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.
Preference given to first-year students and sophomores. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Berek and Professor Sanborn.2022-23: Not offered
Literature engages us. It moves us, it delights us, it makes us ask hard questions. How do we engage literature? How do we respond to it in conversation, in writing, in performance, and in our communities? How do we write about literature in a way that effectively engages others?
This class seeks to engage you in a process of seeing literature and your own writing process anew. We will engage with authors, in person, in public, and on the page. We will attend literary events and enter into conversations among writers: authors who are influenced and inspired by each other, literary critics who give us illuminating interpretations, and literary historians who open our eyes to contexts heretofore unseen. Students will practice writing about literature in a range of modes from the personal essay to the book review to the academic paper. Frequent writing workshops will be geared toward the process of revising in a collaborative environment. A first course in reading fictional, dramatic, lyric, and non-fiction texts, this course also challenges Amherst College students to think of themselves as writers.
Preference given to first-year students. Limited to 15 students per section. Spring semester. Professors Brooks and Christoff.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 111 and SWAG 111.) Using a variety of texts–novels, essays, short stories–this course will work to develop the reading and writing of difficult prose, paying particular attention to the kinds of evidence and authority, logic and structure that produce strong arguments. The authors we study may include Peter Singer, Aravind Adiga, Willa Cather, Toni Morrison, George Orwell, Charles Johnson, James Baldwin, Alice Munro, William Carlos Williams. This is an intensive writing course. Frequent short papers will be assigned.
Preference given to first-year Amherst College students. Each section limited to 12 students. Fall semester: Professor Barale and Senior Lecturer Lieber. Spring semester: Senior Lecturer Lieber.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 112 and SWAG 106.) This course will examine the phenomenon of “realism” in a variety of artistic media. We will study realism in the visual arts, film, television, and literature with a view towards determining the nature of our interest in the representation of “real life” and the ways in which works of art are or are not an accurate reflection of that life. Among the works we may consider are classic English novels (Defoe, Austen, Dickens), European and North and South American short fiction (Gogol, Zola, Chekhov, Henry James, Kafka, Borges, Alice Munro), essays and memoirs (Orwell, Frederick Exley, Mary Karr) and films, both documentary and fiction (Double Indemnity, The Battle of Algiers, Saving Private Ryan). Two themes will attract special attention: the representation of women’s lives and the representation of war. We will address such questions as the following: Is a photograph always more realistic than a painting? In what way can a story about a man who turns into a bug be considered realistic? How real is virtual reality? The course will conclude with an examination of the phenomenon of reality television.
This is an intensive writing course. Frequent short papers will be assigned. Each section limited to 12 students. Preference given to first-year students and to students who have taken a previous intensive writing course and who wish to continue to work to improve their analytic writing. Fall semester: Senior Lecturer Lieber. Spring semester: Professor Barale and Senior Lecturer Lieber.2022-23: Not offered
A first course in reading fictional, dramatic, and lyric texts: stories, a major novel, one or more plays by Shakespeare, poems by Donne, Dickinson, Frost, and others.
Why does any writer–an Amherst College student, Philip Roth, Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare–say what he or she says one way rather than another? And what in the expression itself makes a story, a play, a poem effective, something a reader might care about, be moved or delighted by? We will try to answer these questions by reading primary examples of each genre, including much recent work, with close and sustained attention to details of expressive language. There will be frequent writing exercises.
Each section limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16. Visiting Professor Berek, and Professors Bosman, Christoff, and Cobham-Sander, and Grobe.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(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 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Nelson.2022-23: Not offered
Students, as part of the work of the course, each week will tutor or lead discussions among a small group of students at Holyoke High School. The readings for the course will be essays, poems, autobiographies, and stories in which education and teaching figure centrally. Among these will be materials that focus directly on Holyoke and on one or another of the ethnic groups which have shaped its history. Students will write weekly and variously: critical essays, journal entries, ethnographies, etc. Readings for the course will include works by Sylvia Ashton-Warner, James Baldwin, Judith Ortiz Cofer, John Dewey, Jonathan Kozol, Herbert Kohl, Sarah Lightfoot, John Stuart Mill, Abraham Rodriguez, Esmeralda Santiago, and Patricia Williams. Two class meetings per week plus an additional workshop hour and a weekly morning teaching assistantship to be scheduled in Holyoke.
Limited to 20 students. Fall semester: Visiting Lecturer Carrere. Spring semester: Lecturer B. Sánchez-Eppler.2022-23: 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.
Preference given to first-year students. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Bosman.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
In the United States, as in many countries, we divide ourselves into regions. Differences in language and/or dialect, in history, in customs and politics, are often seen as legitimating regional divisions. The South has always held an especially powerful place in the American imagination, even before the Civil War. Through close encounters with texts and music, we will explore the differences within the South, the ways in which particular literary texts have come to be seen not just as representing the South but, in part, constituting its difference, and the complex roles played by race, ethnicity, and class. Among the writers and musicians we will study: Louis Armstrong, Ernest Gaines, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Breece D.J. Pancake, William Faulkner, Hank Williams, and the Carter Family.
Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Emeritus O'Connell.2022-23: Not offered
(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. Fall semester: Professor Hastie. Spring semester: Visiting Professor Guilford.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2023
In the years 1830 to 1860 Emerson dominates. He is known throughout the entire United States, widely read, yet more widely heard, an inspiration to many writers, a curse to a few. Melville and Thoreau are little known for the most part. Until Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, none of the many women writers achieved comparable stature, though many were popular.
Political and social struggle marked these times: Indian Rights, abolitionism, women’s rights, utopian communities, the continuing efforts of black people to become free in the North as well as in the South, and the sectional antagonisms that led to the Civil War. These pervade every form of literature and support the emergence of Indian writers, a substantial number of black writers (most notably Frederick Douglass) and slave narratives, a whole new genre, and more writing by women. For the first time in American history something like the full range of voices in the society could be heard and read.
The readings in the course focus on Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Douglass, Apess, and Stowe.
Limited to 40 students. Spring semester. Professor Emeritus O’Connell.2022-23: 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 such as Chaucer, Margery Kempe, Sir Philip Sidney, Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Donne, Jonson, Aemilia Lanyer, Mary Wroth, George Herbert, Marvell, and Milton.
Omitted 2015-16. Visiting Professor Berek.2022-23: Not offered
[before 1800] What is “English Literature,” and how does one construct its history? How do we decide what counts as “English,” and what counts as “literature”? What is the relationship between histories of literature and political, social, religious, and intellectual histories? What is the role of gender, race and class in the making of literature, and the making of its histories?
These are some of the questions we will ask as we read masterpieces of English literature from the mid-seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth century, alongside works that have not always been thought of as part of the canon, by women, slaves, exiles, political radicals, anonymous, and unpublished writers. Writers we will study include (but are not limited to) John Milton, Aphra Behn, John Dryden, Anne Finch, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Olaudah Equiano, Samuel Johnson, Phillis Wheatley, William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, and Mary Shelley.
This course is the chronological sequel to “Making Literary Histories I,” though it is not necessary (or even necessarily desirable) to take the classes in chronological order.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Worsley.
