Graduate Seminars


Fall 2023


Graduate Proseminar

English 200 / Prof. Weaver
Wednesdays, 12:00pm-2:50pm

Introduction to profession of literary studies. Covers wide array of topics including state of discipline; scholarly organizations and conference presentations; critical and methodological approaches to literary studies; writing and publishing for scholarly and general audiences; building curriculum vitae and résumé; developing professional skills; understanding academic job market and humanities careers.


Renaissance Literature
English 246 / Prof. Thomas & Prof. Shuger
Mondays, 3:00pm-5:50pm

For most of us today money – whether as coin, credit or even bitcoin – makes the world go round. Go back a few centuries and we encounter a world in which, for all its allure, money appeared as filthy lucre and the love of it, as Chaucer’s Pardoner memorably puts it, is the root of all evil.


This course is about premodern economies in which money in its various forms – ranging from bullion to bills – did circulate locally and globally but also one in which owing money might lead to sexual exploitation, incarceration or even mutilation. We need only think of the conjugal debt central to medieval institution of marriage and, if usually paid in the bedroom, also discharged when Margery Kempe settles her husband’s financial debts; or of Shylock’s attempt to exact a pound of flesh when Antonio defaults on the loan. This is a world in which sins were conceptualized as debts and Christ himself was a Redeemer who quite literally bought back (redimit) humans from the marketplace of death and damnation. This is also a world in which merely lending money was questionable and, if there was the slightest expectation of gain, punishable. At the same time, this was a world in which merchants and usurers formed alliances by necessity (as in Bacon’s “Of Usury”), popes and parsons sold spiritual goods such as indulgences, and Robin Hood was a lender to creditworthy yeomen rather than a giver to the poor.

In domains as diverse and divergent as philosophy and economics, literature and law, theology and politics, money was both the conceptual and material basis upon which ideas of goodness, trustworthiness, loyalty, equity, proportionality and justice were formulated and debated. As an interdisciplinary course, our readings will come from philosophy, political economy, art history, theology, literature, law and rhetoric as well as account books, travel diaries, land charters, papal registers, lists of taxe (fees paid to officials at the Apostolic Court of Penance) and bottomry loans (ships pledged as securities for the loans taken out by shipowners). By reading a diverse range of premodern texts through the lens of money we will witness the emergence or rather expansion of economic thought/practices and their socio-political, literary, religious, and aesthetic implications around the world.


This course meets the pre-1800 breadth requirement.

The Morrison Trilogy

Studies in Afro-American Literature
English M262 / Prof. Streeter
Mondays, 12:00pm-2:50pm

This seminar focuses on Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison’s novels Beloved (1987) Jazz (1992) and Paradise (1998), works the author has described as a trilogy. The time period of the trilogy spans a century: Beloved represents African American life during and immediately after the abolition of slavery, Jazz is set during the 1920s Jazz Age, and Paradise during the 1970s. We look at the trilogy as representative of a “Long Emancipation” experienced by African Americans following the end of Reconstruction in 1877, with the dismantling of African American civil rights and the imposition of de jure segregation (Jim Crow) and de facto segregation (the crowding of migrant African American populations into the ghettoes of the urban North). The regime of post-Reconstruction racial subjugation would not be relieved until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, hence the idea of a “Long Emancipation” following an incomplete Abolition. We also read the critical texts Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America by Saidiya Hartman, Who Set You Flowin’?: The African American Migration Narrative by Farah Jasmine Griffin, and selections from The Cambridge Companion to Toni Morrison.


This course meets the post-1800 breadth requirement. 

Queer Indigeneities

Cultural World Views of Native America
English M266 / Prof. Mo’e’hahne
Thursdays, 3:00pm – 5:50pm

This seminar considers the enmeshments of queerness and Indigeneity in the contemporary Indigenous expressive cultures of North America. We will read fiction, poetry, memoir, visual media works, and critical theory. We will trace how artists and authors craft decolonial enactments of sexuality, embodiment, gender, and the erotic. Our readings will also emphasize queer and trans* intimacies with the more-than-human world. Additionally, following queer forms of wonder, our readings will highlight how artists imagine possibilities for collectivity, kinship, and resistant ecologies amidst world-ending structures and events.


This course meets the genre/theory/methods breadth requirement.

