents routinely created as part of theater practice (and arts practice in general) today: a literary manager's reading reports, a dramaturg's research summaries, and community engagement or audience education/outreach plans.
Readings may include:
Yvette Nolan, The Unplugging
Tarell Alvin McCraney, The Brothers Size
Cherríe Moraga, Giving Up the Ghost
Paula Vogel, Baltimore Waltz
Lauren Yee, in a word
Antoinette Nwandu, Pass Over
Jen Silverman, The Roommate
Lloyd Suh, The Chinese Lady
Suzan-Lori Parks, Topdog/Underdog
Jasmine Lee-Jones, seven methods of killing kylie jenner
Caryl Churchill, A Number
Young Jean Lee, We're Gonna Die
Hannah Gadsby, Nanette
Anna Deavere Smith, Fires in the Mirror
David Greenspan, The Myopia
Nassim Soleimanpour, White Rabbit Red Rabbit
Heidi Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Grobe.2023-24: Not offered
[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. Omitted 2022-23. 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. Spring semester. Professor Worsley.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
An introduction to the genre of the novel and to the experiences that it affords. We will pay attention to the development of characters, to the complications and resolutions of plots, and to the ceaseless social framing of what it’s possible to express, but we will pay attention, as well, to less foregrounded things, like rhythm, motion, emotional atmospheres, and nonhuman presences. Students will read five novels, representing a range of types and styles, and write two ten-page papers.
Preference given to sophomores. Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Sanborn.Other years: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 251 and FAMS 251) How – or when – do we know if a film is a documentary? How does this knowledge, unreliable as it may be, shift our attitude toward the film, the people in it, and the world that it depicts? Documentary, perhaps most famously defined by the Scottish filmmaker John Grierson as “the creative representation of reality,” is as old as cinema itself, and to this day, debates rage on regarding the definition of documentary, and what, if anything, makes documentary films distinct from their fictional counterparts. This course will offer a historical survey of these debates to understand how the cinematic practice of representing reality has given rise to distinct formal conventions, film movements, ethical problems, political commitments, institutional frameworks, and communities of practitioners and spectators. Students will watch a dazzling array of difficult-to-find films from around the world, hear lectures on different methods and perspectives on studying documentary, and produce regular reading responses, textual analyses, and argument-driven essays.
Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Rangan.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL-252 and BLST-152) This course is a survey of nineteenth and twentieth century African American literature (and its attendant scholarly criticism). We will begin in the nineteenth century with the literature of black freedom, bondage, and abolition (vis-à-vis the work of writers such as Frederick Douglass, Henry Box Brown and Harriet Jacobs). From there, we will move to the twentieth century canon with a focus on four major historical periods and “movements”: the Harlem Renaissance, 1940 and 1950s Naturalism and Realism, the Black Arts Movement, and black literature in the post-soul/post-civil rights eras. Novelists and writers discussed will include Nella Larsen, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Ann Petry, Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson, Ntozake Shange, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Octavia Butler. Students should leave this course with a firm foundation in major debates/approaches to the study of African American literature.
Spring Semester. Professor Roberts.2023-24: Not offered
This course provides an introduction to literary modernism in two parts, each part in dialogue with the other. First, in their words: we will look at how early twentieth-century writers described their own formal experiments and aesthetic agendas. This section will pair modernist manifestos and critical essays with fiction and poetry written by those same authors. Second, in their worlds: we will examine the historical, geographical, and cultural dimensions of these famous literary experiments. This section pairs modernist primary works with brief readings focused on World War I, colonization and decolonization, the Harlem Renaissance, and urban technology. When it comes to the dynamic relationship between words and worlds, our goal will be synthesis rather than separation. How does historical change relate to changes in literary form?
Possible authors include Mulk Raj Anand, Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Langston Hughes, James Joyce, Nella Larsen, Katherine Mansfield, Ezra Pound, and Virginia Woolf.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Abramson.2023-24: Not offered
This course is an exploration of the ways in which African literature can be read as a philosophical engagement concerned with a critique of modern epistemology (David Diop's poems, Amadou Hampate Ba, Kaidara, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Ambiguous Adventure) and a theory of being (Tsitsi Dangarembga: Nervous Conditions, Ngugi WaThiongo: Petals of Blood) leading to a political engagement with the question of the good life in a good society (NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names, Blitz Bazawule, The scent of Burnt Flowers and Nnedi Okarafor’s Who Fears Death). The ultimate goal of the course is to explore how works of African literature ask: How did particular ways of thinking of the world lead to the invention of Africa and how can African ontologies offer a way out of the pervasiveness of coloniality? What really does it mean to be African, a version of a more general question that has dominated the history of philosophy: what does it mean to be human? And finally, how do African epistemologies and ontologies allow for radical political outlooks enabling the realization of a propitious society for the good life of its citizens.
Students will, at the end of the course, develop a clear understanding of the relation between literature and philosophy in the African context and have a good sense of the history of African literature and philosophy, with a good command of key figures, ideas, and debate that have dominated African literature and philosophy for the past 70 years.
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Thiam.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 256 and BLST 256 [D]) In this course, we will develop a thoughtful understanding of the idea of Africa and the African diaspora and a complex appreciation of the meanings of black presence in the world. We will ask five questions that will allow us to explore the ways literary and philosophical texts from Africa and the African Diaspora challenge the Global Matrix of Power, question anti-Black racism in philosophy, literature, and cultural studies, and shape conceptions of being and identity in Africa and the African diaspora, namely: What is Africa? What is the African-Diaspora? How do these concepts engage with each other? How does race help make sense of both? How does the comparative analysis of the lived experiences of people of African descent allow us to understand the limits of Western modernity, question coloniality, and comprehend people of African descent’s presence in the world? These questions will be examined from the perspectives of three pivotal movements in African literature: Negritude (Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism and Leopold Seda Senghor, selected essays), the postcolonial and decolonial traditions (Ngugi Wathiong’o, Decolonizing the Mind and Cheikh Hamidou Kane, The Ambiguous Adventure), and Afropolitanism and the Afro-chic (Chimanda Adichie, Americanah, Taiye Selasie, Ghana Must Go, and Blitz Bazawule, The scent of Burnt Flowers). These readings will be supplemented by visual material and Afrobeat music. Students will develop a clear understanding of processes that lead to the “invention” of Africa, learn how to synthesize historical processes, key figures, and ideas that have led to contemporary conceptions of Africa and the Diaspora, and refine their critical thinking and writing skills.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Thiam.2023-24: Not offered
What has Orientalism got to do with speculative science fiction? How does the history of Asia intersect with French and British colonialism? What does the “Asian Century” have in store for us? This course surveys the emerging field of Transnational Asian Studies through the lens of gender, empire, capitalism and migration. The course traces the historical flows and contemporary exchanges rising out of the vast and diverse Asian continent through literary texts, scholarly writing, and visual media. The course will explore categories such as “Asian/American,” “Afro-Asian,” “coolie” and “transnational” among others, while critiquing early iterations of the field for its United States-centric focus.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Lecturer Gooptu.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 260 and FAMS 334) The word “podcast” was coined in 2004 as a portmanteau of “broadcast” and “iPod.” As the name implies, podcasts were born when an old mode of audio transmission (radio broadcast) met a new technology (portable mp3 players like Apple’s iPod, or rather RSS feeds adapted to handle audio files). But even back then, “podcasts” were more than just time-delayed radio programs you could carry around in your pocket. They also included a wide range of born-podcast formats: free-flowing talk shows, scripted audio-essays, anthologies of audio-journalism, etc.
In this course, we will study the historical origins and contemporary range of podcasts as a medium for writing and performance. We will consider how this medium has absorbed genres from other media (memoir, essay, drama, documentary, fiction, etc.) and combined them in innovative ways. We will also explore genres made possible for the first time by podcasts—whether by their ability for on-demand playback, by their low cost of distribution, or by their openness to audio-experimentation.