2022-23: Not offered
A first workshop in the writing of poetry. Class members will read and discuss each others’ work and will study the elements of prosody: the line, stanza forms, meter, free verse, and more. Open to anyone interested in writing poetry and learning about the rudiments of craft. Writing exercises weekly.
Limited enrollment. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course.
Fall semester: Professor Sofield. Spring semester: Writer-in-Residence Hall.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2023
We will study writers’ renderings of their own experiences (memoirs) and their analyses of society and its institutions (cultural criticism). Workshop format, with discussion of texts and of students’ experiments in the genre. Students must submit examples of their writing to the English office. Three class hours per week.
Limited to 12 students. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Emeritus Townsend.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
A first course in writing fiction. Emphasis will be on experimentation as well as on developing skill and craft. Workshop (discussion) format.
Limited enrollment. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Fall semester: Professor Frank and Visiting Writer Gaige. Spring semester: Visiting Lecturer Thompson.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2023
How small can drama get while remaining “dramatic”? During the first half of the twentieth century, it was not unusual for a stage in America (or anywhere in the English-speaking world) to be filled with dozens of actors. Over the last sixty years, though, the crowds onstage have thinned. Today, three-, two-, and even one-person plays are as common as twenty-person plays once were.
In this course, we will study plays by American, British, Irish, and South African writers–from Eugene O’Neill and Samuel Beckett to Athol Fugard and Sarah Kane–who have found new inspiration within these tight constraints. We will practice a kind of “middle-distance reading.” That is, in addition to paying close attention to the local detail of a play, we will also stand further away from it in order inquire into its broader structure and premises. How does this stage-world work? What are its rules, its tendencies, its textures? Most importantly, since this is a course on small-casted plays, how are characters created, tested, and distributed within the play? How might theatrical character differ from novelistic character or poetic voice?
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Grobe.2022-23: Not offered
This course explores the unique challenges of experiencing performance through the page. While this course is not intended as a survey of dramatic literature or theater history, students will be introduced to a variety of drama from across the English-language tradition. The organizing theme of the course may change slightly from year to year, but the goal will always be to explore a wide array of theoretical and methodological approaches to drama. Of particular interest will be the relationship of play-reading to other reading practices. What does a play demand of the reader that a novel, a poem, or an essay does not? How must the central elements of storytelling or world-making (character, plot, setting, dialogue, point of view, etc.) change when they are required to appear onstage?
Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Professor Bosman.2022-23: Not offered
A first course in the critical reading of selected English-language poets, which gives students exposure to significant poets, poetic styles, and literary and cultural contexts for poetry from across the tradition. Attention will be given to prosody and poetic forms, and to different ways of reading poems.
Limited to 35 students. Fall semester: Professor Sofield. Spring semester: Professors Nelson and Worsley.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
How do long poems come together–and hold together? Can they maintain a lyric intensity, or do they inevitably give way to the looser energies of narrative or extended meditation? We will read works in many forms–including heroic couplets, ballad stanzas, and free verse–by poets from the eighteenth century to the present, including Alexander Pope, Walt Whitman, Amy Clampitt, James Merrill, and Paul Muldoon.
Fall semester. Writer-in-Residence Hall.
2022-23: Not offered
An introduction to the study of the novel, through the exploration of a variety of critical terms (plot, character, point of view, tone, realism, identification, genre fiction, the book) and methodologies (structuralist, Marxist, feminist, psychoanalytic). We will draw on a selection of novels in English to illustrate and complicate those terms; possible authors include Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Wilkie Collins, Henry James, Kazuo Ishiguro, Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, John Edgar Wideman, Emma Donoghue, David Foster Wallace, Monique Truong, Jennifer Egan.
Preference given to sophomores. Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professors Christoff and Sanborn.2022-23: Not offered
This course is concerned with the problem of honesty in subjective expression. We will study both fictional and non-fictional first-person narratives. Some narrators deliberately deceive, and some deceive without intending to. How does an elusive understanding of the self make even an “honest” narrator’s project of telling harder, if not impossible? Readings will include works by Kazuo Ishiguro, Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Mitchell, Janet Malcolm, Lauren Slater, and Geoff Dyer. Students will be required to produce both critical and creative writing. Creative writing experience preferred. Writing attentive.
Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16. Visiting Writer Gaige.2022-23: Not offered
The First Person is a creative writing course focusing on the personal essay and memoir. The class will be centered around the writing workshop, in which students closely read and critique one another’s creative works. Extensive weekly reading and weekly written exercises will be required. Our published readings will include works such as Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, J.R. Ackerley’s My Father and Myself, and Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle.
Previous writing experience and previous literature courses are recommended. Limited enrollment. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Spring semester. Visiting Writer Gaige.2022-23: Not offered
This course works with archipelagos in two ways: as a specific postcolonial geography and as a metaphor for postcolonial relations. Reading texts from the Caribbean, Oceania, Hawaii, New Zealand, and maritime Southeast Asia, the course explores on the one hand how colonialism fragments island societies into languages, races, classes, and national allegiances, and on the other hand, how postcolonial authors explore and recuperate archipelagic identities through literary narratives. While we will read across several genres, we will pay special attention to the short story as a genre of the literary archipelago. We may read works from V. S. Naipaul, Andrew Salkey, Derek Walcott, Monique Roffey, Epeli Hau’ofa, Gary Pak, Kathleen Tyau, Patricia Grace, Keri Hulme, Tash Aw, and K. S. Maniam.
Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Huang2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 271, BLST 332 [US], FAMS 374, and SWAG 271.) Girl Power is the pop-culture term for what some commentators have also dubbed “postfeminism.” The 1990s saw a dramatic transformation in cultural representations of women’s relationships to their own sense of power. But did this still rising phenomenon of “women who kick ass” come at a cost? Might such representations signify genuine reassessments of some of the intersections between gender, power, and the individual? Or are they, at best, superficial appropriations of what had otherwise been historically construed as male power? With such questions in mind, this class will teach students to use theoretical and primary texts to research, assess, and critique contemporary popular culture. Each student will also be trained to produce a critical multimedia project. One class meeting per week, which includes a 135-minute seminar and a 60-minute workshop and lab.
Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Parham.2022-23: Not offered
Children’s books are a site of first encounter, a doorway to literacy and literature. This course will offer both a history of book production for child readers in England and the United States and an exploration of what these first books can teach us about the attractions, expectations, and responsibilities of reading.
Limited to 80 students. Spring semester. Professor K. Sánchez-Eppler.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as AMST 280 and ENGL 273.) In Penobscot author Joseph Nicolar's 1893 narrative, the Corn Mother proclaims, "I am young in age and I am tender, yet my strength is great and I shall be felt all over the world, because I owe my existence to the beautiful plant of the earth." In contrast, according to one Iowa farmer, from the 2007 documentary "King Corn," "We aren't growing quality. We're growing crap." This course aims to unpack depictions like these in order to probe the ways that corn has changed in its significance within the Americas. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, students will be introduced to critical theories and methodologies from American Studies as they study corn's shifting role, across distinct times and places, as a nourishing provider, cultural transformer, commodity, icon, and symbol.
