When writing about literature, performance or, indeed, any form of art, you face a difficult task. In order to share your perceptions with readers, you must first conjure the artwork for them using nothing but words. The ancient Greeks had a name for this feat: ekphrasis, literally the “speaking out” of an experience or thing, the verbal description of a non-verbal work of art.
In this class, an introduction to literary study, performance analysis, and critical writing across the arts, we will study ekphrastic poems, prose, and plays in order to see how they conjure works of art. We will then test our own ekphrastic powers, not only on these literary works themselves, but also on art we encounter near Amherst College. Since this will require you to attend an assortment of performances (literary, musical, theatrical, and dance-based) and to visit museums, cinemas, and art galleries near campus, it will serve as your introduction to the wide range of cultural institutions in the area. You will be expected to engage in workshops in class and meet individually with the instructor outside class on a regular basis to discuss your writing.
Preference given to first-year students and sophomores. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Grobe.2020-21: Not offered
Why study literature? In many contexts, including the contexts of most other academic disciplines, one reads in order to extract the gist of a text. By studying literature, we enable ourselves to do much more than that. Studying literature makes it possible to recover a relationship to language that we all once had, in which words and their interrelationships were new, strange, and rich with possibility. It makes it possible to develop a more acute awareness of the ongoing tension between language as units of meaning (words, phrases, sentences) and language as units of sound (the beat of syllables, the harmonization of one syllable with another). It even makes it possible for us to carry this sense of everything that is uncanny about language–the medium of our relationship to others and to ourselves–into our lives more generally, to recognize that in just about everything that we say, we mean more than we mean to mean. People who study literature are people who are capable of taking away from conversations, no less than from poems, much more than the gist, the summary, the bottom line. By dwelling on texts patiently, by slowing down the process of moving from mystery to certainty, by opening ourselves to the crosscurrents of potential meanings that are present at every moment in just about every sentence, it is possible for us to become more accurate and nuanced readers of just about everything that happens in our lives.
Open to first-year students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Sanborn.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
Literature engages us. It moves us, it delights us, it makes us ask hard questions. How do we engage literature? How do we respond to it in conversation, in writing, in performance, and in our communities? How do we write about literature in a way that effectively engages others?
This class seeks to engage you in a process of seeing literature and your own writing process anew. We will engage with authors, in person, in public, and on the page. We will attend literary events and enter into conversations among writers: authors who are influenced and inspired by each other, literary critics who give us illuminating interpretations, and literary historians who open our eyes to contexts heretofore unseen. Students will practice writing about literature in a range of modes from the personal essay to the book review to the academic paper. Frequent writing workshops will be geared toward the process of revising in a collaborative environment. A first course in reading fictional, dramatic, lyric, and non-fiction texts, this course also challenges Amherst College students to think of themselves as writers.
Preference given to first-year students. Limited to 18 students. 10 seats reserved for first-year students. Fall semester. Professor Mireles Christoff.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 111 and SWAG 111) Using a variety of texts–novels, essays, short stories–this course will work to develop the reading and writing of difficult prose, paying particular attention to the kinds of evidence and authority, logic and structure that produce strong arguments. The authors we study may include Peter Singer, Aravind Adiga, Willa Cather, Toni Morrison, George Orwell, Charles Johnson, James Baldwin, Alice Munro, William Carlos Williams. This is an intensive writing course. Frequent short papers will be assigned.
Preference given to first-year Amherst College students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Each section limited to 12 students. Fall semester: Professor Barale and Senior Lecturer Lieber. Spring semester: Senior Lecturer Lieber.2020-21: Offered in Spring 2021
(Offered as ENGL 112 and SWAG 106) This course will examine the phenomenon of “realism” in a variety of artistic media. We will study realism in the visual arts, film, television, and literature with a view towards determining the nature of our interest in the representation of “real life” and the ways in which works of art are or are not an accurate reflection of that life. Among the works we may consider are classic English novels (Defoe, Austen, Dickens), European and North and South American short fiction (Gogol, Zola, Chekhov, Henry James, Kafka, Borges, Alice Munro), essays and memoirs (Orwell, Frederick Exley, Mary Karr) and films, both documentary and fiction (Double Indemnity, The Battle of Algiers, Saving Private Ryan). Two themes will attract special attention: the representation of women’s lives and the representation of war. We will address such questions as the following: Is a photograph always more realistic than a painting? In what way can a story about a man who turns into a bug be considered realistic? How real is virtual reality? The course will conclude with an examination of the phenomenon of reality television.
This is an intensive writing course. Frequent short papers will be assigned. Preference given to first-year students and to students who have taken a previous intensive writing course and who wish to continue to work to improve their analytic writing. Admission with consent of the instructor. Each section limited to 12 students. Fall semester: Senior Lecturer Lieber. Spring semester: Professor Barale and Senior Lecturer Lieber.2020-21: 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 2018-19. Professor Nelson.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
This seminar explores the particular pleasures and interpretive problems of reading and writing about three very long works of fiction–novels so large that any sure grasp of the relation between individual part and mammoth whole may threaten to elude author and reader alike. How do we gauge, and thereby engage with, narratives of disproportionate scale and encyclopedic ambition? How do we lose, or find, our place in colossal fictional worlds? As befits its interest in the losing and finding of place, the course introduces students to college-level literary study. Short papers on different aspects of the novels will be assigned most weeks. In a recent version of the course, the seminar’s three novels included George Eliot’s Middlemarch, the first volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood. Future selections are likely to display similar historical, geographic, and stylistic diversity.
Limited to 18 first-year students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Mireles Christoff.2020-21: Not offered
This course considers from many perspectives what it means to read and write and learn and teach both for ourselves and for others. As part of the work of this course, in addition to the usual class hours, students will serve as weekly tutors and classroom assistants in adult basic education centers in nearby towns. Thus this course consciously engages with the obstacles to and the power of education through course readings, through self-reflexive writing about our own varied educational experiences, and through weekly work in the community. Although this course presses participants to reflect a great deal about teaching, this course does not teach how to teach. Instead it offers an exploration of the contexts and processes of education, and of the politics and desires that suffuse learning. Course readings range across literary genres including essays, poems, autobiographies, and novels in which education and teaching figure centrally, as well as readings in ethnography, sociology, psychology, and philosophy. The writing assignments cross many genres as well.
Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Cobham-Sander.2020-21: Not offered
With a focus on the skills of close reading and analytical writing, we will look at the ways in which writers imagine illness, how they try to make meaning out of illness, and how they use illness to explore other aspects of experience. This is not a course on the history of illness or the social construction of disease. We will discuss not only what writers say about illness but also how they say it: with what language and in what form they speak the experience of bodily and mental suffering. Readings may include drama by Sophocles, Molière and Margaret Edson; poetry by Donne and Mark Doty; fiction by José Saramago and Mark Haddon; and essays by Susan Sontag, Raphael Campo and Temple Grandin.
Preference given to first-year students. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Bosman.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
From Emily Dickinson to Robert Frost to Sonia Sánchez, Amherst is world-famous because of its poets. More than twenty well-known poets have written, lived and taught in the area where we find ourselves living. This introductory course is designed to welcome students who have not previously taken a college-level English course into the literary environment of Amherst, as well as into the literary community of poetry readers across the globe. Our main focus will be on the close-reading skills needed to engage with poetry of all kinds, and on the skills needed to write a college-level essay. We will engage in frequent writing workshops together. The class includes several field trips to places important to Amherst writers, and makes use of manuscript versions of poems held by the Frost Library.
