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Literature: Courses

NOTE: Below you will find descriptions of graduate and special topics undergraduate courses offered in the Literature program. For regularly offered undergraduate courses, official undergraduate and graduate program information, and course requirements, please visit the online catalog. For recent course offerings, click here.

Fall 2018

LITR 310: Modern American Literature

Dr. Lori Burlingame

This course will focus on modern and contemporary American literature.  We will read and discuss representative selections of fiction, poetry, drama, and prose within their historical, social, ethnic, and regional contexts.  We will raise questions about what constitutes the “canon” in American literature and how that “canon” has changed over time, and we will discuss the ways in which the texts that we read define, contribute to, or react against literary movements, like modernism and post-modernism. 

LITR 314W: English Renaissance Prose and Poetry

Dr. Melissa Jones

Major authors from the age of Shakespeare to the close of the Renaissance, including the humanists, lyric poets, Spenser, Bacon, Donne and the metaphysicals, and Milton.

LITR 315: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Literature

Dr. Abby Coykendall

Perhaps more than any other era, the eighteenth century represents a moment that we must evaluate and reevaluate to interrogate the values of our own time. While often considered a quaint, tea-and-crumpets blueprint for civil societies across the globe, the British enlightenment witnesses both the positives and the negatives of modernity in the extreme. Thus, in midst of a massive expansion of the slave trade, the birth of the market economy and global capitalism, as well as an increasingly rigid sex-gender system (later culminating in “Angle of the House” Victorian domesticity), we will find a celebration of art and culture that students of literature still cannot help but admire. We will test both the dystopian and utopian visions of the British enlightenment through a diverse array of texts that put issues of modernization at the fore, texts spanning from the late 1600s (“The Restoration”) to the late 1700’s French Revolution, the period’s spectacular fin de siècle denouement. Ultimately, we will expand rather than confine our engagement with the materials, not only putting literary works in dialogue with the historical and philosophical texts of the time, but also examining how these works shape the myriad claims to—and contestations against—modernity that continue to vex our own.

LITR 360: Recent Trends in British and American Literature

Dr. Paul Bruss

LITR 360 focuses on recent literary and cultural developments, with particular emphasis on texts published within the last decade, hence an always-changing reading list.  For Fall 2018 the course will address British and American novels that explore the destabilizing effects, on relationships, of continuing upheavals in technology, in climate, and in British/American/global politics.  Two texts published this year (2018), Hermione Hoby's Neon in Daylight and Lisa Halliday's Asymmetry, will now join the list and expand our discussion of the varying techniques a new generation of writers employs in response to our almost bewildering world of rapid and unpredictable change.

LITR 362: Studies in African American Literature

Dr. Robin Lucy

LITR 362 focuses on the African American literary tradition as it developed from oral and musical sources as well as, as Toni Morrison writes, from the roots of the written tradition: the slave narrative.  The course encompasses 19th- to 21st-century texts.  We will explore each as a literary work within the canon and how these writings reflect on and intervene in their social and political contexts.  In addition, we will examine how African American writing has always theorized about itself in complex ways. 

LITR 405W: Shakespeare

Dr. Craig Dionne 

This class will introduce you to several of Shakespeare's major dramatic works.  To develop a sense of Shakespeare's plays as theatrical productions, students should expect to read out loud and perform some of Shakespeare's plays in class, as well as watch video productions of the various plays we discuss. Most importantly, students will be encouraged to interact with Shakespeare's plays as historical documents and lived artifacts of an ongoing history: not just what the plays may have meant to their original audience, but how generations of readers interpreted Shakespeare as their own.  Along these lines, special critical focus will be on reading Shakespeare within a “presentist” environmental framework and looking at critical themes in eco-materialism and posthuman theory.   Some of the older themes of Renaissance historicism (themes of self-invention in the court, rote literacy, and the cultural poetics of power and identity in colonial context) will be discussed in the context of eco-criticism:  how is Shakespeare’s idea of “self” helpful in thinking about our relationship to the environment?  How does a theory of the Anthropocene help us see colonialism in a context of Western expansion? How does Shakespeare’s reliance on the conventions of pastoral poetry tells us about his views of nature and the associated idea that humans as stewards of the natural world?   How do his tragedies serve as cautionary parables of prodigal lifestyle?  How does his poetic style embody a vitality or “adaptiveness” that measures our species plasticity to survive catastrophe and nature’s collapse?

LITR 443: Women in Literature

Dr. Elisabeth Däumer and Dr. Carla Damiano 

Co-taught by Carla Damiano (Professor of German) and Elisabeth Däumer (Professor of English), this course explores an international body of Jewish women's writing, from a range of diasporic cultural and literary traditions, and written in a range of languages--German, Polish, Italian, English, Yiddish, Hebrew. While all the texts studied will be available in English translation, students (especially those from World Languages) will have a chance to read texts in the original and examine translational variations. Jewish women’s writing emerged with unprecedented vigor at the end of the 19th century, in a great diversity of languages, forming a multi-linguistic and multi-cultural body of writings united by recurrent themes and tensions that cut across national, cultural, and racial boundaries. Doubly marginalized, both within Jewish culture and national cultures, Jewish women writers have frequently been “cultural anomalies,” positioning themselves in subcultures within subcultures—communist, bohemian, lesbian, avant-garde—and producing a vibrant heterogeneous literary and critical tradition that deserves to be studied in its own right.

