Theme: Global Catholic Literatures
Beginning in the late-19th century in Europe, a community of fiction writers became increasingly interested in the history and shape of Catholic thought. French thinkers like Charles Peguy and Leon Bloy sought to resuscitate religious thinking, especially Catholicism, as the basis for a response to what they felt was the oppressiveness of French secularism. Within the first fifty years of the 20th century, their ideas about the value of Catholic faith to art spread to many unlikely places throughout the world. In this course, we want to examine how Catholicism – as an intellectual tradition, as a practiced faith, as an institution – shapes the work of writers throughout the world in the 20th and 21st centuries. We will examine works from England and America, naturally, but also texts from West Africa, South Asia, Japan, and Latin America, as well. We will discuss how Catholic thought influences literary aesthetics and enquire how shifting locations – and ideas of location – shifts representations of an otherwise common faith.
Readings: Writers considered will include Francois Mauriac, Georges Bernanos, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, David Lodge, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Shusaku Endo, Chimamanda Adichie, Uwem Akpan, and Raymond Carver, among others.
Assignments: Students will write two longer argumentative papers, write two shorter textual analyses, and produce an annotated bibliography. Informed participation is also expected.
Course Description: When an Anglo-Saxon thane laments his lost king, when a noble lady appears at court, when a saint dies and leaves behind a group of mourners, what can we say about the communities to which these literary characters belong? In this course we will survey medieval texts from the Anglo-Saxon period to the end of the fifteenth century. We will look at “The Wanderer” and “The Dream of the Rood,” the Lais of Marie de France, the works of the Pearl-Poet, and romances from the 1400’s including passages from Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, among others. We will examine the languages and poetic techniques employed during this period while placing these diverse texts in their historical and philosophical context. Even as we historicize the texts, we will also examine the relationship between the individual and the community through modern performance theory and body studies. Along the way, we will consider medieval individuals and communities in terms of gender, social status, religion, and even species. By the end of the course, you will be able to engage in the diverse works of the English Middle Ages and understand some of the ways in which communities, both medieval and modern, are constructed and maintained.
Assignments: To achieve these goals students will offer one-two page writing assignments, an oral presentation, and one extensive research paper.
Course Description: A century after the death of Queen Victoria, the culture that bears her name is alive and well in contemporary society, from critical and political discourse to the popular media and consumer culture. This course investigates current uses of Victorian culture in the following areas: Architecture, Fashion and Taste; Human and Animal rights; Wealth, Class, and Philanthropy; Childhood; Feminism; Homosexuality; Law and Policing; Empire, Race and Post-Colonialism; and Satire and Popular Entertainment in mass culture.
Required Texts:Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Anna Sewell, Black Beauty, Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland (Norton), Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (Bedford), Oscar Wilde, Major Works (Oxford), Rudyard Kipling, Kim (Norton), Arthur Conan Doyle, Stories (Bedford), Gilbert and Sullivan, Plays (Norton)
Assignments: A presentation on contemporary adaptations of Victorian texts, a final exam and a research paper (12-15 pgs.) are required.
With an eye to some of the crucial historical and social developments besetting that woeful little isle of England and its languishing ex-empire throughout the period, we will try to make sense of how and why the radical stylistic revolution of the High Modernists, such as Yeats, Woolf, T. S. Eliot, Joyce, and the early Auden (he later calmed down), alternately mellowed, decayed, or imploded into the more subtle but devastating literary experiments of the British postwar writers. Among those studied will be Louise Bennett, Tony Harrison, Ngugi Wa Thiong’O, Salman Rushdie, Doris Lessing, Philip Larkin, Nadine Gordimer, Derek Walcott, Ted Hughes, Chinua Achebe, Geoffrey Hill, Seamus Heaney, and Paul Muldoon. If you'd like to put some daylight between your cultural programming and your own thinking, here's a way to do it.
Assignments: weekly quizzes, a midterm exam, and two incisive essays.
Description: To attempt to define the modern period of American literature is, in some ways, an exercise in futility because its beginning and end dates are imprecise; its expression in artistic, architectural, and philosophical forms are wide-ranging; and its relationship to the “post-modern” is still a matter of debate. Traditionally, “literary modernism” has referred to an avant-garde and experimental style of writing and artistic production that emerged between World War I and II. It is most often considered to be exemplified by such poets as Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliott, and H.D., and by such fiction writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Jean Toomer, and Gertrude Stein. Regardless of their genre, all these authors sought to challenge Victorian modes of literary formalism, ornate diction, and classical, conventional plot devices.