Beginning with the earliest travels of corn and her stories in the Americas, students will learn about the rich histories, traditions, narratives, and uses of "maize" from indigenous communities and nations, as well as its subsequent proliferation and adaptation throughout the world. In addition to literary and historical sources students will engage with a wide variety of texts (from material culture to popular entertainment, public policy and genetics) in order to deepen their understanding of cultural, political, environmental, and economic changes that have characterized life in the Americas.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professors Brooks and Vigil.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 274 and AMST 274.) In 2013, Amherst College acquired one of the most comprehensive collections of Native American writing in the world–nearly 1,500 books ranging from contemporary fiction and poetry to sermons, political tracts, and tribal histories from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Through this course, we will actively engage the literature of this collection, researching Native American intellectual traditions, regional contexts, political debates, creative adaptation, and movements toward decolonization. Students will have the opportunity to make an original contribution to a digital archive and interact with visiting authors. We will begin with oral traditions and the 1772 sermon published by Mohegan author Samson Occom and end with a novel published in 2014.
Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Professor Brooks.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 275 and BLST 232 [US].) The focus of this introduction to the study of African American literature and culture will be the complex intertextuality at the heart of the African American expressive tradition. Tracing some of the tradition’s major formal and thematic concerns means looking for the rhythms and riffs that link different kinds of texts: literature, film, music, and the spoken word. While engaging a range of textual experiences, from learning to read silences in narratives of American slavery through coming to understand Afrofuturism and other developments in black speculative fiction, this course will also expose students to a range of analytic and critical production modes that are important to literary and cultural study in general.
Omitted 2015-16. Professor Parham.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as SWAG 208, BLST 345 [US], ENGL 276, and FAMS 379.) Reading the work of black feminist literary theorists and black women writers, we will examine the construction of black female identity in American literature, with a specific focus on how black women writers negotiate race, gender, sexuality, and class in their work. In addition to reading novels, literary criticism, book reviews, and watching documentaries, we will examine the stakes of adaptation and mediation for black female-authored texts. Students will watch and analyze the film and television adaptations of The Color Purple (1985), The Women of Brewster Place (1989), and Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005) as well as examine how Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970) was mediated and interpreted by Oprah Winfrey’s book club and daytime talk show. Authors will include Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Gloria Naylor. Writing Attentive. Expectations include three writing projects, a group presentation, and various in-class assignments.
Limited to 20 students. Priority given to those students who attend the first day of the class. Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Spring semester. Professor Henderson.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 277 and FAMS 333.) In this course we will engage in a comprehensive approach to narrative video gaming–-play, interpretation, and design–-to explore how video gaming helps us to conceptualize the boundaries between our experiences of the world and our representations thereof. We will ask how play and interactivity change how we think about the work of narrative. What would it mean to think about video games alongside texts focused on similar subjects but in different media? How, for instance, does Assassin’s Creed: Freedom’s Cry change how we understand C.L.R. James, Susan Buck-Morss, Isabel Allende, or others’ discussions of the Haitian Revolution? And how do video games help us to reconceptualize the limits of other media forms, particularly around questions of what it means to represent differences in race, gender, physical ability? Finally, how might we more self-consciously capitalize on gaming’s potential to transform the work of other fields, for instance education and community development?
In this course, students will play and analyze video games while engaging texts from a variety of other critical and creative disciplines. Assignments for this course will be scaled by experience-level. No experience with video games or familiarity with computer coding is required for this course, as the success of this method will require that students come from a wide variety of skill levels.
Omitted 2015-16. Professor Parham.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 278 and BLST 212 [A].) This course will examine how African writers incorporate digital technologies into their work when they publish traditional print texts, experiment with digital formats, or use the internet to redefine their relationship to local and international audiences. We will reflect on how words and values shift in response to new forms of mediation; on the limits these forms place on the bodies they represent, and on the protections they occasionally offer. Students will read fictional works in print, serialized narratives on blogs, as well as other literary products that circulate via social media. Students also will be introduced to a selection of digital humanities tools that will assist them in accessing, analyzing and responding to these works. Course materials include print, digital and hybrid publications by Oyono, Farah, Adichie, Cole, Maphoto, and Wainaina, among others.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor R. Cobham-Sander.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as SWAG 279, BLST 202, and ENGL 279.) What do we mean by “women’s fiction”? How do we understand women’s genres in different national contexts? This course examines topics in feminist thought such as marriage, sexuality, desire and the home in novels written by women writers from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. We will draw on postcolonial literary theory, essays on transnational feminism and historical studies to situate our analyses of these novels. Texts include South African writer Nadine Gordimer’s My Son’s Story, Indian novelist Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, and Caribbean author Shani Motoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night.
Fall semester. Professor Shandilya.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 280 and FAMS 210.) An introduction to cinema studies through consideration of a few critical and descriptive terms, together with a selection of various films (classic and contemporary, foreign and American) for illustration and discussion. The terms for discussion will include, among others: mise-en-scène, montage, realism, visual pleasure, and the avant-garde. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Guilford.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 281, FAMS 220, and ARHA 272.) “Foundations and Integrations” will be an annual team-taught course between a Critical Studies scholar and moving-image artist. A requirement of the Film and Media Studies major, it will build on critical analysis of moving images and introductory production work to develop an integrated critical and creative practice. Focused in particular around themes and concepts, students will develop ideas in both written and visual form. The theme for spring 2016 will be “The Essay.”
Requisites: A foundations course in Critical Studies of Film and Media (such as “Coming to Terms: Cinema”) and an introductory film/video production workshop. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Levine.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 282 and FAMS 215.) For better or worse, U.S. broadcast television is a cultural form that is not commonly associated with knowledge. This course will take what might seem a radical counter-position to such assumptions--looking at the ways television teaches us what it is and even trains us in potential critical practices for investigating it. By considering its formal structure, its textual definitions, and the means through which we see it, we will map out how it is that we come to know television.
Prior coursework in Film and Media Studies is recommended, but not required. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Hastie.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as FAMS 228 and ENGL 287.) This course will introduce students to basic Super 8 film and digital video techniques. The course will include workshops in shooting for film and video, Super 8 film editing, Final Cut Pro video editing, lighting, stop motion animation, sound recording and mixing. Students will learn to think about and look critically at the moving and still image. Students will complete three moving image projects, including one Super 8 film, one video project, and one mixed media project. Weekly screenings will introduce students to a wide range of approaches to editing, writing, and directing in experimental, documentary, narrative, and hybrid cinematic forms. Screenings include works by Martha Rosler, Bill Viola, the Yes Men, Jennifer Reeves, Mona Hatoum, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Dziga Vertov, D.A. Pennebaker, Jean-Pierre Gorin, Cécile Fontaine, and Johanna Vaude.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Please complete the questionnaire at https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/departments/film/major/major-requirements/forms. Limited to 13 students. Omitted 2015-16. Five College Professor Hillman.