No prior experience of poetry will be assumed. Limited to 18 first-year students. Fall semester. Professor Worsley.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
(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. Open to first-year and sophomore students. Fall semester. Professor Hastie.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
(Offered as BLST 203 [D], ENGL 216, and SWAG 203) The term “Women Writers” suggests, and perhaps assumes, a particular category. How useful is this term in describing the writers we tend to include under the frame? And further, how useful are the designations "African" and "African Diaspora"? We will begin by critically examining these central questions, and revisit them frequently as we read specific texts and the body of works included in this course. Our readings comprise a range of literary and scholarly works by canonical and more recent female writers from Africa, the Caribbean, and continental America. Framed primarily by Postcolonial Criticism, our explorations will center on how writers treat historical and contemporary issues specifically connected to women’s experiences, as well as other issues, such as globalization, modernity, and sexuality. We will consider the continuities and points of departure between writers, periods, and regions, and explore the significance of the writers’ stylistic choices. Here our emphasis will be on how writers appropriate vernacular and conventional modes of writing.
Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Visiting Lecturer Bailey.2020-21: 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. Fall semester. Professor Nelson.2020-21: Offered in Spring 2021
A first workshop in the writing of poetry. Class members will read and discuss each others’ work and will study the elements of prosody: the line, stanza forms, meter, free verse, and more. Open to anyone interested in writing poetry and learning about the rudiments of craft. Writing exercises weekly.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Preregistration is not allowed. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Fall semester. Writer-in-Residence Lawson. Spring semester: Visiting Lecturer Kapur.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
(Offered as THDA 270 and ENGL 222) A workshop in writing for the stage. The semester will begin with exercises that lead to the making of short plays and, by the end of the term, longer plays—ten minutes and up in length. Writing will be done in and out of class; students’ work will be discussed in the workshop and in private conferences. At the end of the term, the student will submit a portfolio of revisions of all the exercises, including the revisions of all plays.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Syers.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
(Offered as THDA 255, ENGL 223, and MUSI 255) This studio course is designed as an interactive laboratory for dancers, composers, actors, writers/poets, vocalists, and sound artists to work together to create meaningful interactions between sound, movement, and text. Working individually and in collaborative groups, students will create original material in the various media and experiment with multiple ways to craft interesting exchanges and dialogues between word, sound, and movement or to create hybrid forms. The emphasis in the course will be to work with exercises and structures that engender deep listening, looking, and imagining. Some of the questions that inform the course include: How do music, voices, electronic, digital, and natural sounds create a sonic world for live performance and vice versa? How can movement inform the writing of text and vice-versa? How can we successfully communicate and collaborate across and between the different languages of sounds, words, and movement? We will have a series of informal studio performances, events, and installations throughout the semester with a culminating final showing/listening at the end of the semester.
Requisite: Previous experience in composition in one or more of the central media, or consent of the instructors. Limited to 16 students. Spring semester. Professor Woodson and Visiting Instructor Meginsky.2020-21: Offered in Spring 2021
A first course in writing fiction. Emphasis will be on experimentation as well as on developing skill and craft. Workshop (discussion) format.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Preregistration is not allowed. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Fall semester: Professor Frank. Spring semester: Visiting Writer Gaige.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020, Spring 2021
The term “performance” can refer to any of the stylized doings that define our world. This, of course, includes the traditional performing arts, but it also encompasses religious rituals, public ceremonies, political protests, sports events, social media use, etc. “Performance” can even describe the regimented behaviors that structure our everyday lives, whether we’re aware of them or not.
In this course, you will explore this full range of performance through readings, screenings, and attendance at live performances. We will be guided in our approach by critical and theoretical texts in the interdisciplinary field of “performance studies.” Guiding questions will include: How is a performance different from a text? How do we enact a shared reality? How have the major forces shaping our world (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity, nationality) been created and sustained through acts of performance?
Students in this course will be required to complete regular, short exercises and writing assignments. A final exam, inviting creative approaches to critical topics, will assess mastery of the ideas in this course.
Omitted 2018-19. Professor Grobe.2020-21: Not offered
How small can drama get while remaining “dramatic”? That’s the question at the heart of this introductory course in drama. Early in the twentieth century, it wasn’t unusual to see a stage filled with dozens of actors, but over the last seventy years these onstage crowds have thinned. Three-, two-, and one-person dramas are now just as common as twenty-person plays once were.
In this course, you will study plays by writers who have found fresh inspiration within these tightening constraints. Using a small number of performers, they nonetheless find ways to explore massive social issues, draw out deep psychological truths, and test the limits of theatrical representation. As experiments at the lower limits of theater-making, these “small dramas” will help you isolate and study the most fundamental elements of drama. Once you understand these elements, you will see how playwrights use them–not only to construct a theatrical world, but also to conjure onstage the forces that shape our world.
In recent years, featured playwrights have included Eugene O’Neill, Samuel Beckett, Athol Fugard, Paula Vogel, Michael Frayn, Caryl Churchill, debbie tucker green, David Mamet, Cherríe Moraga, Suzan-Lori Parks, Young Jean Lee, Rajiv Joseph, and Amherst’s own Annie Baker. Beyond studying “drama” (narrowly defined) we also consider the place of other practices (e.g., performance art, stand-up comedy, and cabaret) within the history of solo performance.
Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Grobe.2020-21: 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. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Bosman.2020-21: 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. Spring semester. Professor Bosman.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
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 Emeritus Sofield. Spring semester: Professor Nelson.2020-21: Offered in Spring 2021
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. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Sanborn.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
A resourceful critic once called the novel “the great repository of pure and intense instances of life in print.” The aim of this course is to improve and enrich the student’s critical response to fiction, by identifying and taking pleasure in such instances of life in print. Questions of narrative procedure and literary value will be addressed in the lectures and papers. The first half of the term is devoted to some classic English and American works: Jane Austen’s Persuasion; Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers; Anthony Trollope’s The Warden; and novels by Henry James and Thomas Hardy. The remainder of the term will consider more recent writers from the last century and beyond such as Barbara Pym, Nicholson Baker, Ian McEwan, and Alice Munro.
Omitted 2018-19. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2020-21: 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.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Preregistration is not allowed. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Spring semester. Visiting Writer Gaige.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 258 and BLST 213 [D]) The very idea of the future presents a particular challenge when thinking about Black populations characterized by multiple overlapping experiences of displacement, including displacements in space—diaspora, migration, enslavement—and displacements in time—the middle passage as temporal fracture but also as beginning, the materiality of African pasts. How have futures been conceptualized by Black diasporic communities? What does it mean to transform heavy presents and pasts into visions for better, more livable worlds? This semester we will survey black speculative fiction from the nineteenth through twentieth centuries, looking at topics including Afrofuturism, enslavement, colonialism, science and technology, environmentalism, and dystopia.
Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Professor Parham.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as SWAG 202, BLST 242 [US], and ENGL 259) Why do love and courtship continue to be central concerns in black women's literature and contemporary black popular fiction? Are these thematic issues representative of apolitical yearnings or an allegory for political subjectivity? Drawing on a wide range of texts, we will examine the chasm between the "popular" and the literary, as we uncover how representations of love and courtship vary in both genres. Surveying the growing discourse in media outlets such as CNN and the Washington Post regarding the "crisis" of the single black woman, students will analyze the contentious public debates regarding black women and love and connect them to black women's literature and black feminist literary theory. Authors covered will range from Nella Larsen to Terry McMillan and topics will include gender, race, class, and sexuality.
