Junior & Senior Seminars

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This page is devoted to helping Literature Majors consider choices for Junior and Senior Seminars. Below find a list of Project Seminars (ENGLIT 1900) and Senior Seminars (ENGLIT 1910) being offered for the upcoming term. Please note that these descriptions are provisional and may undergo some changes: they are meant only to give you an idea of who will be teaching what seminars to help you plan your next term.

Fall 2017—ENGLIT 1900  Project Seminars (formerly Junior Seminars) 

1. “Against Adulthood” Professor Tyler Bickford, Mon/Wed 4:30-5:45

Narratives of growing up, coming of age, and achieving adulthood have been central to English-language literature, media, and culture at least since the origin of the novel. In many stories the protagonist’s arrival at adulthood is a key plot point, sometimes the critical achievement and culmination of the narrative's progress. Conversely, discourses about “failure to launch” stigmatize young people who do not achieve the markers of adulthood, while young people themselves develop a jaundiced view of “adulting” as a performance more than an accomplishment. In the United States histories of social inequality and cultural hierarchy are full of refusals to acknowledge the adulthood of women, LGBTQ people, and people of color. And while in response many have fought to be recognized as adults, a parallel tradition of writers, critics, and activists have identified adulthood itself as oppressive, and sought to envision paths that a life course could take that might be more conducive to flourishing and well-being.  So: what does it mean to be an adult? How have ideas about adulthood changed across history? When was the concept of adulthood invented, and why? How does adulthood relate to narrative forms, to literary genres, to the production and consumption of media, to modes of leisure and entertainment, to writing and reading? Is adulthood for everyone, or is it the special privilege of a few? Is adulthood a good thing, anyways?  In this Project Seminar students will use these questions as opportunities to cultivate research skills in social and cultural history, media and literary criticism, archival and documentary research, and oral history, interviews, and ethnography as core parts of their training in English literature studies. Each student will develop and pursue a substantial individual project over the course of the semester.

2. “Constructing Girlhood”  Professor Jean Ferguson Carr, Thurs 2:30-3:45

This course will focus on the construction of girlhood - as it takes shape in children's literature, in educational and advice books, in periodicals and other media, and in texts that articulate the status of females and children.  Students will have a chance to work with rich collections of archival materials: 19th century literacy books for children, children's periodicals and literature, hygiene and advice books.  We will explore how contemporary scholarship media, books, and images challenge (or perpetuate) this complex history.  This course should be of particular interest to those preparing to teach or work with girls, or those with interest in children's literature or gender studies.  We'll consider emerging distinctions about girlhood in English and American texts from the 18th and 19th -centuries.  We'll then move to present exploring how girlhood persists as a gendered category in today's media, in cultural and educational institutions.  How are girls positioned in relationship to boys or to women?  How are girls constructed as readers, viewers, agents, consumers, sexual beings?

3. “The Ulysses Experience with James Joyce” Professor Gayle Rogers, Tues/Thurs 11:00-12:15

Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses cover-to-cover is a goal in life for many people.  In this course, we’ll do that, but that’s only the beginning: in fact, reading the book will prompt us to ask a number of important questions about the nature and shape of literature in historical contexts.  We’ll begin by doing some in-depth research on the origins of Joyce’s masterwork and the intricate web of allusions to everything from Dublin on June 16, 1904 to the Homeric story of Odysseus.  Then, we’ll move outward to understand what Ulysses means in culture: what was the initial response to the novel, and why was it banned in so many countries?  What lifted the ban and how was the novel then marketed and sold?  How did Ulysses come to be considered a “project” that one might undertake reading, a marker of high culture, when it is also full of crude scenes, profanity, and waste?  And why did it become such an influential novel for generations of writers around the world who alternately loved and hated it—sometimes both?  In this course, you will learn methods in cultural research, high-level reading practices, writing and argumentation, and digital media skills for presenting your work.

Fall 2017—Senior Seminars

1. "STEAMPUNK"  Professor Hannah Johnson, Mon/Wed 3:00-4:15

Airships. Steam engines. Clockwork machinery. Corsets. Top hats. Dark streets by gaslight. Victorian London. Industrial Revolution. Tinkerers. Mad scientists. In the sky. Underwater. In space. In some mirror dimension powered by steam and machine.

Steampunk is often described as a sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy in which the past—usually the Victorian past—is rewritten in fictional works that portray the world as it might have been, given alternative scientific and political events. We might imagine Steampunk as a cheeky thought experiment in alternative history, a fantasy interrogation of concepts of technocracy, justice, and cultural power, or a veiled critique of contemporary dilemmas about identity and resilience in a technology-driven world. Steampunk is a subculture, a fashion sensibility, and a cos-play environment. In this course, we will examine the development of Steampunk as an influential genre in popular culture, and consider how the special parameters of this purpose-built world offer us space and license to reconsider our present. 

2. “Literary Atmospheres” Professor Troy Boone, Tues/Thurs 2:30-3:45

This course will examine the intersections between literature and the environment by considering the textual representations of weather and climate. We will read drama, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction works from the Renaissance to the present, with a focus on literature from the romantics to the twentieth century; readings will include a Shakespeare play, lyric poetry, canonical short fictions, and speculative fiction.  We will examine these texts in conjunction with works of literary criticism as well as works in the meteorological humanities, which brings together such disciplines as art history, environmental studies, geology, history, and philosophy. Throughout, we will be attentive both to the literary qualities of writings about weather and climate and to the historical and political contexts of those writings.