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Literary History Graduate Seminars

Literary History graduate seminars range widely across periods, genres, and approaches to literary and cultural studies. Here is a sampling of course offerings in the literary history program.

ENG 5630: Critical Theory I. Dr. Edmond Chang

According to Catherine Belsey, “[T]here is no practice without theory…What we do when we read, however natural it seems, presupposes a whole theoretical vocabulary, even unspoken, which defines certain relationships between meaning and the world, meaning and people, and finally people themselves and their place in the world.” This graduate course takes up these presuppositions, vocabularies, and relationships to explore the intersections of literature, critical theory, cultural studies, and the academic “discipline” of English, particularly in relation to race, gender, sexuality, ability, pedagogy, and diversity. Rather than rehearse “canonical” and “seminal” figures and texts, this course foregrounds recent feminist, queer, Black, brown, and Indigenous authors and artists and their responses to and reformulations of “traditional” literary and cultural theory. The course engages the work of Roderick Ferguson, Toni Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko, Daniel Heath Justice, Mel Chen, Larissa Lai, Sami Schalk, Octavia Butler, Gloria Anzaldúa, Tara Fickle, Sara Ahmed, Alenda Y. Chang, and others.

ENG 7270: Twentieth-Century Literature: Modernism. Dr. Carey Snyder

This course examines British women’s writing from the first three decades of the twentieth century in light of debates surrounding marriage, maternity, and sexuality. Like the new woman writers of the late nineteenth century, Edwardian and interwar women writers challenged the near-compulsory nature of matrimony and motherhood in their fiction, and explored previously taboo sexual topics. Our diverse readings include suffrage drama, feminist poetry, middlebrow fiction, and high modernism. Students become acquainted with the historical contexts that shaped this literature (including the militant suffrage movement, the birth control movement, and World War I) and with recent trends in feminist modernist studies.

ENG 7230: Romanticism. Dr. Nicole Reynolds

At just over 200 years old, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has proven to be one of the most enduring and influential of all English-language novels. In this seminar we approach Frankenstein through the books that shaped it, focusing especially on those that deeply influenced Mary Shelley’s thought and craft: books written by her mother, proto-feminist author Mary Wollstonecraft; her father, radical political philosopher William Godwin; and her husband, visionary poet Percy Shelley. We also examine books read by Shelley’s nameless creature in the course of his intellectual development: Plutarch’s Lives, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther, and Volney’s Ruins of Empire. At the end of the semester, we consider a selection of contemporary novels that have engaged with Frankenstein in diverse and compelling ways in order to assess the lasting literary and cultural impact of Shelley’s novel.

ENG 7300: American Literature 1776-1865. Dr. Paul Jones

We explore the relationship between the literary and the political in this course, beginning with a focus on two writers working in the 1840s and early 1850s, Stowe and Frederick Douglass, using Uncle Tom's Cabin and Douglass's slave narratives and oratory to explore how literature can highlight and perhaps even exacerbate national political divisions. We explore how the poetry from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and Lincoln's political rhetoric offer a vision of a healthy union built from distinct and contradictory components. Whitman's poetry and prose, specifically Memoranda during the War, is our guide through the disorienting and disillusioning years of the Civil War. We also read some now lesser-known popular novels from the period following the war, Elizabeth Phelps’s The Gates Ajar (1868) and John De Forest's Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty (1867), to explore how fiction served to address national trauma, heal division, and lead the national imaginary toward reunion.

ENG 7340: American Literature: Modernism/Postmodernism. Dr. Marilyn Atlas

American writers after the Genteel Tradition were confronting questions not only concerning form, but also concerning gender, geography, memory, race, class, and identity. This course investigates how American writers were and are exploring America and American art, creating and recreating sections of it—in pieces—and they, in their unique ways, were telling their version(s) of the transnational and global American story whether through rural, suburban, and/or urban spaces. We look at original reviews, the latest criticism, and most importantly, these complex American texts themselves as we explore the theory that the core of modern/postmodern art is indeed "break-up" (Katherine Kuh) and that twentieth-and twenty-first-century American literature is amazingly experimental, global, hybrid, diverse—and relevant.

ENG 7800: Special Studies Seminar. Dr. Ghirmai Negash

The interest in the problem of modernity, and co-existing postcolonial and postmodern theories since the 1970s, has been succeeded by an increasing shift toward decolonial approaches, whose thrust is identified with a strong emphasis on the notion of “epistemic disobedience.” Decolonial theories emerge from different locations and temporalities and display different scales of “epistemic disobedience,” but all the strands critique postmodernism’s Euro-American-centric responses to modernity and “the Enlightenment,” and, even more importantly, the problematic status of postcolonial studies. They rebuke postmodernism for its limitation of reading everything through a lens that “represents a Eurocentric critique of Eurocentrism,” and they criticize postcolonial studies for its incapacity to “epistemologically transcend, decolonize the Western canon and epistemology” (Ramon Grosfoguel, “The Epistemic Decolonial Turn” 2007). To understand this critical shift, we study and debate texts by older and younger generations of writers and theorists, whose writings have dealt with issues of colonial violence/modernity; imperial narrative, language and indigenous memory; intersections of race and class; knowledge productions and agency; the limits of postcolonial and/or postmodern theories; and the arguments for the need to explore decolonial modes of thinking/doing.