Limited to 18 students. Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Henderson.2020-21: Not offered
The participants in this course will read and write letters. We will explore the letter as a complex instrument of communication, as literary artifact, as carrier of affect, intention and ideas, and as a record of individual and communal growth. Letter writing will be experienced as a performance that deploys persona, tone, voice, purpose, persuasion and decorum. Your discoveries and the development of your thoughts will be circulated as letters written among a small circle of correspondents.
Readings will range from the letters of Paul and Erasmus, through selections from French eighteenth-century salons, plantation and emancipation correspondence, Lake District poets, twentieth-century travelers and diasporas; from Heloise and Abelard to Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller; from Galileo to Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project.
The reading of epistolary novels will focus our attention on fictional uses of the form. The current evolution of letter writing in the time of e-mail and social media will provide another frame of reference.
Capstone projects will be researched and curated presentations of selected unpublished letters from the archival holdings at Frost, Du Bois and the Jones libraries in Amherst.
Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Lecturer Benigno Sánchez-Eppler.2020-21: Offered in January 2021
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. Omitted 2018-19. Professor K. Sánchez-Eppler.2020-21: Offered in Spring 2021
(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. Spring semester. Professors Brooks and Vigil.2020-21: 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. Readings will range from the 1772 sermon published by Mohegan author Samson Occom to fiction and criticism published in 2017.
Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Brooks.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as SWAG 208, BLST 345 [US], ENGL 276, and FAMS 379) Through a close reading of texts by African American authors, we will critically examine the characterization of female protagonists, with a specific focus on how writers negotiate literary forms alongside race, gender, sexuality, and class in their work. Coupled with our explication of poems, short stories, novels, and literary criticism, we will explore the stakes of adaptation in visual culture. Students will analyze the film and television adaptations of The Color Purple (1985), The Women of Brewster Place (1989), and Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005). Authors will include Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Gloria Naylor. Expectations include three writing projects, a group presentation, and various in-class assignments.
Limited to 18 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.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020, Spring 2021
(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 2018-19. Professor Parham.2020-21: 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 2018-19. Professor R. Cobham-Sander.2020-21: 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 Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night.
Spring semester. Professor Shandilya.2020-21: Offered in Spring 2021
(Offered as ENGL 280 and FAMS 210) An introduction to cinema studies through consideration of a few critical and descriptive terms, together with a selection of various films (classic and contemporary, foreign and American) for illustration and discussion. The terms for discussion will include, among others: mise-en-scène, montage, realism, visual pleasure, and the avant-garde. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Professor Guilford.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 281, FAMS 220, and ARHA 272) “Foundations and Integrations” will be an annual team-taught course between a Critical Studies scholar and moving-image artist. A requirement of the Film and Media Studies major, it will build on critical analysis of moving images and introductory production work to develop an integrated critical and creative practice. Focused in particular around themes and concepts, students will develop ideas in both written and visual form. The theme for spring 2017 was “The Voice.”
Requisites: A foundations course in critical studies of film and media (such as “Coming to Terms: Cinema”) and an introductory film/video production workshop. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professors Levine and Rangan.2020-21: 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 45 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Hastie.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 284 and FAMS 216) Media are not just audiovisual texts but also technological infrastructures, economic enterprises, ideological apparatuses, and artistic practices. This course provides an introduction to the analysis of modern media forms through a consideration of significant critical and analytical terms, together with a selection of media texts (ranging across print, photography, cinema, television, and digital media) for illustration and discussion. The key terms for discussion will reflect the complexity of how we define “media.” Topics may include: mass reproduction, authenticity and aura; print, time, and national consciousness; advertising, glamor, and myth; photography, indifference, and atrocity; cinema, race, gender, and spectatorship; television, liveness, and celebrity; digital media, buffering, and virality. Classes will combine lecture and conversation, and assignments will include several short critical essays and a midterm and final exam.
Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Rangan.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 288 and FAMS 218) How does film invite us to see? And how does it invite us to think, to feel, to communicate, to gather together? Or, as twentieth-century French film critic André Bazin asked, “What is cinema?” From nearly its inception as an aesthetic and cultural form, film has incited such ongoing debates about its definition as a medium and a cultural phenomenon. This course will offer a historical survey of these debates from a range of methods and perspectives that attempt to understand what makes film film. Drawing on formalist, phenomenological, psychoanalytic, ideological, cultural, experiential, and other approaches, we will attempt to answer not only what cinema is but also why we continue to be drawn to it as an expressive form. The course will include lectures on particular schools of thought and discussions about debates within and between those schools. Students will produce regular reading summaries, textual analyses, and two formal essays.
Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Hastie.2020-21: 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 35 students. Fall semester. Professor Mireles Christoff.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 300 and SWAG 302) [Before 1800] The seventeenth century was a time of rapid and profound political, religious, and social change in England. Civil wars saw the execution of a divinely-sanctioned monarch; new lands were colonized; new forms of science changed the way the universe was perceived; religious and social shifts reframed the definition of marriage. Through it all, women wrote, and they increasingly wrote for audiences outside their immediate familial circle. This course reads selections from women authors who wrote in, for, and sometimes at the public, and who attracted varying degrees of censure for doing so. We will consider the devotional writing of Aemilia Lanyer, royal poetry by Queen Elizabeth I, selections of a long prose romance (a precursor to the novel) by Mary Wroth, Lucy Hutchinson’s biography of her husband, Margaret Cavendish’s scientific writings, and collections of recipes, letters, and other household documents. Along the way we will consider questions such as: What counts as publication? Was there such a thing as gender in the seventeenth century? What were the social and political implications for women who decided to write, in public?
Fall semester. Five College Fellow Henrichs.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as RELI 385, ASLC 385 and ENGL 301) Islam is a religion with over one billion adherents across the globe. The Qur'ān and Prophetic Traditions inform Muslim belief, socio-religious practices and rituals. They are the foundation of Islamic law and ethics; the main inspiration behind Islamic mysticism and arts; and motivations for Islamic piety. The Qur'ān has served as a model for theories of the Islamic state, fundamentalism and ideology. As one of the most widely read and recited books in the history of humankind, it has given rise to a tradition of interpretation that spans well over a thousand years and encompasses commentaries composed in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Malay, Javanese, and Swahili. We will study the Qur'ān’s thought world, including its major ideas, themes and symbols; the Qur'ān’s literary style and structure; the Qur'ān’s engagement with Jewish and Christian traditions; the historical process through which the Qur'ān became the first Arabic book; the process through which it became a scripture vested with authority; and the divergent ways that Muslims have venerated and interpreted the Qur'ān. We will focus on several salient questions: How did Muslims try to explain the seemingly contradictory material within the Qur'ān? How did they try to explain the Qur'ān’s proclamation that it is of supernatural origin? What methods of reasoning, literary devices, and sources of religious authority did Muslims invoke in order to fulfill the need for scriptural interpretation? How does the Qur'ān conceive of itself as a scripture and of revelation? How does it engage with and respond to earlier scriptures such as the Bible?
