University Seminars

ENGL 13186-01
University Seminar: Fables, Early Science Fiction, and Fairy Tales
Margaret Doody
TR 11:00-12:15

This course will explore the significance and uses of both fable and fairy tale, taking a global perspective.  The shortest of stories, fables tend to tell us bad news with comic conciseness. We will begin with the stories of Aesop, including the fabulous history of their supposed author. Fables relate human and animal, tying us to the reality of physical body and the world where we eat and get eaten. Fairy tales seem more concerned with emotion and aspiration for positive change, although “a fairy tale ending” is not always happy. Science fiction partakes of the nature of both fable and fairy tale; the “normal” cannot be taken for granted, knowledge can fail, and survival may be in doubt. Readers cross boundaries, explore unknown places and encounter the “other”—serpents, witches, or Moon-people.  “Monsters” abound. All three genres offer analysis of our own world. We start with the ancient Egyptian “Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor,” an early sci-fi work centering on a surprising encounter with a monster. From Ovid’s Metamorphoses we move to some of Pu Singling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. Fairies come to us from ancient Persia. Perrault’s versions of “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” established archetypal fairy tales in Western Europe; the versions of the brothers Grimm offer less elegant and more brutal interpretations. Mother Goose and Scheherazade are fictional female story-tellers, but named female authors emerge in the 1690s, taking the fairy tale’s examination of sex, gender and power in new directions. In these tales, as in works of early sci-fi like Kepler’s Dream and Godwin’s The Man in the Moone, we see everything in new perspectives. Fables, fairy tales and sci-fi stories offer a fresh look at human relations, rules, and the acquisition of knowledge. The narratives are strong, quick in transition, apt to surprise. They seem the essence of fiction itself.   We will read children’s stories like Beatrix Potter’s tales, and also major works by Kipling and Orwell. Films are important carriers and interpreters of these forms; students will choose the films that we show in the second half of the semester.

ENGL 13186-02
University Seminar: Civilization and its Discontents in British Literature
Laura Betz
TR 11:00-12:15

This course takes "civilization and its discontents" as a guiding theme for reading British literature from the 18th-20th centuries. Many key texts from this time period explore, in various ways, one of Sigmund Freud's central arguments in Civilization and its Discontents (1930): that as human beings attain higher and higher degrees of civilization, which Freud defines as mastery over nature, space, and time, they do not gain happiness, as one might expect, but actually become more miserable. This claim and others in Freud's text will serve as touchstones in this course, but we will also perform our own investigation of how the literature of this time defines the terms "civilization" and "discontents," as well as important related terms like "happiness." Our reading list will feature a variety of genres (poetry, novels, essays, short stories) and will include many of the following authors: Samuel Johnson, William Wordsworth, William Blake, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, Matthew Arnold, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Katherine Mansfield, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf.


ENGL 13186-04
University Seminar: Victorian Literature And Its Steampunk Heirs
Sara Maurer
TR 9:30-10:45

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 13186-06
University Seminar: The Art of the Short Story in the U.S.
Valerie Sayers
TR 5:05-6:20

Our course will celebrate the history and impact of the American short story throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. We’ll pay particular attention to major literary movements from modernism to post-postmodernism, and to the connections between a story’s form and its content. We'll be keeping an eye on writers’ innovations and experiments as we explore the subjects they take on: power, poverty, immigration, labor, race, identity, and alienation.

We'll also think about the ways short stories resemble (and differ from) other literary forms, and even other art forms. We'll look at visual art to think about how critics have defined periods such as modernism and postmodernism, and how much those terms overlap in the fields of visual and literary arts. If schedules permits, we'll meet visual artists in residence at the Segura Arts Center and visit the Snite Museum. You'll also attend several readings by fiction writers and poets to think about the performance of literature as yet another art form.

We’ll read, discuss, and write about forty-five stories over the course of the semester.  Perhaps most important, we’ll take pleasure - enormous pleasure, I hope - in a surprising, challenging, and satisfying literary art.