LITR 450: Major Authors -- Jane Austen

Dr. Laura George 

As a Major Authors course, this section of LITR 450 will focus on a single author – Jane Austen – examining her work in the context of her writing career as a whole, the time period in which she lived and wrote, and the critical reception of her novels.  We will read all six of Austen’s novels focusing on recent criticism of Austen’s work, material culture (fashion, housing, transportation, and economics) during Austen’s time, and her legacies for 21st-century writers. 

LITR 490: Senior Seminar

Dr. Christine Neufeld

This course is designed to give you a chance to reflect on your undergraduate experience in English Literature, to contemplate the larger use value and utility of your chosen major—in terms of practical, social, political and ultimately ethical dimensions—and to produce pieces of writing that both reflect upon and manifest these insights and skills. The sense of “crisis” that many literature majors face as they contemplate life after university is symptomatic of what academics term “the crisis in the humanities”: the public dismissal of the intellectual labor of humanities scholars as dilettantish, esoteric and marginal, a sense that the “real” work of changing the “real” world is being done by science and business. It is time we challenged that narrative! In this course we will interrogate the myth of the English major philosophically, while simultaneously preparing students in practical ways for post-baccalaureate professional opportunities.

LITR 510 : Critical Practices in Graduate Studies

Dr. Laura George

Moving from undergraduate to graduate level education involves moving from being a consumer to a producer of literary and theoretical scholarship. Literature 510, Critical Practices in Literary Studies, is designed to introduce new graduate students to the range of resources available for doing advanced research in literary studies, as well as to the conventions and vocabulary of scholarly writing in the field. This course will emphasize development of the skills needed to succeed in an M.A. program such as annotating and abstracting scholarly articles, reading literary and critical works closely, participating in seminar-style discussion, conducting library and other forms of research, and presenting research both formally and informally. Key assignments include: Abstract and Annotation Presentation: Students will work in pairs to present an abstract for one of the theoretical essays on The Turn of the Screw; Library Assignment: The library “treasure hunt” assignment is designed to familiarize you with a range of databases and print sources in the library; Gwendolyn Brooks Edition: Students will make a selection of poems by Gwendolyn Brooks and present them in an edition with an introduction, relevant historical materials, and at least one relevant theoretical article; CFP Abstract:  Students will examine the academic CFP website and prepare an abstract to submit to an upcoming conference; Conference Presentation: Students will formally present a conference paper to the class AND perform as an academic audience, posting questions about each presentation; Conference Paper: Students will also hand in their conference paper as a formal piece of writing. Required Textbooks: The Routledge Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, Neil and Julia Thomas, eds; The Turn of the Screw, Henry James, Bedford Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism 3rd edition, Peter Beidler ed; Selected Poems, Gwendolyn Brooks.

LITR 530: Chaucer -- Postmodern Readers and the Premodern Author

Dr. Christine Neufeld

Geoffrey Chaucer’s works have been objects of study from the 15th century onwards. Over the centuries, as our understanding of the Middle Ages and our notions of literature and the imperatives of literary criticism have changed, so has our perception of Chaucer. Recent scholarship on the medieval literature and philosophy suggests that “postmodernity” is an intellectual vantage point ideally suited to explore the alterity of “premodernity.” As we explore the medieval formal, ideological and social dimensions of Chaucer’s narratives, we will simultaneously interrogate theoretical paradigms whose application allow us to come to appreciate Chaucer's work in new ways and to learn what the medieval past has to teach us in our own historical moment. 

LITR 575: Victorian Literature -- Queer Victoria

Dr. Margaret Dobbins

We tend to associate the Victorian Era (1837-1901) with stiff-upper lips, rigid gender roles, and widespread sexual repression. Yet alongside established ideals of domestic respectability, there were also other unusual, eccentric, or “queer” forms of family, gender, and sexuality. In this course we will explore the wide spectrum of queer desire—sometimes closeted, sometimes openly professed— in Victorian England. What role did fiction play in consolidating and transgressing modern “family values”? How did urbanization, imperial expansion, expanding rights for women, and drastic socioeconomic changes transform notions of gender and sexuality? We will examine topics including same-sex desire, sex work, the chosen family, cross-dressing, and the invention and criminalization of homosexuality. We will consider the slippery meaning of the term “queer” in the nineteenth century as well as the possibilities (and challenges) of recovering queer life and literature of the recent past. Close readings of Victorian novels, court transcripts, poems, short stories, letters, and erotica by Charles Dickens, Christina Rossetti, Wilkie Collins, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, H. Rider Haggard, Sarah Waters, and Oscar Wilde will be supplemented with critical and theoretical works on queer theory and sexuality by a wide range of scholars such as Sigmund Freud, Krafft-Ebing, Michel Foucault, Eve Sedgwick, David L. Eng, Jack Halberstam, José Esteban Muñoz, and Sharon Marcus.