CoursesSenior Seminars

Spring 2021

Senior/Capstone Seminars for American Literature and Culture Majors

Graphic Medicine

Topics in Interdisciplinary Studies
English 181B / Prof. Silva

Graphic medicine is a relatively new field that sits at the intersection of art, literature, and healthcare. Analyzing features such as layout, visual imagery, character, and temporality (among others), we will ask how the medium of the graphic novel makes new forms of storytelling accessible to patients and caregivers, and how these in turn shape our understanding of the relation between health and narrative. Please note that the texts for this course include accounts of physical and mental illness, and death.

Experiments with Nonfiction

Topics in 20th and 21st-Century Literature
English 182F.4 / Prof. Schmidt

The central goal of this seminar will be to explore the distinction between literature and nonfiction in post-1945 writing from both directions. To do so, we will read texts categorized as poetry and fiction that expressly incorporate documents and other signifiers of journalism, history, or research as well as a handful of essays that incorporate materials and approaches frequently associated with the literary as such. The backbone of the course will be a collective project: an attempt to isolate, name, and analyze specific techniques writers use to blur the literature/journalism or fiction/nonfiction distinction. Students will complete regular short writing assignments as well as a longer final project, which may be either an academic essay examining one of the authors we have read or an experimental essay using techniques we have described.Over the quarter, we will read a few examples of literary criticism to situate our central questions, but our focus will be “primary” texts by at least a handful the following authors: Joe Brainard, Gwendolyn Brooks, Teju Cole, John D’Agata, Joan Didion, Eve Ewing, Otto Friedrich, Diana Hamilton, Kiese Laymon, Tao Lin, Valeria Luiselli, Maggie Nelson, Claudia Rankine, Srikanth Reddy, Muriel Rukeyser, Elaine Scarry, Elizabeth Schambelan, Ali Smith, Juliana Spahr, William Carlos Williams.

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Topics in 19th Century American Literature
English 183B.1 / Prof. Colacurcio

With some interest in the biography, we will attempt to trace Hawthorne’s developing career: from the obscurity of Salem in the 1820’s and early 30’s, when he wrote, anonymously, some the most brilliant historical tales in the language; through the more sociable “Concord Period” (1842-45), when his attention turned to the liberal and transcendental reforms of his own agitated age; to that so-called “Major Phase” in which he wrote his three American Romances in just under three years. Emphasis at first on response to historical (Puritan) sources, then on the attempt to tell the history of his own time.No final exam. Course assumes perfect, punctual attendance, careful preparation, two in-class presentations on an assigned topic, and a critical/analytical paper of 12-15 pages–which must enter into significant conversation with published criticism.

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Literature of the Beat Generation

Topics in 20th and 21st Century American Literature
English 183C.1 / Prof. Dickey

This course will explore the Beat phenomenon in its historical and cultural moment and will locate Beat literature in the tradition of American Romantic writing. We will concentrate on works by William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac, paying some attention to other figures like Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whose lives and works in some way confront and contest the pedestrian values of 1950s America (and after). We will also investigate the aesthetic principles that the Beats appropriated from diverse modernist and contemporary sources – Dada and Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Bebop – in order to ratify their own contrivances of spontaneity. And finally, we will consider predecessors (e.g. James Fenimore Cooper, Walt Whitman, Henry Miller) and inheritors (e.g., Ken Kesey, Sam Shepard, Hunter S. Thompson) whose works illuminate the achievement, or fried shoes, of the Beats.

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Rhyme + Reason: Lyrical Traditions and Political Activism in Hip Hop Culture, 1970s – present

Topics in 20th and 21st Century American Literature
English 183C.2 / Prof. Solomon

In its brief 50 year existence, Rap music has grown from an idiosyncratic expression of postmodern art that was practiced by just a handful of MCs in New York into a global phenomenon; currently, it is both the most dynamic driver of contemporary poetic expression in almost every language tradition around the world and the dominant genre within the commercial music industry. Scholars in the Humanities really only began paying attention to Hip Hop culture in a serious way about 15 years ago, but there is now a growing body of insightful work being produced, with academic journals dedicated to the study, and increasing interest in “Hip Hop Studies” coalescing across a number of traditional academic disciplines.

In this seminar, we’ll draw from the recent body of scholarly and critical work to inform our examination of a number of significant albums produced from 1970 to the present, focusing particular attention on the lyrical movements that influenced the art and the traditions of social activism in Hip Hop culture that the music often serves to highlight.

