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 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Sanborn.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
Literature engages us. It moves us, it delights us, it makes us ask hard questions. How do we engage literature? How do we respond to it in conversation, in writing, in performance, and in our communities? How do we write about literature in a way that effectively engages others?
This class seeks to engage you in a process of seeing literature and your own writing process anew. We will engage with authors, in person, in public, and on the page. We will attend literary events and enter into conversations among writers: authors who are influenced and inspired by each other, literary critics who give us illuminating interpretations, and literary historians who open our eyes to contexts heretofore unseen. Students will practice writing about literature in a range of modes from the personal essay to the book review to the academic paper. Frequent writing workshops will be geared toward the process of revising in a collaborative environment. A first course in reading fictional, dramatic, lyric, and non-fiction texts, this course also challenges Amherst College students to think of themselves as writers.
Preference given to first-year students. Limited to 15 students per section. Spring semester. Professor Grobe.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
(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.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015 and Spring 2016
(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.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015 and Spring 2016
(Offered as ENGL 117 and EUST 117.) [before 1800] Knights, monsters, quests, and true love: these are the things we associate with King Arthur and tales of his court. Why has Arthurian literature proved so enchanting to centuries of poets, novelists, and recently, filmmakers? In this introductory English course, we will read and watch Arthurian legends from Chaucer to Monty Python, examining the ways in which they have been represented in different eras. Beginning with the historical foundations of the King Arthur legend, we will examine how it blossomed and took form in later eras. Our focus will be on close literary and visual analysis of British, American, and French (in translation) versions of these legends. We will also discuss what cultural forces lie behind the popularity of Arthurian legend in certain eras: later medieval England and France; the Victorian era; and twentieth-century England and America. There will be frequent writing assignments and presentations, as well as a final creative project.
Open to first-year students and sophomores. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Nelson.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
Students, as part of the work of the course, each week will tutor or lead discussions among a small group of students at Holyoke High School. The readings for the course will be essays, poems, autobiographies, and stories in which education and teaching figure centrally. Among these will be materials that focus directly on Holyoke and on one or another of the ethnic groups which have shaped its history. Students will write weekly and variously: critical essays, journal entries, ethnographies, etc. Readings for the course will include works by Sylvia Ashton-Warner, James Baldwin, Judith Ortiz Cofer, John Dewey, Jonathan Kozol, Herbert Kohl, Sarah Lightfoot, John Stuart Mill, Abraham Rodriguez, Esmeralda Santiago, and Patricia Williams. Two class meetings per week plus an additional workshop hour and a weekly morning teaching assistantship to be scheduled in Holyoke.
Limited to 20 students. Fall semester: Professor B. Sánchez-Eppler. Spring semester: Lecturer K. Sánchez-Eppler.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015 and Spring 2016
With a focus on the skills of close reading and analytical writing, we will look at the ways in which writers imagine illness, how they try to make meaning out of illness, and how they use illness to explore other aspects of experience. This is not a course on the history of illness or the social construction of disease. We will discuss not only what writers say about illness but also how they say it: with what language and in what form they speak the experience of bodily and mental suffering. Readings may include drama by Sophocles, Molière and Margaret Edson; poetry by Donne and Mark Doty; fiction by José Saramago and Mark Haddon; and essays by Susan Sontag, Raphael Campo and Temple Grandin.
Preference given to first-year students. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Bosman.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
(Offered as SWAG 112 and ENGL 153.) This course will examine the emergence of the “New Woman” as a category of social theory, political action, and literary representation at the turning of the twentieth century. Early readings will trace the origins of the New Woman as a response to nineteenth-century notions of “True Womanhood.” Discussions will situate literary representations of women in larger cultural events taking place during the Progressive Era–debates over suffrage as well as their relationship to issues of citizenship, immigration, Jim Crow segregation, urbanization, and nativism. The course will focus on texts written by a diverse group of women that present multiple and, at times, conflicting images of the New Woman. Close attention will be paid to the manner in which these women writers constructed their fictions, particularly to issues of language, style, and form. Readings will include texts by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, Pauline Hopkins, Anzia Yezierska, and Sui Sin Far.
Preference will be given to first-year students, SWAG students, and American Studies students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Lecturer Bergoffen.
2015-16: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 180 and FAMS 110.) A first course in reading films and writing about them. A varied selection of films for study and criticism, partly to illustrate the main elements of film language and partly to pose challenging texts for reading and writing. Frequent short papers. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester: Professor Hastie. Spring semester: Visiting Professor Guilford.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015 and Spring 2016
[before 1800] What is “English Literature,” and how does one construct its history? What counts as “England” (especially in relation to Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, and to ancient Greece and Rome)? What is the relationship between histories of literature and political, social, religious and intellectual histories? What is the role of gender in the making of literature, and the making of its histories? These are the kinds of questions we will ask as we read texts from the seventh through the seventeenth centuries, including works such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (in translation) and writers such as Chaucer, Margery Kempe, Sir Philip Sidney, Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Donne, Jonson, Aemilia Lanyer, Mary Wroth, George Herbert, Marvell, and Milton.
Omitted 2016-17. Visiting Professor Berek.2015-16: Not offered
[before 1800] What is “English Literature,” and how does one construct its history? How do we decide what counts as “English,” and what counts as “literature”? What is the relationship between histories of literature and political, social, religious, and intellectual histories? What is the role of gender, race and class in the making of literature, and the making of its histories?
These are some of the questions we will ask as we read masterpieces of English literature from the mid-seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth century, alongside works that have not always been thought of as part of the canon, by women, slaves, exiles, political radicals, anonymous, and unpublished writers. Writers we will study include (but are not limited to) John Milton, Aphra Behn, John Dryden, Anne Finch, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Olaudah Equiano, Samuel Johnson, Phillis Wheatley, William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, and Mary Shelley.
This course is the chronological sequel to “Making Literary Histories I,” though it is not necessary (or even necessarily desirable) to take the classes in chronological order.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Worsley.
