Graduate Seminars


Fall 2020


The Graduate Proseminar

English 200 / Prof. Snelson
Tuesdays, 3:00pm – 5:50pm

The Graduate Proseminar is an introduction to the profession of literary studies. The course will cover a wide array of topics related to issues in the profession and professionalization, including (but not limited to): the structures and histories of the discipline; writing and publishing for scholarly and general audiences; scholarly organizations and conference presentations; building a CV and a resume; developing professional skills; understanding the academic job market; humanities careers; and critical and methodological approaches to literary studies.

Global Chaucer: From Canterbury to the World

Old and Medieval English Literatures
English 244 / Prof. Chism
Tuesdays & Thursdays, 10:00am – 11:50am

This class will focus on tales from Chaucer’s last great work, The Canterbury Tales, exploring the ways it thinks both through and beyond “every shires end/ of Engelond” and reimagines the premodern world.   Situating Chaucer among premodern networks of cultural production and circulation speaks urgently to our own global milieu, inviting methodological self-reflection about theories of race, postcoloniality, gender and sexuality, migration and diaspora, and world literature from a time before European hegemony. We will explore the CT in the light of other frame tale collections from the Mediterranean and Western Asia, such as Boccaccio’s Decameron and the Arabic Alf Layla wa Layla (1001 Nights).  We will also explore the recent transdisciplinary scholarship of Karla Mallette, Alexander Beecroft, Geraldine Heng, Barbara Rosenwein, and others.  We will also look at recent and contemporary global Chaucers, including the Refugee Tales project, the poetic adaptations of Patience Agbabi, the plays of Ufuoma Overo-Tarimo, and other texts drawn from the Global Chaucer project:  For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the pre-1800 breadth requirement. For 2019 and earlier cohorts, this course meets the pre-1780 breadth requirement.

Modernism: A reckoning (CANCELLED 09-30-20)

Contemporary British Literature
English 253 / Prof. Hornby
Mondays, 3:00pm – 5:50pm

This seminar questions the critical purchase of modernism amid conflicting rumors of its death and whispers of its return. Modernism, as a field of study, has been declared dead before. If it has indeed died (again), are there mourners at its wake or shouts of good riddance? What is the relationship of modernism to contemporary works and contemporary crises? This seminar reckons with modernism’s perceived ends and the field’s own obsession with endings, nostalgia, death, and loss. Students will read critical and literary works in and out of the canon and beyond the twentieth century, from Virginia Woolf to Ali Smith. For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the post-1800 breadth requirement. For 2019 and earlier cohorts, this course meets the post-1780 breadth requirement.

History, Memory, and Trauma in the Contemporary Novel

Studies in Novel
English 258 / Prof. Rothberg
Wednesdays, 12:00pm – 2:50pm

This seminar will interrogate what cultural memory studies can offer the study of the contemporary novel—and vice versa. Focusing for the most part on twenty-first century fiction, we will consider questions such as the following: What distinguishes what we might call the “memory novel” from the more familiar historical novel? How does each genre stage the relationship between history and memory, the past and the present, forgetting and remembrance? How do national and transnational, local and global narrative frameworks shape contemporary novels about the past? What role can novels play in coming to terms with histories of violence? If memory novels frequently narrate traumatic histories, are alternative modalities of hope and transformation also possible?


Most of the novels we will read are by US-based authors, but many of the authors also have affiliations with other countries and continents. We will begin with two canonical and agenda-setting novels: Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) and W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz (2001). We will then continue with a selection of several of the following works (and possibly others): Achmat Dangor, Bitter Fruit (2001); Philip Roth, The Plot Against America (2004); Ken Kalfus, A Disorder Peculiar to the Country (2006); Dana Spiotta, Eat the Document (2006); Amy Waldman, The Submission (2011); Teju Cole, Open City (2011); Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing (2016); Jesmyn Ward, Sing Unburied Sing (2017); Eduardo Halfon, Mourning (2018); and Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019). The majority of the novels will be substantial, so you may want to get started ahead of time—feel free to contact me around September 1 for the final reading list. In addition to fiction, we will read a selection of critical and theoretical essays by such scholars as Stephen Best, Astrid Erll, Saidiya Hartman, Marianne Hirsch, Georg Lukács, Theodore Martin, and Ann Rigney.  For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the post-1800 breadth requirement. For 2019 and earlier cohorts, this course meets the post-1780 breadth requirement.