The Psychoanalytic Approach

Issues and Developments in Critical Theory
English 270 / Prof. Russell
Tuesdays, 12:00pm-2:50pm

This course will examine some of the foundational ideas of psychoanalysis in the work of Sigmund Freud, and that of some significant post-Freudians in Britain and France. At the same time, it will consider different uses of those ideas as they continue to be elaborated in varied critical practices. We will consider both challenges to, and developments of, the psychoanalytic approach in fields including race studies, queer theory, Marxist theory, affect theory and feminist thought. A particular inquiry of the course will be to ask what psychoanalysis may still have to offer us as an approach towards literary, film, art and social criticism. Major psychoanalytic concepts to be addressed will include the unconscious, dreamwork, the symptom, melancholia, affect, transference, paranoia, trauma, fetishism, sublimation and sado-masochism.


This course meets the genre/theory/methods breadth requirement.



Winter 2024


Shakespeare: The Social Contract

English 247 / Prof. Little

Admittedly still in the process of being developed, this seminar introduces Shakespeare by a bifurcated way of thinking about Shakespeare and the social contract; that is, we will identify and theorize about the kinds of social contracts found in Shakespeare’s works (mainly, if not exclusively, in his plays) and the kinds of social contracts through which Shakespeare is deployed as part of the interpellation of “our” socio-existential beingness. Perhaps a simpler way to put the questions at the crux of this seminar: what, epistemologically, is going on with social relations in Shakespeare, and what, affectively, is our social relationship to Shakespeare? While the texts for this seminar have yet to be determined, Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice serves as an exemplary text: it figures an imaginative world where the commixing and the contradictions of various kinds of contracts threaten to destroy the societal order itself—inter alia, the familial, religious, racial (including, if not especially, whiteness), sexual, legal, economic. We can think, too, about the demands of the play in terms of our own ongoing anti/Semitic and sexual/queer processes of world-making. Our thinking about the social contract will possibly draw on a number of “classical” texts, including Cicero’s De Legibus (c. 58-43 BC) , Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651), Rousseau’s The Social Contract (1762), and Charles Mills’ The Racial Contract (1997). There’s a lot here; in the interim I will work on winnowing all this into a more workable syllabus and story. Seminarians can expect to do a presentation, participate in a final symposium (the last class meeting), and submit a final paper (somewhere along the order of 10 to 22 pages—individual’s choice).


This course meets the pre-1800 breadth requirement.

Abolition(ism) Before 1800

Restoration & Eighteenth-Century Literature
English 250 / Prof. Turner

In the United States today, abolition has become a broad strategy for achieving social justice; it tends to take as its objects the prison industrial complex and the systemic structures that have resulted in this country’s status as the largest jailer in the world. At the end of the eighteenth century, abolitionists were those who sought to end the slave trade and the practice of slavery itself. This course investigates the continuities and discontinuities between these two abolitionist moments, while also considering the rise of the penitentiary prison system, whose emergence coincided with the decline of chattel slavery in the British empire. Throughout, we’ll work to develop our own accounts of how contemporary abolitionist frameworks might aid us in approaching the literature and culture of the past


To this end, we’ll encounter a range of eighteenth-century texts and genres: poetry, drama, prose fiction, memoirs, and essays, as well as the genre-defying Ordinary of Newgate’s account book, which contains the biographies and “confessions” of people who had been sentenced to execution. We’ll pair our readings of eighteenth-century texts with critical and creative work by more recent abolitionist-thinkers, including Simone Browne, Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Mariame Kaba, Jordy Rosenberg, and Micol Seigel.


This course meets the pre-1800 breadth requirement.

The State of the Field

Studies in Chicana/Chicano Literature
English M261 / Prof. Lopez

The Latina/o Studies Association held its first, biennial conference in 2014, and the decade since has been one of exponential growth. From institutional investment to intellectual innovation to cultural production, the field of Latinx literary studies is vastly different from what it was ten years ago. This seminar will be a snapshot of current conversations and aesthetic trends. Together we’ll read recent scholarly monographs and contemporary imaginative literature in order to map immediate concerns, trace future lines of inquiry, and orient Latinx studies in relation to the scholarly ecology of the 21st century literature department.


This course meets the post-1800 breadth requirement. 