2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
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. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Fall semester: Visiting Lecturer Kapur. Spring semester: Writer-in-Residence Hall.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015 and Spring 2016
(Offered as THDA 270 and ENGL 222) A workshop in writing for the stage. The semester will begin with exercises that lead to the making of short plays and, by the end of the term, longer plays--ten minutes and up in length. Writing will be done in and out of class; students’ work will be discussed in the workshop and in private conferences. At the end of the term, the student will submit a portfolio of revisions of all the exercises, including the revisions of all plays.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Not open to first-year students. Fall semester: TBA. Spring semester: Playwright-in-Residence Congdon.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
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. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Fall semester: Visiting Writer Jackson. Spring semester: Professor Frank.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015 and Spring 2016
How small can drama get while remaining “dramatic”? During the first half of the twentieth century, it was not unusual for a stage in America (or anywhere in the English-speaking world) to be filled with dozens of actors. Over the last sixty years, though, the crowds onstage have thinned. Today, three-, two-, and even one-person plays are as common as twenty-person plays once were.
In this course, we will study plays by American, British, Irish, and South African writers–from Eugene O’Neill and Samuel Beckett to Athol Fugard and Sarah Kane–who have found new inspiration within these tight constraints. We will practice a kind of “middle-distance reading.” That is, in addition to paying close attention to the local detail of a play, we will also stand further away from it in order inquire into its broader structure and premises. How does this stage-world work? What are its rules, its tendencies, its textures? Most importantly, since this is a course on small-casted plays, how are characters created, tested, and distributed within the play? How might theatrical character differ from novelistic character or poetic voice?
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Grobe.2015-16: 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 2016-17. Professor Bosman.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
A first course in the critical reading of selected English-language poets, which gives students exposure to significant poets, poetic styles, and literary and cultural contexts for poetry from across the tradition. Attention will be given to prosody and poetic forms, and to different ways of reading poems.
Limited to 35 students. Fall semester: Professor Sofield. Spring semester: Professor Worsley.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015 and Spring 2016
How do long poems come together–and hold together? Can they maintain a lyric intensity, or do they inevitably give way to the looser energies of narrative or extended meditation? We will read works in many forms–including heroic couplets, ballad stanzas, and free verse–by poets from the eighteenth century to the present, including Alexander Pope, Walt Whitman, Amy Clampitt, James Merrill, and Paul Muldoon.
Omitted 2016-17. Writer-in-Residence Hall.
2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
An introduction to the study of the novel, through the exploration of a variety of critical terms (plot, character, point of view, tone, realism, identification, genre fiction, the book) and methodologies (structuralist, Marxist, feminist, psychoanalytic). We will draw on a selection of novels in English to illustrate and complicate those terms; possible authors include Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Wilkie Collins, Henry James, Kazuo Ishiguro, Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, John Edgar Wideman, Emma Donoghue, David Foster Wallace, Monique Truong, Jennifer Egan.
Preference given to sophomores. Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Frank and Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
This course works with archipelagos in two ways: as a specific postcolonial geography and as a metaphor for postcolonial relations. Reading texts from the Caribbean, Oceania, Hawaii, New Zealand, and maritime Southeast Asia, the course explores on the one hand how colonialism fragments island societies into languages, races, classes, and national allegiances, and on the other hand, how postcolonial authors explore and recuperate archipelagic identities through literary narratives. While we will read across several genres, we will pay special attention to the short story as a genre of the literary archipelago. We may read works from V. S. Naipaul, Andrew Salkey, Derek Walcott, Monique Roffey, Epeli Hau’ofa, Gary Pak, Kathleen Tyau, Patricia Grace, Keri Hulme, Tash Aw, and K. S. Maniam.
Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2016-17. Visiting Professor Huang.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
(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. Fall semester. Professor Henderson.2015-16: Not offered
Children’s books are a site of first encounter, a doorway to literacy and literature. This course will offer both a history of book production for child readers in England and the United States and an exploration of what these first books can teach us about the attractions, expectations, and responsibilities of reading.
Limited to 80 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor K. Sánchez-Eppler.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
(Offered as AMST 280 and ENGL 273.) In Penobscot author Joseph Nicolar's 1893 narrative, the Corn Mother proclaims, "I am young in age and I am tender, yet my strength is great and I shall be felt all over the world, because I owe my existence to the beautiful plant of the earth." In contrast, according to one Iowa farmer, from the 2007 documentary "King Corn," "We aren't growing quality. We're growing crap." This course aims to unpack depictions like these in order to probe the ways that corn has changed in its significance within the Americas. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, students will be introduced to critical theories and methodologies from American Studies as they study corn's shifting role, across distinct times and places, as a nourishing provider, cultural transformer, commodity, icon, and symbol.
Beginning with the earliest travels of corn and her stories in the Americas, students will learn about the rich histories, traditions, narratives, and uses of "maize" from indigenous communities and nations, as well as its subsequent proliferation and adaptation throughout the world. In addition to literary and historical sources students will engage with a wide variety of texts (from material culture to popular entertainment, public policy and genetics) in order to deepen their understanding of cultural, political, environmental, and economic changes that have characterized life in the Americas.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professors Brooks and Vigil.2015-16: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 274 and AMST 274.) In 2013, Amherst College acquired one of the most comprehensive collections of Native American writing in the world–nearly 1,500 books ranging from contemporary fiction and poetry to sermons, political tracts, and tribal histories from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Through this course, we will actively engage the literature of this collection, researching Native American intellectual traditions, regional contexts, political debates, creative adaptation, and movements toward decolonization. Students will have the opportunity to make an original contribution to a digital archive and interact with visiting authors. We will begin with oral traditions and the 1772 sermon published by Mohegan author Samson Occom and end with a novel published in 2014.
Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Brooks.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
(Offered as ENGL 275 and BLST 232 [US].) The focus of this introduction to the study of African American literature and culture will be the complex intertextuality at the heart of the African American expressive tradition. Tracing some of the tradition’s major formal and thematic concerns means looking for the rhythms and riffs that link different kinds of texts: literature, film, music, and the spoken word. While engaging a range of textual experiences, from learning to read silences in narratives of American slavery through coming to understand Afrofuturism and other developments in black speculative fiction, this course will also expose students to a range of analytic and critical production modes that are important to literary and cultural study in general.