Narrative Across Media

Literary Theory
English M270 / Prof. Heise
Tuesdays/Thursdays, 12:00pm – 1:50pm

This combined lecture/workshop aims to introduce graduate and advanced undergraduate students to to basic concepts, methods, and practices  in narrative. We will cover a range of theories from sociological, anthropological, and linguistic approaches to recent cognitive-science and digital perspectives in order to explore storytelling situations, narrators, voices, plot structure, character construction, setting, fictionality vs. nonfictionality, modes of reading/hearing narrative, image-text relations, and cross-media translation. Fictional and nonfictional narratives across the media of print, film/video, online narrative, and video games will provide us with practical examples on which to try out different analytical approaches, as well as with models for our own storytelling experiments. We’ll put particular emphasis on environmental, medical, and urban stories, but the assignments will encourage students to apply the theories we discuss to their own areas of interest and creativity, individually and in teams. Graduate students from across different departments are welcome, as well as advanced undergraduates (undergraduates, please contact the instructor at before enrolling).  For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the genre/theory/methods breadth requirement.

Interdisciplinary American Studies: American Sex

Interdisciplinary American Studies
English M299 / Prof. Looby
Mondays, 9:00am – 11:50am

This course will explore the emergence of American sexuality through a series of historical, artistic, and literary case studies examined from an interdisciplinary perspective. We will read some novels and observe how they register inflection points in the emergence of modern American sexuality; among the novels, Charles Brockden Brown, Memoirs of Stephen Calvert (1799-1800); Julia Ward Howe, The Hermaphrodite (c. 1846-47); Margaret J. M. Sweat, Ethel’s Love-Life (1859); and Theodore Winthrop, Cecil Dreeme (1861). We will also look at some historical cases—including Michael Wigglesworth’s Diary (1652-57) with its anxious reflections on his “filthy lusts,” Jonathan Edwards’s so-called “bad book” affair (1744), and Alexander Hamilton’s adultery scandal (1790s). We will ask as well whether visual and plastic art works might contribute something essential to the history of sexuality, considering Hiram Powers’ sensational statue of The Greek Slave (1843), Harriet Hosmer’s Zenobia in Chains (1859), and other sculptures whose erotic power was ambivalently recognized at the time, as well as the Thomas Eakins painting usually known as “The Swimming Hole” (1884-85). A few theoretical readings on the history of sexuality will be chosen in consultation with enrolled students. For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the post-1800 breadth requirement. For 2019 and earlier cohorts, this course meets the post-1780 breadth requirement.


Winter 2021


Medieval Care of the Mind

Old and Medieval English Literatures
English 244 / Prof. Weaver

This course examines writing about cognitive impairment from Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, while offering a broader introduction to research in literature and cognition, disability studies, and the medical humanities, on the one hand, and to some key scholarly genres on the other: the book review, the abstract, the conference paper, and the syllabus. Our primary focus will be on how mental illness was understood and treated hundreds of years before the advent of the asylum and the development of psychoanalysis. As we will see, medieval thinking about eccentric minds often reflects a tension between theories about individual cognition and beliefs in divine or diabolical influences from angels, demons, fairies, and ghosts. At the same time, visions, voices, and other devotional experiences trouble the distinction between reason and insanity. Readings will include medieval medical treatises, chronicles, and restorative charms as well as saints’ lives, first-hand accounts, and poems, supplemented by selections from contemporary theorists. For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the pre-1800 breadth requirement. For 2019 and earlier cohorts, this course meets the pre-1780 breadth requirement.

Shakespeare and White-World-Making

English 247 / Prof. Little

I have yet fully to conceptualize the details of this seminar, but, as the title indicates, it will focus on Shakespeare and whiteness, beginning in Shakespeare’s day and perhaps moving forward. The seminar begins with a seemingly simple question: are some of Shakespeare’s characters whiter than other of Shakespeare’s characters? From there the seminar will make use of both critical race theory and critical white studies and examine both racial and “extra-racial” formulations of whiteness. Theories and studies of embodiment and materiality will also be central sites of query for this seminar. Participants will be asked to consider, for example, how the early modern theater and stage were originary sites of transforming the erstwhile white theological body into a white biopolitical one: of course, these categories are not mutually exclusive and in many ways are mutually supportive. We will pursue such queries as well as a host of others while reading a selection of plays, including an occasional non-Shakespearean one, and, potentially, texts in other periods, earlier or later. Some of the texts currently under consideration are the poems Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, and the plays Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Henry V, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, and The Tempest. For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the pre-1800 breadth requirement. For 2019 and earlier cohorts, this course meets the pre-1780 breadth requirement.