2022-23: 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 both psychoanalytic theory and literary interpretation, asking about their similarities as well as their dissonance. Why do novels of development and case-studies resemble one another? What can the Freudian understanding of the structure of the psyche teach us about the structure of narrative? And what do “illnesses” like hysteria and paranoia have in common with everyday acts of meaning-making and with the way we read literature? Each week pairing a psychoanalytic paper with a short story or novel, we will ask how psychoanalysis alters not only what we see in literary works, but also the way we understand our own acts of interpretation. Topics include the unconscious, dreams, childhood, the uncanny, desire, subjects and objects, and mourning.
Reading will include essays by Freud, Lacan, Winnicott, Melanie Klein, and others; and fiction by Jensen, Melville, Poe, Brontë, James, Flaubert, and Ishiguro.
Preference given to sophomores considering an English major. Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Professor Christoff.2022-23: Not offered
Much of the course focuses on writings by and about those who have resisted some of the many forms of repression. Among them will be American slave narratives, memoirs of the Civil Rights movement, accounts by those imprisoned, and stories of working peoples’ struggles to limit their exploitation. There will be weekly writing.
This is an INSIDE/OUT course. There will be 15 Amherst and Five College students and 15 inside students from the Hampshire County Jail. The course meets at the Jail. To be admitted, outside students must be interviewed the week before fall preregistration (contact firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule).
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Emeritus O’Connell.
2022-23: Not offered
“The word ‘suffer,’” Nietzsche writes, is something that we “set up . . . at the point at which our ignorance begins, at which we can see no further.” What makes suffering especially mysterious–and especially attractive as an element of story-telling–is that it both escapes secure designation and refuses to be ineffable; it is a Thing, neither fully beyond nor fully within our ken. It provokes a desire to give it shape and a desire to do no more than approach its shapelessness; it occasions humanitarian crises and stands beyond them as an unbudgeable element of existence; it rings like a pure gold coin and like an alarm bell that cannot be shut off. In this course, we will be studying a series of thematically connected but wildly different works that model especially suggestive ways of approaching this phenomenon. Readings will include the Book of Job, King Lear, Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Owen Chase’s shipwreck narrative, John Hersey’s Hiroshima, Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
Omitted 2015-16. Professor Sanborn.2022-23: Not offered
Readings and discussions centering on the work of Thomas Hardy, W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and Wallace Stevens. Some attention also to A.E. Housman, Edward Thomas, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams.
Spring semester. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2022-23: Not offered
Readings of poets who have chosen to live in a culture other than their own, with an emphasis on T.S. Eliot in London, Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil, Thom Gunn in California, and Agha Shahid Ali in New England. Two class meetings per week.
Spring semester. Writer-in-Residence Hall.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
A study of American and British gay and lesbian novelists, from 1990 to the present, who have written historical novels. We will examine such topics as the kinds of expressive and ideological possibilities the historical novel offers gay and lesbian novelists, the representation of sexuality in narratives that take place before Stonewall, and the way these authors position queer lives in history. Novelists include Sarah Waters, Emma Donoghue, Jeanette Winterson, Leslie Feinberg, Alan Hollinghurst, Colm Tóibín, and Michael Cunningham.
Omitted 2015-16. Professor Frank.2022-23: Not offered
This course reads Chinese diasporic literatures along a transnational itinerary, analyzing literary fictions hailing from Southeast Asia, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and the Caribbean. At each location, Chinese immigrants must confront a multiethnic society of layered colonial histories, and we ask how encounters with other indigenous, immigrant, or colonial peoples change their conceptions about being Chinese, their understanding of self and other, and the ways they narrate belonging and community. We will have an emphasis on women authors, and the issues of gender in diaspora and transnational experiences will be central to many discussions. The literary texts are predominantly Anglophone, with the possibility of one or two texts translated from Sinophone origins, and a few films will be included as course material when appropriate. Possible authors include Eileen Zhang, Maxine Hong Kingston, Gish Jen, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Hwee Hwee Tan, Brian Castro, Tze-Ming Mok, Meiling Jin, Jan Lowe Shinebourne, and Kerry Yang; films may include works by Wong Kar-wai, Ang Lee, and Tsai Ming-liang.
Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Huang.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 317 and BLST 252 [CLA].) A survey of the work of Anglophone Caribbean poets, alongside readings about the political, cultural and aesthetic traditions that have influenced their work. Readings will include longer cycles of poems by Derek Walcott and Edward Kamau Brathwaite; dialect and neoclassical poetry from the colonial period, as well as more recent poetry by women writers and performance (“dub”) poets.
Omitted 2015-16. Professor Cobham-Sander.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 318 and BLST 362 [A/CLA].) The course will concentrate on Caribbean authors. It explores the process of self-definition in literary works from Africa and the Caribbean that are built around child protagonists. We will examine the authors’ various methods of ordering experience through the choice of literary form and narrative technique, as well as the child/author’s perception of his or her society. French texts will be read in translation.
Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Fall semester. Professor Cobham-Sander.2022-23: Not offered
A second, advanced workshop for practicing poets. Students will undertake a longer project as well as doing exercises every week exploring technical problems.
Requisite: ENGL 221 or the equivalent. Limited enrollment. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Omitted 2015-16. Writer-in-Residence Hall.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
A poetry writing course, but with a strong emphasis on reading. Students will closely examine the work of various poets and periods, then attempt to write plausible imitations of their own, all by way of learning about poetry from the inside, as it were.
Limited to 15 students. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Omitted 2015-16. Writer-in-Residence Hall.2022-23: Not offered
An advanced level fiction class. Students will undertake a longer project as well as doing exercises every week exploring technical problems.
Requisite: Completion of a previous course in creative writing. Limited enrollment. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Spring semester. Visiting Writer Gaige.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
[before 1800] The course aims to give the student rapid mastery of Chaucer’s English and an active appreciation of his poetry. No prior knowledge of Middle English is expected. A knowledge of Modern English grammar and its nomenclature, or a similar knowledge of another language, will be helpful. Short critical papers and frequent declamation in class. The emphasis will be on Chaucer’s humor, irony, and his narrative and dramatic gifts. We will read most of the poetic Tales and excerpts from the two prose Tales. Three class hours per week.
Omitted 2015-16. Professor Nelson.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
[before 1800] Readings in the comedies, histories, and tragedies, with attention to their poetic language, dramatic structure, and power in performance. Texts and topics will vary by instructor.
Limited to 50 students. Fall semester: Professor Grobe. Spring semester: Professor Bosman.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 339 and SWAG 339.) [before 1800] “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” Virginia Woolf famously said in 1929. What did the landscape of women’s writing look like before women were allowed such liberties, and what effects did their social conditions have on their writing? This course focuses on the work of early female writers, from the medieval to the Romantic period–many of whom are still overlooked today.
We will survey a range of writing by women from 1350 to 1850, putting English and American poets into conversation with political agitators, religious mystics and martyrs, the authors of woman-centered periodicals, and novelists. Our readings will include well-known works by Aphra Behn and Jane Austen along with lesser-known and even anonymous women-authored poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Secondary readings by feminist critics and historians such as Virginia Woolf, Judith Butler, and Toril Moi will frame our discussions. We will ask, how did women writers participate in or drive the invention of new literary forms, such as the periodical and the novel? Does women’s writing have specific formal or stylistic characteristics, and are these affected by women’s social standing and access to education? What does an English literary history that fully includes women’s writing look like, and how does it differ from standard literary histories?