Omitted 2016-17. Professor Parham.2015-16: Not offered
(Offered as SWAG 208, BLST 345 [US], ENGL 276, and FAMS 379.) Reading the work of black feminist literary theorists and black women writers, we will examine the construction of black female identity in American literature, with a specific focus on how black women writers negotiate race, gender, sexuality, and class in their work. In addition to reading novels, literary criticism, book reviews, and watching documentaries, we will examine the stakes of adaptation and mediation for black female-authored texts. Students will watch and analyze the film and television adaptations of The Color Purple (1985), The Women of Brewster Place (1989), and Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005) as well as examine how Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970) was mediated and interpreted by Oprah Winfrey’s book club and daytime talk show. Authors will include Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Gloria Naylor. Writing Attentive. Expectations include three writing projects, a group presentation, and various in-class assignments.
Limited to 20 students. Priority given to those students who attend the first day of the class. Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Henderson.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
(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 2016-17. Professor Parham.2015-16: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 278 and BLST 212 [A].) This course will examine how African writers incorporate digital technologies into their work when they publish traditional print texts, experiment with digital formats, or use the internet to redefine their relationship to local and international audiences. We will reflect on how words and values shift in response to new forms of mediation; on the limits these forms place on the bodies they represent, and on the protections they occasionally offer. Students will read fictional works in print, serialized narratives on blogs, as well as other literary products that circulate via social media. Students also will be introduced to a selection of digital humanities tools that will assist them in accessing, analyzing and responding to these works. Course materials include print, digital and hybrid publications by Oyono, Farah, Adichie, Cole, Maphoto, and Wainaina, among others.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor R. Cobham-Sander.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
(Offered as SWAG 279, BLST 202, and ENGL 279.) What do we mean by “women’s fiction”? How do we understand women’s genres in different national contexts? This course examines topics in feminist thought such as marriage, sexuality, desire and the home in novels written by women writers from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. We will draw on postcolonial literary theory, essays on transnational feminism and historical studies to situate our analyses of these novels. Texts include South African writer Nadine Gordimer’s My Son’s Story, Indian novelist Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, and Caribbean author Shani Motoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night.
Fall semester. Professor Shandilya.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
(Offered as ENGL 280 and FAMS 210.) An introduction to cinema studies through consideration of a few critical and descriptive terms, together with a selection of various films (classic and contemporary, foreign and American) for illustration and discussion. The terms for discussion will include, among others: mise-en-scène, montage, realism, visual pleasure, and the avant-garde. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Guilford.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
(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 will be “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. Spring semester. Professors Levine and Rangan.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
(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. Fall semester. Professor Hastie.2015-16: Not offered
(Offered as FAMS 228 and ENGL 287.) This course will introduce students to basic Super 8 film and digital video techniques. The course will include workshops in shooting for film and video, Super 8 film editing, Final Cut Pro video editing, lighting, stop motion animation, sound recording and mixing. Students will learn to think about and look critically at the moving and still image. Students will complete three moving image projects, including one Super 8 film, one video project, and one mixed media project. Weekly screenings will introduce students to a wide range of approaches to editing, writing, and directing in experimental, documentary, narrative, and hybrid cinematic forms. Screenings include works by Martha Rosler, Bill Viola, the Yes Men, Jennifer Reeves, Mona Hatoum, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Dziga Vertov, D.A. Pennebaker, Jean-Pierre Gorin, Cécile Fontaine, and Johanna Vaude.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Please complete the questionnaire at https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/departments/film/major/major-requirements/forms. Limited to 13 students. Fall semester. Five College Professor Hillman.
2015-16: Not offered
Why does it seem natural to read ourselves and other people in the same way that we read books? This course will introduce students to both psychoanalytic theory and literary interpretation, asking about their similarities as well as their dissonance. Why do novels of development and case-studies resemble one another? What can the Freudian understanding of the structure of the psyche teach us about the structure of narrative? And what do “illnesses” like hysteria and paranoia have in common with everyday acts of meaning-making and with the way we read literature? Each week pairing a psychoanalytic paper with a short story or novel, we will ask how psychoanalysis alters not only what we see in literary works, but also the way we understand our own acts of interpretation. Topics include the unconscious, dreams, childhood, the uncanny, desire, subjects and objects, and mourning.
Reading will include essays by Freud, Lacan, Winnicott, Melanie Klein, and others; and fiction by Jensen, Melville, Poe, Brontë, James, Flaubert, and Ishiguro.
Preference given to sophomores considering an English major. Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Christoff.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
It’s possible to imagine people who have not yet suffered, who have not yet had a peculiarly intense and sustained experience of physical or psychic pain. Those imaginary people are, however, vulnerable to future suffering. Even more importantly, they live in a world in which many others suffer, so many that a refusal to attend to suffering amounts to a refusal of a meaningfully relational existence. Thinking and feeling in response to suffering is, accordingly, an inescapable aspect of what Henri Bergson describes as “a really living life.” But how do we respond to suffering, whether in others or in ourselves? How do we take it in without appropriating it? How do we express it without parading it? These questions and others like them are difficult, but the aim of this class is to create a space in which it is possible to take them up–to generate an intellectual and emotional atmosphere in which it is possible to learn how to live with what we can’t rise above. Readings include The Book of Job, Sophocles’s Philoctetes, Shakespeare’s King Lear, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, John Hersey’s Hiroshima, Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Sanborn.2015-16: 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.
Omitted 2016-17. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
This will be an historical survey, from the nineteenth century to the present, of poetry written by gay men and lesbians, both in and out of the closet.
Fall semester. Writer-in-Residence Hall.2015-16: Not offered
Readings of poets who have chosen to live in a culture other than their own, with an emphasis on T.S. Eliot in London, Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil, Thom Gunn in California, and Agha Shahid Ali in New England. Two class meetings per week.