Novels and Systems

Studies in Novel
English 258 / Prof. Seltzer

This course considers the place of the novel in the epoch of social systems, our epoch.  If the novel is “the prose of the world,” the rise of the novel, coextensive with the systems epoch, has made systems at once compelling and prosaic.  The novel form, in short, is the Bildungsroman of a society that has discovered the secret of its own construction–and discovered too the ironical nature of attempts to deconstruct what it systemically brings about.  Systems theory gives us a way to frame this irony, and to reframe narrative form as social theory.  It gives us a way to understand contemporary ecologies of self-endangerment. It gives us a way too to reconsider current debates about genre, interdisciplinarity, form, and “ego-technic” media (euphemized as social media).  We will look at how these topics—and the so-called “culture wars”–are bound to the zoned realities of the systems epoch. Core readings: novels from the later 19th century to the present, from “realists” such as Henry James or Sarah Orne Jewett to experimenters such as Tom McCarthy, Rachel Cusk, China Miéville, Kazuo Ishiguro, or Natsuo Kirino.  Supplemented weekly by readings in critical, media, and social theory, and on disciplines, “the world interior of capital,” and, of course, systems. Course requirements:  two short papers (a book review or a reading); or a term paper. For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the genre/theory/methods breadth requirement.

The Bioecological Turn in Asian American Literature and Culture (CANCELLED 10-29-2020)

Studies in Literature and Its Relationship to Arts and Sciences
English 260 / Prof. Lee

This seminar focuses on literary and cultural productions by and about Asian Americans, with particular attention paid to works reflecting on science and technology.  How does the bioecological turn in the humanities (e.g. Hsuan Hsu’s “atmo-orientalism,” Neel Ahuja’s “queer atmospheres”, Tim Choy’s articulation of “wind” as environmental and human bodily actant) affect the practice of Asian Americanist critique?  How does it nuance the earlier biopolitical turn in the field dating to 2014?  What is the relation between intelligence gathering and intervention on the macro-level—e.g., via big data, economic and environmental risk calculations, metrics of toxicological threshold, population statistics, and so forth—and the techniques for relaying perception attuned to the consciousness of the individual organism, associated with the lyric, the confession, the epistle, and the autoethnography (those styles purveying intimacy)?  And what of narratological techniques stressing not the coherence of a singular embodied subject but distributed cognition across semi-autonomous nonhuman actants such as cells or cities?  Primary texts for the class include novels, poetry, and installation art by C.R. Lee, O. Vuong, K. Ishiguro, R. Ozeki, Y. Li, L. Ma, G. Bear, N.K. Jemison, A. Yi, J. Fan, and Arakawa & Gins.  We will discuss these writers and artists in relation to scholarship in cultural studies, environmental studies, and science and technology studies.  Works in the latter category include those by F. Jameson, A. Woloch, L. Davis, A. Heinrich, A. Ghosh, H. Hsu, T. Choy, N. Ahuja, S. Sze, M. Chen, A. Bahng, H. Landecker & C. Kelty, R. Altman, among others. For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the post-1800 breadth requirement. For 2019 and earlier cohorts, this course meets the post-1780 breadth requirement.

Representation and Chicanx Life

Studies in Chicana/Chicano Literature
English M261 / Prof. Perez-Torres

We will examine a variety of significant Chicanx literary texts across six decades to consider the various ways that Chicanx thought has engaged issues of representation. The problem of political and cultural representation for Chicanx communities has been a long-standing one. Chicanx activism was driven by a lack of representation and the need to articulate a collective identity so as to achieve social and political equity. The Chicanx writers we study in this class wrestle with a central question: how to represent a Chicanx self in literary texts when that sense of self in a social and historical setting seems constantly under threat? We will consider some of the conditions that make Chicanx and Latinx life feel precarious, and study cultural representation as a politically and socially engaged act of self-definition. We will consider as well critical work on issues of precarity and biopolitics, theorizations about surface and depth in aesthetic studies, and engagements with ideological critique and reparative critical practices. For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the post-1800 breadth requirement. For 2019 and earlier cohorts, this course meets the post-1780 breadth requirement.

