The following courses fulfill the pre-1800 requirement for all majors: ENGL 231, ENGL 234, ENGL 245, ENGL 381
The following courses require a permission code from the instructor: ENGL 327, ENGL 328 (please see Professor Alison Tracy Hale for 328 codes)
English 204: The American Dream: Loss and Renewal
What does it mean to be an American? What is America? Is it a “city on a hill” That beacon of light and hope to the world’s “huddled masses yearning to be free” as our founders had imagined? “Make America great again,” Donald Trump proclaims. What is he talking about? Great exactly how? Do we build bridges or walls? Compassion or intolerance? Why are people so angry and so susceptible to this weapon of hate? Can we recognize our present sense of ourselves in the past? Or have we become so different as to be unrecognizable?
Who are we? As a people? As a cultural identity? Or identities? Does this bring pride? Shame? In what way is America still innocent? Of what? Why is it often said we are still in our adolescence? What hard lessons have we learned in the past? What hard lessons have we yet to learn? At what cost has our knowledge come? Is there such a thing as the American Dream? Who has achieved it? Who has been shut out? Since all growth truly comes only from sorrow and loss, in what ways have we grown? In what ways are we still naïve?
We will look to the writers and thinkers of our past for such answers. And we will look at the course through the prism of our current political drama.
This course meets the University’s Humanistic Core Requirements.
English 212: The Craft of Literature: The Fire of Imagination
This course provides an introduction for non-majors to the craft of writing fiction and poetry. It asks the crucial question of how do writers bring the imagination to the page, and what is their motivation? In other words, we will consider the artistic choices writers make to create an aesthetic literary experience, a fictional world. What is the role of courage in exploring the imagination? Where do fact and fiction intersect? We will read and critique fiction and poetry, using texts as our foundation, asking where the fire ignites, when the comet appears? Because the course is designed for non-majors, no previous experience in creative writing or literary analysis is required, but expect to do both.
English 212: The Craft of Literature: Literature and Art
In this course, we’ll explore literary aesthetics, paying particular attention to the ways in which literature often intersects with visual art forms such as painting, drama, sculpture, and drawing. How do we define beauty? Should literature be beautiful? And what exactly is a literary aesthetic? Together, we’ll read, watch, and look at a variety of texts, including (but not limited to) novels, poems, films, literary and art theory, trial reports, paintings, photographs, and drawings. With each text, we’ll consider what constitutes a work of art (both literary and visual), how a work of art is created, and how it is understood by others. This class will include a variety of assignments, both analytical and creative. Major texts may include the novels The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, the film The Lives of Others, and the graphic novel V for Vendetta by Alan Moore.
English 212: The Craft of Literature: Magic Realism and Beyond
According to critic Ilan Stavans, magic realist literature approaches strange, atypical, even fabulous events as if they were a normal part of life. While the genre resists the basic assumptions of post-Enlightenment rationalism and literary realism, it differs from pure fantasy because it is set in a seemingly ordinary world described realistically. First coined in 1925 by German art critic Frans Roh to describe contemporary European visual art, magic realism flourished in Latin America. Since then, it has migrated to the US and beyond, sometimes described as fabulism or fantasy or linked to its cousin, science fiction. In light of the US’s increasing Latinization, magic realism is of particular interest to Northern readers. What can these literary works tell us about our brave new world, as Shakespeare’s Miranda first described a magic Caribbean isle four hundred years ago? Course authors may include Márquez, Borges, Atwood, Mellas, and Díaz.
English 220: Introduction to English Studies
This course familiarizes students with the study of literature as an academic discipline and intellectual pursuit, even those who already possess the necessary skills and attributes to become excellent literature majors: a love of reading, a curiosity about the world, and an interest in language and culture. The course may challenge some assumptions and beliefs you have about what it means to be an English major, for students consider how and why we value texts; the roles texts play in social, political, and cultural structures; how texts are formed; the assumptions we bring to literature; and how we interact with texts as professional, disciplined readers. In addition to introducing you to the study of literature, this course also provides a framework for other English classes.