ENGL 13186-07
University Seminar: Crime and Detection In British & American Fiction
Susan Harris
TR 12:30-1:45

In this course we will look at the development of crime fiction as a genre from its nineteenth-century origins in Victorian sensationalist fiction to the latest developments of it in twenty-first- century American fiction. We will focus on the development of the two figures around which crime fiction revolves: the criminal and the detective. Discussions and written assignments will investigate questions about what these figures do for the cultures that create them. Why did Victorians love Sherlock Holmes - and why do we still love him now? Why, after the bloodbath of the First World War, did England become obsessed with the clue-puzzle murder mystery? Where did the police procedural come from, and why are we still fascinated by it? What explains the explosion of interest in serial killers in American popular culture at the end of the twentieth century? What do the fantasies and nightmares about the 'criminal' that we see in crime fiction tell us about the societies that produce and consume it? How are ideas about crime and criminality linked to beliefs about death, the supernatural, justice, and morality - as well as issues involving gender, race, sexuality, and class? How do all of those concerns affect the way crime fiction evolves as a literary form? Where do we find elements of this form in contemporary literary fiction? Authors will include but are not necessarily limited to Wilkie Collins, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Raymond Chandler, P.D. James, and Patricia Cornwell. Students will write three papers and will be responsible for one major presentation.

ENGL 13186-08
University Seminar: The Extraordinary Americas: “Magic” and Reality in 20th and 21st-Century Latina/o and Latin-American Literature
Sara Quesada
TR 2:00-3:15

What is the difference between reality and magic or reality and legend? What if magic were conceived of as an accepted part of reality? This course allows students to question the origins of essential myths through some of the most legendary accounts of the supernatural in 20th- and 21st-century literature of the Americas.  Specifically, we will be focusing on work from such renowned voices as Junot Díaz, Sandra Cisneros, Rudolfo Anaya, Achy Obejas, Gabriel García Márquez and Alejo Carpentier. Students will engage in discussion and critical thinking on what constitutes the fantastic, the magical, the uncanny, the marvelous real, or the spiritual from colonial times to neoliberalism to a distant science-fictional future. Course requirements may include response papers, presentations, a short essay, and a longer final essay.


ENGL 13186-09
University Seminar: On the Move: Migration in American Literature
Francisco Robles
TR 9:30-10:45

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.


ENGL 13186-11
University Seminar: Literary Visions and Revisions

Yasmin Solomonescu​​​​​​​
TR 2:00-3:15

In his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” T. S. Eliot writes that there is time "for a hundred visions and revisions,  /Before the taking of a toast and tea.” While this seminar doesn’t promise toast and tea (although that’s negotiable), it does promise a feast of literary works well worth digesting, specifically ones about the many “visions and revisions” involved in literature itself. Through the study of poetry, plays, and a novel from across five centuries, we will become acquainted with literature as a mode of expression that involves artful negotiation with one’s cultural and historical heritage, notably through adaptation, echoing, imitation, and allusion. We will also discuss and practice the kinds of critical vision and revision involved in thinking and writing about literature at the university level. Writers figuring prominently in the syllabus are likely to include William Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, and Tom Stoppard.


ENGL 13186-13
University Seminar: Books as Data
Matt Wilkins
TR 3:30-4:45

Contemporary literary criticism has a problem. We long ago gave up the idea that our task was to appreciate and explain a handful of great texts. We replaced that goal with a much more important and ambitious one: to understand cultural production as a whole by way of its (many) books. Even the ones that aren't so great. But how do we do that, when it takes days or years to come to grips with even one novel?

This is a course in the analysis of thousands or millions of books by way of computational methods. We will, in other words, treat books as data to be mined. But it doesn't assume any specific background in programming or computer science. Instead, we'll learn a handful of analytical techniques and read the best existing work in fields including literary history, media studies, information science, and sociology to help us understand what's possible when we apply computation to digital texts. The course thus serves as an introduction to computational methods in the humanities and prepares students to begin carrying out literary data analysis on their own.

This course counts toward the interdisciplinary minor in Computing and Digital Technologies. No prerequisites.