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professors Nelson and Worsley.
2022-23: Not offered
[before 1800] A study of six classic writers from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: Ben Jonson, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Swift, and Samuel Johnson. Among the readings are: Jonson, poems and Volpone; Milton, Comus, “Lycidas” and Paradise Lost; Dryden, poems and critical prose; Pope, “The Rape of the Lock,” Essay on Man, The Dunciad; Swift, Tale of a Tub, Gulliver’s Travels, poems; Johnson, poems, Rasselas, Prefaces to Shakespeare and to the Dictionary, passages from Boswell’s Life of Johnson.
Omitted 2015-16. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2022-23: Not offered
[before 1800] Exploring the relations between literary form and socioeconomic change, this course examines the rise of the novel in England in the context of the rise of capitalism. Topics of discussion will include the novels’ portrayals of subjectivity, the representation of female experience, the role of servants in the imaginary worlds of novels by ruling-class authors, and the early novel’s affinity for and relation to criminality. Novels by Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Sterne, Burney and Edgeworth.
Omitted 2015-16. Professor Frank.2022-23: Not offered
Can reading poetry change our understanding of our environment? How might the way we perceive nature be conditioned by the ways in which writers have imagined it? In turn, how might the way we perceive our own imaginations be conditioned by ideas about the natural world? Although “nature” might seem like a universal and unchanging concept, British Romantic writers did much to invent our modern perception of it. This course questions what “nature” might mean, and how it developed alongside changing ideas about the imagination.
We will read the writings of William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth, Charlotte Smith, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Keats, and Felicia Hemans alongside seventeenth- and eighteenth-century theories of the imagination by David Hume, Edmund Burke, and Immanuel Kant. We will also make frequent visits to the Mead Art gallery in order to experiment with some of these imaginative theories. Finally, we will debate what impact this history has had on current environmental discourse, contemporary ethics, and the Green movement. Some critics have argued, for instance, that the Romantics’ reverence for nature is more destructive than it might at first seem. Might it be more environmentally responsible to get rid of the Romantic concept of “nature” altogether?
Fall semester. Professor Worsley.
2022-23: Not offered
Readings in twentieth-century writers such as Henry James, Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis, Ford Madox Ford, Virginia Woolf, Evelyn Waugh, W.H. Auden, Robert Graves, George Orwell, Ivy Compton-Burnett.
Omitted 2015-16. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 350 and AMST 350.) [before 1800] American Origins is a course in Early American literature and history. It explores when and how this country began. We readily forget that it only became the “United States” in 1789. Before that and from early in the European conquests, it was “the (Spanish, or French, or English, or Dutch) colonies,” or “America” and thus but a part of European settlements in both the Southern and the Northern hemispheres. It was also a place known as “Turtle Island,” with indigenous trade networks that traversed the continent. It was also a foreign land to which countless African people were brought as slaves, men and women who adapted and made this land their own. These simultaneities and complexities frustrate any comprehensive narrative of the period.
This will, then, be an experiment in shaping a transnational Early American literature and history course. Our goal is to expand the geographic and temporal boundaries of the subject using archival, print, and digital sources. We hope to learn multiple ways of reading the “texts” of early America: print books, pamphlets, broadsides, petitions, manuscripts and graphic media–and innovative scholarship. These will give us some access to the many peoples reshaping what was, in fact, a very Old World.
The end goal is for students to design a syllabus that can be used in secondary schools, or for a future course at Amherst.
Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Limited to 36 students. Fall semester. Professor Brooks and Professor Emeritus O’Connell.
2022-23: Not offered
Some classic novels from the first half of the twentieth century will be considered with an eye to juxtaposing English and American writers. Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Theodore Dreiser, D.H. Lawrence, Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Evelyn Waugh.
Omitted 2015-16. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2022-23: Not offered
Novels and short fiction, mainly comic, by such writers as Evelyn Waugh, Saul Bellow, Flannery O’Connor, Elizabeth Taylor, Kingsley Amis, John Updike, Philip Roth, Nicholson Baker, Ian McEwan, Jonathan Franzen, Barbara Pym. The effort will be to refine and complicate one’s performance as a critic of these writers and their books.
Fall semester. Professor Pritchard.2022-23: Not offered
“I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be extra-vagant enough, may not wander far enough beyond the narrow limit of my daily experience, so as to be adequate to the truth of which I have been convinced,” Thoreau writes in Walden. “Extra vagance! it depends on how you are yarded.” The aim of this course is to seek in a series of fictional extravaganzas by American authors a better understanding of how we are generally yarded, as readers of stories and novels, and what opens up for us when that yard expands. What does a wildness of invention, an insistent pressure on the confines of literary forms, make it possible for us to feel and know? What aspects of American cultural history are exposed to our view when writers freewheelingly generate, in Melville’s words, “more reality than real life itself can show”? Readings include Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Nabokov’s Pale Fire, the stories of Donald Barthelme and Lydia Davis, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Edward P. Jones’s The Known World, and Mat Johnson’s Pym.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Sanborn.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 373 and FAMS 353.) U.S. film in the 1970s was evident of tremendous aesthetic and economic innovation. Rife with but not limited to conspiracy, disaster, love and war, 1970s popular films range from the counter-cultural to the commercial, the independent to the industrial. Thus, while American cinema of the first half of the decade is known as the work of groundbreaking independent “auteurs,” the second half of the decade witnessed an industrial transformation through the emergence of the giant blockbuster hit. With a focus on cultural and historical factors shaping filmmaking and film-going practices and with close attention to film form, this course will explore thematic threads, directors, stars, and genres that emerged and developed during the decade. While the course will largely focus on mainstream film, we will set this work in some relation to other movements of the era: blaxploitation, comic parodies, documentary, and New American Cinema. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Prior coursework in Film and Media Studies is recommended but not required. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Hastie.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 374, BLST 330 [US], and FAMS 358.) In offering extended formal considerations of Spike Lee’s cinematic oeuvre–in particular his uses of light, sound, and color–this course is interested in how shifting through various modes of critical inquiry can enable or broaden different kinds of cultural, political, or historical engagement with a film. This semester we will also pay special attention to the question of what it means to encapsulate a particular cultural moment, particularly vis-à-vis the often differing demands of fictional and non-fictional representation.
Spring semester. Professors Parham and Drabinski.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as FAMS 350 and ENGL 376). This course will introduce students to a diverse range of experimental approaches to narrative filmmaking. Students will gain skills in filmmaking and criticism through project assignments, readings and analysis of language, performance and visual structure within selected films. Workshops in cinematography, sound recording and editing will be offered. The course will concentrate on filmmakers who are working in a context of multiple languages, hybrid forms and transnational histories. Screenings will include works by Jia Zhangke, Mati Diop, Abderrahmane Sissako, Pedro Costa, Claire Denis, and Nagisa Oshima. Students will complete three film and video projects. Lab fee required. Course meetings include one three hour consecutive meeting per week and one screening time per week.