The primary skills taught by this course are careful listening and analytic writing. This is not a course in podcast production. It will, however, require you to analyze podcasts by “quoting” them in audio-essays of your own devising. As such, this course will teach you some basic script-writing and audio-editing skills.
No limit. Fall semester. Professor Grobe.Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023
This course introduces students to modernist literature and culture, with a thematic focus on modernist cityscapes. We will study literary works by T. S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, James Joyce, Nella Larsen, Jean Rhys, and Virginia Woolf, among others, alongside photography and early cinema, reading these texts against historical and critical discussions of the role of the city in shaping modern experience. Among other topics, we will explore modernist experimentation with form and voice, and the imperative to “make it new”; war, violence, and trauma; race, gender, sexuality, and the nation; and the relationship between politics and aesthetics. Writing assignments will include forum posts, short essays, and a final research paper.
Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor L. Shapiro Sanders.2023-24: Not offered
The participants in this online course will read letters and write letters. This course became radically enhanced with the distancing imposed as COVID-19 exiled us from campus last spring.
The course depends both on experiences and experiments with the letter as a complex instrument of communication, as literary artefact, as carrier of affect, intention and ideas, and as a record of individual and communal growth. Letter writing will be practiced as a performance that deploys persona, tone, voice, purpose, persuasion, transparency, and decorum. Your discoveries and the development of your thoughts will be circulated as letters written among a small circle of correspondence.
Readings will include letters written by Paul, Seneca, Martin Luther King, Biddy Martin, Dorothy Osborne, John Keats, Rainer Maria Rilke, Lou Andreas-Salomé, Sigmund Freud, Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva, Robert Oppenheimer. The reading of epistolary novels will focus our attention on fictional uses of the form (Daddy Longlegs, Dangerous Liaisons, Screwtape Letters). We will also pay attention to the current evolution of letter writing in the time of e-mail and social media, and social isolation.
Capstone projects will be organized as researched and curated presentations of selected online manuscript letters, or as a compiled and analyzed collection of personal or family letters, or as epistolary fiction.
In addition to the expected use of Zoom and emergency uses of Skype, students are expected to become familiar with: Google Drive, Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides; Dropbox; Microsoft Word, Power Point, and Excel; Audible and Kindle; parabol.co; and ProQuest Ebook Central.
Omitted 2022-23. Lecturer B. Sánchez-Eppler.Other years: Offered in Fall 2023
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.
Omitted 2022-23. Professor K. Sánchez-Eppler.2023-24: Not offered
This course is an introduction to the art, culture, and history of the Philippines through the narrative spaces of literature. While small in size, the 7,107 islands that make up the Philippines have played an important role in geopolitics, and the scars of a deeply conflicted history of occupation by the Spanish, Americans, and Japanese are evident in the literature. Reading a mixture of canonical and emerging authors will help us understand the complex legacies of colonialism in the islands and in the diaspora.
As a discipline, Asian American Studies has deep roots in social justice activism, and many of the texts we will read are responding to colonial and national structures of power. We will pay close attention to the ways in which art identifies, protests, resists, and survives structures of inequality within and between societies. By nature this is an interdisciplinary project, drawing from history, literature, fine art, and sociology to understand how the literature of the Philippines has changed over time. Our questions will consider the relationships between nation and space, diverse embodiments of national identity and ethnicity, and the cultural and historical contexts that inform these issues.
While the literature of the Philippines is written in many different languages, this course will be concerned with translated and English texts.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Lecturer Ocasion.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. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Cobham-Sander.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 280 and FAMS 210) An introduction to cinema studies through consideration of key critical terms, together with a selection of various films (classic and contemporary, foreign and American, popular and avant-garde) for illustration and discussion. The terms for discussion may include, among others: modernity, montage, realism, visual pleasure, ethnography, choreography, streaming, and consumption. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Guilford.Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023
(Offered as ENGL 283 and FAMS 234) What stories does television tell? And how does it tell them? This course will approach television’s narratives through a focus on both form and content. We will take into account issues of production, distribution, and exhibition, with attention both to historical developments and contemporary transformations to the medium. In this way, we will explore how shifts in programming, platforms, and viewing habits alter both televisual narration and consumption. By considering television’s specific form–whether commercial networks, cable TV, or subscription platforms like Netflix and Hulu–we will query how this specific media format enables or limits the ways it tells stories and what stories it tells. Each iteration of this course will focus on particular forms of narrative programming, through an emphasis on genre, format, historical eras, or cultural facets. Readings will include key critical works in Television Studies, essays on particular television series, and other works that situate television texts in a broader cultural framework and history. The goal of the course is to think through narrative form, representational systems, authorship, exhibition, and reception habits in order to define not just what television narrative is but also what it can be.
The focus of the course for Fall 2022 will be on “seriality.” We will begin by grounding our study in examples from the broadcast era. We will then shift to an exploration of contemporary serials, particularly in the context of digital platforms and the experience of streaming.
Limited to 45 students. Fall semester. Professor Hastie.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 284 and FAMS 216) What do we mean when we talk about “the media”? Coming to Terms: Media will parse this question, approaching the media not as a shadowy monolith but as a complex and changing environment comprised of varied technologies, formats, practices, devices, and platforms (e.g.: photography, gramophone records, online dating, smartphones, Netflix). The course will introduce key terms and critical approaches for the study of modern media in their specificity in an era of digital mediation. We will ask questions such as: What are the formal and technical features of different media? How do they construct us as spectators or users, and shape our perception of the world we inhabit? How do our media practices produce experiences of space, time, and community? And crucially, what are the ideological impacts of these perceptions, constructions, and practices when it comes to race, sex, identity, and the circulation of power and capital?
Each week students will encounter important works of twentieth- and twenty-first-century media and cultural theory and will encounter concrete examples to flesh out the abstract concepts in the readings and engage in ample class participation. Assignments will encourage students to enter into a conversation with these texts as a way of exploring and constructing arguments about contemporary media. The course will provide a strong foundation for advanced work in film and media studies, and related disciplines.
This course has no prerequisites, but it is best suited to students who have completed a 100-level course dealing with the analysis of literature or film. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Rangan.Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2022, Fall 2023
(Offered as ENGL 287 and FAMS 212) This course is designed to introduce students to key issues in film studies, focusing on the history of American cinema from 1895 to 1960. We will pay particular attention to the “golden age” of Hollywood, with forays into other national cinemas by way of comparison and critique. Screenings will range from actualities and trick films, to the early narrative features of D. W. Griffith, to the development of genres including film noir (Double Indemnity), the woman’s film of the 1940s (Now, Voyager), the western (Stagecoach) and the suspense film (Rear Window). Reading and writing assignments and in-class discussions will address how to interpret film on the formal/stylistic level (sequence analysis, close reading, visual language) as well as in the context of major trends and figures in film history. A weekly viewing journal will be expected, as a record of students’ critical responses to the films. In addition, three formal essays are required: a 3-5 page sequence analysis; a 6-8 page critical explication of a piece of film criticism (a scholarly article or book chapter) not already assigned for the course; and a final research paper (8-10 pages), to be revised in conjunction with a peer review workshop. By the end of the semester, students can expect to gain the following: a familiarity with key terms in film language and film analysis; an ability to think and write critically about film, its aesthetics, historical development, technology, and cultural context; an overview of some key films in American cinema history from the silent era to 1960; an appreciation of different film genres, their structure, iconic language, and ideological/cultural meanings; and confidence in reading critical/theoretical essays in film criticism and history.
Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Professor Sanders.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 289 and FAMS 227) This course focuses on global cinema during the silent era (1895-1927). We will explore the wide range of films produced in cinema’s first three decades, including early actualities, animation, trick films, serials, melodrama, and experimental film. Readings in film history will assist us in investigating the rise of classical narrative, the studio system, star and fan culture, and the transition to sound. In addition to studying the work of Charlie Chaplin, Sergei Eisenstein, D. W. Griffith, Georges Méliès, and Dziga Vertov, the course will highlight filmmaking by women and people of color including Alice Guy-Blaché, Oscar Micheaux, and Lois Weber, among others. A weekly viewing journal will be expected, as a record of students’ critical responses to the films. In addition, three formal essays are required: a 3-5 page sequence analysis; a 5-6 page critical explication of a piece of film criticism (a scholarly article or book chapter) not already assigned for the course; and a final research paper (8-10 pages), to be revised in conjunction with a peer review workshop.