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Our So-Called Present: Studies in Very Recent Contemporary U.S. Fiction

Capstone Seminar
English 184.1 / Prof. Huehls

How do we turn our experiences in the present into a conception of the present? This course will read U.S. fiction written in the past five years, with half of the texts chosen by the students, in an attempt to answer that question.

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

“Mediocrity Rules”: The Nonexceptional in Contemporary Asian American Literature

Topics in Asian American Literature
English M191C / Prof. S.K. Lee

In the New York Times, author Viet Thanh Nguyen writes that what Asian Americans need is “an economy of narrative plenitude,” where a film like Crazy Rich Asians (2018) is not a singular, exceptional, good, or bad representation of Asian Americans, but instead one among many that are “mediocre.” For Nguyen, mediocrity is sign of abundance and a “measure of equality.” But what if we stay with the mediocre as decidedly not a measure of equality, normalization, inclusion, assimilation, and success? What if rather than proof of plenitude, we understood mediocrity as a strategic mode of withdrawal, disaffection, inscrutability, refusal, and failure? How can we orient ourselves differently to narratives and representations of mediocrity and the unexceptional? In this course, students will read contemporary Asian American literature by authors such as Anelise Chen, Yiyun Li, and Ling Ma alongside scholarship in Asian American studies, feminist theory, and queer theory to critically consider the Asian American uses of the mediocre and the nonexceptional.

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Defining Asian American Reality through Literature

Topics in Asian-American Literature
English M191C.2 / Prof. Ling

This seminar approaches Asian American history, identity, and social experience through the artistic lens of Asian American literature. The range of writings to examine in the class— the novel, short story, speculative fiction, novella, play, and literary manifesto—spans almost the entire twentieth century (from 1909 to 1996). Of the issues to explore are immigration, racialization, intercultural or generational dynamic, the paradox of assimilation, war-related trauma, and gendered concerns. Our discussions will focus on making sense of texts in contexts, with an emphasis on how literary portrayal of the evolving conditions facing Asian Americans is shaped by the interplay between writers’ aspirations for a more equitable society, the less-than-ideal creative environments available to them, and their resourceful negotiations with these circumstantial constraints. This seminar is not restricted in the size of its enrollment. Graded work is based on the following: 1) attendance (5%); 2) an in-class oral presentation (15%); 3) a midterm paper of 4 double-spaced pages (30%); and 4) a course paper of 10 double-space pages (50%).

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Senior/Capstone Seminars for English Majors

Graphic Medicine

Topics in Interdisciplinary Studies
English 181B / Prof. Silva

Graphic medicine is a relatively new field that sits at the intersection of art, literature, and healthcare. Analyzing features such as layout, visual imagery, character, and temporality (among others), we will ask how the medium of the graphic novel makes new forms of storytelling accessible to patients and caregivers, and how these in turn shape our understanding of the relation between health and narrative. Please note that the texts for this course include accounts of physical and mental illness, and death.

Observing Affect

Topics in Literature and Languages
English 181C / Prof. Jin

What is involved when we transition from liking, disliking, or otherwise reacting to a cultural text to being “critical” (in a non-negative sense) of that text?  What do these transitions reveal about our own ideological, intellectual, and affective investments, and how?  And finally, how might we connect this particular form of self-reflection, or navel-gazing, with thinking about broader social and historical relations?  This seminar will explore these questions by examining primary works that stage, in various ways, the rhetorics, techniques, and representational strategies involved in observing emotions (our own and others’) and marking those emotions as social observations.  These works may include novels by Colson Whitehead, Hilary Leichter, and Rachel Cusk, science fiction short stories by Ted Chiang and Katherine MacLean, and episodes of the Japanese reality television series Terrace House.  In order to track the (often confusing but lived) logics of reflexivity and paradox that attend such strategies, we will also engage with secondary work by scholars like Niklas Luhmann, Dorinne Kondo, and Sarah Ahmed.  Assignments may include weekly questions, a shorter 4-5 page “close reading” paper, and a longer 10-12 page research paper.

Shakespeare’s Two Tetralogies

Topics in Renaissance and Early Modern Literature
English 182B / Prof. McEachern

We will study, in chronological order, Shakespeare’s two sequences of history plays, with particular attention to the representation of political process, the role of language in the construction of power, modes of historical causality, and the role of character in the construction of historical representation.

