University Seminars

Spring 2022

ENGL 13186-01
Introduction to Poetry
Laura Betz
TR 11:00-12:15

This course will provide an introduction to poetry as a literary art form and develop students’ skills of critical analysis and interpretation. The course will address the major poetic genres, a variety of poetic forms, and a range of literary concepts and devices. We will also spend some time thinking about the oral performance of poetry through different activities, including listening to recordings of poems and potentially attending a poetry reading. We will read a variety of material both past and contemporary, with a special emphasis on poetry from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and particularly the Romantic period. We will try to understand why the poetry on our syllabus has spoken to readers over time, and to see how it might speak to us and about us.

ENGL 13186-02
Performance and Rebellion
Sara Marcus
TR 12:30-1:45

Within human collectives structured by rules and expectations, there are always some people who endeavor to break out. In this seminar, we will look at American literature, popular music, and film, along with sociology and anthropology, with an eye toward the ways social lives are given shape through performance - that is, the routines, acts, and practices that people enact every day. We’ll pay special attention to instances in cultural texts where people rebel against some form of regulation, from enslaved people on the run to Dionysian rock & roll stars. What can these rebellious characters and moments teach us about the rules we follow in order to live together - and about the possibilities and stakes of saying no?


ENGL 13186-03
Victorian Literature and Its Steampunk Heirs
Sara Maurer
TR 11:00-12:15

This class asks why modern-day writers use settings and plots from Victorian novels to work through their own ideas about technology, transportation, information, and the complex social structures of modern society. We will explore Victorian fiction that deals with rapid social and technological change, and then try to see how modern authors adapt those attitudes for use in a twenty-first century society. From the Victorian era we will read Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son, Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil, and H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. From the modern era we will read Sydney Padua’s graphic novel The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine and China Mieville’s incredibly weird fantasy novel, Perdido Street Station. Students can expect to spend a lot of time talking, writing and reading about trains, computers, factories, flying machines, economics, and riots; about how we construct and enforce differences among genders, humans, animals, and robots; and about how the industrial world uses fiction.


ENGL 13186-04
On the Road: The History of Quest Literature
Greg Kucich
TR 12:30-1:45

The title of Jack Kerouac’s experimental Beat Era novel On the Road represents a modern variation on one of the most powerful trajectories in the great traditions of literary history.  Narratives of pilgrimage and quest permeate these traditions, expressing fundamental, abiding human aspirations toward transcendental ideals. Yet this compelling quest motif also addresses the particular cultural and political priorities of specific societies and historical contexts.  This seminar will explore the many different cultural inflections of quest narratives and the ways in which they reveal profound tensions between the persisting human search for the ideal and the ever changing historical forces at work in specific social communities. Our own journey of exploration will begin with Biblical and Classical sources, Homer in particular, followed by medieval quest romance.  We will then proceed to forms of ironic and radically modernized quest narratives in selected works from the eighteenth century to the present by Swift, Voltaire, Byron, MW Shelley, Tennyson, Kerouac, and the Monty Python troupe.


ENGL 13186-05
Reading the 1619 Project
John Duffy
TR 3:30-4:45

In this course we will examine The 1619 Project, The New York Times' celebrated, Pulitzer Prize winning, extremely controversial retelling of the history of slavery in the United States and its continuing influence on U.S. institutions and culture. A series of essays, photographs, stories and poems, the project places slavery at the center of the American experience and argues that it is the foundation of the systemic racism that continues to plague contemporary U.S. life. President Trump has denounced the project as a shameful misrepresentation of U.S. history, and several prominent historians have criticized its scholarship. Still other historians and social commentators  have defended the project as necessary and courageous.

 We will read arguments critical of the project and those defending it. We will devote most of our time, however, to reading, discussing, and writing about the essays and other materials contained in the 1619 Project. We will consider what these materials may teach us about the history of slavery and about the state of race and racism in the United States today. 


ENGL 13186-07
Theories of Literature
David Thomas
TR 2:00-3:15

When studying literature - and the humanities, in general - we use the term theory to indicate a specific way of looking at things.  For example, a gender theorist insists upon the importance of gender or sexual identities, a Marxist theorist emphasizes how economic conditions affect social and political realities, and a narrative theorist examines the operations of such matters as perspective and plotting in storytelling.  Rather than promoting one theoretical perspective, this course surveys several important styles of literary theory. We explore key issues in topics such as: aesthetic theory; Marxism; psychoanalysis; various feminisms, gender theory and masculinity; structuralism and post-structuralism; race and ethnicity studies; and the development of literary canons.

There is a great deal of sheer fun and surprise in learning about these various approaches.  But such knowledge is also empowering, raising our consciousness concerning our own commitments and interests as readers, citizens, friends and family.  Our study materials will include works of literature but also film, art history, music, and more, taking the viewpoint that pretty much everything - even something so simple as the way we dress—is meaningful and therefore some kind of “text.”

Graded coursework centers on several short papers, including a paper documenting a point of theory controversy that interests you individually. Regular journal writings and active participation are also graded factors.


ENGL 13186-09
Forms of Attention
Matt Kilbane
TR 3:30-4:45

What is attention? Is it one thing? Are there different ways of paying attention? Should we worry, these days, because some people think we’re not paying enough of it? If so, how might we nurture and extend our capacities for sensuous attunement to the world, and critical contemplation of its problems? These are just some of the questions we’ll take up together in this seminar on what it means to pay attention. We’ll begin by considering what philosophers, theologians, psychologists, neuroscientists, and theorists of disability have had to say on the subject, and by experimenting ourselves with some ancient and modern techniques for attending more radically to our surroundings. Then, we’ll turn to works of literature, exploring how literary forms—the realist novel and lyric poetry in particular—can deepen our capacities for concentration and observation. Equipped with these literary “forms of attention,” we’ll conclude the semester by applying all we have learned in case studies of two contemporary challenges: the overwhelming claims on our attention made by our technological environments in the age of iPhones and social media, and the extraordinary demands that the climate crisis is placing on our human-sized attention spans. Assignments will include personal meditations, argumentative analyses, an audio walking essay, and an extended research project. 


ENGL 13186-10
Artificial Intelligences 
Kate Marshall
TR 9:30-10:45

In spring 2021, Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro published Klara and the Sun, a novel featuring an intelligent machine, or “artificial friend” humanoid robot as its protagonist. Ishiguro’s novel asks serious questions about the nature of intelligence in an era of machine learning and automation. In this seminar, students will take up these questions, and look specifically at how we tell stories about technology to answer them. Working with fiction by Ted Chiang and Nnedi Okorafor, representations of AI in television and film from Westworld to Ex Machina, and analyses of the implications of AI and machine learning in cultural and scientific texts, we will debate one of the central issues of contemporary technological life.


ENGL 13186-11
On the Move: Migration in American Literature
Francisco Robles
TR 3:30-4:45

In this class, we will examine the importance of migration in twentieth century U.S. Literature. We will consider how migration has been integral in telling or representing the American experience, particularly by investigating how movement has been used by authors to shape texts, ideas, and characters. In asking ourselves how the ideas of flux and movement impact both the content and the structure of a novel, we will reflect on how migration alters political ideas, ideals, and trends. Finally, we will explore the many ways that migration shapes or constructs our conceptions of homeland and region.