Recommended requisite: One course in RELI. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Jaffer.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as RELI 252, ASLC 252, and ENGL 302) From the biographies of Gotama Buddha to the autobiographies of western converts, life writing plays a central role in teaching Buddhist philosophy, practice, history, and myth. This course explores the diverse forms and purposes of Buddhist life writing in the literary and visual cultures of India, Tibet, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Japan, and America. Reading the lives of eminent saints and laypersons, charismatic teachers, recluses, and political activists, the course aims to broaden understanding of how Buddhists have variously imagined the ideal life. We will pay particular attention to how literary and cultural conventions of genre guide the composition of lives.
Omitted 2018-19. Professor M. Heim.2020-21: Not offered
Books have been around, arguably, since there were things to write down. While they have not always looked the same, or meant the same things, or been used for the same purposes, reading them has been bound up with their material form: how they look, and smell, and feel. So what happens to books in the digital age? What do books feel like when they are on the Internet? From the first printed text to the digital age and beyond, this course will consider the changing shapes, goals, and aims of books: beginning with the earliest books produced with moveable type and ending with experimental electronic literature, we will consider the intertwined histories of reading, books, and the technologies used to make them. Part of this class will take place in Frost’s Special Collections, and as a final project students will create a digital edition of their chosen text.
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Five College Fellow Henrichs.2020-21: Not offered
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 class 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. Spring semester. Professor Sanborn.2020-21: 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.
Fall semester. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2020-21: Not offered
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; Jeanette 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 20 students. Spring semester. Professors Mireles Christoff and Frank.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as RUSS 254 and ENGL 314) The problem with facts is that they can be unwieldy, unbelievable, and also unknowable. The problem with fiction is that it doesn’t have the veracity of facts. Or does it? It is a commonplace that fiction can be truer than nonfiction. That, in turn, raises the question of what truth is. The Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich has talked about the “emotional truth” of her books, the factual accuracy of which has been questioned. In this class, we will read Alexievich’s work and discuss this criticism - and the less-than-certain boundary between fiction and nonfiction. But before we get to that, we will be reading, side by side, works of fiction and nonfiction about the great tragedies of twentieth-century Russia: the Gulag; the siege of Leningrad; the war in Chechnya; and more. We will also watch several films. Reading closely, we will ask how the narratives and characters in fiction and nonfiction shape our understanding of “what really happened.” We will be reading both Russian and English-language authors, but all readings will be in English. This is a writing-attentive class in which students will be asked to write essays and fiction.
Spring semester. Visiting Professor Gessen.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as RUSS 225 and ENGL 315) This course undertakes a sustained examination of the works of Vladimir Nabokov (1899–1977). Drawing on the literary masterpieces of Nabokov’s Russian and English periods, we seek to gain a critical appreciation of his literary art and the cultural and aesthetic contexts from which they emerged. Throughout the course, we will consider his abiding themes such as the complex relationship between art and life, and between the poet, the state, and society; the narration of the experience of time; metafiction, its possibilities and constraints; bad art; the experience of exile; and the privileged position of art and aesthetics. The latter are variously inflected as refuge, asylum, or a space of revolt, as well as what enables the artist to counter, but also to inflict, cruelty. The course will also situate Nabokov’s work with the currents of literary modernism; to that end, readings are also drawn from such figures as Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, and Virginia Woolf. Our access into these themes and the author’s narrative art will be through attentive reading, itself a preeminent theme of Nabokov’s work. No familiarity with Russian history or culture expected. All readings in English.
Fall semester. Professor Kunichika.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020, Spring 2021
(Offered as ENGL 317 and BLST 317 [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; and more recent poetry by women writers and performance (“dub”) poets.
Fall semester. Professor Cobham-Sander.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as SWAG 331 and ENGL 319) What is the novel? How do we know when a work of literature qualifies as a novel? In this course we will study the postcolonial novel which explodes the certainties of the European novel. Written in the aftermath of empire, these novels question race, class, gender and empire in their subject matter and narrative form. We will consider fiction from South Asia, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa. Novels include South African writer J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Caribbean novelist Dionne Brand’s In Another Place, Not Here.
Fall semester. Professor Shandilya.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as EUST 303 and ENGL 320) Acts of translation underwrite many kinds of cultural production, often invisibly. Writers of the Harlem Renaissance, for instance, engaged with black internationalism through bilingualism and translation, as Brent Edwards has reminded us. In this course we will study literary translation as a creative practice involved in the making of subjects and cultures. We will read key statements about translation by theorists and translators, such as Walter Benjamin, Roman Jakobson, Lawrence Venuti, Peter Cole and Gayatri Spivak. We also will directly engage in translation work: each student will regularly present translations in a workshop format to produce a portfolio as a final project. The class will be “polyglot,” meaning that students are welcome to translate from any language of which they have knowledge; when they share translations, they will be asked also to provide interlinear, or “literal,” translations for those who may not understand the language they are working in.
Requisite: two years of college-level study of the chosen language. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Ciepiela.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as THDA 370 and ENGL 322) A workshop/seminar for writers who want to complete a full-length play or series of plays. Emphasis will be on bringing a script to a level where it is ready for the stage. Although there will be some exercises in class to continue the honing of playwriting skills and the study of plays by established writers as a means of exploring a wide range of dramatic vocabularies, most of the class time will be spent reading and commenting on the plays of the workshop members as these plays progress from the first draft to a finished draft.
Requisite: THDA 270 or the equivalent. Limited to 10 students. Spring semester. Visiting Playwright Keithley Syers.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
“Who can give / an account of occasions // ... undo the work of a million years” – Simone White. For those of us touched by language, there is, perhaps, no greater form of satisfaction than finding the right word at the right time to elevate our state of consciousness. We have witnessed poetry take a front seat in conversations surrounding our current social landscape: Warsan Shire’s on Beyonce’s Lemonade, Instagram poets like nayirrah waheed and Rupi Kaur.
But can poetry take the form of activism? What work is answering the call toward more dynamic, vulnerable, and demanding literary voices?
In this course, we will build on the elements of prosody explored in Writing Poetry I through a careful study of writers who use craft (the line, the stanza, free verse, the metric foot) to recount riots, incite empathy, and break barriers. We will also write our own poems with an eye toward speaking our truths: culturally, sonically, and thoughtfully.
Requisite: ENGL 221, Writing Poetry I. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Preregistration is not allowed. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Spring semester. Writer-in-Residence Lawson.2020-21: Offered in Spring 2021
An advanced level fiction class. Students will undertake a longer project as well as doing exercises every week exploring technical problems.
Requisite: Completion of a previous course in creative writing. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Preregistration is not allowed. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Fall semester. Visiting Writer Gaige.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
In this advanced fiction workshop, students will research and write two to three linked short stories set in the same historical period. For the purpose of this course, historical fiction is defined as work written at least twenty-five years after the events described, or which has been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events, and so approaches them only by research. Students will develop and complete a research plan that includes archival work, nonfiction sources, and sensory research to address the problem of effectively evoking the material, emotional, and intellectual worlds of people who inhabit a specific time and place in the past. Students will also read examples of fiction in this form by authors such as Toni Morrison, George Saunders, Sarah Waters, and Min Jin Lee. The depth, complexity, and courage with which one engages with history is, in large part, determined by the depth, complexity, and courage with which one engages with story.
Requisite: ENGL 226, Fiction Writing I. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Preregistration is not allowed. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Spring semester. Visiting Lecturer Stinson.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 330 and EUST 330) 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 (Christianity vs. Islam), but it also manifests in terms of physiognomic description and ideas of monstrosity in romance 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 relevant to our current understanding of race. We will read from medieval travel narratives (The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Prester John, The Medieval Romance of Alexander) as well as literature 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 a symposium with speakers working at the vanguard of these debates.