This course will run primarily online, with periodic small-group meetings for students who are in residence on campus and parallel small-group meetings for remote students. The additional evening time slot will provide opportunities for students to screen films and engage in structured small-group discussion synchronously, whether remotely or in person. There may be additional opportunities for in-person meetings (including office hours) as the semester progresses.
Recommended requisite: ENGL 180/FAMS 110, Film and Writing, or an equivalent 100-level course. Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Professor Sanders.2023-24: Not offered
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 psychoanalytic thought and psychoanalytic literary interpretation. Freud famously reads Jensen’s short story Gradiva as a case history, but we will seek out ways of reading literature and psychoanalysis together that go beyond diagnosing characters or authors. How is psychoanalytic theory itself literary? How can it help to open up, rather than reduce, our reading experience? And how does literature in turn help to enrich, deepen, challenge and enliven psychoanalytic theories of subject-formation, language, and interpersonal relations? Putting psychoanalytic and fictional texts in conversation, topics of particular interest may include: dreams, desire, sexuality, mourning, trauma, the unconscious, the uncanny, anxiety, embodiment, racialization, paranoia and the reparative impulse. Psychoanalytic readings will be drawn from Freud, Klein, Lacan, Winnicott, Bollas, Khan, Phillips, Riviere, Fanon, Milner, Sedgwick, Felman, and others. Literary texts change from year to year.
Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Mireles Christoff.2023-24: Not offered
The premise of this course is that ecological thinking is now an essential foundation of literary studies. Our primary focus will be on the way in which 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.” Through a not-only-intellectual immersion in the reading and discussion of a range of literary works, including Frankenstein, Walden, Dickinson’s poems, Kafka’s stories, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Winter in the Blood, we will develop an understanding of literature as, among other things, an expression and extension of life as such. Along the way, we will ask questions like these: What happens to our understanding of literature if we accept that it has emerged from a non-personal, non-teleological process of evolution? What happens to our understanding of authorship if we accept that human animals are neither autonomous nor self-governing? And what might happen if we were to think of individual works of literature as ways of getting closer, conceptually and sensually, to life, to the difference-making process within which we all find ourselves?
Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Sanborn.
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 turning it into a spectacle? These questions and others like them are difficult, but the aim of this course is to generate an intellectual and emotional atmosphere in which we can be transformed by the process of taking them up. Readings include The Book of Job, King Lear, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Sanborn.Other years: Offered in Fall 2023
An upper-level workshop for students interested in exploring larger projects in poetry or in hybrid forms. We will study chapbooks, long poems, sequences, docupoetics and other work that expands our understanding of the genre. Students will design a chapbook-length (20-25 page) project to write and revise over the course of the semester. Readings may include Terrance Hayes, C.D. Wright, Banu Kapil, Theresa Cha, Alice Notely, M. Norbse Phillips, Jorie Graham, Rita Dove, Maggie Nelson, Sahar Muradi, Ilya Kaminsky, Alice Oswald, Victoria Chang, Anne Carson, Kazim Ali and Claudia Rankine.
Limited to 12 students. Omit. The Department.Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2016, Fall 2018, Fall 2023
[Before 1800] Imagine a world where the novel was truly a novel form, and where newspapers were a new idea, and where print had only recently been commercialized. The eighteenth century was a time of great flux in Britain and the US, not only in terms of political change and scientific discovery, but also in terms of the literary world. Poets were beginning to panic that their genre was no longer the dominant mode. Daily journals were changing how people perceived the way time passed. Testimonies from abroad were changing people’s awareness of the world at large. Women were reading in secret, since the men around them often tried to restrict which genres they had access to. Writers who wrote for profit were called “hacks.” Even the very idea of the professional author was under question. In this course, we will consider many different genres of writing, including novels, memoirs, newspapers, lectures, journal articles, travel narratives, plays, and poems, during a period when massive innovations were taking place. Although the majority of the texts we will discuss will be those published in the eighteenth century, we will begin the course with some seventeenth-century texts (such as John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Francis Bacon’s essays), in order to more fully understand the creative vision of eighteenth-century writers like Daniel Defoe, Joseph Addison, Jonathan Edwards, Anne Finch, Laurence Sterne, Phillis Wheatley, Jane Austen, and Olaudah Equiano. There will be an emphasis on engaging with these texts as they were originally printed, with a chance to engage with archival materials. The course will end with a consideration of how notions of the difference between authors of different genres still persist in the present day.
Recommended requisite: Previous English class preferred. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Worsley.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 308 and LLAS 308) In this course, we will read and discuss recent works of Latinx literature across genres – novel, poetry, memoir, essay, and YA – in engagement with the live debates surrounding language, race, migration, and global capitalism that shape our definitions of Latinx identity and culture (and of literature itself). We will also experiment with different ways of responding to these literary texts in written forms ranging from creative writing to book review to research prospectus. Possible authors may include: Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, Dolores Dorantes, Angie Cruz, Valeria Luiselli, Raquel Salas Rivera, Natalie Diaz, Elizabeth Acevedo, and more.
Fall semester. Limited to 20 students. Professor Mireles Christoff.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2018, Fall 2022, Fall 2023
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. Fall semester. Professors Christoff and Frank.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 316 and SWAG 316) “From whence comes my help?” “From where does your strength come?” The psalmist and Adrienne Rich ask these questions, which we will face while we read coming-of-age narratives that fit in a genre known by its German name, the Bildungsroman. These novels go beyond the pilgrimage out of adolescence, and into explicit representation of intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual growth experienced in unison with sexual development, awakenings, thrills, mishaps, and marriage. We will pay attention to how we immerse ourselves into the condition of those who grow on the page; not to “identify” with the characters, but to accompany them. From our immersive accompaniment we will re-emerge–intentionally–to write about how we progress, digress, regress, and grow some more. As we read we will explore many terms and theoretical concerns: Erik Erickson on life stages; Donald Winnicott on holding environment and object relation; Jacques Lacan on mirrors and interminability of desire; Silvan Tomkins on affects and nuclear scripts; Shoshana Feldman on re-reading, un-learning, en-gendering, and–again–desire.
Readings will likely include: Plato, Phaedrus; Susan Choi, Trust Exercise; Lazarillo de Tormes; Teresa de Avila, Interior Castle; John Woolman, The Journal; Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse; Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot; Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous; Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre; James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook; Richard Powers, The Overstory.
Fall semester. Lecturer B. Sánchez-Eppler.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 321 and BLST 372) This course examines US Afro-Latino memoirs and their African American influences. Students will learn about the formal structures and thematic concerns that inform life writing in general and the post-1965 Afro-Latino memoir in particular. The course brings particular attention to the African American narrative strategies, cultural tropes, and political philosophies that inform the Afro-Latino memoir. Students will explore how concepts like triple-consciousness, hypo-descent, mestizaje, literary ancestry, symbolic geography, the memory of slavery, Pan-Africanism, Black nationalism, and Black and Post-Black aesthetics shape coming of age narratives in Afro-Latino memoirs. The course highlights Afro-Latino agency, resistance, and identity formation.
Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Lecturer Masiki.2023-24: Not offered
"It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately, to the notion that something can also be gained." Salman Rushdie
What can we learn about the craft of poetry through the practice of translation? How can engaging with poetry in another language (even in translation) transform our own thinking and writing? This class will explore these questions by reading and translating poetry from around the world and across the centuries. Readings from Homer, Sappho, Catullus, Montale, Ghalib, Mir and a variety of contemporary Arab poets will be augmented with a mix of essays on the practical and theoretical aspects of translation. Students will experiment with a variety of translation-inspired writing exercises and design a final translation project of their choice. There is no language requirement.
