Project & Senior Seminars

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Spring 2020 Seminars 

ENGLIT 1900: Project Seminar: The Anthropocene

Troy Boone, TH 11-12:15

Many writers in the environmental humanities now understand us to be living in a new geological epoch, called the Anthropocene, characterized by the ability of humans permanently to impact the earth and its atmosphere at all scales, including planetary ones.  This course will examine how literary works record or are marked by our entry into the Anthropocene; readings will include a Shakespeare play, lyric poetry, canonical short fictions, and speculative fiction, studied in conjunction with literary criticism and works in the fields of history, environmental studies, and philosophy.  The course will enable students to develop individual research projects in which each student will gain deep knowledge of the historical and critical contexts of one work of literature in its relation to the Anthropocene. 


ENGLIT 1900: Project Seminar: Migrant Wor(l)ds: Commerce, Contagion, and the City in 19th-Century Bestsellers

Uma Ramana Satyavolu, TH 1-2:15

In the 1790s, the Western world moved decisively towards industrialization, technological innovation, and urbanization. People migrated (to America, to the cities, to new worlds of thought); world views shifted (or solidified); and words reached more and more readers. Beginning with Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple (1794) —which is described as America’s first bestseller (until Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin)—we will look at a set of problems and possibilities that arise from these migrant worlds and words. Dislocated from their homes and their traditional place in those homes, they sought new homes in the city (America as the “City on the Hill”), and this process of un-homing and re-homing brought up new fears of encountering dangers—seductive strangers; contagious diseases (and ideas); and disorienting fogs, both literal and psychological. In Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (1855), Margaret Hale must move from her idyllic country home in the South of England to the Northern industrial Milton (Mill-town), and encounter the overcrowding, exploitative labor conditions, and the attendant diseases (malnutrition, consumption or tuberculosis; cholera; psychological disorders). Gaskell’s examination of the negotiations between commercial success and traditional Christian humanistic values, cast literally as the marriage between the new spirit of Commerce (Mr. Thornton) and the genteel liberal values (Margaret Hale), was a popular success, and tells us much about Victorian readerships, and their engagement with the Woman Question; the State of the Nation question; with the effects of Science and Technology, as well as the conventional romance and Marriage Plot. We will look at Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales (1883-86) to examine the effects over the century or so of the city on the psyche. Through this tentative list of readings (allowing for additions or modifications), students will explore the Pleasure of Finding Things Out. By looking into the many aspects of the promises and perils of these emerging worlds, students will practice the methods of identifying their interests, haunting libraries, sifting through primary and secondary materials, and fashioning their findings into a coherent piece of writing.


ENGLIT 1910: Senior Seminar: Unbecoming Narratives: Toni Morrison in Conversation

Shaun Myers, TH 1-2:15

This seminar places the works of Toni Morrison in conversation with contemporary black literary and cultural texts that work within and against the Bildungsroman, a form that traces the protagonist's development into a unified, whole self. We’ll examine texts that rework, rearrange, or altogether abandon conventions of narrative linearity. These stories depict instead the self at an impasse or the self come undone. Key questions that will guide us: How do acts of remembering and forgetting shape our understanding of self, others, and our place in the world? How might the refusal to "become" alter our relation to the past, the present, or the future? How can failure or irresolution open up new ways of being? In addition to Morrison's fiction, essays, films, and editorial projects, readings may include the works of Audre Lorde, Jamaica Kincaid, Saidiya Hartman, John Keene, Dawn Lundy Martin, Edwidge Danticat, Octavia Butler, and visual artists Latoya Ruby Frazier and Wangechi Mutu. 


ENGLIT 1910: Senior Seminar: The Canterbury Tales and the Journey of Life

Ryan McDermott, W 6-8:30

English literature does not begin with Chaucer, but in many ways it might as well. So many Anglophone authors have looked to Chaucer as “the father of English poetry” that his work wields outsize sway over later authors. In this course, we will read the large majority of Chaucer’s most mature work, The Canterbury Tales, with a view to its pivotal role in English literary history. By focusing on The Canterbury Tales, we will be led to explore the traditions Chaucer translates and adapts, his innovations, and the uses to which later authors put him. Chaucer is also a window onto the later Middle Ages, and we will of necessity consider the political, social, and religious world in which The Canterbury Tales emerged. Perhaps most importantly, this course will immerse you in the dialect of Middle English that forms the linguistic DNA of your life.