Experiments with Nonfiction

Topics in 20th and 21st-Century Literature
English 182F.4 / Prof. Schmidt

The central goal of this seminar will be to explore the distinction between literature and nonfiction in post-1945 writing from both directions. To do so, we will read texts categorized as poetry and fiction that expressly incorporate documents and other signifiers of journalism, history, or research as well as a handful of essays that incorporate materials and approaches frequently associated with the literary as such. The backbone of the course will be a collective project: an attempt to isolate, name, and analyze specific techniques writers use to blur the literature/journalism or fiction/nonfiction distinction. Students will complete regular short writing assignments as well as a longer final project, which may be either an academic essay examining one of the authors we have read or an experimental essay using techniques we have described.Over the quarter, we will read a few examples of literary criticism to situate our central questions, but our focus will be “primary” texts by at least a handful the following authors: Joe Brainard, Gwendolyn Brooks, Teju Cole, John D’Agata, Joan Didion, Eve Ewing, Otto Friedrich, Diana Hamilton, Kiese Laymon, Tao Lin, Valeria Luiselli, Maggie Nelson, Claudia Rankine, Srikanth Reddy, Muriel Rukeyser, Elaine Scarry, Elizabeth Schambelan, Ali Smith, Juliana Spahr, William Carlos Williams.

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Topics in 19th Century American Literature
English 183B.1 / Prof. Colacurcio

With some interest in the biography, we will attempt to trace Hawthorne’s developing career: from the obscurity of Salem in the 1820’s and early 30’s, when he wrote, anonymously, some the most brilliant historical tales in the language; through the more sociable “Concord Period” (1842-45), when his attention turned to the liberal and transcendental reforms of his own agitated age; to that so-called “Major Phase” in which he wrote his three American Romances in just under three years. Emphasis at first on response to historical (Puritan) sources, then on the attempt to tell the history of his own time.No final exam. Course assumes perfect, punctual attendance, careful preparation, two in-class presentations on an assigned topic, and a critical/analytical paper of 12-15 pages–which must enter into significant conversation with published criticism.

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Literature of the Beat Generation

Topics in 20th and 21st Century American Literature
English 183C.1 / Prof. Dickey

This course will explore the Beat phenomenon in its historical and cultural moment and will locate Beat literature in the tradition of American Romantic writing. We will concentrate on works by William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac, paying some attention to other figures like Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whose lives and works in some way confront and contest the pedestrian values of 1950s America (and after). We will also investigate the aesthetic principles that the Beats appropriated from diverse modernist and contemporary sources – Dada and Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Bebop – in order to ratify their own contrivances of spontaneity. And finally, we will consider predecessors (e.g. James Fenimore Cooper, Walt Whitman, Henry Miller) and inheritors (e.g., Ken Kesey, Sam Shepard, Hunter S. Thompson) whose works illuminate the achievement, or fried shoes, of the Beats.

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Rhyme + Reason: Lyrical Traditions and Political Activism in Hip Hop Culture, 1970s – present

Topics in 20th and 21st Century American Literature
English 183C.2 / Prof. Solomon

In its brief 50 year existence, Rap music has grown from an idiosyncratic expression of postmodern art that was practiced by just a handful of MCs in New York into a global phenomenon; currently, it is both the most dynamic driver of contemporary poetic expression in almost every language tradition around the world and the dominant genre within the commercial music industry. Scholars in the Humanities really only began paying attention to Hip Hop culture in a serious way about 15 years ago, but there is now a growing body of insightful work being produced, with academic journals dedicated to the study, and increasing interest in “Hip Hop Studies” coalescing across a number of traditional academic disciplines.

In this seminar, we’ll draw from the recent body of scholarly and critical work to inform our examination of a number of significant albums produced from 1970 to the present, focusing particular attention on the lyrical movements that influenced the art and the traditions of social activism in Hip Hop culture that the music often serves to highlight.

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Our So-Called Present: Studies in Very Recent Contemporary U.S. Fiction

Capstone Seminar
English 184.1 / Prof. Huehls

How do we turn our experiences in the present into a conception of the present? This course will read U.S. fiction written in the past five years, with half of the texts chosen by the students, in an attempt to answer that question.

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

The Brontës in Context

Capstone Seminar
English 184.2 / Prof. Stephan

The unlikely story of the three Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, has fascinated scholars and general readers alike—how could it be that not one or two but three authors whose works would live on after their untimely deaths could emerge from a single family in an isolated Yorkshire village? Indeed, the legend of the Brontës is always in danger of eclipsing the works themselves. In this capstone seminar, we will read Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847), and Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848). We will consider these novels in their social, historical, and artistic contexts, examining each through a variety of critical lenses, and will discuss how the mystique of the Brontë family story and its r/Romantic backdrop has shaped our expectations as 21st-century readers of these novels.