Postcolonial Studies and the Anthropocene: Figuring Climate Change

Postcolonial Literatures
English 265 / Prof. DeLoughrey

The recognition of global climate change has catalyzed a new body of work in the visual arts, literature, and film addressing what is increasingly being called “carbon colonialism.” This course offers a global and comparative study of texts produced by Indigenous, island, and/or postcolonial writers and artists who are at the frontline of contemporary climate change, as well as its (post)colonial survivors. We will examine film, short stories, performance poetry, and visual arts from those confronting sea level rise and glacial melt (including the poles) and place these discourses in relation to the history of empire. The course will begin with a discussion about the concept of climate, its intellectual history, and its disjunctive relationship to experiences of place signified by weather. We will read current debates about the geological epoch termed the Anthropocene (as well as those about the racial capitalocene, plantationocene, plasticene, chthulucene) and their complex theorizations of scale, temporality, place, history, and the more-than-human subject. The course will explore how radical environmental changes may produce new narrative and artistic forms, such as the genre of “cli-fi,” defined as both “climate fiction” as well as “climate film.” We’ll examine how various narrative and visual modes engage different modes of storytelling about global environmental change such as apocalypse, slow violence, utopia, and dystopia. Authors will include Dipesh Chakrabarty, Donna Haraway, Amitav Ghosh, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, Craig Santos Perez, Witi Ihimaera, and others. For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the post-1800 breadth requirement. For 2019 and earlier cohorts, this course meets the post-1780 breadth requirement.

Spring 2021


English Poetry and Religious, Sexual, and Environmental Politics, 1588-1688

Earlier 17th-Century Literature
English 248 / Prof. Watson

Understanding the poetry of this socially turbulent, intellectually generative century – from the Spanish Armada to the Glorious Revolution – requires exploring how artistic political, philosophical, theological, sexual, economic, and scientific practices were evolving. We will therefore study a range of brief poems in conjunction with a glimpses into subjects from Alchemy to Zoology, with emphasis on religious schisms, the English Civil War, and contested areas of gender and eroticism. We will also focus on changing attitudes toward nature provoked by forces such as early colonialism, empirical science, Cartesian dualism, and a changing economy. Instead of reducing literature to a series of instances of a theme, this course will allow literature to open windows onto a multi-faceted Early Modern world.Through careful reading and open, energetic discussion, we will attempt to comprehend not only what these poems say — often no small task — but also their place in the configurations of a rapidly transforming society. What tensions and changes in that culture, as well as in the lives of the authors, might these works have helped to negotiate? How and why did the Metaphysical and Cavalier modes emerge in a period of intense struggle, and what is the interplay of form, content, and meaning within those modes? What evidence do these poems offer about (for example) the personal psychology, gender politics, and status competitions of the period and its poets – especially Donne, Herbert, Jonson, Carew, and Marvell? What kind of work were the poems doing? How, and how well, were they doing it? And, what kinds of work should we do on them now? For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the pre-1800 breadth requirement. For 2019 and earlier cohorts, this course meets the pre-1780 breadth requirement.

Aestheticism and Decadence

Victorian Literature
English 252 / Prof. Bristow

“Aestheticism and Decadence” explores the development of these two nineteenth-century cultural movements in a range of British, US, and Indian contexts. The readings begin with the Pre-Raphaelites (especially the poetry of Algernon Charles Swinburne in the 1860s), the Indo-Anglian Toru Dutt in the 1870s, and the critical essays of Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde. Special attention will be given to women writers such as the poets Amy Levy and Rosamund Marriott Watson and the aesthetic theorist Vernon Lee (Violet Paget). The class will examine the works of the leading San Francisco aesthetes (Yone Noguchi, Gelett Burgess, Ina Coolbrith, and Charles Warren Stoddard), the London Decadents including Aubrey Beardsley, Arthur Symons, and contributors to the The Yellow Book, and the Savoy, the Boston publishing firm of Copeland and Day, and connections between the Indian nationalist and feminist Sarojini Naidu and the Yeats family in Ireland. For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the post-1800 breadth requirement. For 2019 and earlier cohorts, this course meets the post-1780 breadth requirement.

Experimental Theory: Status, Flux, and Change

Studies in Criticism
English 259 / Prof. Reinhard

Pre-enrollment is not permitted for this seminar, which is the second in a two-quarter (winter and spring) core seminar of the graduate certificate program in Experimental Critical Theory.  Please direct any queries directly to the instructor.  This seminar will focus on contemporary aspects of the question of stasis, flux, and change by examining topics including the science of climate change; the idea of epigenesis and the transformation of reason; subjective and political transformations of racial divisions and antagonisms; the categories of the “normal” and “abnormal,” and gender binarism and biological determinism.