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Nelson.2020-21: Offered in Spring 2021
[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 2018-19. Professor Nelson.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as LJST 317 and ENGL 337) [Research Seminar] It is well known that Shakespeare’s texts put into play an intricate set of juridical terms and forms. The premise of this course is that we can retrieve from this “putting into play” a unique way of thinking about modern juridical order at the moment of its inception. Through the close reading of three Shakespearean texts, we will trace the way these works "put into play" some of the most basic concepts of modern Anglophone jurisprudence (such as person and impersonation, inheritance and usurpation, contract and oath, tyranny and sovereignty, pardon and mercy, matrimony and patrimony, civil war and empire, and marriage and divorce). The aim of this inquiry will not be to apply jurisprudence to Shakespeare’s texts; nor will it be to use Shakespeare’s texts to humanize a legal training that otherwise would risk remaining sterile and unfeeling; nor, finally, will it be either to historicize Shakespeare's texts (limiting them to a particular place and time) or to universalize those texts (treating them as the exemplar for all of humanity). It will be to treat the play of juridical terms and forms within Shakespeare’s texts as an occasion to think law with Shakespeare, and as such to learn to rethink the genesis and basis of modern Anglophone jurisprudence more generally.
Recommended requisite: LJST 110. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Sitze.2020-21: 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 2018-19. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2020-21: 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?
Omitted 2018-19. Professor Worsley.2020-21: Not offered
Two hundred years ago, at the age of nineteen, Mary Shelley wrote what is often called the first science fiction novel. Frankenstein not only describes fears about accelerating technology and monstrosity in the early nineteenth century; it also sets the stage for continuing discussions about gender, reproduction, race, ethics, slavery, science, artificial intelligence, language, and disability. To celebrate this groundbreaking novel's 200th anniversary, this co-taught class will explore the making of the text, alongside its monstrous legacy in contemporary culture. We will look both backwards, at Shelley’s influences (such as Milton, Rousseau, and Wollstonecraft), and forwards, to the novel’s adaptations and afterlives–including films, theater, electronic novels, comic books, and the extensive Frankenstein collection in Smith’s rare book room. As we trace the history of the novel and explore the enduring role of gothic monstrosity today, we will ask: what has allowed this novel to endure, and why can’t our contemporary culture let it go?
Classes will alternate between Amherst and Smith Colleges. The course will have a course number at both institutions, and will count as an Amherst class for Amherst College students.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 18 Amherst students and 18 Smith students. Fall semester. Professor Worsley and Professor Gurton-Wachter of Smith College.2020-21: Not offered
This course offers students an immersion in nineteenth-century British fiction, from Jane Austen to Joseph Conrad. Reading a selection of the long novels (both serious and comic, restrained and emotionally overwrought, domestic and imperial) that continue to shape our sense of what the novel is and does, we will ask how the Victorian novel’s imagination of things like love and sex, gender and politics, the relation between the aesthetic and the social, and race, ethnicity, and empire, remain with us still. Engaging with a range of critical approaches to the novel and to novel reading, we will also consider the nineteenth century as the birthplace of theoretical approaches (such as Marxism and psychoanalysis) that continue to shape the ways we read, live, and think. Writers may include: Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, and Joseph Conrad.
Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Mireles Christoff.2020-21: 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 2018-19. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
(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. Spring semester. Professor Brooks.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 353 and AMST 353) This course begins with the premise that if we are to understand the rise of nationalism in our time, it is worthwhile to grapple with its roots. Although these roots reach back long before the beginning of the United States, we will focus on nationalism during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as it was linked to debates about race, social Darwinism, colonialism and immigration. Some of the guiding questions will include: How was nationalism entangled with Anglo-American claims to “native” American identity? What was the relationship of nationalism to colonialism, including military actions and legal acts that contained and dismembered Native American nations? How can we understand these ideologies and policies in relation to U.S. territorial expansion, and in relation to laws and policies that sought to contain the borders and keep some immigrants out of the national body? How did Jim Crow laws deny African-Americans access to an American national identity? How can citizenship be understood in relation to both Jim Crow and immigration laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act? How did authors of color assert self-determination in their work, to intervene through creative expression and representation? Most important, how might literature (and literary analysis) create a vital space for grappling with this complex terrain? To wrestle with these questions, we will read closely literary texts written during the period between 1880–1930 in conversation with recent critical scholarship, as well as fiction and creative non-fiction set in this tumultuous time.
Limited to 40 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Brooks.2020-21: Not offered
Novels and short fiction, mainly comic, by such writers as Evelyn Waugh, Saul Bellow, Flannery O’Connor, Vladimir Nabokov, 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.
Spring semester. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2020-21: Offered in Spring 2021
(Offered as BLST 346 [US] and ENGL 362) What is the political responsibility of the writer? Is the Black writer obligated to testify to, represent, and subject to critique the deep effects and affects of anti-Black racism? Or is the responsibility also something different, something better when committed to documenting life outside and in the cracks of an anti-Black racist world? What is art in relation to politics, politics in relation to art? What ought the artist do with the rage generated by three and a half centuries of anti-blackness? And with the pleasures of life that exist alongside that rage? This course explores the mid-century dispute between Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin concerning the meaning of the Black writer. Questions of colonialism, the uniqueness of the African-American experience, affective life (from rage to pleasure), community, and the genesis of cultural production will frame our readings and critical discussions. Beginning with exemplary novels by Wright, Ellison, and Baldwin—Native Son, Invisible Man, and Go Tell It on the Mountain—we will then consider their non-fiction, focusing on how each thinks through problems of nihilism, art, racialized subjectivity, gender, language, sexuality, class, region, and politics in a national and transnational context. As well, the questions raised in the fiction and non-fiction will help us engage with a cluster of contemporaries (Lorraine Hansberry, Norman Mailer, Kenneth Clark, others) and predecessors (Bessie Smith, W.E.B. Du Bois, Louis Armstrong, Alain Locke, Zora Neale Hurston), all of whom hold important critical positions in this argument.
Fall semester. Professor Drabinski.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as SWAG 329, BLST 377 [US], and ENGL 368) History has long valorized passive, obedient, and long-suffering African American women alongside assertive male protagonists and savants. This course provides an alternative narrative to this representation by exploring the ways in which African American female characters, writers, and artists have challenged ideals of stoicism and submission. Using an interdisciplinary focus, we will critically examine transgression across time and space in diverse twentieth- and early twenty-first century literary, sonic, and visual texts. Expectations include three writing projects, a group presentation, and various in-class assignments.
Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Priority given to students who attend the first day of class. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Henderson.2020-21: Offered in Spring 2021
“I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be extra-vagant enough, may not wander far enough beyond the narrow limit of my daily experience, so as to be adequate to the truth of which I have been convinced,” Thoreau writes in Walden. “Extra vagance! it depends on how you are yarded.” The aim of this course is to seek in a series of fictional extravaganzas by American authors a better understanding of how we are generally yarded, as readers of stories and novels, and what opens up for us when that yard expands. What does a wildness of invention, an insistent pressure on the confines of literary forms, make it possible for us to feel and know? What aspects of American cultural history are exposed to our view when writers freewheelingly generate, in Melville’s words, “more reality than real life itself can show”? Readings include Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, William Wells Brown’s The Escape, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, Lydia Davis’s Break It Down, and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Sanborn.2020-21: 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.2020-21: 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. Spring semester. Professor Hastie.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 377 and FAMS 383.) Documentary is one of the fastest-growing areas of media production today, enjoying unprecedented commercial success in theaters, on television, and online streaming services. What drives the urgent desire to represent reality? Where did this impulse originate, and how do documentarians continue to channel it today? This course focuses on the innovative forms and ethical dilemmas that have resulted from the pursuit of reality. We look at different approaches to documentary (ethnographic, personal, observational, interactive, essayistic, activist) and emerging forms such as fake news, true crime podcasts, mockumentaries, web-docs, and documentary art. Our discussions consider the shifting boundaries of the documentary genre, the unique ethical and political considerations involved in making documentaries, and the impact of technological and socio-cultural changes on historical trends in documentary.