Limited to 12 students. Spring semester. Lecturer Kapur.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2023
How do stories move? What are the uses and limitations of the term “plot” in describing movement or development in narrative? What culturally-specific assumptions and expectations about storytelling are bound up with conventional notions of plot, and how can we, as writers and readers, unravel them? In this advanced fiction writing course, students will explore these questions and more through writing, reading, sharing, and thoughtfully critiquing fiction that challenges, resists, or forgoes linear or sequential narrative. Readings will include Steven Dunn’s Water and Power, Gordon Henry Junior’s The Light People, Valeria Luiselli’s The Lost Children Archives, and Patrick Cottrell’s Sorry to Disrupt the Peace, among others. Writers of all aesthetic styles, including plot-driven writers, are welcome. The aim of this course is to build a nurturing and inclusive classroom community where all students can cultivate confidence in their work and writing process.
Requisite: ENGL 226 Fiction Writing I. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Myint.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2022, Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 330 and EUST 330) [Before 1800] By many accounts, a concept of “race” does not emerge in the West until the colonizing of the New World in the Renaissance. Yet medieval people had many ways of identifying, exoticizing, excluding, and discriminating against “others.” This was often framed in terms of religion (e.g., Christianity vs. Islam), but it also manifests in terms of physiognomic description and ideas of monstrosity in medieval romances and quest narratives. In this course, we will explore how the “othering” of certain medieval peoples creates a racialized language and discourse at once specific to the Middle Ages and its literature and relevant to our current understanding of race. We will read from medieval travel narratives (The Travels of Sir John Mandeville), crusade romances (Richard Coer de Lion), medieval drama, and romances by Chaucer and others alongside critical race theory and historical scholarship to give context to our discussions. We will also explore how the Middle Ages have been racialized in contemporary political and popular discourse. Our course will include visitors working at the vanguard of these debates.
Limited to 25 students. Professor Nelson.2023-24: Not offered
[Before 1800] Geoffrey Chaucer’s medieval masterwork, The Canterbury Tales, represents pilgrims from all walks of life, from peasants to artisans to nobility, telling tales that are comical, tragic, religious, and fantastical. In this course, we read almost the entirety of the Tales in its original language. The course aims to give the student rapid mastery of Chaucer’s English and an active appreciation of his poetry. Our focus will be on Chaucer’s poetry and the ethical and political questions this complex and delightful literary work raises, and how we can understand these questions within a modern context. No prior knowledge of Middle English is expected, although a knowledge of grammar in English or another Western language will be helpful.
Fall semester. Professor Nelson.2023-24: Not offered
Fashion has long been associated with frivolity, ephemerality, and triviality. Yet trends in clothing and design are irrevocably linked to politics, economics, technology, society, and cultural change—from hats to hemlines to heels, fashion can reveal the transformations of an era. How has fashion evolved, and what is its relationship to literature, film, and other media forms? What can fashion teach us about our past, present, and future? In this course, we will examine the vicissitudes of fashion from the nineteenth century onward, paying particular attention to modes of performance, spectacle, and display in modernist literary and cultural texts. The course will focus on Britain, Europe, and the United States, but with an eye toward the role of imperialism, Orientalism, and cultural appropriation in shaping fashion’s tangled histories. Several shorter essays and a longer research project will be required.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Professor L. Shapiro Sanders.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 352 and AMST 355) In this course, we will leave the classroom and get out on the land. The class begins in winter, a time when many people huddle indoors. We will instead go outside and read the winterland, beginning with a tracking workshop. Readings will include Robin Kimmerer’s influential essay, “The Language of Animacy,” which uses the lens of Indigenous languages to reconsider the boundaries of personhood. We will discuss how language shapes the ways in which we categorize other beings, such as animals and trees, as well as other humans. Our close reading of land and texts will enable us to see how our “reading practices” are shaped by language. Spring will take us to local waterways, including Amherst College’s Wildlife Sanctuary and the Quabbin Reservoir, where we will read William Cronon’s classic essay, “The Trouble with Wilderness” in relation to these built environments. Lauret Savoy’s Trace will lead us to consider our embodied experiences and histories in relation to the places where we live. Throughout, we will grapple with critical questions. How are concepts like “nature” and “culture” intertwined with constructions of race and gender? How has the conservation of “wilderness” been entangled with colonial dispossession and removal? Even as we spend much of our class time on the ground, we will cultivate the craft of writing as a deliberative, interactive process, with frequent informal writing, collaborative workshops and creative nonfiction.
Please note that the course meeting times are listed as M-Th, 9am-1pm to allow for flexibility. The class will meet only twice a week but the two days and the amount of meeting time will depend on the weather and location, including drive time. Students will not spend more than eight hours/week in class.
Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Brooks.Other years: Offered in Spring 2022
In this course, we will be studying the relationship between the national acceleration toward war and the imaginative activities of US writers between 1830 and 1865. Through our readings of Emerson, Douglass, Melville, Stowe, Whitman, Jacobs, and others, we will learn about what happened over the course of those 35 years and, at the same time, learn from the examples of those extraordinary writers. As the nation was doubling in size and getting closer to splitting in half, those writers kept trying to find, in pressurized, transfiguring language, a way of getting from where they were to somewhere better. In the increasingly warlike atmosphere of our times, there may be an even greater value to what they achieved.
Omitted 2022-23. Professor Sanborn.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 355 and AMST 364) Emily Dickinson’s poetry is rich in what she called “illocality.” Her writing characteristically dissolves images and refuses specificity of place or event, and yet no writer is more intimately connected to a particular place. Dickinson wrote almost all of her poems in this one house on Main Street, in Amherst. Coursework will include a project done in conjunction with The Emily Dickinson Museum, newly opened and significantly restored after two years of pandemic closure. In this course we will have the extraordinary opportunity to read these poems in Amherst, to study both her individual life and her practices of literary expression in the place where she lived and wrote and with access to her manuscripts and to many of the spaces, artifacts, and records of family and local history. It is a complicated history, and starting with new scholarship on the roles the Dickinson family played in the white settlement of the Connecticut River Valley, this class will be particularly attuned to the inequalities of race, class, and gender that structure Dickinson's poetic practice and legacy.
Preference given to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Professor K. Sánchez-Eppler.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 359 and EDUC 359) Almost 60% of Americans now experience economic struggles. When they can they struggle to balance food, housing, medical care, clothing, and other needs. There are, at the same time, some 600 billionaires whose combined wealth exceeds that of all other Americans. Yet in 1970, a mere fifty years ago, the United States had the most equitable economic order in the world, and probably in history.
Our course moves around the country and among individuals and groups trying to survive scarcities of many kinds. This is not a literature course but one that does often engage language, how people speak their experience. It will be a journey in exploration.
Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Emeritus O’Connell.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 360 and BLST 360) This course explores the life and writings of American author James Baldwin. Born in poverty-stricken Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance (where he spent his childhood as a Pentecostal boy-preacher), Baldwin went on to become one of the twentieth century’s most influential essayists, novelists, orators, and political commentators---particularly around issues related to American race relations. Unapologetically black, queer, and radical—Baldwin’s writings have become a source of resurgent public interest, particularly in the wake of today’s turbulent U.S. political climate. In this course we will study key moments in Baldwin’s oeuvre and situate the author’s work in a variety of relevant historical “contexts” (such as in the contexts of the American civil rights movement; the black power movement; the gay liberation movement, and the contemporary movement for black lives). We will pay particular attention to reoccurring themes that sit at the center of Baldwin’s political philosophy including: the power of love as an animating force for social transformation; the resilient nature of black resistance; the role and responsibility of artists- as-troublemakers; the limitations of white “ally-ship,” the dangers (and creative possibilities) of organized religion; and the ongoing “problem” of global white supremacy. In addition, we will place Baldwin’s writings in conversation with the voices of some of his contemporaries and literary progeny. One primary concern will be how to place Baldwin’s writings in conversation with current debates about race, gender, sexuality, and politics in contemporary America. Why does Baldwin’s work seem to resonate so forcefully with the social justice concerns of today— and to what ends?