English 220: Introduction to English Studies
This class will introduce you to the discipline of English Studies. Most of us are here because we enjoy and are moved by reading and writing. While our personal experiences with text can be productive starting points in textual analysis, the study of English requires discipline—in the twin senses of work ethic and mastery of a branch of knowledge. This course will explore what it means to study English at the university level: in short, it will introduce and help you to develop the skills of reading actively, critically, and creatively and of executing substantive literary analyses—skills that are essential to further study in English. In addition, we will consider personal, cultural, and ideological claims about what “literature” is and explore why, in an era dominated by STEM studies (science, technology, engineering, and math), English is more important than ever.
The course is designed to highlight sets of questions central to the discipline: What is a literary text? What is genre? Who should decide what “counts” as literature, and why? How ought we to read a literary text? How do literary texts relate to social contexts? What is the discipline of “English”? This course will likely challenge some of the assumptions and beliefs you have about what it means to be an English major, about the value of different kinds of texts, and about the politics—cultural, academic, ideological—that influence the discipline.
English 228: Introduction to Writing: Poetry
Through writing your own poetry and through reading a variety of poets, you will explore the genre not only as an expressive art but also as a new way of seeing: a sharper condensation of yourself and of your world.
“Let us remember . . . that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.” --Christian Wiman, Editor of Poetry Magazine.
In this class we are attempting literary art—hoping to find meaning for ourselves and to convey it to others. You will learn about meter, rhyme, imagery, free verse, and other forms and elements of poetry. Even if you do not intend to continue writing poems, you will come to a greater enjoyment of reading poetry and other imaginative work (novels, short stories, plays, etc.). You will also find that all of your writing (yes, even research papers) will be enhanced by your close attention in this class to language.
English 228: Introduction to Writing: Poetry
“A line will take us hours, maybe,” writes W. B. Yeats on the craft of poetry. “Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought, / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.” This creative writing workshop will take seriously Yeats’s notion that the effect of spontaneity in poetry is achieved through fierce attention and substantial effort. By stitching and unstitching multiple drafts of their poems, course participants will work to develop the critical skills that will allow them to become more effective writers of poetry and enable them to hone and communicate their individual creative vision. Assignments in this course will emphasize writing as a process and will include selected reading of canonical and contemporary poems, in-class writing exercises, mid-term and final self-assessment essays and portfolios, group discussions, and peer reviews. We will conclude with an off-campus reading of student work at a local coffeehouse.
English 231: British Literature and Culture: Medieval to Renaissance
If you’re interested in learning about angels and devils, dragons and fart jokes, then this is the course for you. We’ll study the first literary texts written in the English language, carrying us from the haunted mead-halls of Beowulf, to the boozy tavern of The Canterbury Tales, and to the heaven and hell of Paradise Lost. That’s about a thousand years of coverage, but rather than march through the centuries reading everything in its path, this course is organized around three units, each with its own focus. In the first unit, “Heroes and Monsters,” we study epic and Arthurian literature; in the second, “Voice and Incarnation,” we read dramatic literature, including medieval mystery plays, Doctor Faustus, and King Lear; and in the third and final unit, “Inner Lives,” we turn to questions of subjectivity in both narrative and lyric poetry. Thus, we will read the entire period three times, but each time with a different thematic lens. My hope is that we will be fascinated not only by what will seem like strange aesthetic and cultural contexts far removed from our own, but also by the many desires, anxieties, and conflicts we share with this period, and which continue to shape both our imaginations and the stories we tell.