Illness and Disability from Donne to Boyer

Studies in Criticism
English 259 / Prof. Deutsch

Inspired by Anne Boyer’s brilliant subversion of the genre in The Undying (2019), this course will explore the evolution of the cancer memoir from John Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (1624) to the present. Other examples may include texts by Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Susan Sontag, Audre Lord, Catherine Lord, and David Wong Louie. If time allows we will also look at graphic novels (Marisa Acocella Marchetto and Harvey Pekar are possibilities). Working at the vexed intersection of disability studies, the history of medicine, and the newly rechristened “health humanities,” we will attempt to trace both the history of a disease and the range of subjectivities—both patient and impatient—which shape and are shaped by cancer. For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the genre/theory/methods breadth requirement.

The Harlem Renaissance

Studies in Afro-American Literature
English M262 / Prof. Yarborough

The 1920s and 1930s were a remarkably fertile period for African American artists in a range of fields, including music, literature, dance, film, drama, and the visual arts. Catalyzing this phenomenon were several factors, among them the massive migration of blacks from the rural South to the urban North and a burgeoning interest in African American culture on the part of whites. In addition, we see a generation of African Americans coming of age with new educational opportunities and fresh orientations toward politics (both domestic and global) and toward black identity itself.

In this seminar, we will focus on the fiction published during this unprecedented explosion of African American cultural production known as the Harlem Renaissance. We will read novels and short stories by Jean Toomer, Jessie Fauset, Claude McKay, Nella Larsen, George Schuyler, Wallace Thurman, and Zora Neale Hurston. Topics to be engaged include diasporic constructions of blackness, gender and sexuality, satire and humor, modernist artistic experimentation, and class and color stratification in the African American community.


weekly online posts

an oral presentation

two research papers

For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the post-1800 breadth requirement. For 2019 and earlier cohorts, this course meets the post-1780 breadth requirement.

Theories of Diaspora

Literary Theory
English M270 / Prof. Sharpe

This course examines the emergence of diaspora theories during the 1990s, when the term was expanded beyond its classical usage for Greek, Jewish, and Armenian dispersion to include a wide range of migrations, displacements, and traumatic histories. We will consider how “diaspora” is used to address specific histories of genocide, slavery, indenture, and colonialism, and how these histories intersect with current conditions of transnationalism, cosmopolitanism, and globalization. What relationships do diasporic identities have to national ones and what are the stakes of claiming one over the other? What role do “the imaginary” and “lived experience” play in the formation of diasporic identities? How is the idea of homeland, which is central to diaspora theories, complicated through considerations of borderlands, translation, and indigeneity? How do feminist and queer approaches to diaspora introduce intimate and affective relations that are overlooked or rendered invisible in dominant theories? In what ways does “the diasporic” express a postmodern condition? These questions will be addressed through readings that include Homi Bhabha, Judith Butler, Rey Chow, James Clifford, Arif Dirlik, Brent Hayes Edwards, Paul Gilroy, Gayatri Gopinath, Stuart Hall, Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, Rafael Pérez-Torres, and Sau-ling C. Wong, among others. For the 2020 entering cohort, this course meets the genre/theory/methods breadth requirement.


Graduate students from other departments and campuses are welcome with the instructor’s pre-approval.

Additional Courses

Prospectus Writing Workshop (Spring 2021)

English 220 / Prof. López

This writing workshop is designed to address the central problem of writing a prospectus: how do you begin when you don’t know where you are going. It is also meant to facilitate the transition between the stages of graduate study, from Part I to Part II qualifying exams, from the prospectus to first dissertation chapter. At the start of the course, we will consider the genre of the prospectus itself to get a better understanding of its form and function and to demystify the process of beginning to write one. Relying on a critical community of peer scholars, in the workshop you will draft a series of preparatory versions of your dissertation project, culminating in a completed prospectus by the end. The workshop is open to graduate students who are working on the prospectus and to those who are beginning to write the first chapter of a dissertation. The syllabus can be expanded to support various stages of dissertation writing, depending on the needs of the group. Please note that the seminar may not be used to fulfill the 14-course requirement for the PhD in English.  S/U grading only.