Fall semester. Professor Roberts.Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023
In Jenny Boully’s essay, “On the EEO Genre Sheet,” she writes, “I am sometimes called a poet, sometimes an essayist, sometimes a lyric essayist, sometimes a prose poet. My second book was published under the guise of fiction/poetry/essay. I find these categorizations odd: I’ve never felt anything but whole.” In this course we will read works by contemporary Asian-American authors that defy and/or exceed genre expectations and examine these texts’ relationship to wholeness and hybridity. This is not an introductory course on “Asian-American literature,” but a course that will interrogate the term “Asian-American,” both as a marker of identity and of literary genre. Central to the course will be class visits (virtual and in-person) from local and visiting authors we read. Readings may include works by Jenny Boully, Lily Hoang, Janice Lee, Mary-Kim Arnold, Julietta Singh.
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Myint.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 369 and FAMS 369)
In the last decade, a wave of discourse on “world-making” has spread through diverse registers of contemporary culture, including popular media, activism, critical theory, and art criticism. In this course, we will survey a range of film scholarship that examines what it means to speak of “cinematic worlds,” and why cinema is so closely associated with world-making practices. Yet we will also ask whether cinema’s status as a world-making technology is a good thing, and whether we—as worldly inhabitants—should be working to preserve, reconstruct, or dismantle the world itself. We will explore these issues through weekly screenings of films from various genres (such as science-fiction, animation, experimental cinema, fantasy, and documentary). And we will also read and discuss critical texts from related fields that often feature in analyses of cinema’s worldliness (such as queer theory, Black studies, ecocriticism, and political theory), asking what lessons such disciplines hold for makers and viewers of film. Readings may include: Jennifer Fay, Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene (Oxford UP, 2018); Jennifer L. Feeley and Sarah Ann Wells, eds., Simultaneous Worlds: Global Science Fiction Cinema (U. Minnesota, 2015); Karl Schoonover and Rosalind Galt, Queer Cinema in the World (Duke UP, 2016); Tiffany Lethabo King, et al., Otherwise Worlds: Against Settler Colonialism and Anti-Blackness (Duke UP, 2020); and others.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Guilford.2023-24: Not offered
[Before 1800] What was magic in the early modern world? Why did it cause a crisis in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? How did that crisis shape the literature of its time? We will follow competing ideas about magic as they ran like wildfire through the imagination of artists, playwrights, and preachers from medieval Germany through Renaissance England to Puritan Massachusetts. We will ask how magic in its apparently beneficial forms, such as alchemy and astrology, might relate to the supposedly malevolent practices of witchcraft, which yielded notorious trials and brutal executions on both sides of the Atlantic. Why did cultures balanced between religion and science become obsessed with magic? How did the fear and wonder that it evoked find its way into art? And what can literary figures of witches and sorcerers still tell us about our modern fantasies of self-empowerment and the counter-threat of demonic possession?
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Bosman.Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Fall 2022
(Offered as ENGL 374 and FAMS 374) Gothic fictions are known for their ability to send shivers down the spine, evoking sensations of discomfort, fear, and horror. This interdisciplinary course will explore the genre of the Gothic from its roots in the late eighteenth century through the present, moving among literature, film, television, and digital media forms. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein will be a key text; we will explore intermedial texts like Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Bram Stoker’s Dracula; and the course will end with twenty-first century incarnations of the Gothic (Get Out, Penny Dreadful). Throughout, we will discuss the tangled relationship between sexuality, race, and power that characterizes the genre. Students will develop a creative project, whether a piece of short fiction or a visual/digital exploration of Gothic themes, keep a weekly reading/viewing journal of their responses to the assigned texts, and facilitate discussion on a given text. In addition, students will write a 3- to 5-page close textual analysis, with a mandatory peer review workshop and revision, and a final research paper (10-12 pages) or creative project. Students will gain a familiarity with key literary and film/media studies terms and approaches; an understanding of major works in the Gothic and horror genres; an ability to think and write critically about Gothic literature and related media, in terms of aesthetics, historical development, and cultural context; confidence in reading critical/theoretical essays in literary studies, cultural studies, and film and media studies; and proficiency in various aspects of project-based work, including identifying a research topic, building arguments, using evidence, and working with and appropriately citing a variety of sources.
Requisite: A 200-level foundations course in English or Film & Media Studies, or equivalent. Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Professor Sanders.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 375 and FAMS 317) Ghosts, vampires, madwomen, and typists: what do these figures have in common? In this course, we will investigate the characters and events that made the Victorian period the age of sensation, from the rise of popular fiction and the illustrated newspaper to the introduction of new methods for viewing and experiencing the world on a global scale. The course will focus on nineteenth-century Britain, exploring the ways in which Victorian fiction, poetry, and print and visual media give voice to the period’s obsession with sensory experience. We will read Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, a tale of deception, mistaken identity and madness, alongside works by Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti, Sheridan Le Fanu, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Bram Stoker, among others. Historians of “old” media–including telegraphy, photography, and early cinema–will assist us in exploring new technologies for communication in the nineteenth century, while media archaeologists and theorists of ephemerality, memory, and the archive will deepen our understanding of the relationship between past and present media cultures. Three formal essays will be required: a literary close reading (3-4 pages); a critical explication of a scholarly article (4-5 pages); and a final research project (a 10-12 page paper or a digital humanities project of similar length and scope).
Requisite: A 200-level foundations course in English. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Professor Sanders.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 378 and FAMS 382)
Calls to defund the police may have helped to cancel the notorious reality program COPS, but crime scenes, courtrooms, cops, lawyers, victims, and vigilantes dominate our media and our imaginations. This course asks what needs to be abolished—not just canceled—in our media environment in order for us to imagine a world without prisons. Abolition is, at its core, a transformative project that aims to change the very social relations, conditions, and logics that produce the harms for which police and prisons seem to serve as solutions. A project that once took on the seemingly impossible challenge of ending slavery, abolition has become a movement of interlinked struggles against systemic oppression. We will examine a range of media, historical and contemporary, cinematic and televisual, fictional and documentary, global and local, through the lens of abolition, deconstructing carceral scenarios and affects, and discovering and imagining transformative approaches to narrative, healing, and justice. Students enrolling in this course should be prepared to take on a range of activities including and beyond weekly readings, film/media viewing, and analytical writing, such as independent and collaborative research, site-based field work (if public health guidelines permit), and optional creative media assignments.
Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Rangan.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 383 and FAMS 360] What’s intimate about cinema? And what, if anything, is cinematic about intimacy? Since its invention, cinema has been closely associated with intimate experience, though understandings of this association have shifted over time. For classical film theorists, cinema’s intimate devices (the close-up, the kiss, etc.) were often invested with revolutionary 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 a range of intimate film cultures–from early cinema to surrealism, classical Hollywood, Black British film, and queer world cinema–this course will explore the intimate dimensions of filmic representation and reception, and the reasons cinema’s intimacy has been both celebrated and denounced. Assignments include in-class presentations, critical essays, and weekly entries in personal film journals.
Requisite: One 200-level ENGL or FAMS course, or consent of the instructor. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Guilford.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 388 and FAMS 240.)
How do screenplays function? What are the elements that combine to engage audiences and convey a compelling story to readers? This course is designed to provide students with the skills necessary to analyze and create narrative feature film scripts, series, and shorts, with attention to mechanics and elegant design. Close readings of screenplays and films will seek to reveal how writers are able to grip an audience’s attention by building narrative questions, how plots are structured both within scenes and across an entire work, how resonant dialogue can effectively impart information and create subtext, and how characters relate to plot. Classes will combine textual analysis, writing instruction, and peer review. Students will complete several short scripts in preparation for a longer final screenplay (no more than ten pages), with extensive revision throughout the semester.