In contemporary literary studies, however, the definition of modernity/modernism has broadened considerably to include writers whose works explore thematically (if not formally) the conditions of modernity that led to literary experimentation--the changing historical and cultural realities emerging from world war, turn-of-the century immigration, urbanization and industrialization, etc; ethnic modernisms; and geomodernisms. In this course, we will explore modernity and literary modernism along traditional lines as well as consider more recent interpretations of the literary period and form. Envision this class as a preamble to the wonderfully exciting complexity of the topic: I hope it will motivate you to explore the many forms of literary and cultural modernism, post-modernism (and whatever comes next!) as you move through the journey of your intellectual life!
Writers: studied include Wharton, Glaspell, DuBois, Hughes, McKay, Frost, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Porter, Pound, Eliot, Toomer and Ellison.
Description: We will read and discuss Jane Austen’s six novels in various historical and critical contexts. Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able, among other things, to assert with a certain degree of confidence that Pride and Prejudice is actually a book and Colin Firth is not really Darcy.
Readings: Norton Critical Editions of Northanger Abbey; Sense and Sensibility; Pride and Prejudice; Mansfield Park; Emma; and Persuasion.
Assignments: One or two oral presentations, one researched term paper (ca. 10pp.); midterm examination; comprehensive final examination; class participation; and regular attendance.
Description: Winner of the National Book Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer, Louise Erdrich is perhaps one of the most talented and important contemporary writers in the world, even while representing a uniquely personal vision of her people, the Ojibwe - indigenous to Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the larger Great Lakes region both in the US and Canada as well as the specific people of the Ojibwe Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota.
Taking advantage of her interlocking historical novels, poetry, non-fiction, and children's literature, this course will introduce students not only to this amazing storyteller but also to the larger history of this place literally beneath our feet. This is a reading-intensive seminar. Students should expect to do significant reading in order to immerse themselves in the work of this author, and should expect out-of-class opportunities to meet and learn from Ojibwe people.
Readings: Tracks (1982), The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (2001), Love Medicine (revised, 2010), Original Fire: Selected and New Poems (2003), Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country: Traveling Through the Land of my Ancestors (2006), David Treuer's Rez Life (2013) and David Stirrup's Louise Erdrich (2012).
Assignments: Two class presentations - one a final powerpoint presentation, one researched term paper (ca. 10pp.); d2l online quizzes; midterm examination; online and class participation; and regular attendance.
The Canterbury Tales sets itself in the late decades of 14th-c. England when political upheavals and revolts against feudal hierarchy were abroad in both country and court: agricultural workers were rising up against tax burdens, friars became increasingly viewed as figures of excess, women pressed more vocally to compete in the marketplace and to travel, prompting thereby hundreds of treatises censuring them as unruly and dangerous to society. Chaucer, however, seems to have thrived on such havoc. His are nervy questions in his Tales as he explores corruption within the Church, the dangerous and comical effects of courtly love, women challenging clerical interpretation of Scripture, men who try to hold their wives “narwe in cage,” what constitutes happiness, the impulses behind our choices, and the clergy’s abuse of knowledge. The explorations are both comic and dead-serious. Text include Troilus and Criseyde, and The Canterbury Tales. Quizzes, papers, midterm & final exam.
Course Description: In this course, we will read a selection of nine plays by Shakespeare (and others), from some of his best known works to the less loved plays that have received little attention from modern readers. The purpose of this course is to gain familiarity with a breadth of Shakespeare's work, while at the same time paying close attention to linguistic and textual detail, in order to place this author accurately within his social and historical context.
Readings: We will read plays from each genre (comedy, tragedy, history, and romance) along with a selection of sonnets.
Assignments: weekly quizzes, midterm exam, paper/project, final exam
Course Description:An examination of Milton’s life, times, art and thought, this course concentrates heavily on Paradise Lost. While we will work with specimens of the minor poetry and prose and with Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, our primary task is to wrestle with the problems and questions emanating from Milton’sgreat epic
Readings:Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes
Assignments: three papers and a final exam
Description: With Willa Cather’s My Antonia as a classic Midwest story, this course will read and discuss a number of recent Midwest writings: A. Mannette Ansay’s River Angel, Garrison Keillor’s Life Among the Lutherans, Ron Hansen’s Nebraska, Jon Hassler’s Grand Opening, William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow, the collection Imagining Home: Writing from the Midwest. As a kind of context to the reading will be the 1999 film, The Straight Story, as well as an audio tape of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. And serving as a signpost for these readings will be Kathleen Norris’s Dakota: A Spiritual Geography which, in an epigraph, suggests: “Tell me the landscape in which you live, and I will tell you who you are.”— perhaps also an epigraph for this course.