Open to students with no prior film classes. Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Professor Rangan.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 383 and FAMS 360) What’s intimate about cinema? Since its invention, cinema has spurred pronouncements on the emotional, affective, and even spiritual impact of the filmic image, as well as deeper examinations of the specific devices through which films produce intimate experience (the close-up, the kiss, etc.). For classical film theorists, such devices were often invested with redemptive potential, though more recent cultural theorists have issued strong rejoinders to such claims. Isn’t intimacy crucial to the workings of modern power? Doesn’t cinema structure intimate relations in accordance with normative ideologies? Examining such issues, this course considers how matters of intimacy have organized critical discourse on a range of intimate film cultures, from surrealism to the melodrama, underground film, queer independent cinema, and contemporary diasporic cinema. Examining film theory alongside diverse contributions to the emerging field of intimacy studies, we will ask how recent inquiries into the politics of intimacy force us to rethink the problems and potential of cinema.
Requisite: One 200-level FAMS or ENGL course, or consent of the instructor. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Guilford.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 384 and FAMS 382) As one of our most dominant, even omnipresent media forms, television is something most of us experience every day. But Television Studies scholarship does not always take on the question of “experience” as a central part of its analysis. This course will take experience as the central component of our study. The first unit of the course will consider phenomenological approaches to television criticism, centering on those elements of televisual form that delineate an experience different from other media. Our second unit will focus on historical experience, with an emphasis on Civil Rights era television, African-American productions and/or stars, and African-American audiences. Our third and final unit will consider the platforms and devices through which we experience television in order to query how “television experience” changes over time and what elements of it have remained constant. The course will blend lecture and discussion. Readings will be both theoretical and historical. Students will produce regular reading summaries, two formal essays, and a digital final project.
Some previous coursework in FAMS may be useful. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Hastie.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 386 and FAMS 359) This course examines the expansive body of films created by Andy Warhol between 1963 and the mid-1970s and considers the privileged place that cinema occupied in his artistic practice during this period. In addition to viewing key examples of the films that Warhol directed and produced (such as Kiss, The Chelsea Girls, and Flesh for Frankenstein), we will read a wide range of critical writings about Warhol from the disciplines of film studies, art history, cultural studies, and critical theory, while also sampling Warhol’s own literary output (POPism, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, etc.). Through weekly screenings and seminar discussions, we will work to contextualize Warhol’s films within broader cultural developments of the 1960s, and to assess the aesthetic, theoretical, and political parameters of his engagement with the filmic medium. Please note: attendance at course screenings is required.
Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Professor Guilford.2020-21: Not offered
[Before 1800] Writers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England were very self-conscious about how they used language: they thought deeply and critically about how, when, and why to use certain kinds of rhetorical figures, whether common metaphor or less common pyramis (a poem structured like a pyramid).
This class begins from the idea that today’s digital creators employ the same method to control digital media: we too use figures that shape how we think about the possibilities for creation. But most of us are not as self-conscious about these figures: for example, a cloud is diffuse, nebulous, untethered from the physical world. But the cloud is in fact dependent on a series of servers, on the coal that produces the energy to maintain those servers, on the wires that make wireless capabilities possible, etc. This course will explore the humanist rhetorical handbooks of the English literary Renaissance as a means to two ends: one, to better understand the literary production of canonical authors like Shakespeare; and two, to engage with digital humanisms and the rhetoric of digital creativity in the twenty-first century. We juxtapose readings from Renaissance rhetorical handbooks with poetry and essays from that period and with digital humanities scholarship. As a final project in this course students will produce a digital rhetorical handbook that will account for the internet.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Five College Fellow Henrichs.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 415 and AMST 365) This course will focus on the manuscript culture of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America, using manuscripts as a means of thinking about the act of writing, the implications of audience and publication, and the relations between the private and public word. We will study the private forms of diaries and letters. We will look at the traces of the writing process in manuscripts of ultimately published works–-the window into the literary creation that manuscripts provide. We will also confront the problems raised by literary work that was never published during its author’s lifetime, heedful of the questions of social propriety and power that often inform what can and can’t be published. Texts will include Julia Ward Howe’s The Hermaphrodite, a closeted manuscript of sexual indeterminacy written in the 1840s and only published in 2004; Hannah Crafts’ The Bondswoman’s Tale, a manuscript novel probably written in the late 1850s by a fugitive slave and first published in 2002; the manuscript books of Emily Dickinson; the posthumous publication process of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel poems; and works like Edgar Allan Poe’s “MS. Found in a Bottle” and Henry James’ The Aspern Papers that tell anxious tales about manuscripts. The heart of the course, however, will be independent research with students drawing on rich local archives to do some manuscript recovering of their own. As part of the preparations for the Amherst College bicentennial, research in this semester will focus on materials written by Amherst students over the past two hundred years. A core aspect of coursework will be developing an online exhibition to analyze and share these materials.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor K. Sánchez-Eppler.2020-21: Not offered
An advanced writing workshop devoted to the reading and writing of novellas. We will study such novellas as Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Jane Smiley’s The Age of Grief, and Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day, in order to get a sense of the parameters and scope of this in-between form. Students will write up to ten pages per week with the aim of composing and revising a work of 70-80 pages by the end of the semester.
Requisite: A previous fiction-writing workshop. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 10 students. Preregistration is not allowed. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Spring semester. Professor Frank.2020-21: 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. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Bosman.2020-21: Not offered
In this course, we’ll explore the history (and the fantasy) of the performing machine on stage, on screen, and beyond. It’s easy to think of technologies as dead things that enhance the live performances of humans. This course will ask you to do something harder: to find the liveness in a machine and to take its agency seriously. We will watch how new technologies tangle with humans in performance, and we will ask: what happens when human actors begin to accept a new technology as their scene partner–or their identity?
The course will consist of a few themed units (e.g., Robot Performance) with primary sources including plays (e.g., from R.U.R. to Hataraku Watashi), films (e.g., from Metropolis to Ex Machina), and popular performance (e.g., from “doing the robot” to the latest Janelle Monáe). Secondary readings will run the gamut from cultural history and performance theory to reports on contemporary developments (e.g., in artificial intelligence, biomimetics, and theatrical robotics). Other units might cover: communication technologies, vocal and bodily prostheses, or musical instruments and other resonant things.
You will be required to do some short-form writing and oral presentation throughout, but the course culminates in an extended research project of your own devising.
Recommended requisite: At least two intermediate, writing-attentive courses (e.g., 200-level courses in English). Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Grobe.2020-21: 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 that are fueled by an argument and arguments that look an awful lot like plays. Readings will range from ancient philosophical dialogues to modern “plays of ideas”–from essays on pedagogy to works of social theory. As the semester wears on, you will begin to research your own angle on our central theme: Ideas performed. Your final project will be a mock prospectus, in which you imagine this “angle” turning into a thesis project–creative, critical, or a mixture of the two.