Recommended prior coursework: ENGL 287/FAMS 228, Introduction to Super 8 Film and Digital Video, or other introductory course in film and video, photography, or painting. Admission with consent of instructor. Please complete the questionnaire at https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/departments/film/major/major-requirements/forms and submit to Prof. Hillman. Limited to 13 students. Fall semester. Five College Professor Hillman.
2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 377 and FAMS 383.) This course focuses on the documentary impulse–that is, the desire for an encounter with the “real”–as a way of understanding the different philosophies and ideologies that have shaped the history and practice of documentary. We will approach canonical studies of the modes of documentary (e.g., expository, observational, poetic, reflexive), placing pressure on concepts whose resonance or antagonism has shaped the notion of documentary, such as spectacle, authenticity, reality, mimesis, art, fiction, and performance. In addition to encountering canonical documentary films and major debates, we will analyze documentary as a complex discourse that has been shaped by multiple media forms (such as photography, television, and new media) and exhibition contexts (the art gallery, the cinema, the smartphone). Assignments will include group presentations, analytical exercises, and a final research paper. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Recommended requisite: A prior introductory film course. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Professor Rangan.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 381 and FAMS 351.) Film theorist Siegfried Kracauer declared that some of the first films showed “life at its least controllable and most unconscious moments, a jumble of transient, forever dissolving patterns accessible only to the camera.” This course will explore the ways contemporary narrative films aesthetically represent everyday life–capturing both its transience and our everyday ruminations. We will further consider the ways we incorporate film into our everyday lives through various modes of viewings (the arthouse, the multiplex, the DVD, the mp3), our means of perception, and in the kinds of souvenirs we keep. We will look at films by Chantal Akerman, Robert Altman, Marleen Gorris, Hirokazu Koreeda, Marzieh Makhmalbaf, Terrence Malick, Lynne Ramsay, Tsai Ming-liang, Agnès Varda, Wong Kar-wai, and Andy Warhol. Readings will include work by Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Marlene Dietrich, Sigmund Freud, and various works in film and media studies. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Not open to first-year students. Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Professor Hastie.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 382, ARHA 382, and FAMS 381.) This course examines the history of American avant-garde film, paying special attention to the alternative cultural institutions that have facilitated experimental cinema’s emergence and longevity in the U.S. since the 1940s. Through critical readings and weekly film screenings, we will analyze some of the major tendencies that have defined the postwar American avant-garde, including the poetic and amateur filmmakers of the ’40s and ’50s, the underground film and political documentary movements of the ’60s, the structural film and women’s cinema formations of the ’70s, the turn toward small-gauge and found footage practices in the ’80s, and more contemporary engagements with hand-made film and expanded cinema. Special emphasis will be given to the broader institutional practices that have surrounded the production and maintenance of avant-garde film culture. Examining critical histories of radical filmmaking collectives, cooperative distribution centers, art film societies, critical journals, and experimental film archives, we will consider how the avant-garde’s interest in creating an alternative cinema necessitated a dramatic reorganization of existing modes of filmic production, distribution, exhibition, reception, and preservation. Screenings of films by Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Andy Warhol, Barbara Rubin, Newsreel, Michael Snow, Barbara Hammer, Saul Levine, Peggy Ahwesh, Jennifer Reeves, and others will be included. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Requisite: One 100-level or 200-level FAMS or ENGL course, or consent of the instructor. Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Guilford.
2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 388 and FAMS 240.) A first workshop in narrative screenwriting. Through frequent exercises, readings and screenings we will explore the fundamentals of scene and story shape as they’re practiced in mainstream American commercial filmmaking while taking a broader look at what a screenplay might be outside of that world. We’ll look at two modes of writing that are often at odds with each other: the well-established craft of three-act screenwriting within the Hollywood tradition, on the one hand, and the more elastic possibilities of the audio-visual medium as exemplified by the so-called “art film,” on the other. One three-hour class meeting per week.
Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Preference will be given to English and FAMS majors. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Please complete the questionnaire at https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/departments/film/major/major-requirements/forms. Fall semester. Visiting Lecturer Johnson.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Like every other aspect of human culture, literature interacts with biology–with, in Elizabeth Grosz’s words, “a system of (physical, chemical, organic) differences that engenders historical, social, cultural, and sexual differences.” The aim of this course is to make that fact as intellectually fruitful as possible. What happens to our understanding of literature if we think of it as an expression of life? What happens, that is, if we think of literature as one of the countless things that emerges from a non-personal, non-teleological process of evolution? And what happens if we think of individual works of literature as potential ways of getting closer, conceptually and sensually, to life, to the difference-making process within which we all find ourselves? Critical readings will include selections from Grosz’s Becoming Undone and Timothy Morton’s The Ecological Thought; literary readings will include Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Thoreau’s Walden, James Welch’s Winter in the Blood, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, and Edward P. Jones’s The Known World. A background in the natural sciences is welcome but not necessary.
Spring semester. Professor Sanborn.2022-23: Not offered
In 1980, on the eve of publication of his second short story collection, Raymond Carver wrote to his editor Gordon Lish and begged him to stop the presses. Carver felt Lish had edited the stories so dramatically the author could no longer claim them as his own. Yet this collection is an American masterpiece. What can we learn about the art and practice of editing from this relationship? How does one read and think like an editor? In addition to reading editor-author correspondence and the “before” and “after” versions of landmark literary works, including The Great Gatsby, students will read and analyze trail-blazing literary magazines, defunct and contemporary, that have shaped literary landscapes and authors’ careers. Submissions to The Common, the Amherst College-based print and online literary magazine, will provide some of the course materials and opportunities for hands-on editing work.
Requisite: One English course at the 200 level or higher required. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16. Visiting Lecturer Acker.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 412 and EUST 412.) [before 1800] This course introduces students to the hands-on study of medieval manuscripts. Students will examine materials in the Frost Library archives, as well as print and digital facsimiles of medieval manuscripts, to learn about how medieval literature was copied and read in its own time. Students will learn the skills of paleography (reading old handwriting) and codicology (analyzing the materials and assembly of old books) in order to conduct original research on these materials. They will also learn about medieval and early modern book culture. The course includes a field trip to the Rare Books library at Harvard University.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Professor Nelson.
2022-23: Not offered
This is an advanced writing course for students seeking to move their fiction writing into longer forms. Students will be expected to complete at least 60 pages of new writing, comprised of three different “approaches” to novel writing. Readings will be extensive, including published novels, the work of peers, and essays on theory and craft. One class meeting per week.
Requisite: ENGL 226. Recommended requisite: ENGL 326. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited enrollment. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Omitted 2015-16. Visiting Writer Gaige.2022-23: Not offered
[before 1800] By studying selected Shakespeare plays and their afterlives in literature and performance, we will explore the fate of culture over centuries of global mobility. What qualities of Shakespeare’s works render them peculiarly adaptable to a world of intercultural conflict, borrowing and fusion? And what light does the translation and adaptation of Shakespeare shed on the dialectic of cultural persistence and change? Our examples may include European literature and theater; American silent film and musicals; post-colonial appropriations in India, Africa and Latin America; and versions in the drama, opera and cinema of China and Japan. The course includes an independent research project on a chosen case study.
