Project & Senior Seminars

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This page is devoted to helping Literature Majors consider choices for Project 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.

Spring 2019—ENGLIT 1900  Project Seminar (formerly Junior Seminars) 

1. Unruly Bodies Professor Jeffrey Aziz, Tu 6:00PM - 8:30PM

In 1943, artist Abram Belskie and physician Robert Latou Dickinson unveiled the paired statues "Normman" and "Norma," figures calibrated according to statistics culled from the measurements of 15,000 young men and women to produce two ideal, average, (white, binary-gendered) American bodies.  Drawing on work in disability- and trans studies, Unruly Bodies will examine bodies that challenge this white-utopian, eugenic ideal through works literary and artistic.  How do transgender bodies or the non-normative bodies of sideshow performers disrupt or challenge dominant ideas of identity?  What is at stake in restricting a restroom or passing an ordinance (as Chicago did in 1881) forbidding people with "unsightly" bodies from showing themselves in public?  We will explore these questions through works including Katherine Dunn's Geek Love, Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient, and the Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

2. Project Seminar Professor Gayle Rogers, TuTh 11:00AM - 12:15PM

One of the most important sources for the modern genre of speculative fiction, however we define it, is the world of modern finance.  Writers like Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, and H. G. Wells constantly blended futuristic and fantastic tales with economic plots that involved gold and silver exchanges, specious and ambitious investment schemes, and high-risk financial gambles, in short, with the various commodities, instruments, and practices associated with speculative fiction's etymological cousin, "speculation."  In this course, we'll understand how and why key writers used speculative finance in order to create speculative world, primarily through the future-oriented sociological branch of "risk theory," which aims to understand risk-behaviors in the present as means of influencing unknowable futures.  We'll follow this, then, through the commercial and economic world of speculative fiction itself as it emerged in the late 1900s and early 1900s, and in particular, we will focus on writers and groups who had less access to financial speculation of the type Wall St. and the Chicago Board of Trade offered, and instead speculated on their own bodies as commodities, on risky propositions such as racial passing, or on dangerous technologies that could threaten humanity itself.  Rather than focusing intensely on a handful of texts, we will learn research methods and spend time in archives digging up these stories themselves and putting them in their historical contexts.  By the end of the course, students will have created and curated a digital presentation and accompanying written analysis on literary objects from the past that they have brought to light and characterized on their own.

Spring 2019—ENGLIT 1910 Senior Seminars

1. Senior Seminar Professor Shaundra Myers, TuTh 4:00PM - 5:15PM

Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987) has been credited with (and in other quarters, accused of) shaping how an entire generation of scholars has thought about its relation and responsibility to the past. In this course we will examine how a fiction novel came to determine the nature of black historiography, which we might think about as acts of theorizing, reimagining, and depicting the black past. Reading across Morrison's novels, short fiction, essays, and curated projects, we will enter a series of debates within literary and black studies. What is the proximity of the present to the past? To what extent does black time operate in linear, simultaneous, or suspended fashion? What is an appropriate mood for remembering? Melancholy? Mourning? Optimism? Starting with Beloved and its central idea of the living past, we will work back across Song of Solomon (1977) and Morrison's sole short story, "Recitatif" (1983), before advancing to more recent works such as Paradise (1997) and A Mercy (2008). We will end by placing Morrison's fiction in conversation not only with her curated multimedia projects, "The Black Book" (1974) and "The Foreigner's Home" (2006), but also with other writers, John Keene, Claudia Rankine, and Andrea Lee, whose cultural products reorder black time in experimental or anomalous ways.

2. Senior Seminar Professor Colin MacCabe, We 6:00-8:30

James Joyce's Ulysses is probably the most influential novel ever written in English and Joyce is the only name who regularly gets twinned with Shakespeare as the greatest of writers in English. But the novel which inspired both T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland and Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway is famously difficult, requiring enormous effort and knowledge from the reader. This senior seminar concentrates on reading Ulysses chapter by chapter so that by the end of the class all students will really have engaged with this most complex and complicated of texts. The class will begin with Joyce's early work and end with a short introduction to Finnegans Wake but it is Ulysses that is front and center. Each week as we read through the 18 chapters we will encounter, Joyce's biography and the history of Ireland, sexuality and politics, biology and language as we pass the day of June 16 1904 in the fair city of Dublin with three of the most enduring characters of all literature: Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom and his wife Molly.

Fall 2018—ENGLIT 1900  Project Seminars (formerly Junior Seminars) 

1. Literature and the Great Unread Professor Stephen Carr, Tu/Th 2:30-3:45

This seminar will support exploratory forays into the “great unread,” the vast reservoir of literature from the past produced by writers now largely forgotten or entirely unknown. Our investigations will start from a few case studies of little studied British and American texts from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including volumes of anti-slavery poetry and song, feminist novels, and writings for children or young adults. Both individual and collective research projects will branch out from these works to recover other texts of interest. We will attend, in part, to the material practices and forms of evaluation that elevate a few works to high cultural status and that largely ignore the rest. But most of the seminar will be devoted to exploring in various print and digital archives what was once widely read and often highly valued but is now rarely if ever examined closely. How might we best search the literature of the past to discover works that are still compelling today? What challenges and opportunities do such works pose for the ways we currently study, appreciate, and evaluate literature? The goal of the seminar is to expand our sense of the varieties of literary practices and the uses and pleasures they can afford while also helping members of the class to develop informed positions about questions of literary value, canon formation, the uses of literary history, and the cultural significance of authors and texts. The seminar will support students in developing and writing a long essay based on original research.

2. Steam Punk Professor Hannah Johnson, Tu/Th 11:00-12:15

Gas lights and cobblestones. Clockwork robots and airships. 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. Students will explore a variety of research methods in this course, and curate a final project that contributes to a deeper understanding of the genre.

Fall 2018—ENGLIT 1910  Senior Seminars 

1. Work and Play in Literature Professor Mike West, Mo/We 4:30-5:45

College seniors face the challenge of finding jobs and making satisfying lives for themselves–but is this one challenge or two very different challenges?  What if anything can a literature major teach you about balancing the twinned values of work and play?  Which notion better describes literature–did you study Shakespeare’s works or his plays?  In this seminar we will explore such questions by reading about a dozen texts ranging from Chaucer to the present: many novels, a couple of plays, some non-fictional prose as well as a couple of cultural studies and some criticism. Mostly by classic Anglo-American authors like Defoe, Thoreau, and Conrad, these texts revolve around the issues of work and play and should help students sharpen their ideas on this subject.

1. Fiction and Fact Professor Jean Carr, Tu/Th 1:00-2:15

College seniors face the challenge of finding jobs and making satisfying lives for themselves–but is this one challenge or two very different challenges?  What if anything can a literature major teach you about balancing the twinned values of work and play?  Which notion better describes literature–did you study Shakespeare’s works or his plays?  In this seminar we will explore such questions by reading about a dozen texts ranging from Chaucer to the present: many novels, a couple of plays, some non-fictional prose as well as a couple of cultural studies and some criticism. Mostly by classic Anglo-American authors like Defoe, Thoreau, and Conrad, these texts revolve around the issues of work and play and should help students sharpen their ideas on this subject.