Previous experience with drama or performance theory might help, but is hardly required for enrollment. As a matter of fact, this course works best when students from a wide range of majors enroll. The reading load isn’t heavy, but expectations are high that you will turn up to class prepared to engage in an active discussion. I mean, would you show up to a performance not knowing your lines, or fail to speak when you heard your cue? I didn’t think so. See you there.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Grobe.2020-21: Offered in 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 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Nelson.2020-21: Not offered
“Experience is the Angled Road / Preferred against the Mind / By–Paradox–the Mind itself–” Emily Dickinson explained in one poem and in this course we will make use of the resources of the town of Amherst to play experience and mind off each other in our efforts to come to terms with her elusive poetry. The course will meet in the Dickinson Homestead, visit the Evergreens (her brother Austen’s house, and a veritable time capsule), make use of Dickinson manuscripts in the Amherst College archives, and set her work in the context of other nineteenth-century writers such as Helen Hunt Jackson, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, and Harriet Jacobs. But as we explore how Dickinson’s poetry responds to her world we will also ask how it can speak to our present. One major project of the course will be to develop exhibits and activities for the Homestead that will help visitors engage with her poems.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Professor K. Sánchez-Eppler.2020-21: Not offered
Avant-garde poetry resists definition. In this class, we will explore poetry that defies convention, be it formal (exploding the poetic verse line), material (appearing outside of the conventional venues of the published, mass-produced book), or linguistic (using everyday language rather than poetic diction). We will read widely from a range of twentieth- and twenty-first century poets as well as important nineteenth-century forebears. The course will center on the movements and schools of avant-garde poetry in the Anglo-American tradition, such as modernism (T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein); the Harlem Renaissance (Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson); the Beat Poets (Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder); the New York School (Frank O’Hara, Ted Berrigan); the Black Arts poets (Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni); the Language Poets (Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein); and contemporary poets (Nathaniel Mackey, Alice Notley). We will also look at artists’ books, broadsides, and other poetry that makes interesting use of the conventional materials and layout of poetry and poetic books. We will ask, how do these poets and movements challenge the aesthetic and poetic conventions of their time(s)? How do they expand or challenge the boundaries of poetic forms and subjects? What opportunities and constraints do avant-garde approaches offer to poets of color and/or women poets?
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Nelson.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
Why, Rita Felski asks, are people “willing to drive five hundred miles to hear a band playing a certain song, or spend years in graduate school puzzling over a single novel?” Concepts like “cultural capital,” “the hegemonic media industry,” or “interpretive communities” do not fully explain “why it is this particular tune that plays over and over in our heads, why it is Virginia Woolf alone who becomes an object of obsession.” Something else has to be involved, a “rogue something,” in the words of Toni Morrison’s narrator in Jazz, that you “have to figure in before you can figure it out.” In this seminar, students will first explore the phenomenon of aesthetic valuation, then turn to a consideration of when, why, and for whom literary experiences are valuable, and finally embark on independent research projects in which each of them studies a single author in depth and experiments with ways of articulating (in a class presentation and in a final essay) the kinds of value that that author may be said to have.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Sanborn.2020-21: 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 2018-19. Professor Parham.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 455 and BLST 439 [US]) When we say “race relations,” we are using a phrase drawn from early twentieth-century American sociology, a phrase that conjures up a scenario in which already existing racial groups are separated by prejudice and misunderstanding. As many sociologists and historians have argued, we need a new paradigm, one that implies neither that race is a primordial reality nor that racism is merely an informational problem. In this class, we will begin by familiarizing ourselves with critical race theory and with theories emerging from the “relational turn” in psychoanalysis. We will then bring both of those theoretical traditions to bear on Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition, Nella Larsen’s Passing, William Faulkner’s Light in August, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, Sandra Cisneros’s Woman Hollering Creek, and Sherman Alexie’s The Toughest Indian in the World. In our discussions of these works, we will be aiming not to become (impossibly) post-racial, but to imagine, collectively, different futures for our (inevitably) racially inflected relations.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Sanborn.2020-21: 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, and will also extend to the Pacific. The Quiché Maya Popol Vuh (Council Book), the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Great Law of Peace, the Wabanaki creation cycle, and the Hawaiian mo’olelo of Pele and her sister Hi'iaka are rooted in longstanding, complex oral narratives of emergence and transformation, which were recorded by Indigenous authors and scribes. These texts will enable us to consider how the temporal and spatial boundaries of America are both defined and extended by colonization, and disrupted by Indigenous texts and decolonial theory. We will close read these major epics as works of classical literature, narratives of tribal history, and living political constitutions.
Reading each long text (in English translation) over several weeks, we will study the tribally and regionally-specific contexts of each epic narrative as well as the “intellectual trade routes” that link them together. We will also consider the place of these epics within American literature and history and their contributions to historical and contemporary decolonization. In exploring these narratives, we will discuss the ways in which they challenge conceptual boundaries, considering categories such as land/place, gender, sexuality, and other-than-human beings.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Brooks.2020-21: Not offered
What if the past is not behind us, but spiraling within our present? How are indigenous conceptions of time expressed in Native American writing? How do Native novelists enable us to imagine a past, present, and future that are intertwined, embedded in place, and spiraling in constant motion? How does the creation of a fictional world, so similar to ours, allow us to envision alternative models of gender, sexuality, race, and nationhood? This seminar will invite in-depth exploration of contemporary Native American fiction, through frameworks drawn from oral traditions, indigenous languages, literary media, and scientific theory. Authors will include Sherman Alexie, LeAnne Howe, Thomas King, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Craig Womack, among others.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Brooks.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 462, ARHA 462, and FAMS 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. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Guilford.2020-21: Not offered
In this upper-level course, we will read literary and theoretical texts that, although loosely grouped in terms of period, geography, and style, are all driven by the same set of questions: Is decolonial love possible? What does it look and feel like? We will read scholars and writers 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 telling stories and writing novels. And we will follow these writers as they imagine alternatives to these conventional structures, asking how we might alter the aspects of ourselves and our worlds that seem as fundamental and as intractable as our aesthetics, our desires, our very pleasures. As a class, we will build transportable definitions of colonialism, anticolonialism, and decoloniality from the texts we study and the contexts in which they were written and that they reflect. We will investigate the power of these analytic categories to interrogate aspects of personal as well as geopolitical experience, particularly aspects of experience that we have sometimes mistakenly believed to be without historical or sociological determinants. Possible texts include: Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks; Moraga and Anzaldúa, eds., This Bridge Called My Back; Stevenson, Life Beside Itself; Muñoz, Cruising Utopia; Lorde, “The Uses of the Erotic”; Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun; Cisneros, The House on Mango Street; Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs; Cole, Open City; Sollett, Raising Victor Vargas; Lee, BlacKkKlansman; Simpson, Islands of Decolonial Love.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Mireles Christoff.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as BLST 412 [A] and ENGL 472) This advanced, digital humanities, project-based course allows students to develop individual projects that follow and critique the social media presences of selected twenty-first-century African writers for whom digital spaces have become significant sites for creating, disseminating, and theorizing their work. Alongside independent projects, students will work collaboratively to understand the social and political events that have shaped recent technological shifts in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as to locate and critique theoretical texts that attempt to account for how digital technologies shape new literary genres and publics. In collaboration with the library staff, students will develop their proficiency in using a variety of bibliographical resources and digital humanities tools. Possible projects may engage such online artifacts as the video loops created by Kenyan filmmaker Jim ChuChu, YouTube performances by the Ghanian duo, Fokn Bois, and fanzines dedicated to the work of Chinua Achebe, as well as tweets and Instagram postings of a range of writers who work in multiple hybrid forms.