Requisite: ENGL 338 (Shakespeare). Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Bosman.2022-23: Not offered
[before 1800] Shaped at the convergence of new technologies of print and performance, the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries marked a key moment in the history of media. Ever since then, the plays have been on the edge of media change, including the rise of cinema, television, multimedia theatre, digital texts and archives, and interactive pedagogies. This course surveys a range of drama and spectacle that originated in early modern England and survives today in media the Renaissance could not have imagined. We will attend closely to the changing relation between literary forms and material formats, asking how art and technology have developed and disrupted each other at the points of production and reception alike.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Bosman.2022-23: Not offered
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 driven by their arguments and arguments that look an awful lot like plays. As the semester wears on, you will begin to research your own angle on the theme of ideas performed. Your final project will be a mock prospectus, in which you will imagine this “angle” of yours turning into a thesis project–creative, critical, or a mixture of the two.
Previous experience with drama or performance is helpful, but hardly required. The reading load is heavy and expectations for classroom engagement are high. Would you turn up to a performance not knowing your lines? I didn’t think so. See you there.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Grobe.2022-23: Not offered
Are we most ourselves when we are alone? Is creativity made more possible by solitude? Why do artists and writers tend to be seen as more solitary than other kinds of people?
In this course, we will study shifting ideas about the relationship between the self, solitude, and creativity in the works of William Wordsworth, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Charlotte Smith, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Felicia Hemans, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and Mary Wollstonecraft. Our main focus will be on Romantic poetry, but we will also pay close attention to texts about solitude that the Romantics themselves read, such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet and The Tempest, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and eighteenth-century “graveyard poetry,” in order to question more rigorously how ideas about solitude changed across time. How do factors such as gender, race, national origin, and class have a bearing upon the way that solitude is represented? The course includes an independent research project, in which students are asked to find a memoir, philosophical work, novel, periodical, or piece of travel writing from 1700-1830, in which solitude is a central concept, in order to ask how the development of different genres and modes of autobiographical writing affected ideas about solitude.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Worsley.2022-23: Not offered
A seminar–intensive reading, in-class presentations, a long paper at the end–in which the work of six major poets will be studied: Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Wilbur, and Anthony Hecht. Attention will be given to the poets’ own critical writing, in letters, interviews, reviews, and essays, as well as to the critical literature devoted to them.
Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors, with preference given to junior English majors who have not taken a 400-level English course. Although this is an English Department seminar, students not majoring in English will be welcomed. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Sofield and Simpson Lecturer Wilbur.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 441 and EUST 374.) [before 1800] In this course, we read a selection of English and other European lyrics (in translation) from the twelfth through the seventeenth centuries. An exciting, fertile era in poetic innovation, these centuries see the dawn of the first romantic love poetry in these languages, the invention of new forms like the sonnet, and the invention of the lyric “anthology.” Reading the lyrics of the French troubadour poets, Chaucer, Petrarch, Wyatt, Donne, Shakespeare, and the many brilliant anonymous poets of medieval England, we will examine both the text and contexts of these short poems. Close readings will be put in dialogue with cultural contexts (such as the volatile court of Henry VIII, in which Thomas Wyatt wrote), and the material contexts of the lyrics (the medieval and early modern manuscripts and books in which they first appeared). We will further think about how the term “lyric” emerges as a privileged poetic category, by reading contemporary “defenses” of poetry and thinking about why the word “lyric” only appears in the sixteenth century. Does the “lyric” poem change once it is defined? How do later works speak to the earlier tradition?
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Nelson.2022-23: Not offered
[before 1800] Adapting legends of King Arthur, and with inventiveness that in our own time might have turned to science fiction, Edmund Spenser creates the first English epic poem. The Fairy Queen (1590) engages romantic love, gender roles, religious controversy, and Elizabethan politics. Modeling himself on classical predecessors, Spenser through his career shapes the idea of a national poet. John Milton, possessed by Jerusalem, Greece, and Rome and committed to the English revolution, follows Spenser in creating himself as bard of a redeemed nation in the greatest of English long poems, Paradise Lost (1667). Canonized yet occasionally reviled, both poets are the subject of critical controversies raising questions about the nature of poetry and its relationship to its own time and ours.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16. Visiting Professor Berek.2022-23: Not offered
Readings of the poetry and prose (in Keats’ case, letters) of these two major Romantic figures. Attention will be paid to the biographical, political, and social implications of their writings.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Emeritus Townsend.2022-23: Not offered
A seminar–-intensive reading, in-class presentations, a long paper at the end-–in which the work of six or seven British and American post-World War II poets will be studied. The poets will be drawn from this group: W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Amy Clampitt, Richard Wilbur, Philip Larkin, Anthony Hecht, David Ferry, Donald Justice, John Ashbery, Geoffrey Hill, Louise Glück, and Don Paterson. Attention will be given to the poets’ own critical writing as well as to the critical literature devoted to them.
Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors, with preference to junior English majors who have not taken a 400-level English course. Although an English Department seminar, students not majoring in English are welcome. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Sofield.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 454 and BLST 442.) William Faulkner and Toni Morrison are generally understood as two of the most important writers of the twentieth century. In a country that works hard to live without a racial past, both authors have brought deep articulation to what it means to experience that which is often otherwise ignored and regardless unspoken. This semester we will explore several key novels from each author’s oeuvre, looking for where their texts converge and diverge. We will also spend time with Jean Toomer–-a modernist writer critical to understanding what might be at stake in Faulkner and Morrison’s writerly manipulations of time, space, place, and memory–-and with several philosophical texts that will help us to conceptualize what it means to “know” something like race or to “understand” history.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Parham.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 456, BLST 441 [US], and FAMS 451.) This class begins with narratives about individuals who pass–that is, who come to be recognized as someone different from whom they were sexually or racially “born as.” Such stories suggest that one’s identity depends minimally on the body into which one is born, and is more attached to the supplementation and presentation of that body in support of whichever cultural story the body is desired to tell. Drawing on familiar liberal humanist claims, which centralize human identity in the mind, these narratives also respond to the growing sophistication of human experience with virtual worlds–from acts of reading to immersions in computer simulation. But what kinds of tensions emerge when bodies nonetheless signify beyond an individual’s self-imagination? As technology expands the possibilities of the virtual, for instance surrogacy, cloning, and cybernetics, what pressures are brought to bear on the physical human body and its processes to signify authentic humanness? Rather than ask whether identity is natural or cultural, our discussions will project these questions into a not-so-distant future: What would it mean to take “human” as only one identity, as a category amongst many others, each also acknowledged as equally subject to the same social and biological matrices of desire, creation, and recognition? We will approach these questions through works of literature, philosophy, media history, and contemporary science writing.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Parham.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as BLST 432 [US] and ENGL 457.) Ralph Waldo Ellison wrote Invisible Man to confirm the existence of the universal in the particulars of the black American experience. The same can be said of the larger aim of this course. It will provide students with the opportunity to explore the broadest themes of Black Studies through the careful reading of a particular text. Due to its broad range of influence and reference, Invisible Man is one of the most appropriate books in the black tradition for this kind of attention. The course will proceed through a series of comparisons with works that influenced the literary style and the philosophical content of the novel. The first part of the course will focus on comparisons to world literature. Readings will include James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo; and H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man. The second part of the course will focus on comparisons to American literature. The readings in this part of the course will include Herman Melville, The Confidence Man; William Faulkner, “The Bear”; and some of Emerson’s essays. The last part of the course will focus on comparisons with books in the black tradition. Some of the readings in this part of the course will include W.E.B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk and Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery. Requires 20-25 page research paper.