Omitted 2016-17. Writer-in-Residence Hall.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
This course examines how contemporary global novels employ animals to explore the limits of humanity and human community. As globalization creates intersecting networks of production and communication across borders, many recent novelists foreground human-animal relations alongside their depictions of contemporary global reality. Why should they choose to include animals in their visions of a global society? What may be the connection between the lives of animals and globalization? Reading a selection of philosophical and theoretical texts alongside contemporary Anglophone novels from around the world, the course examines the wide-ranging representations of animals as companion species, radical Other, food and commercial products, victims of environmental disasters and geopolitical changes, or reminders of our innocent origin. Possible authors include J.M. Coetzee, Ruth L. Ozeki, Indra Sinha, Zakes Mda, Mahasweta Devi, Lydia Millet, Lauren Beukes, and Linda Hogan; possible theoretical texts include those by Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Derrida, and Donna Haraway.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Huang.2015-16: Not offered
This course reads Chinese diasporic literatures along a transnational itinerary, analyzing literary fictions hailing from Southeast Asia, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and the Caribbean. At each location, Chinese immigrants must confront a multiethnic society of layered colonial histories, and we ask how encounters with other indigenous, immigrant, or colonial peoples change their conceptions about being Chinese, their understanding of self and other, and the ways they narrate belonging and community. We will have an emphasis on women authors, and the issues of gender in diaspora and transnational experiences will be central to many discussions. The literary texts are predominantly Anglophone, with the possibility of one or two texts translated from Sinophone origins, and a few films will be included as course material when appropriate. Possible authors include Eileen Zhang, Maxine Hong Kingston, Gish Jen, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Hwee Hwee Tan, Brian Castro, Tze-Ming Mok, Meiling Jin, Jan Lowe Shinebourne, and Kerry Yang; films may include works by Wong Kar-wai, Ang Lee, and Tsai Ming-liang.
Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2016-17. Visiting Professor Huang.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
(Offered as ENGL 318 and BLST 362 [A/CLA].) The course will concentrate on Caribbean authors. It explores the process of self-definition in literary works from Africa and the Caribbean that are built around child protagonists. We will examine the authors’ various methods of ordering experience through the choice of literary form and narrative technique, as well as the child/author’s perception of his or her society. French texts will be read in translation.
Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Cobham-Sander.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
(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.
2015-16: 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. Fall semester. Professor Ciepiela.2015-16: Not offered
A second, advanced workshop for practicing poets. Students will undertake a longer project as well as doing exercises every week exploring technical problems.
Requisite: ENGL 221 or the equivalent. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Omitted 2016-17. Writer-in-Residence Hall.2015-16: Not offered
A poetry writing course, but with a strong emphasis on reading. Students will closely examine the work of various poets and periods, then attempt to write plausible imitations of their own, all by way of learning about poetry from the inside, as it were.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Spring semester. Writer-in-Residence Hall.2015-16: Not offered
An advanced level fiction class. Students will undertake a longer project as well as doing exercises every week exploring technical problems.
Requisite: Completion of a previous course in creative writing. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Spring semester. Visiting Writer Jackson.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
[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.
Spring semester. Professor Nelson.2015-16: 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. This course will be offered only in the fall semester in 2016-17.
Limited to 50 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Berek.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015 and Spring 2016
(Offered as ENGL 339 and SWAG 339.) [before 1800] “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” Virginia Woolf famously said in 1929. What did the landscape of women’s writing look like before women were allowed such liberties, and what effects did their social conditions have on their writing? This course focuses on the work of early female writers, from the medieval to the Romantic period–many of whom are still overlooked today.
We will survey a range of writing by women from 1350 to 1850, putting English and American poets into conversation with political agitators, religious mystics and martyrs, the authors of woman-centered periodicals, and novelists. Our readings will include well-known works by Aphra Behn and Jane Austen along with lesser-known and even anonymous women-authored poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Secondary readings by feminist critics and historians such as Virginia Woolf, Judith Butler, and Toril Moi will frame our discussions. We will ask, how did women writers participate in or drive the invention of new literary forms, such as the periodical and the novel? Does women’s writing have specific formal or stylistic characteristics, and are these affected by women’s social standing and access to education? What does an English literary history that fully includes women’s writing look like, and how does it differ from standard literary histories?
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professors Nelson and Worsley.
2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
[before 1800] Exploring the relations between literary form and socioeconomic change, this course examines the rise of the novel in England in the context of the rise of capitalism. Topics of discussion will include the novels’ portrayals of subjectivity, the representation of female experience, the role of servants in the imaginary worlds of novels by ruling-class authors, and the early novel’s affinity for and relation to criminality. Novels by Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Sterne, Burney and Edgeworth.
Omitted 2016-17. Professor Frank.2015-16: Not offered
Can reading poetry change our understanding of our environment? How might the way we perceive nature be conditioned by the ways in which writers have imagined it? In turn, how might the way we perceive our own imaginations be conditioned by ideas about the natural world? Although “nature” might seem like a universal and unchanging concept, British Romantic writers did much to invent our modern perception of it. This course questions what “nature” might mean, and how it developed alongside changing ideas about the imagination.
We will read the writings of William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth, Charlotte Smith, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Keats, and Felicia Hemans alongside seventeenth- and eighteenth-century theories of the imagination by David Hume, Edmund Burke, and Immanuel Kant. We will also make frequent visits to the Mead Art gallery in order to experiment with some of these imaginative theories. Finally, we will debate what impact this history has had on current environmental discourse, contemporary ethics, and the Green movement. Some critics have argued, for instance, that the Romantics’ reverence for nature is more destructive than it might at first seem. Might it be more environmentally responsible to get rid of the Romantic concept of “nature” altogether?
Fall semester. Professor Worsley.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
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 2016-17. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2015-16: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 350 and AMST 350.) [before 1800] American Origins is a course in Early American literature and history. It explores when and how this country began. We readily forget that it only became the “United States” in 1789. Before that and from early in the European conquests, it was “the (Spanish, or French, or English, or Dutch) colonies,” or “America” and thus but a part of European settlements in both the Southern and the Northern hemispheres. It was also a place known as “Turtle Island,” with indigenous trade networks that traversed the continent. It was also a foreign land to which countless African people were brought as slaves, men and women who adapted and made this land their own. These simultaneities and complexities frustrate any comprehensive narrative of the period.
This will, then, be an experiment in shaping a transnational Early American literature and history course. Our goal is to expand the geographic and temporal boundaries of the subject using archival, print, and digital sources. We hope to learn multiple ways of reading the “texts” of early America: print books, pamphlets, broadsides, petitions, manuscripts and graphic media–and innovative scholarship. These will give us some access to the many peoples reshaping what was, in fact, a very Old World.
The end goal is for students to design a syllabus that can be used in secondary schools, or for a future course at Amherst.
Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Limited to 36 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Brooks and Professor Emeritus O’Connell.