Requisite: Previous coursework in or knowledge of Africa or previous work on digital humanities projects preferred. Limited to 15 students. Open to Juniors and Seniors. Fall semester. Professor Cobham-Sander.2020-21: Not offered
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. Spring semester. Writer-in-Residence Lawson.2020-21: Not offered
This is a class about the kinds of knowledge held by different material spaces, and the kinds of racialized and gendered experiences of memory made available by a given space. It is also a class about media, and how experiences of identity are made more possible or impossible by media forms. What, like the earth, might a medium hold? Why do so many scholars and artists want us to think about the earth itself as a recording device? What does that analogy reveal about conceptions of the environment and of technology? As an engagement with scholarship at the intersection of literary, ethnic, and ecological media studies, this class will offer a variety of opportunities to conceptualize different kinds of recording. With such concerns in mind, we will look specifically at texts that ask us to understand both media and ecological materialities through three foundational North American and Caribbean experiences–enslavement, migration, and displacement. Artists and scholars we will look at this semester include Bessie Smith, Ellen Gallagher, Ana Mendieta, Joy Kogawa, Jamaica Kincaid, Linda Hogan, Edwidge Danticat, Octavia Butler, and Toni Morrison. Over the course of the semester students will also be asked to integrate their investigations into media with their own forays into literary and cultural analysis.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Parham.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 477 and FAMS 455.) Confession is arguably central to expressions of postmodern selfhood. It informs the evidentiary logic of our civil apparatuses (legal, medical, humanitarian) and infuses the fabric of our diplomatic, intimate, and public 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 relationship between speech, truth, and power through the many meanings and itineraries of the confession. We will focus on various institutions that have shaped confessional regimes of truth (such as the Catholic confessional, psychoanalysis, and torture), as well as the role of media forms (from autobiographical literature to true crime documentary and reality television) in consolidating and challenging these regimes. Assignments include in-class presentation, a midterm essay, and a final research essay.
Requisite: Prior coursework in ENGL or FAMS strongly recommended. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Rangan.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 478 and FAMS 478) Documentary’s difference from fiction is frequently understood in terms of its emphasis on the spoken word. In documentary studies, voice, rather than point of view, is the standard parlance for describing the unique social perspective of a documentary film. Voice is also the metaphor of documentary’s social mission: some of the most influential histories of documentary are narrated as a history of giving—and having, or appropriating—the right to speak. Rather than approaching the voice as a pre-existing social fact or content, this course will ask how discourses of documentary mediate our understandings of voice. Readings will include classic texts on the cinematic voice alongside contemporary and historical theories and counter-histories of voice from a variety of critical and disciplinary contexts, including philosophy, sound, music, disability, race, gender, and sexuality studies. Screenings will draw widely from documentary and experimental film. We will ask: how are Western philosophical discourses of voice unacknowledged influences on the formal expressions of the spoken word in documentary? And conversely, how do the conventional documentary expressions of speech, such as voice-over, interview, testimony, and conversation cultivate normative and counter-normative modes of listening?
This is an advanced discussion seminar that places a heavy emphasis on speaking in class. The course also includes a final research paper.
Requisite: ENGL 280/FAMS 210, or equivalent introductory film course, plus any one course in cultural studies/literary theory/gender studies/race and ethnicity studies. Special consideration will be given to students who have taken a documentary course (whether theory or production). Open to juniors and seniors, and to sophomores with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Rangan.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 479, FAMS 479, and ARHA 479) The filmmaker John Grierson broadly defined documentary as “the creative treatment of actuality.” How then, do documentary filmmakers responsibly balance the creative license of fiction with a respect for facts and material realities? Similarly, how do we as viewers agree upon a set of terms or rules for judging the success of a documentary film? “Problems in Documentary” explores the complications of the documentary form, which is neither fictional invention nor factual reproduction. This course will involve both creative and critical practice. It is designed for students with prior experience in both studying and making audiovisual media.
Students will read, watch, and discuss material that considers key problems in documentary filmmaking (negotiating power and textual authority; intervening in versus observing events; representing traumatic events; obtaining consent; recreating the past; representing social actors; finding the right form for a subject; filming and editing ethically; navigating institutional protocols) before developing a series of individual documentary video assignments. Subsequent discussions and critique, both in-class and in writing, will focus on evaluating these projects in terms of how they respond to the challenges raised by documentary critics and makers encountered in class.
Requisites: A 200-level Foundations in Critical Media Studies course (“Coming to Terms: Cinema,” “Coming to Terms: Media,” “Knowing Cinema,” “Knowing Television,” or “Introduction to Film Theory”) and an introductory film/video production course. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Spring semester. Professors Levine and Rangan.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 480 and FAMS 423) 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 class 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. Fall semester. Professor Hastie.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 481, ARHA 481, and FAMS 481) This seminar explores different ways of entering into conversations with experimental filmmakers. Through weekly screenings, in-class visits by contemporary artists, and rigorous examinations of artists’ writings, interviews, and related theoretical texts, we will seek to develop critical and creative vocabularies through which to interact with an array of experimental films and videos. We will ask: What sorts of aesthetic, conceptual, and political keywords do contemporary filmmakers draw on to frame their artistic practices? How do these terms/frameworks challenge established approaches to film analysis? And how might we elaborate new ways of thinking and speaking about film in an effort to respond to this critical challenge? Topics examined in this course may include: expanded cinema, modularity, and performance; artist-run labs and the new materialism; experimental ethnography, locality, and cultural representation; landscape films and the Anthropocene; the politics of intimacy in the diary film; and abstraction, representation, and gender.
Requisite: At least one foundational course in FAMS or ARHA, or consent of the instructor. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Guilford.2020-21: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 486 and FAMS 421) As an upper-division seminar in film theory, this course will offer an in-depth examination of historically significant writings that analyze film form and its social functions and effects. Our particular focus will be on the production of film theory in a collective setting: the film/media journal. Thus, the course will consist of several units, each centering on a particular journal in generally chronological order (such as the Modernist Close Up; two phases of the French Cahiers du Cinéma, which has set foundations for both studies of authorship and semiotic-ideological analysis; the U.S. journal focusing on experimental and independent film, Film Culture; and the leading feminist journal of media studies, Camera Obscura). Through this structure, we will consider how ideas have developed and transformed, often in dialogue with one another and on an international stage. Our purpose will be threefold: to understand the context for the production and development of film theories; to comprehend a wide range of changing theoretical notions, writing styles, and critical methodologies; and to create our own dialogue with these works, considering especially their impact on their own contemporaneous film viewers and on viewing positions today. The final project, which we will develop through the semester, will be a web-based journal of film studies, which will put into practice the ideas and conversations of the course. One three-hour class meeting and one film screening per week.
Prior coursework in Film and Media Studies is strongly recommended. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Hastie.2020-21: Not offered
Independent reading courses.
Fall and spring semester. The Department.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020, Spring 2021
(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 2018-19. Professor Cobham-Sander.2020-21: 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.2020-21: 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. 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. Fall semester. The Department.2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020