Preference will be given to FAMS majors and English majors concentrating in creative writing; seniors, then juniors, then sophomores. Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor E. Sanders.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2015, Spring 2023
This is a class all about the art of noticing. Our primary texts fixate on what Amit Chaudhuri calls “the moment of noticing”: heightened attention to the (seemingly) small, the ordinary, the routine. Many readings will be “day-in-the-life” novels set over a 24-hour period; others dwell on single moments, fleeting impressions, or routine rhythms of daily life.
We will discuss questions such as: What formal and stylistic strategies do writers employ to capture everyday life? What happens to narrative conventions of plot and the event when writers are more interested in the textures, rhythms, and background environments of everyday life? How does the ordinary become extraordinary? How does one narrate history in the making, as it unfolds in everyday life? How are major historical events and political structures felt over the course of a typical day? Is it a privilege to think about the everyday as either boring or beautiful? Does it even make sense to talk about “everyday literature” when experiences of daily life are so diverse and varied?
This class will pair novels and short stories with select critical readings from affect theory, urban studies, modernist studies, cultural studies, and ecocriticism. Possible authors include James Baldwin, Amit Chaudhuri, Anton Chekhov, Christopher Isherwood, James Joyce, Kathleen Stewart, Madeleine Thien, and Virginia Woolf.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Abramson.2023-24: Not offered
When someone says that a politician is being “theatrical” or that a protestor is following a “script,” it is rarely meant as a compliment‒but why? The implication is that true politics is never theatrical, never scripted, never performed, never entangled with spectacle. Put so baldly, this claim is pretty hard to believe. If, instead, we take for granted that all politics is performed, we are left with several unanswered questions. What would an eye trained on performance (theater, dance, film, comedy, spoken word, etc.) see in our politics that someone else would not? Are there distinct performance traditions in politics, as there are in the performing arts? How do activists and office-holders enter these traditions, learn their ways, and apply them in everyday settings? How are citizens expected (or trained) to engage with this performance of politics‒either as spectators or co-performers? What are the key genres of political performance, and what should every citizen know about them? This class will teach you to see these as researchable questions‒and as part of an ongoing scholarly conversation in fields ranging from performance studies, art history, and media studies to sociology, anthropology, political theory, and history. Through reading and discussion, students will learn to think in interdisciplinary terms about politics, making connections across fields and methodologies. They will also study representations of political action and debate in film, television, and theater in order to uncover whatever lessons performing artists can teach us about contemporary political life.
Omitted 2022-23. Professor Grobe.2023-24: Not offered
[Before 1800] Although many people believe that they know themselves better than anyone else does, it is difficult to say exactly what a “self” is. Some people believe true selves only emerge in public or in relationships, while others believe that the true self is one we tend to keep private (or “to ourselves”). To try to define selfhood is to encounter a series of paradoxes. Even if we tend to praise those who are “self-aware,” for instance, it’s paradoxically not so good to be “self-conscious,” or too “sure-of-oneself.” How does the idea that we become different selves in different roles square with the theory of the self? In this class, we will think about this question historically, and read various theories of how selfhood emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and what literature had to do with this. A central theme will be the question of how autobiographical and faux-autobiographical literature works as a tool of self-discovery. We will consider how race, class, and gender affected the formation of selves in this period. We will also consider the question of how far the self is defined by the advent of other concepts that became central to the production of literature in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as character, privacy, identity, inwardness, and interiority. For instance, we will think about how changes to the architecture of both domestic space and city life led, in turn, to new ways of writing, and new spaces for inner life to flourish. Primary texts students will encounter in this class include (for example) the poetry of John Donne and John Milton, the diary of Samuel Pepys, the letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and Mary Prince’s account of what it was like to be enslaved in the eighteenth century. No prior knowledge of early texts will be assumed.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Worsley.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 420 and THDA 420) (Before 1800) Interpretations of William Shakespeare’s plays often align with and reinforce hegemonic conceptions of whiteness. Yet for over two centuries that alignment has been contested by theatre artists from the Black diaspora, from Native or Indigenous nations, and from the diverse communities of latinidad. This course centers what one First Nations playwright calls BIPOC “takeovers” of Shakespeare’s work. We will ask how these creative adaptations and translations engage histories of racial, cultural, and linguistic violence and loss, and how they weave new stories and experiences of resistance and healing. Topics to be explored include the utility of colonial texts for decolonial futures; the relation of land, language, and literature; the transformation of Euro-American theatre through non-Western artistic practice and ceremony; and the recent development of anti-racist initiatives that challenge and reinvent the study, staging, and teaching of Shakespeare’s plays. Scholars and creatives leading these past and future projects will join us in conversation, which will guide independent research and shape each student’s culminating work.
Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Bosman2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 422 and SWAG 422) Best known for her experiments with form and style in the modernist novel, Virginia Woolf was also deeply engaged with the literary and artistic currents of her time. This course addresses several of Woolf’s key texts alongside the work of lesser known women writers, both in the Bloomsbury Group and in overlapping activist circles. We will investigate how Woolf and her contemporaries grapple with issues such as the psychic and social damage wrought by the First World War; alternatives to conventional understandings of gender, sexuality, marriage, and domesticity; and the role of women in shaping new visions of a more equitable and just future. We will challenge notions of canonization in reading the work of Vera Brittain, Radclyffe Hall, Winifred Holtby, Katherine Mansfield, Jean Rhys, and Dorothy Sayers alongside Woolf's writings and those of the male modernists with whom she is often associated. In addition to weekly forum posts, two formal essays are required: a midterm paper (5-7 pages) involving close textual analysis of a primary source; and a final research paper (12-15 pages), with a draft to be revised in conjunction with a peer review workshop. Students will be encouraged to conduct research in local and digital archives.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor L. Shapiro Sanders.2023-24: Not offered
An advanced writing workshop devoted to the reading and writing of novellas. We will study such novellas as Samantha Lan Chang’s Hunger, Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Ted Chiang’s The Story of Your Life, and Danielle Evans’ The Office of Historical Corrections, 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 12 students. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Fall semester. Professor Frank.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL-430 and BLST-303) This course focuses on contemporary African American playwrights. Special attention will be given to changes in the landscape of black American theater over the course of the last two decades. What does contemporary African American drama have to say about issues such as gender, sexuality, class, and/or social justice activism? How has black theater and drama been renewed and/or transformed in the wake of the contemporary movement for black lives? We will search for answers to these questions through close readings of plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Dominque Morriseau, Antoinette Nwandu, Jordan Cooper, Anna Deveare Smith, Jeremy O’Harris, Brandon Jenkins, and Katori Hall among others. Our readings will be supplemented with viewings of live-theater performances (included a field-trip to New York City) and virtual conversations with variety of contemporary black playwrights/theater artists. Students should leave this course with not only with a firm grasp on major debates in black theater and performance studies---but also a strong foundation in dramaturgy and dramatic criticism.
Prior coursework in theater studies and/or Black Studies is recommended but not necessary. Spring semester. Professor Roberts.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 435 and THDA 335) 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.
As a small, advanced seminar, this course will proceed mainly through synchronous small-group discussions of shared texts, videos, and images. Students will also take part in synchronous workshops (during regular course meeting times) on research skills, oral presentations, and the craft of proposing a thesis. Those not proposing a thesis–or who are already writing one–will have the choice to work instead on collaborative final projects in lieu of submitting a mock prospectus.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Grobe.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Spring 2021
(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 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Nelson.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2014, Fall 2016, Spring 2020, Spring 2022
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 ideas about it. Notions of perception, cognition, and the imagination changed alongside our ideas about nature. 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? This course gives students a thorough grounding in Romantic Poetry, the philosophy of aesthetics, and literary theory, while also giving them a chance to follow their own research interests in a final project.