Minoritarian Aesthetics

Interdisciplinary American Studies
English M299 / Prof. McMillan

Aesthetics is commonly understood as the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and appreciation of art, culture, and nature. As such, it is concerned with the perception of the senses as well as aesthetic principles such as the sublime, taste, and notions of (dis)pleasure. More simply, aesthetics concerns mental and emotional responses to beauty. And yet, aesthetics is often perceived as a rarefied domain of the cultural elite, preoccupied with Eurocentric and sacrosanct standards of beauty and taste. As a result, in recent years, select scholars in interdisciplinary fields—particularly in black diaspora studies, performance studies, and queer theory, as well as art history—have chosen to approach the aesthetic in different terms. Collectively, these scholars approach the aesthetic not only as a potent and often fraught political and representational strategy for the marginalized but also as an optic through which to view how we sense and apprehend political life and the affective present. This course examines recent interdisciplinary monographs in the humanities writ large centered on minoritarian subjects, those subordinate to dominant Western artistic traditions and majoritarian political spheres. We will focus on how these cultural actors utilize aesthetic and performance practices to challenge representational norms and rebuke institutional imperatives, particularly the meaning of race, as well as how they manipulate embodied behaviors, to paraphrase Josè Muñoz, as pathways to navigate the stultifying present and imagine new and better pleasures.


This course meets the genre/theory/methods breadth requirement.


Spring 2024


Prospectus Workshop

English 220 / Prof. Cohen

There is perhaps no more mysterious document in the archive of graduate school than the dissertation prospectus. What is it? What is it supposed to do? Is it a contract? A fantasy? Or a bargain with the devil? And how can I possibly write it without writing my dissertation first?


This workshop is intended to answer these questions, among others, by providing a space within which to develop your ideas about your project, and your relationship to the scholarly fields in which your research will participate, as well as to learn about the generic and pragmatic features of the document you will submit for your Part II exam.


We will study the various components of a prospectus, with an eye towards some of the following objectives: identifying the scholarly questions and problems your project will address; outlining a program of research; mapping the relevant scholarship, and building a bibliography that is substantial but not unwieldy; and sketching an outline of chapter topics and key texts that the project will discuss.


Most of all, the aim of the workshop is to alleviate some of your anxieties about the Part II exam by helping you develop a project that excites you, and in which you feel confident.


The workshop is open to all interested graduate students, but is intended specifically for students who have completed their Part I exams.

Please note this workshop can be taken for an S/U grade only and cannot count toward the coursework requirement for the Ph.D.

Romantic Poetry and Poetics

Romantic Writers
English 251 / Prof. Nersessian

This is a course in the poetry and poetic theory of the Romantic period. We will read a range of authors including Edward Young, Thomas Grey, William Cowper, Charlotte Smith, John Thelwall, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, John Keats, and John Clare, as well as some important works of literary theory from the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. We will also consider the reception of Romanticism in the work of some contemporary poets. While our materials will be canonical, our methods of approach won’t be. The course is therefore suitable for anyone who is interested in the history of poetry and its theorization, and in how to read a poem well.


This course may meet the pre-1800 breadth requirement, post-1800 breadth requirement, or genre/theory/methods breadth requirement.
Students may apply the course to only one of the above breadth requirements, and final seminar paper must cover territory within that breadth area.

In and Out of Time: Slowness, Stillness, and Stasis

20th and 21st Century Literatures in English
English 253 / Prof. Hornby

This seminar will explore forms of slowness, stillness, and stasis in literature, art, and criticism. There are two interlocking facets to the class. Firstly, we will analyze modernity’s temporal anxieties—you are always too late, always too slow—and its commodified remaindering of crisis, boredom, and exhaustion. As counterpoints to running out of time, we will explore forms and tenses of slowness, impasse, and stillness that work to upend, interrupt, circumvent, and refuse acceleration’s mandates in works of literature, art, film, and performance. Secondly, we will consider how the slow work of criticism holds fast to the notion of prolonged or sustained time as a form of resistance. Taking up a corpus of writing in art history, theory, and criticism, we will engage with methodologies of slowness, lateness, anachronism, repetition, practices of slow looking, and questions of politics and style.


This course meets the post-1800 breadth requirement.

American Sex

American Literature to 1900
English 254 / Prof. Looby

This course will explore the emergence and transformation of American sexuality through a series of historical and literary case studies examined from an interdisciplinary perspective. We will read some short stories and 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 Rev. Michael Wigglesworth and the diary in which he recorded his nocturnal emissions and other disorders (1652-57), Jonathan Edwards and the 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) 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).


This course meets the post-1800 breadth requirement.