Dreams, Apparitions, and Visions in Medieval Literature

Capstone Seminar
English 184.3 / Prof. Thomas

Dreams, visions and apparitions are constitutive of medieval literature writ large. They are ubiquitous in hagiographical writings, academic commentaries, theological treatises and poetic compositions. They often inaugurate treatises and tales, raise expectations, fulfill or even frustrate audience expectations. Wherever they occur, they offer a space for thinking through the relations between the real and the visionary, between the historical and the fantastic, between the empirically verifiable and the spiritually valuable, between medieval discourses or disciplines including rhetoric, history, law, and theology. In this course, we will explore dreams, visions and apparitions in texts ranging from the “lives” of holy women and men (such as the semi-autobiographical The Passion of St. Perpetua and Felicity, the anonymous biography of the bride Christina of Markyate, and Eadmer’s Life of Anselm) to the great poetic works of Chaucer (The Parlement of Foules, The House of Fame, The Canterbury Tales), Gower (Confessio amantis) and Langland (Piers Plowman). Our focus will be on the ways in which writers handle dream experiences not just for their content but also their form. We will read fictional compositions framed by dreams, visions and apparitions alongside relevant dream theories/commentaries such as Macrobius’s influential Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, glosses to his commentary and Augustine’s Literal commentary on Genesis.

The Novel and the Programmed World

Capstone Seminar
English 184.4 / Prof. Youn

We are living in the age of digital technology. With search engines, social media, internet commerce, and smart apps for every segment of your life, everything is connected—we are told—and algorithmized. What changes does this technological reconfiguration bring in the way we live, work, and experience the world? Does it make us freer, or even more constrained? How does the capital guide and utilize these digital innovations? How does the novel, as a genre co-emerged with capitalism and technological advances, respond to this new environment? In this course, we will look at contemporary novels (with some films and short stories) that critically engage with such questions. Readings will include novels by Jennifer Egan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Tom McCarthy, Hilary Leichter, and Sayaka Murata.

“Mediocrity Rules”: The Nonexceptional in Contemporary Asian American Literature

Topics in Asian American Literature
English M191C / Prof. S.K. Lee

In the New York Times, author Viet Thanh Nguyen writes that what Asian Americans need is “an economy of narrative plenitude,” where a film like Crazy Rich Asians (2018) is not a singular, exceptional, good, or bad representation of Asian Americans, but instead one among many that are “mediocre.” For Nguyen, mediocrity is sign of abundance and a “measure of equality.” But what if we stay with the mediocre as decidedly not a measure of equality, normalization, inclusion, assimilation, and success? What if rather than proof of plenitude, we understood mediocrity as a strategic mode of withdrawal, disaffection, inscrutability, refusal, and failure? How can we orient ourselves differently to narratives and representations of mediocrity and the unexceptional? In this course, students will read contemporary Asian American literature by authors such as Anelise Chen, Yiyun Li, and Ling Ma alongside scholarship in Asian American studies, feminist theory, and queer theory to critically consider the Asian American uses of the mediocre and the nonexceptional.

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Defining Asian American Reality through Literature

Topics in Asian-American Literature
English M191C.2 / Prof. Ling

This seminar approaches Asian American history, identity, and social experience through the artistic lens of Asian American literature. The range of writings to examine in the class— the novel, short story, speculative fiction, novella, play, and literary manifesto—spans almost the entire twentieth century (from 1909 to 1996). Of the issues to explore are immigration, racialization, intercultural or generational dynamic, the paradox of assimilation, war-related trauma, and gendered concerns. Our discussions will focus on making sense of texts in contexts, with an emphasis on how literary portrayal of the evolving conditions facing Asian Americans is shaped by the interplay between writers’ aspirations for a more equitable society, the less-than-ideal creative environments available to them, and their resourceful negotiations with these circumstantial constraints. This seminar is not restricted in the size of its enrollment. Graded work is based on the following: 1) attendance (5%); 2) an in-class oral presentation (15%); 3) a midterm paper of 4 double-spaced pages (30%); and 4) a course paper of 10 double-space pages (50%).

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Graduate Courses Open to Advanced Undergraduates for Seminar Credit

 

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, as well as advanced undergraduates, with the instructor’s pre-approval.