The majority of this course will revolve around discussion in various formats, though there will be opportunities for visits to museums and archives in smaller groups. Since research and individual projects will be a central feature of this class, students will receive individual attention and feedback on their work. Students will also have a chance to engage with scholars working in this area.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Worsley.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 (Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein); the Harlem Renaissance (Langston Hughes); the Beat Poets (Allen Ginsburg, Diane di Prima); the New York School (Frank O’Hara); the Black Arts poets (Amiri Baraka, Harryette Mullen); the Black Mountain Poets (Robert Creeley, Charles Olsen); the Language Poets (Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein); and other contemporary poets (Nathaniel Mackey, Myung Mi Kim, M. NourbSe Philip). 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 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Nelson.2023-24: Not offered
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 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Sanborn.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 458 and AMST 358) [Before 1800] This course will delve deeply into Indigenous literatures of “Turtle Island,” or North America. The Kiché Maya Popol Wuj (Council Book), the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Great Law of Peace, the Wabanaki creation cycle, and Salish Coyote Stories 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, which embed ecological and cultural adaptation.
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. We will discuss the ways in which the narratives challenge conceptual boundaries, considering categories such as land/place, gender, sexuality, and other-than-human beings.
Open to juniors and seniors, and to sophomores with consent of the instructor. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Brooks.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 462 and FAMS 462.) In this integrated seminar, students will gain facility with key issues and debates in curatorial studies as well as hands-on experience with the process of curating a film and video program. In film and media studies, the term “curating” is often used to designate the activity of organizing film and video works for public exhibitions, whether these take shape as film festivals, shorts programs, gallery exhibitions, or screenings of other kinds. This course introduces students to the history, theory, and practice of this activity, examining scholarly discourse on the origins, aesthetics, and politics of film and video curating, and guiding students through the process of producing public screenings of audio-visual media. In the first half of the semester, students will conduct readings, view examples of curated film and video programs, discuss course material, and compose critical essays. In the second half, class time will be devoted to practical workshops in which students will conceive, plan, and produce curated programs of short films and videos for public exhibition.
Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Professor Guilford.2023-24: Not offered
Is decolonial love possible? What does it look and feel like? In this course, we will read creative writers and scholars who describe the ways that imperialism, capitalism, racism, and heteropatriarchy structure conventional ways of loving, caring, and forming social bonds, as well as conventional ways of writing literature and critique. We will follow these writers as they imagine alternative practices, asking how we might alter the aspects of ourselves and our worlds that seem as fundamental and intractable as our aesthetics, our desires, and our very pleasures. In the Spring 2023 iteration of the course, we will focus on important recent scholarship on race and coloniality by writers like Christina Sharpe, José Esteban Muñoz, Jasbir Puar, Jodi Byrd, Lisa Lowe, Katherine McKittrick, Tiffany Lethabo King, and others.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Mireles Christoff.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2023
Giorgio Agamben writes in Remnants of Auschwitz that “trauma is thus an event that has no beginning, no ending, no before, no during, and no after.” In this seminar, we will study texts from different genres–poetry, fiction, and memoir–that attempt to narrativize the timeless, ubiquitous, and haunted event that is a military dictatorship. How do these texts undertake the task of remembering or reimagining the past? How do they fill the gap between memory and history, between testimony and literature, and between past and present? What does or can literature do with a legacy of violence and oppression? Readings may include works by Argentinian-Mexican visual artist and novelist Verónica Gerber Bicecci, the Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, the Padaung (Burmese) memoirist Pascal Khoo Thwe, and the Ghanaian-born novelist Ayesha Harruna Attah.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Writer Myint.Other years: Offered in Fall 2014
The non-traditional texts of writers like Claudia Rankine, Maggie Nelson, Viet Thanh Nguyen and Alison Bechdel have garnered great success that has introduced new audiences to the world of hybrid forms. Through close reading and a study of works at the apex of literary deconstruction, we will erase the lines drawn between poetry and prose, image and memoir, percentage graph and fiction and will embark on an expedition through contemporary hybrid texts, asking what dictates how we define genre.
Completion of this course will include a collaborative oral presentation guiding the reading of one of the semester’s assigned texts and a final critical research project presented in a hybrid form that breaks the boundaries of expected academia. Use of hybridity in the construction of all class assignments (short essays, personal responses, reflections, etc.) will be strongly encouraged.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Lawson and Visiting Lecturer Bernitt.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 475 and FAMS 431) Fashion has long been associated with frivolity, ephemerality, and triviality. Yet trends in clothing and design are irrevocably linked to politics, technology, society, and cultural change–from hats to hemlines to heels, fashion can reveal the transformations of an era. How has fashion evolved in the modern age, and what is its relationship to literature, film, and other media forms? What can fashion teach us about our past, present, and future? This advanced seminar will delve into the interdisciplinary field of fashion studies to examine the vicissitudes of fashion from the nineteenth century onward, focusing on Britain, Europe, and the United States, with an eye toward the role of imperialism, Orientalism, and cultural appropriation in shaping fashion’s tangled histories. Students will study literary texts; film and television; print, visual, and digital media; and material culture. Potential case studies include the dandy, the New Woman, and the flapper; wartime fashions; subcultural style; the wedding gown; the sneaker; among other topics. Students will do independent research, culminating in a written research project and/or curated digital exhibit; keep a weekly reading/viewing journal recording their critical responses to the assigned texts; and facilitate discussion on a given topic. Students can expect to gain: a familiarity with key terms and approaches in fashion studies, media studies, and cultural studies; an ability to think and write critically about fashion and fashion media, in terms of aesthetics, historical development, and cultural context; confidence in reading critical/theoretical essays; and proficiency in various aspects of project-based work, including identifying a research topic, building arguments, using evidence, and working with and appropriately citing a variety of sources.
Requisite: At least one 200-level foundations course in English, Film & Media Studies, Art & the History of Art, History, Theater and Dance, and/or Sexuality, Women’s & Gender Studies. Upper-level coursework in one or more of these fields is strongly recommended. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Professor Sanders.2023-24: Not offered
(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.
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. Fall semester. Professor Rangan.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 480 and FAMS 411) The “essay” derives its meaning from the original French essayer: to try or attempt. In its attempts to work through and experiment with new ideas, the essay form becomes a manifestation of observation, experience, and transformation. Originally developed through the written form, the essay has also taken shape in visual work–photographic, installation, and, of course, cinematic. The “essay film” is exploratory, digressive, subjective; the “video essay” is similarly personal and simultaneously transformative. The “film essay” has the capacity to be all of these things, though in the past few decades this form has become arguably schematic. Working against the conventions of the “academic” or college essay and inspired by visual experimentation, this course will explore film through a variety of manifestations of the written essay. After all, since film comes in multiple forms and offers multiple experiences, it demands multiple possibilities of rhetorical exploration.
The models for writing in this course will come from both visual and written works. Course readings will be collected from a range of historical periods and will run a gamut of approaches to film: theoretical and experiential, critical and poetic, autobiographical and historical. Class screenings will similarly come from a variety of historical eras, genres, and national spaces. Because writing assignments will often explore the cultural experience of the movies, we will visit a variety of screening venues, including a film festival, “archival” and repertory houses, art cinemas, and commercial theaters. Though it will include some lectures to contextualize readings, this course will primarily be discussion-oriented, with attentive writing workshops. Thus experimenting with method and form, students will produce weekly writings, two extended essays, and a collaboratively-produced project.
Requisite: a 200-level foundations course in ENGL or FAMS. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Hastie.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 484 and FAMS 424) Sometimes referred to as the “silver era” of US film production, the 1970s were a period of aesthetic, technological, and cultural transformation. New “auteurs” emerged as both mavericks and commercial success stories. Independence reigned supreme for some, while others helped to usher in the contemporary blockbuster. At the same time, scholarly study of film was steadily increasing, experimenting with new disciplinary methods, waging debates, and often distancing itself from popular critical writings. All told, such narratives of the era have meant that the 1970s looms large in our cultural imagination of film production. This course will trace film history to consider how narratives of the era have been written and how, in recent years, they have been written anew.
The first half of the course will explore several canonical works, while the second half of the course will consider films that have been recently excavated and/or remade. By intermixing popular critical writings (including reviews, interviews, and essays), academic writings of the era, and recent historical studies, we will consider historical and historiographical methods of film studies scholarship. Moreover, in our discussion of newly excavated or historically underrepresented cases–including works directed by women, examples of Blaxploitation cinema, and independent drama–we will explore how canons are both designed and remade, functioning as emblems of the time of their own critical production. Students will work with primary archival materials along with contemporaneous critical or theoretical models in order to develop their own historical narratives of 1970s film.