2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
Emily Dickinson’s poetry is rich in what she called “illocality.” Her writing characteristically dissolves images and refuses all specificity of place or event, and yet no writer is more intimately connected to a single particular place. Dickinson wrote almost all of her poems within this one house on Main Street in Amherst. We will have the extraordinary opportunity to read these poems here, to study both her individual life and her practices of literary expression in the place where she lived and wrote and with access to many of the artifacts and records of family and local history. We will study Dickinson’s biography, her poetic practices, and her historical context. In exploring the social and political situation of her poetry we will pay particular attention to local materials and history. Most class meetings will be held in the Dickinson Homestead and coursework will include projects of use to the Dickinson Museum.
Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Professor K. Sánchez-Eppler.2015-16: Not offered
Novels and short fiction, mainly comic, by such writers as Evelyn Waugh, Saul Bellow, Flannery O’Connor, Elizabeth Taylor, Kingsley Amis, John Updike, Philip Roth, Nicholson Baker, Ian McEwan, Jonathan Franzen, Barbara Pym. The effort will be to refine and complicate one’s performance as a critic of these writers and their books.
Omitted 2016-17. Professor Emeritus Pritchard.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
“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. Spring semester. Professor Sanborn.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
(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.2015-16: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 374, BLST 330 [US], and FAMS 358.) In offering extended formal considerations of Spike Lee’s cinematic oeuvre–in particular his uses of light, sound, and color–this course is interested in how shifting through various modes of critical inquiry can enable or broaden different kinds of cultural, political, or historical engagement with a film. This semester we will also pay special attention to the question of what it means to encapsulate a particular cultural moment, particularly vis-à-vis the often differing demands of fictional and non-fictional representation.
Omitted 2016-17. Professors Parham and Drabinski.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
(Offered as FAMS 350 and ENGL 376). This course will introduce students to a diverse range of experimental approaches to narrative filmmaking. Students will gain skills in filmmaking and criticism through project assignments, readings and analysis of language, performance and visual structure within selected films. Workshops in cinematography, sound recording and editing will be offered. The course will concentrate on filmmakers who are working in a context of multiple languages, hybrid forms and transnational histories. Screenings will include works by Jia Zhangke, Mati Diop, Abderrahmane Sissako, Pedro Costa, Claire Denis, and Nagisa Oshima. Students will complete three film and video projects. Lab fee required. Course meetings include one three hour consecutive meeting per week and one screening time per week.
Recommended prior coursework: ENGL 287/FAMS 228, Introduction to Super 8 Film and Digital Video, or other introductory course in film and video, photography, or painting. Admission with consent of instructor. Please complete the questionnaire at https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/departments/film/major/major-requirements/forms and submit to Prof. Hillman. Limited to 13 students. Omitted 2016-17. Five College Professor Hillman.
2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
(Offered as ENGL 377 and FAMS 383.) This course focuses on the documentary impulse–that is, the desire for an encounter with the “real”–as a way of understanding the different philosophies and ideologies that have shaped the history and practice of documentary. We will approach canonical studies of the modes of documentary (e.g., expository, observational, poetic, reflexive), placing pressure on concepts whose resonance or antagonism has shaped the notion of documentary, such as spectacle, authenticity, reality, mimesis, art, fiction, and performance. In addition to encountering canonical documentary films and major debates, we will analyze documentary as a complex discourse that has been shaped by multiple media forms (such as photography, television, and new media) and exhibition contexts (the art gallery, the cinema, the smartphone). Assignments will include group presentations, analytical exercises, and a final research paper. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Recommended requisite: A prior introductory film course. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Rangan.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
(Offered as ENGL 381 and FAMS 351.) Film theorist Siegfried Kracauer declared that some of the first films showed “life at its least controllable and most unconscious moments, a jumble of transient, forever dissolving patterns accessible only to the camera.” This course will explore the ways contemporary narrative films aesthetically represent everyday life–capturing both its transience and our everyday ruminations. We will further consider the ways we incorporate film into our everyday lives through various modes of viewings (the arthouse, the multiplex, the DVD, the mp3), our means of perception, and in the kinds of souvenirs we keep. We will look at films by Chantal Akerman, Robert Altman, Marleen Gorris, Hirokazu Koreeda, Marzieh Makhmalbaf, Terrence Malick, Lynne Ramsay, Tsai Ming-liang, Agnès Varda, Wong Kar-wai, and Andy Warhol. Readings will include work by Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Marlene Dietrich, Sigmund Freud, and various works in film and media studies. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Not open to first-year students. Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Hastie.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
(Offered as ENGL 382, ARHA 382, and FAMS 381.) This course examines the history of American avant-garde film, paying special attention to the alternative cultural institutions that have facilitated experimental cinema’s emergence and longevity in the U.S. since the 1940s. Through critical readings and weekly film screenings, we will analyze some of the major tendencies that have defined the postwar American avant-garde, including the poetic and amateur filmmakers of the ’40s and ’50s, the underground film and political documentary movements of the ’60s, the structural film and women’s cinema formations of the ’70s, the turn toward small-gauge and found footage practices in the ’80s, and more contemporary engagements with hand-made film and expanded cinema. Special emphasis will be given to the broader institutional practices that have surrounded the production and maintenance of avant-garde film culture. Examining critical histories of radical filmmaking collectives, cooperative distribution centers, art film societies, critical journals, and experimental film archives, we will consider how the avant-garde’s interest in creating an alternative cinema necessitated a dramatic reorganization of existing modes of filmic production, distribution, exhibition, reception, and preservation. Screenings of films by Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Andy Warhol, Barbara Rubin, Newsreel, Michael Snow, Barbara Hammer, Saul Levine, Peggy Ahwesh, Jennifer Reeves, and others will be included. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Requisite: One 100-level or 200-level FAMS or ENGL course, or consent of the instructor. Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2016-17. Visiting Professor Guilford.
2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
(Offered as ENGL 388 and FAMS 240.) A first workshop in narrative screenwriting. Through frequent exercises, readings and screenings we will explore the fundamentals of scene and story shape as they’re practiced in mainstream American commercial filmmaking while taking a broader look at what a screenplay might be outside of that world. We’ll look at two modes of writing that are often at odds with each other: the well-established craft of three-act screenwriting within the Hollywood tradition, on the one hand, and the more elastic possibilities of the audio-visual medium as exemplified by the so-called “art film,” on the other. One three-hour class meeting per week.
Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Preference will be given to English and FAMS majors. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Please complete the questionnaire at https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/departments/film/major/major-requirements/forms. Omitted 2016-17. Visiting Lecturer Johnson.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
Like every other aspect of human culture, literature interacts with biology–with, in Elizabeth Grosz’s words, “a system of (physical, chemical, organic) differences that engenders historical, social, cultural, and sexual differences.” The aim of this course is to make that fact as intellectually fruitful as possible. What happens to our understanding of literature if we think of it as an expression of life? What happens, that is, if we think of literature as one of the countless things that emerges from a non-personal, non-teleological process of evolution? And what happens if we think of individual works of literature as potential ways of getting closer, conceptually and sensually, to life, to the difference-making process within which we all find ourselves? Readings will include Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, James Welch’s Winter in the Blood, J. M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello, and the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wallace Stevens, and Elizabeth Bishop. A background in the natural sciences is welcome but not necessary.
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Sanborn.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
In 1980, on the eve of publication of his second short story collection, Raymond Carver wrote to his editor Gordon Lish and begged him to stop the presses. Carver felt Lish had edited the stories so dramatically the author could no longer claim them as his own. Yet this collection is an American masterpiece. What can we learn about the art and practice of editing from this relationship? How does one read and think like an editor? In addition to reading editor-author correspondence and the “before” and “after” versions of landmark literary works, including The Great Gatsby, students will read and analyze trail-blazing literary magazines, defunct and contemporary, that have shaped literary landscapes and authors’ careers. Submissions to The Common, the Amherst College-based print and online literary magazine, will provide some of the course materials and opportunities for hands-on editing work.
Requisite: One English course at the 200 level or higher required. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Visiting Lecturer Acker.2015-16: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 412 and EUST 412.) [before 1800] This course introduces students to the hands-on study of medieval manuscripts. Students will examine materials in the Frost Library archives, as well as print and digital facsimiles of medieval manuscripts, to learn about how medieval literature was copied and read in its own time. Students will learn the skills of paleography (reading old handwriting) and codicology (analyzing the materials and assembly of old books) in order to conduct original research on these materials. They will also learn about medieval and early modern book culture. The course includes a field trip to the Rare Books library at Harvard University.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Nelson.
2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
This is an advanced writing course for students seeking to move their fiction writing into longer forms. Students will be expected to complete at least 60 pages of new writing, comprised of three different “approaches” to novel writing. Readings will be extensive, including published novels, the work of peers, and essays on theory and craft. One class meeting per week.
Requisite: ENGL 226. Recommended requisite: ENGL 326. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited enrollment. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Omitted 2016-17.2015-16: Not offered
[before 1800] By studying selected Shakespeare plays and their afterlives in literature and performance, we will explore the fate of culture over centuries of global mobility. What qualities of Shakespeare’s works render them peculiarly adaptable to a world of intercultural conflict, borrowing and fusion? And what light does the translation and adaptation of Shakespeare shed on the dialectic of cultural persistence and change? Our examples may include European literature and theater; American silent film and musicals; post-colonial appropriations in India, Africa and Latin America; and versions in the drama, opera and cinema of China and Japan. The course includes an independent research project on a chosen case study.
Requisite: ENGL 338 (Shakespeare). Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Bosman.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
[before 1800] Shaped at the convergence of new technologies of print and performance, the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries marked a key moment in the history of media. Ever since then, the plays have been on the edge of media change, including the rise of cinema, television, multimedia theatre, digital texts and archives, and interactive pedagogies. This course surveys a range of drama and spectacle that originated in early modern England and survives today in media the Renaissance could not have imagined. We will attend closely to the changing relation between literary forms and material formats, asking how art and technology have developed and disrupted each other at the points of production and reception alike.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Bosman.2015-16: 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. Fall semester. Professor Grobe.2015-16: Not offered
We don’t just think, speak, or write our ideas; we perform them, too. Think TED Talks. Think political movements. Think 400-level seminars in English.
In this course, you will read plays driven by their arguments and arguments that look an awful lot like plays. As the semester wears on, you will begin to research your own angle on the theme of ideas performed. Your final project will be a mock prospectus, in which you will imagine this “angle” of yours turning into a thesis project–creative, critical, or a mixture of the two.
Previous experience with drama or performance is helpful, but hardly required. The reading load is heavy and expectations for classroom engagement are high. Would you turn up to a performance not knowing your lines? I didn’t think so. See you there.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Grobe.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
Are we most ourselves when we are alone? Is creativity made more possible by solitude? Why do artists and writers tend to be seen as more solitary than other kinds of people?
In this course, we will study shifting ideas about the relationship between the self, solitude, and creativity in the works of William Wordsworth, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Charlotte Smith, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Felicia Hemans, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and Mary Wollstonecraft. Our main focus will be on Romantic poetry, but we will also pay close attention to texts about solitude that the Romantics themselves read, such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet and The Tempest, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and eighteenth-century “graveyard poetry,” in order to question more rigorously how ideas about solitude changed across time. How do factors such as gender, race, national origin, and class have a bearing upon the way that solitude is represented? The course includes an independent research project, in which students are asked to find a memoir, philosophical work, novel, periodical, or piece of travel writing from 1700-1830, in which solitude is a central concept, in order to ask how the development of different genres and modes of autobiographical writing affected ideas about solitude.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Worsley.2015-16: Not offered
A seminar–intensive reading, in-class presentations, a long paper at the end–in which the work of six major poets will be studied: Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Wilbur, and Anthony Hecht. Attention will be given to the poets’ own critical writing, in letters, interviews, reviews, and essays, as well as to the critical literature devoted to them.
Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors, with preference given to junior English majors who have not taken a 400-level English course. Although this is an English Department seminar, students not majoring in English will be welcomed. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Sofield and Simpson Lecturer Wilbur.2015-16: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 441 and EUST 374.) [before 1800] In this course, we read a selection of English and other European lyrics (in translation) from the twelfth through the seventeenth centuries. An exciting, fertile era in poetic innovation, these centuries see the dawn of the first romantic love poetry in these languages, the invention of new forms like the sonnet, and the invention of the lyric “anthology.” Reading the lyrics of the French troubadour poets, Chaucer, Petrarch, Wyatt, Donne, Shakespeare, and the many brilliant anonymous poets of medieval England, we will examine both the text and contexts of these short poems. Close readings will be put in dialogue with cultural contexts (such as the volatile court of Henry VIII, in which Thomas Wyatt wrote), and the material contexts of the lyrics (the medieval and early modern manuscripts and books in which they first appeared). We will further think about how the term “lyric” emerges as a privileged poetic category, by reading contemporary “defenses” of poetry and thinking about why the word “lyric” only appears in the sixteenth century. Does the “lyric” poem change once it is defined? How do later works speak to the earlier tradition?