English 234: American Literature and Culture. Hamilton! Behind the Music
Alison Tracy Hale
This course draws on the popularity of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s current Broadway hit Hamilton, using it as a lens through which to explore both Alexander Hamilton’s (1755/7?-1804) era and our own. We’ll start with the soundtrack and lyric book for the production, identifying the thematic and historical building blocks upon which Miranda constructs his revisionist historical account. We’ll then explore the history, biography, and events upon which the musical is based. Our focus will be on primary texts: political documents, letters, and literary representations from the Revolutionary era as we critique and perhaps revise the interpretive choices Miranda has made in reshaping the source material. The course will be run as a research seminar, with a set of shared central readings and additional materials provided by participants through research on 1) a key figure from Hamilton’s life and 2) a key issue or event represented in the musical. In addition, we’ll collaborate digitally on historical and interpretive annotations of various materials, and students will edit, annotate, and present a “scholarly edition” of a manuscript letter from a key figure. Finally, you’ll be asked to revise the lyrics to one musical number based on the historical material from the course. This course will build your familiarity with the eighteenth-century U.S. (and perhaps help make sense of some of the deep schisms that continue to define our politics) while honing your skills in interpretation, research, and the development of evidence-based arguments. We’ll conclude the course by broadening our conversation to include the implications of this musical—with its deliberate re-invention of America’s “founding,” its use of vernacular musical forms, and its conscious casting of actors of color in its key roles—in today’s political and social climate. This course fulfills a pre-1800 requirement.
English 245: Shakespeare: Script to Stage
Students who think of William Shakespeare as the superlative writer prominently featured in British Literature courses have not been misled, since Shakespeare’s poetry and dramatic scripts were presented for reading as early as the compilation of the First Folio of 1623. For centuries, Shakespeare’s plays were read aloud by devotees who did not necessarily patronize the theater, despite the fact that the extant folio pages of his “scripts” are just that—play scripts that were written down—sometimes only as single parts--to benefit the players. The affection most of us feel for particular characters or stories in Shakespeare’s dramatic canon are most likely a result of the experience of a powerful performance. Individual productions and stellar performances, however, are rooted in careful readings and interpretations of Shakespeare’s scripts, whose language reflects the social and cultural concerns current in late Elizabethan England. If Shakespeare is now a world author whose works seem to transcend class, race, and national boundaries, he is so because the writers and artists who translate his plays, like theatrical dramaturgs, begin with scripts and figure out how to make them accessible. This is our essential task this semester in English, where we will approach Shakespeare’s plays from the perspective of the dramaturg.
English 327: Advance Fiction Writing
In this advanced fiction workshop, we will consider what it means for a writer to develop a body of work. While we will continue to practice and hone the fundamental skills and techniques used in narrative prose, the expectation in this course will be that you are ready to produce complete works of short fiction and are beginning to explore your own voice, aesthetic, subjects, and themes as a writer. To this end, our work will be two-fold: we will read selections from seven collections of short fiction to examine how important contemporary American short story writers pursue particular themes, return to and re-examine various topics, and develop a recognizable style or aesthetic. You will simultaneously produce a total of five works of original fiction, and the semester will culminate in a portfolio that curates your best work augmented by an artist’s statement that illuminates why you have chosen the stories you have and what the portfolio reveals about your own body of work. This course is, obviously, reading and writing intensive. A great deal is going to be asked of you. It is my hope that by dint of the hard work you will put in over this semester, each one of you will grow as a reader and a writer, as a thinker and a critic, and, most importantly, as an artist with a vision. Requires a permission code from the instructor.
English 328: Advanced Poetry Writing
In English 328, you will build on what you learned from your earlier poetry-course. We will explore a variety of techniques, forms, invention-practices, and approaches to revision. We will also read and discuss a wide variety of poetry from different eras, including Modern and contemporary poems. You will receive detailed responses to your work from peers in class and me. Requires a permission code from the instructor (please see Professor Alison Tracy Hale for the code)
English 347: Gothic America
Alison Tracy Hale
As no less a figure than novelist Toni Morrison has noted, “it is striking how dour, how troubled, how frightened and haunted our early and founding literature truly is” (Playing in the Dark, 1992). A course in the American Gothic, by definition, inhabits the dark side of American identity, society, and history. Familiar narratives about the U.S. suggest strongly that our national identity is based on progress, reason, and optimism; the literature you will read in this course undermines that narrative, reinscribing the American "dream" as an American "nightmare." Long considered trivial and "non-literary," the gothic genre was once derided as an escapist form of sensational fiction unworthy of critical attention. Recent work, however, has challenged such an easy distinction between America’s progressive mythology and its gothic undercurrents, and this course will consider gothic texts as central to the expression, articulation, repression, and management of significant tensions in American culture at the collective and individual levels. Over the semester, we will explore the very idea of an American gothic: how is a genre associated with the haunted castles, demonic noblemen, and ancient mysteries of Europe re-envisioned in particularly "American" ways? How do American authors and texts re-imagine gothic tropes and images in order to convey uniquely American anxieties? When and how does the genre allow for subversive approaches to pressing questions, and in what circumstances might it perhaps reinforce the status quo? Finally, how do we make sense of the pleasure the Gothic provides? Readings will likely include works by Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Stephen Crane, Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, William Faulkner, or Cormac McCarthy, as well as dense theoretical and secondary texts. English 220 and some familiarity with American literature (ENGL 234, 235, or 236) are recommended. Course requirements include two substantial literary analysis essays, a creative interpretation, and the presentation of a critical/secondary source and leadership of the class discussion.