Requisite: Prior FAMS coursework or, alternatively, prior 200-level courses in ENGL. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Hastie.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 485 and FAMS 438) This course examines the role of the city in shaping modern experience. We will study literary works by Charles Baudelaire, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, and Virginia Woolf alongside a number of early films, reading these texts against historical and critical discussions of everyday life in the urban environment. Among other themes, we will take up the debate over “flanerie” as a spatial and social practice, investigating the class and gender dynamics of urban and cinematic spectatorship. Our conversations will be shaped by an awareness of the city as a geographically locatable space to be mapped and traversed, but also as a site for imaginary projections of individual and collective experience. In addition to a short creative assignment, two formal essays are required: a midterm paper (5-7 pages) involving close textual analysis of a primary source; and a final research paper (12-15 pages), with a draft to be revised in conjunction with a peer review workshop.
This course will run primarily online, with periodic small-group meetings for students who are in residence on campus and parallel small-group meetings for remote students. The additional evening time slot will provide opportunities for students to screen films and engage in structured small-group discussion synchronously, whether remotely or in person. There may be additional opportunities for in-person meetings (including office hours) as the semester progresses.
Requisite: A 200-level foundations course in English or equivalent. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Professor Sanders.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 487 and FAMS 425) In the years following World War II, a series of rapid and far-reaching transformations–economic, technological, social, political–dramatically reconfigured American life. Throughout this period of change, cinema served as both mirror and catalyst, reflecting national crises and upheavals while also contributing to the transformation of American culture. This seminar explores both sides of this dynamic, examining how postwar American filmmakers devised innovative strategies for representing the dilemmas of their time, and how artists, studios, and lawmakers sought to intervene in such dilemmas via the moving image. We will view and discuss key examples of popular Hollywood genres from this period–film noir, science fiction, the western, etc.–as well as independent, documentary, and avant-garde films created by countercultural, feminist, queer, and Black artists. Weekly readings will engage such subjects as: nuclear anxiety; suburban domesticity and surveillance; Beat culture and spontaneity; totalitarianism; racial prejudice and civil rights; urban renewal and queer desire; gender and consumer culture; blacklisting, and others. Students will explore such issues through in-class presentations, critical essays, and individual research projects.
Requisite: At least one foundational course in ENGL or FAMS. Open to juniors and seniors and to sophomores with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Guilford.Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2021
(Offered as ENGL 488 and FAMS 415) Moving image and audiovisual media frequently assume a fully able subject despite the infinite variety of human capacities and disabilities. This course will acquaint you with historical and contemporary interventions by disabled scholars, makers, and activists that reframe access as a fundamental principle of an inclusive media ecology, as well as an aesthetic, narrative, and formal challenge for media makers. Through reading, making, and doing, we will study the intersection of disability and media from a variety of perspectives and topics, including common disability tropes and metaphors; prosthetics and assistive technologies; audiovisual access features like captions and audio description; disability maker cultures; inclusive interface design; and crip modes of spectatorship and listenership. A persistent theme of our conversations and activities will be access, understood as a practical dilemma, a legal standard, and a political horizon. If we approach access as a guiding principle rather than an inconvenient afterthought or retrofit (think: captions added after a film has been completed, or a ramp added to an inaccessible building), how might that change the way we create, exhibit, distribute, and interpret moving image media?
Requisite: A 200-level Foundations Course in ENGL or FAMS; prior video production course highly recommended.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Rangan.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 489 and FAMS 470) This course examines classical Hollywood cinema of the 1930s-1950s, focusing on the parallel genres of melodrama and film noir. These genres shared a production context (the Hollywood studio system at its height), an emphasis on gender (for melodrama in the form of the “weepie” or woman’s film, and for film noir in its depiction of hard-boiled masculinity and the femme fatale), and an engagement with the pressing social and political issues of the era. In this course we will ask why these genres flourished during this period, how they resonated with contemporary audiences, and whether they transformed over time. Films to be screened will include All About Eve, Imitation of Life, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Kiss Me Deadly, The Maltese Falcon, Mildred Pierce, and Sunset Boulevard, alongside contemporary examples of modern melodrama and neo-noir and accompanied by readings in film history, theory, and criticism. Several short essays and a longer research project will be required.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor L. Sanders.2023-24: Not offered
Independent reading courses.
Fall and spring semester. The Department.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 491, BLST 461 [CLA], and LLAS 461) 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. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Cobham-Sander.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Fall 2023
This is a non-required course for English majors who are currently working on a creative writing or hybrid thesis project. It is meant to offer guidance and a sense of community to these writers as they embark on what can feel like a formidable process. In this course, we will discuss and analyze examples of senior theses in various forms, and discuss issues peculiar to the task of planning, researching, and writing a project of this scope. We will read together to help writers identify models and understand the literary tradition(s) they are working in. We will also talk about the kinds of research that each project invites and requires, and about how to conduct and use that research.
Guided writing in class will play a key role in working through issues of technique, structure, and inspiration. Most important, this course offers students the chance to present and critique work-in-progress with a group of their peers.
Please note: This course does not replace ENGL-498, the Senior Tutorial, which covers students’ independent work under the tutelage of a thesis advisor.
Open to senior majors currently writing a creative or hybrid thesis. Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Myiint.Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023
What does it mean to talk about literature as “global”? How do writers engage the idea of the globe politically, aesthetically, and environmentally?
This is a class about problems of scale and scope. We will consider how contemporary writers represent phenomena that cross national borders: particular attention will be paid to climate change, migration and immigration, the idea of the “global city,” war and terrorism, and the living legacies of colonialism, slavery, and diaspora. What are the formal and ethical challenges of thinking on a global scale? When thinking globally, how can we preserve awareness of local and historical differences? What are literary theorists saying about these questions today? Our readings will pair late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century fiction with critical and theoretical work drawn from ecocriticism and the environmental humanities, postcolonial studies, cultural studies, and so-called new global modernisms. This class will also emphasize the process and skills involved in upper-level literary analysis and research: we will experiment with a range of strategies for note-taking, making sense of dense texts, framing research questions, and finding openings and opportunities to engage in ongoing critical debates and conversations.
Possible authors include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, Mohsin Hamid, Jamaica Kincaid, Arundhati Roy, and W. G. Sebald.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Abramson.2023-24: Not offered
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.), 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
This is a non-required course for English majors who are currently working on a critical or hybrid (i.e., not pure creative writing) thesis project. It is meant to offer guidance and a sense of scholarly community to students as they embark on what can feel like a formidable (and often lonely) process. In this course, we will discuss and analyze examples of the thesis form. We will analyze and practice some of the many subgenres theses contain (e.g., the introduction, the literature review, the methodological statement, and various ways of incorporating the voices of other critics, historians, or theorists). We will also read a representative range of recent criticism in the field, discussing critical methods, rhetorical tactics, and writerly voices employed in that work. And we will discuss issues peculiar to the task of planning, researching, and writing a long critical thesis. Most important, as in an advanced creative writing workshop, this course offers students the chance to present and critique work-in-progress with a group of their peers.
Please note: This course does not replace ENGL-498, the Senior Tutorial, which covers students’ independent work under the tutelage of a thesis advisor.
A major goal of this course is to foster mutual care and support among English Department thesis writers. With that in mind, the main mode of instruction for this course will be discussion–sometimes about shared readings, sometimes about other students’ writing, and sometimes about the writing process itself. Guided writing in class will play a key role in making the writing process available for discussion. Additionally, students will meet one-on-one (or in small groups) with the professor to discuss their own thesis progress. Finally, students will have the opportunity to take part in structured co-writing sessions outside of class.
Open to juniors and seniors. Preference given to English majors currently writing a critical thesis. Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Grobe.2023-24: Not offered
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 ENGL 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. The Department.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