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Nelson.2015-16: Not offered
What are the antecedents of the central line of poetry in English as one finds it early in the twenty-first century? Given the great variety of English-language poetry today, the term “central line” may be disputable; what is not disputable is the tradition of secular and religious lyrics and odes that derives from the major poets of the early seventeenth-century: John Donne, Ben Jonson, George Herbert, and Andrew Marvell. The lyric and the ode are recast two centuries on by, among others, William Wordsworth, whose development of the monologue inaugurates another genre much practiced in the following two hundred years. Lyric, ode, and monologue become the principal modes in the work of John Keats, Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Hardy, Robert Frost, and Philip Larkin. In this seminar students and instructors will read closely, and discuss, these ten poets. A short paper or two, and a longer one in conclusion.
Open to juniors and seniors. Students not majoring in English are welcome. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Emeritus Pritchard and Professor Sofield.2015-16: 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. Fall semester. Professor Parham.2015-16: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 456, BLST 441 [US], and FAMS 451.) This class begins with narratives about individuals who pass–that is, who come to be recognized as someone different from whom they were sexually or racially “born as.” Such stories suggest that one’s identity depends minimally on the body into which one is born, and is more attached to the supplementation and presentation of that body in support of whichever cultural story the body is desired to tell. Drawing on familiar liberal humanist claims, which centralize human identity in the mind, these narratives also respond to the growing sophistication of human experience with virtual worlds–from acts of reading to immersions in computer simulation. But what kinds of tensions emerge when bodies nonetheless signify beyond an individual’s self-imagination? As technology expands the possibilities of the virtual, for instance surrogacy, cloning, and cybernetics, what pressures are brought to bear on the physical human body and its processes to signify authentic humanness? Rather than ask whether identity is natural or cultural, our discussions will project these questions into a not-so-distant future: What would it mean to take “human” as only one identity, as a category amongst many others, each also acknowledged as equally subject to the same social and biological matrices of desire, creation, and recognition? We will approach these questions through works of literature, philosophy, media history, and contemporary science writing.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Parham.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
(Offered as BLST 432 [US] and ENGL 457.) Ralph Waldo Ellison wrote Invisible Man to confirm the existence of the universal in the particulars of the black American experience. The same can be said of the larger aim of this course. It will provide students with the opportunity to explore the broadest themes of Black Studies through the careful reading of a particular text. Due to its broad range of influence and reference, Invisible Man is one of the most appropriate books in the black tradition for this kind of attention. The course will proceed through a series of comparisons with works that influenced the literary style and the philosophical content of the novel. The first part of the course will focus on comparisons to world literature. Readings will include James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo; and H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man. The second part of the course will focus on comparisons to American literature. The readings in this part of the course will include Herman Melville, The Confidence Man; William Faulkner, “The Bear”; and some of Emerson’s essays. The last part of the course will focus on comparisons with books in the black tradition. Some of the readings in this part of the course will include W.E.B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk and Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery. Requires 20-25 page research paper.
Limited to 15 students. Open to juniors and seniors. Preference given to Black Studies majors. Fall semester. Professor Ferguson.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
(Offered as ENGL 458 and AMST 358.) [before 1800] This course will delve deeply into the literature of “Turtle Island,” or North America. The Quiché Maya Popol Vuh (Council Book), the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Great Law of Peace, and the Wabanaki creation cycle are rooted in longstanding, complex oral narratives of emergence and transformation, which were recorded by Native authors and scribes. Another oral narrative, the Diné (Navajo) Bahane’, was recorded and translated as recently as 1984 by a non-Diné scholar, who recognized the creation story’s literary significance as well as the tendency of anthropologists to “water down” its themes of transformation, sexuality and human fallibility. We will close read these major epics as works of “ancient American” 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.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Brooks.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
(Offered as ENGL 462, FAMS 462, and ARHA 462.) In recent years, curating has taken on an increasingly central role in the production of contemporary media cultures. As the practice of selecting, organizing, and presenting cultural artifacts for public exhibition, curating often determines the sorts of media forms audiences have access to and the frameworks through which those media forms are interpreted. Curating requires a facility with a wide variety of skills, from historical research to critical analysis, communication, administration, and creative thinking. Yet it also entails an attentiveness to the complex socio-political issues that subtend all approaches to cultural representation.
This course introduces students to the history, theory, and practice of film and video curation, paying special attention to the curation of experimental media. Students will learn about curating in both theoretical and practical ways, analyzing a variety of conceptual issues and debates that have emerged from historical and contemporary approaches to experimental film and video exhibition, while also embarking on creative assignments designed to allow them to begin developing their own curatorial perspectives. Through weekly screenings, readings, and discussion seminars, as well as visits to off-campus arts venues and cultural institutions, we will examine the different registers of film and video exhibitions that are regularly shaped by curators (program, sequence, exhibition space, text, and formats, etc.), as well as the broader social and political stakes of media curation. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Requisite: At least one foundational course in FAMS or ARHA. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Guilford.
2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
(Offered as ENGL 471, BLST 412 [A], and SWAG 471.) How do literary texts transmute human bodies into subjects–gendered subjects, colonial subjects, disabled subjects, terrorists, cultural icons, cyborgs? And what happens when we use ideas about the body to represent the body politic? In this course we will examine how modern African writers utilize a variety of genres, including ethnographic writing, Kung Fu movies, pornography, traditional epic, and graffiti, to challenge our notions of what counts as a body, as a nation, or as a text. Alongside novels by established writers, we will consider recent books and digital creations by Chimamanda Adichie, Chris Abani, Teju Cole, Zakes Mda, Werewere Liking, and Taiye Selasi.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Cobham-Sander.2015-16: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 474 and BLST 452 [CLA].) This digital humanities seminar examines how the concurrent migrations of Chinese and Indian indentured laborers to the Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean workers to and from the Panama Canal, at the turn of the twentieth century, contributed to the emergence of Modern Caribbean Literature. Students will explore the digital, print, and audio-visual archives related to these migrations, now stored in the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC), to enrich their reading of Caribbean literature. Librarians at Amherst, as well as scholars, librarians, and students at three other American and Caribbean universities, will partner with us in the course. We will hold some class discussions online and collaborate via social media on some of the course assignments. Authors whose works we will read include Victor Chang, Staceyann Chin, Maryse Condé, H.G. de Lisser, Ramabai Espinet, Ismith Khan, Claude McKay, V.S. Naipaul and Eric Walrond.