English 348: Illness and Narrative: Discourses of Disease
How do we describe a disease, medical condition, or illness? Why do we tell stories about sickness, and who gets to tell such stories? In what ways does language sometimes falter when we try to communicate our suffering? This course will focus on how literature--and narrative, especially--intersects with discourses of illness and disease. Throughout the semester, we'll explore how literature can both produce and challenge power hierarchies between medical professionals and patients; the role that literature plays in our conceptions and definitions of illness; the ways in which literary texts can help us negotiate medical ethical dilemmas; the relationship between literature, empathy, and medicine; and the limitations of literature in describing disease. Although our primary focus will be on literary texts, we'll also consider a number of theoretical frameworks to help us discuss both these texts and the social constructs surrounding the practice and representation of medicine and illness. Texts may include such works as Kazuo Ishiguro's dystopian story Never Let Me Go, José Saramago's plague narrative Blindness, and Octavia Butler's futuristic novel Adulthood Rites, as well as a variety of short stories, poems, essays, photographs, TV shows, and radio programs.
English 361: Representing India, Writing Home
This course will focus on the variety and complexity of writing from India. We will concentrate on novels, introduced to India by the British, and consider whether the genre is a colonial import. Our focus will be on the ways the novel form struggled simultaneously to absorb, distance, and refashion itself from the British. We will ask the following questions: What role, if any, did the novel have to play in colonialism, anti-colonialism, and nationalism? Is the novel the “appropriate” form to represent “Indians”? How do the novels participate in definitions of what constitutes an “Indian” and do these definitions shift in the course of the century? Can the Indian novel represent the concerns of “home” as well as it does nation? Does the novel serve the interests primarily of men? Why have women chosen to write short stories – and avoided colonial topics?
Readings: works by Mulk Raj Anand, Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai, Vikram Chandra, Amitav Ghosh, Sadat Hassan Manto, Vikram Chandra and others. We will supplement the literature with historical readings and post-colonial theory. All readings will be in English.
Course Requirements: two academic papers, an oral presentation, a final presentation, and engaged participation.
Asian Studies or PacRim students most welcome; please contact the professor if you have questions.
English 363: African American Literature: Is or Was?
In 2011, Kenneth W. Warren published the book, What Was African American Literature? In it, he proposes that a unified body of literature by black Americans no longer exists, that the legal dismantling of Jim Crow removed the coherence that underpinned the core of African American Literature. Students in this class will test this thesis against a body of novels that span the 20th and 21st centuries, including work by George Schuyler, Suzan-Lori Parks, Colson Whitehead, and Toni Morrison, among others. Through this investigation, students will develop a sense of how African American fiction develops during and after legal segregation. Students will also situate important individual writers in their historical contexts and in relation to other writers of their era.
English 379: Special Topics in Theory—Literary Theory, Science Fiction, and Constitutional Interpretation
How do we know what makes language meaningful? Does meaning exist in words themselves and the grammatical structures that string them together into poems or stories or love letters of cell phone contracts? Does the intended meaning of the author matter? What role does the reader play in constructing the meaning of a phrase, a lyric, a line, or a letter? Do the answers to any of these questions change if we ask them, not about a poem, but about a matter of constitutional law?