Limited to 15 students. Open to juniors and seniors. Preference given to Black Studies majors. Fall semester. Professor Ferguson.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 458 and AMST 358.) [before 1800] This course will delve deeply into the literature and history of “Turtle Island,” or North America. The Quiché Maya Popol Vuh (Council Book), the Iroquois Great Law, and the Wabanaki creation cycle are rooted in longstanding, complex oral narratives of emergence and transformation, which were recorded by Native authors and scribes. We will close read these epics (in English) as works of “ancient American” literature, as narratives of tribal history, and as living constitutions of tribal governance. We will study the tribally and regionally-specific contexts of these epic narratives as well as the “intellectual trade routes” that link them together. The course will conclude with an epic narrative of more recent colonial history, composed by the nineteenth-century Pequot author William Apess, born in the Connecticut River valley. Following an interdisciplinary American studies approach, our reading will be enriched by guest speakers and artistic media.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Brooks.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 462, FAMS 462, and ARHA 462.) In recent years, curating has taken on an increasingly central role in the production of contemporary media cultures. As the practice of selecting, organizing, and presenting cultural artifacts for public exhibition, curating often determines the sorts of media forms audiences have access to and the frameworks through which those media forms are interpreted. Curating requires a facility with a wide variety of skills, from historical research to critical analysis, communication, administration, and creative thinking. Yet it also entails an attentiveness to the complex socio-political issues that subtend all approaches to cultural representation.
This course introduces students to the history, theory, and practice of film and video curation, paying special attention to the curation of experimental media. Students will learn about curating in both theoretical and practical ways, analyzing a variety of conceptual issues and debates that have emerged from historical and contemporary approaches to experimental film and video exhibition, while also embarking on creative assignments designed to allow them to begin developing their own curatorial perspectives. Through weekly screenings, readings, and discussion seminars, as well as visits to off-campus arts venues and cultural institutions, we will examine the different registers of film and video exhibitions that are regularly shaped by curators (program, sequence, exhibition space, text, and formats, etc.), as well as the broader social and political stakes of media curation. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Requisite: At least one foundational course in FAMS or ARHA. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Guilford.
2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as ENGL 471, BLST 412 [A], and SWAG 471.) How do literary texts transmute human bodies into subjects–gendered subjects, colonial subjects, disabled subjects, terrorists, cultural icons, cyborgs? And what happens when we use ideas about the body to represent the body politic? In this course we will examine how modern African writers utilize a variety of genres, including ethnographic writing, Kung Fu movies, pornography, traditional epic, and graffiti, to challenge our notions of what counts as a body, as a nation, or as a text. Alongside novels by established writers, we will consider recent books and digital creations by Chimamanda Adichie, Chris Abani, Teju Cole, Zakes Mda, Werewere Liking, and Taiye Selasi.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Cobham-Sander.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 474 and BLST 452 [CLA].) This digital humanities seminar examines how the concurrent migrations of Chinese and Indian indentured laborers to the Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean workers to and from the Panama Canal, at the turn of the twentieth century, contributed to the emergence of Modern Caribbean Literature. Students will explore the digital, print, and audio-visual archives related to these migrations, now stored in the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC), to enrich their reading of Caribbean literature. Librarians at Amherst, as well as scholars, librarians, and students at three other American and Caribbean universities, will partner with us in the course. We will hold some class discussions online and collaborate via social media on some of the course assignments. Authors whose works we will read include Victor Chang, Staceyann Chin, Maryse Condé, H.G. de Lisser, Ramabai Espinet, Ismith Khan, Claude McKay, V.S. Naipaul and Eric Walrond.
A previous course in English, History, or Black Studies is recommended. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Spring semester. Professor Cobham-Sander.2022-23: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 475 and FAMS 475.) This course examines the similarities in form and content between the Victorian novel and the modern television series. While contemporary TV and fiction from over a century ago might seem like a surprising pairing, the two forms have a great deal in common. Indeed, serial television finds its foundation in nineteenth-century publication practices: the Victorian novels we now read as massive single-volume books were originally published in small weekly or monthly parts. Focusing on case studies in which we place a Victorian novel and a television series side by side, this course interrogates questions of genre, form, medium, and the dubious division of popular entertainment and high art. Through experiments with our own reading, writing, and viewing habits, we will ask how the serial forms of the Victorian novel and TV illuminate each other, what habits of consumption they promote, and what they have to teach us about seriality itself.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 16 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professors Christoff and Hastie.2022-23: 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. One two hour-and-forty-minute class meeting and one screening per week.
Requisite: At least one foundational course in FAMS or equivalent introductory film course, plus any one course in cultural studies/literary theory/gender studies/race and ethnicity studies. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Rangan.
2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Independent Reading Courses.
Fall and spring semester. The Department.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 491 and BLST 461 [CLA].) What would it mean to write in the language in which we dream? A language that we can hear, but cannot (yet) see? Is it possible to conceive a language outside the socio-symbolic order? And can one language subvert the codes and values of another? Questions like these have animated the creolité/nation language debate among Caribbean intellectuals since the mid-1970s, producing some of the most significant francophone and anglophone writing of the twentieth century. This course reads across philosophy, cultural theory, politics, and literature in order to consider the claims such works make for the Creole imagination. We will engage the theoretical and creative work of Édouard Glissant, Maryse Condé, Wilson Harris, Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, Patrick Chamoiseau, Jamaica Kincaid, and Edwidge Danticat. We also will consider how these writers transform some of the fundamental ideas of psychoanalysis, poststructuralism, and critical historiography. At stake in our readings will be the various aesthetic and political aspects of postcolonial struggle–how to think outside the colonial architecture of language; how to contest and subvert what remains from history’s violence; and how to evaluate the claims to authenticity of creolized New World cultural forms.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professors Cobham-Sander and Drabinski.2022-23: 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.), we will also draw on the expertise of our own faculty, bringing in weekly guest speakers to help explain particular methodologies and to tell us about how they engage with theory in their own scholarship. In this upper-level seminar, students will grapple with complex theoretical texts, consider the place of theory in literary studies and in film, media, and cultural studies as well, and begin to imagine ways of putting theoretical ideas to work for themselves.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Christoff.
2022-23: Not offered
Open to senior English majors who wish to pursue a self-defined project in reading and writing. Students intending to elect this course must submit to the Department 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.
Preregistration is not allowed. Admission with consent of the instructor. Fall semester.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022