Project and Senior Seminars

Fall 2023 Seminars

ENGLIT 1900: Project Seminar

Troy Boone, TuTh 2:30 - 3:45

This course will examine the genre of sea story—narratives focusing on travels at sea and the relation between humans and the oceanic world.  We will read nineteenth- and twentieth-century nautical prose fictions in conjunction with works of literary criticism and works in the field of oceanic studies, which brings together such disciplines as history, environmental studies, geography, 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 culture of life at sea. 


ENGLIT 1900: Project Seminar, “Consider the Bee”

Jeff Aziz, TuTh 4 – 5:15

This course will be a foray into the emerging field of “Animal Studies.”  We will examine the representation of the species with whom we share this planet in literature and other media.  How have humans understood their relationships with (or exploitation of) these “creatures great and small”?  Our test case will be the honeybee: a social insect species with whom humans have had a long collaboration (and whom humans have seen as a kind of mirror of their own social existence).  We will however be exploring the representation of animals from pets to vermin, from photogenic to phobia-inducing.  Texts will include A.S. Byatt’s Angels and Insects, Pixar's Finding Nemo, David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster,” and Morgan Spurlock’s Rats.  Students from the DNID major are encouraged to explore the representation of animals in computer games and digital media.


ENGLIT 1910: Senior Seminar, “Virtue, Vice, and Profit: Drama and Political Economy”

Ben Parris, MoWe 3 – 4:15 p.m.

In this senior seminar we will study the close connections between western drama and political economy from classical antiquity to early modernity. We will place special emphasis on works of drama from the late medieval and early modern periods, asking how the early modern plays we read respond to the dissolution of feudalism, the rise of capitalism, and the widescale shifts in thinking about how and under what conditions human life flourishes. Our conceptual focus will be on the category of value, asking how works of tragedy, comedy, and tragicomedy conceive of value in ethical, spiritual, and economic terms, and how these ways of thinking about value are reshaped by capitalism and its attendant science of political economy. Lectures, readings, and discussion of dramatic works will introduce students to relevant historical contexts, such as the relationship between the polis (city) and oikos (home) in ancient Greek and Roman societies and their conceptions of the art of household management, or oikonomia; the economy of faults and merits characterizing medieval Christian virtue ethics and theology; the emergence of bourgeois capitalism and urban commodity culture during the early seventeenth century; and the rise of “self-interest” as a modern ideological paradigm for describing human motivation and the accumulation of wealth. Our readings will include works of drama by Sophocles, Aristophanes, Plautus, Seneca, Everyman, Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and John Milton, as well as secondary philosophical and critical writings by Karl Marx, Jean-Christophe Agnew, A.O. Hirschman, Richard Halpern, and more.


ENGLIT 1910: Senior Seminar, "Art, Nature, and Technology from Milton to Minecraft" 

Jennifer Waldron, TuTh 11 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

This course will examine the long history of relations among humans, technical devices, and the natural world, situating changing views of nature within larger cosmic and socioeconomic contexts. Rather than proceeding as a survey, the course materials will be broken into thematic sections such as “climate,” “natural disaster,” and “landscape," which offer a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective. For example, our unit on natural disasters will question their designation as “natural” and examine the history of how events that seem to shake the foundations of the world are represented, moving from William Shakespeare’s apocalyptic tragedy, King Lear, and John Milton’s epic, Paradise Lost, to Indra Sinha’s account of corporate greed and the Bhopal disaster in Animal’s People as well as paintings, photographs, and stories about natural and industrial disasters in the Pittsburgh region. Throughout the course, we’ll look at literary examples in dialogue with archival materials from local resources such as the Carnegie Museum of Art and Pitt’s Special Collections. Our thematic section on “landscape” will juxtapose novels such as Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park with materials in local collections such as the Hunt Institute and the Frick Fine Arts Library. These earlier periods of human intervention in the landscape will then lead us into the present with an investigation of virtual landscapes in video games such as Minecraft and a visit to Pitt’s Vibrant Media Lab to gain hands-on experience with digital renderings of the natural world. Students will have a chance to develop independent interdisciplinary final projects on topics of personal interest.