These questions are questions about interpretation; i.e., they are theoretical questions. Contrary to common wisdom, theory isn’t a sphere separate from real world action, application and consequence. What we think we’re doing when we interpret language has enormous consequence, and nowhere is that more visible than in debates over how to interpret the Constitution. The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia left an indelible mark on Constitutional interpretation with his theory of “originalism.” In this course we will investigate the literary theory underpinning Scalia’s argument for an “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution, and we’ll simultaneously explore other and alternative theoretical positions on what it means to interpret not just the language of the law, but language in general.
In this course we will read Scalia’s book A Matter of Interpretation and other scholars of constitutional law, but we will also read a wide range of literary theory to explore formalist, intentionalist, affective, and deconstructionist theories of interpretation. Before we do any of this, however, we will kick off our investigation of theories of meaning with the 2011 novel Embassytown by the British sci-fi author and scholar of international law China Mieville to see how questions of language theory are both enacted and explored in this work of speculative fiction.
English 381: Milton
John Milton wrote Paradise Lost in order to “justify the ways of God to men” (PL, I.26), which takes the reader from hell to heaven, and everywhere in between. This is the epic to end all epics—the story not only of human destiny, but also of the origins of epic itself. Here is the first war, the first love affair, and the first hero. What could have prompted such an ambitious endeavor? As it turns out, Milton was throughout his life preoccupied with questions of vocation, and particularly his own development as an author: “it is my lot,” he writes at a young age, “to have been born a poet” (Ad Patrem). This is a high calling, for Milton believes that a poet “ought himself to be a true poem, that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honorablest things—not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men or famous cities, unless he have himself the experience and the practice of all that is praiseworthy” (Apology for Smectymnuus). Milton challenges his readers to do the same, but never out of thoughtless obedience to culturally dominant ideology. Certainly, in imagining the conventional biblical story of mankind’s fall and redemption, Milton nonetheless takes great liberty, not only in terms of giving voice and action to God, Satan, Adam, Eve, and a host of demons and angels, but also in flouting many of the political and religious orthodoxies of his day. A statement in Areopagitica, published some twenty years before Paradise Lost, would seem to hold as creed for all his political and poetical endeavors: “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” Never one to shy from controversy, Milton writes elsewhere in favor of divorce, of getting rid of hierarchies within the church, of regicide, and of republican government. How and to what extent do these views give shape to Milton’s poetry? We will devote the first half of the semester to Milton’s early poetry, as well as to his most contentious prose tracts, before we turn, finally, to Paradise Lost. Throughout, we will situate Milton’s work in its various political, religious, and literary contexts, and discuss some of the most famous critical problems and debates raised by Paradise Lost these last 300 years.
English 431: Frontier Mythologies
At the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner delivered the speech, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” In it, Turner relies upon well-trodden (and still-familiar) images to describe the American frontier: it is a tabula rasa, the “outer edge of the wave” of westward expansion, “the meeting point between savagery and civilization.” While Turner ultimately declares that “the frontier has gone”—closed, retreated—he argues that it leaves behind “the striking characteristics” of the “American intellect” that it forged. Today the idea of the North American frontier, a component of the American West, continues to loom large in the United States cultural imaginary. While contemporary scholars reject elements of Turner’s thesis, they remain convinced that frontier experiences were, and continue to be, formative.
This course examines literature from the 19th century and earlier to trace the development of national ideologies and mythologies indebted to experiences and imaginings of the North American frontier. Rather than limit ourselves to popular representations of a mid-19th-c space west of the Mississippi, we cross temporal, spatial, and cultural borders to achieve a fuller understanding of the literary frontier. We consider the ways in which texts that articulate a variety of experiences connect with and complicate each other. Primary texts include pre-contact oral narratives, western exploration narratives, captivity narratives, pioneer narratives, and frontier fiction. The course culminates in a substantive research project on a topic of your choice.
If you are completing your degree under the pre-2014-15 major (three tracks), the following courses fulfill the LCI (Literatures, Cultures, Identities) requirement: ENGL 361, ENGL 363