A previous course in English, History, or Black Studies is recommended. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Cobham-Sander.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
(Offered as ENGL 475 and FAMS 475.) This course examines the similarities in form and content between the Victorian novel and the modern television series. While contemporary TV and fiction from over a century ago might seem like a surprising pairing, the two forms have a great deal in common. Indeed, serial television finds its foundation in nineteenth-century publication practices: the Victorian novels we now read as massive single-volume books were originally published in small weekly or monthly parts. Focusing on case studies in which we place a Victorian novel and a television series side by side, this course interrogates questions of genre, form, medium, and the dubious division of popular entertainment and high art. Through experiments with our own reading, writing, and viewing habits, we will ask how the serial forms of the Victorian novel and TV illuminate each other, what habits of consumption they promote, and what they have to teach us about seriality itself.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 16 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professors Christoff and Hastie.2015-16: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 477 and FAMS 455.) Confession is arguably central to expressions of postmodern selfhood in TV talk shows, YouTube videos, tweets, and Facebook updates. It also informs the evidentiary logic of our civil apparatuses (legal, medical, humanitarian) and infuses the fabric of our diplomatic, familial, and intimate relations. Indeed, we might say that the confession is the preeminent practice through which we understand the “truth” of our selves.This course investigates the many meanings and itineraries of the confession. We will focus on the various institutional sites that have shaped confessional regimes of truth (such as the church, the school, the clinic, the prison, the courtroom), as well as the role of media forms (from autobiographical video to cinematic melodrama and reality television) in consolidating and challenging these regimes. Readings and assignments emphasize a twinned engagement with media and cultural theory. Topics include: narratives on coming-out, truth and reconciliation, hysteria, torture, the female orgasm, insanity defenses, and racial passing. One two hour-and-forty-minute class meeting and one screening per week.
Requisite: At least one foundational course in FAMS or equivalent introductory film course, plus any one course in cultural studies/literary theory/gender studies/race and ethnicity studies. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Rangan.
2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
(Offered as ENGL 478 and FAMS 478.) Documentary’s difference from fiction is frequently understood in terms of its emphasis on the spoken word. In documentary studies, voice, rather than point of view, is the standard parlance for describing the unique social perspective of a documentary film. Voice is also the metaphor of documentary’s social mission: some of the most influential histories of documentary are narrated as a history of giving--and having, or appropriating--the right to speak. Rather than approaching the voice as a pre-existing social fact or content, this course will ask how discourses of documentary mediate our understandings of voice. Readings will include classic texts on the cinematic voice alongside contemporary and historical theories and counter-histories of voice from a variety of critical and disciplinary contexts, including philosophy, sound, music, disability, race, gender, and sexuality studies. Screenings will draw widely from documentary and experimental film. We will ask: how are Western philosophical discourses of voice unacknowledged influences on the formal expressions of the spoken word in documentary? And conversely, how do the conventional documentary expressions of speech, such as voice-over, interview, testimony, conversation cultivate normative and counter-normative modes of listening?
This is an advanced discussion seminar that places a heavy emphasis on speaking in class. The course also includes a final research paper.
Requisite: ENGL 280/FAMS 210, or equivalent introductory film course, plus any one course in cultural studies/literary theory/gender studies/race and ethnicity studies. Special consideration will be given to students who have taken a documentary course (whether theory or production). Open to juniors and seniors, and to sophomores with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Rangan.2015-16: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 481, FAMS 481, and ARHA 481.) This seminar explores different ways of entering into conversations with experimental filmmakers. Through weekly screenings, in-class visits by contemporary artists, and rigorous examinations of artists’ writings, interviews, and related theoretical texts, we will seek to develop critical and creative vocabularies through which to interact with an array of experimental films and videos. We will ask: What sorts of aesthetic, conceptual, and political keywords do contemporary filmmakers draw on to frame their artistic practices? How do these terms/frameworks challenge established approaches to film analysis? And how might we elaborate new ways of thinking and speaking about film in an effort to respond to this critical challenge? Topics examined in this course may include: expanded cinema, modularity, and performance; artist-run labs and the new materialism; experimental ethnography, locality, and cultural representation; landscape films and the Anthropocene; the politics of intimacy in the diary film; and abstraction, representation, and gender.
Requisite: At least one foundational course in FAMS or ARHA, or consent of the instructor. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Guilford.2015-16: Not offered
Independent Reading Courses.
Fall and spring semester. The Department.2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015 and Spring 2016
(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 2016-17. Professors Cobham-Sander and Drabinski.2015-16: Not offered
This course introduces students to the basic concepts and methods of literary and critical theory, a body of work that explores and critiques modern assumptions about truth, culture, power, language, representation, subject-formation, and identity. Surveying a wide range of authors and approaches (postcolonial, gender studies and queer theory, critical race theory, psychoanalytic, etc.), we will also draw on the expertise of our own faculty, bringing in weekly guest speakers to help explain particular methodologies and to tell us about how they engage with theory in their own scholarship. In this upper-level seminar, students will grapple with complex theoretical texts, consider the place of theory in literary studies and in film, media, and cultural studies as well, and begin to imagine ways of putting theoretical ideas to work for themselves.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Huang.
2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
Students intending to continue independent work begun in ENGL 498 are required to submit a five-page prospectus describing in detail the shape of the intended project along with a substantial writing sample from the work completed in English 498. Students beginning a new project who wish to apply for English 499 must submit a five-page description and rationale for the proposed independent study. Those who propose projects in fiction, verse, playwriting, or autobiography must submit a substantial sample of work in the appropriate mode; students wishing to undertake critical projects must include a tentative bibliography with their proposal. Please consult the English Department website for deadlines and for more information on the senior honors process.
Preregistration is not allowed. Admission with consent of the instructor. Spring semester.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016