Assignments: Relying on close readings, class discussion will look to identify and explicate some of the influences, motives, effects, recurrent issues, that may appear to be at work within these texts of place and landscape. Written work will include several reflections, two medium length papers, and a final overview of the course’s reading and discussion. Class work will combine discussion with some lecture.
Description: Given the near infinite possibilities of responding to the imaginative prompts of poems and novels, how can we decide which of their myriad cues and intimations to notice, which ones to ignore, and how best to assemble our findings into more or less coherent interpretive narratives? Answering these questions is the basic job of critical theory. This course will use a broad range of modernist texts to bring into focus the varying casts, settings, and plot lines of psychoanalytic, Marxist, Feminist, Formalist, Reader-Response, Structuralist, Deconstructive, Cultural, LGQ, and Postcolonial theories. If you like to play with opposing conceptual systems, this is a good choice.
Assignments: weekly quizzes, a midterm exam, and two methodologically adept essays.
Course Description: The image of the United States as a classless open society, grounded in the idea of social mobility, forms one of the most pervasive and enduring national ideas. Economic, political, and cultural equality, however, exists as an ideal rather than a live social reality in the nation. This interdisciplinary course explores cultural representations of class identity,class status,and class mobility across the genres of fiction, documentary, and journalism in literature and television. Among the questions this course will take up: What does class mean in the United States? What are the types of narratives of social mobility that are prevalent in our literary and popular culture? How do cultural texts reinforce or undermine stereotypes of different social classes? How is class made visible or invisible in cultural representation? In what ways does class intersect with categories such as occupation, race, ethnicity, gender, place, and sexuality? How have cultural definitions of class transformed over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first century? Although our emphasis will be on cultural representations, readings from the social sciences will introduce concepts and theories related to class, including class conflict, social stratification, cultural capital, prestige, conspicuous consumption, and more.
Readings (books, short stories, etc.): Possible texts include selections from twentieth-century US fiction (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anzia Yezierska, William Faulkner, John Cheever, Toni Morrison, and Sandra Cisneros) and select episodes of dramas, sitcoms, and 'reality' TV from classic and recent popular television (Leave it to Beaver, All in the Family, The Cosby Show, The Office, Breaking Bad)
Assignments (papers, oral presentations, projects, etc.): oral presentations, individual research, short critical responses, final paper, and journals.
Course Description This course investigates various ways in which creative writers, past and present, have attempted to create a sense of the American past and comprehend its legacies of conflict through the medium of fiction. Readings for the course cluster around several key contexts in American history, including the colonization of New England; slavery and Reconstruction; European and American imperialism; the settlement of the West; and US “adventures” in Latin America. Primary texts ranging from historical novels to contemporary experimental fiction bring into focus questions concerning the relationship between fact and fiction, authority and authenticity, history and historiography, narrative and counter-narrative, conflict and resolution.
Readings: The course pairs early texts, mainly from the nineteenth century, with twentieth-century novels addressing similar historical and / or geographical contexts. Framing the course, William Williams’s Mr. Penrose, the story of a colonial British castaway on Central America’s Mosquito Coast, provides a compelling foundation for the examination of colonial history through the lens of fiction. Next, students will read Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s revisionist proto-feminist frontier romance Hope Leslie, set in seventeenth-century New England, alongside James Welch’s Fools Crow, a tour de force of Native American fiction. Finally, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist sensation Uncle Tom’s Cabin will prepare the way for an informed study of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning gothic masterpiece Beloved.
Assignments: Students should expect to complete two 6-7-page papers, a reading journal, a midterm, and a final exam, in addition to course readings.
Thematic Title: Thinking Justice and Inequality Beyond the State and Citizenship
“Now to talk to me about black studies as if it's something that [only] concerned black people is an utter denial. This is the history of Western Civilization. I can't see it otherwise.”
- C.L.R. James, “Black Studies and the Contemporary Student”Course Description: The course introduces students to African American literature, political and social thought, and expressive culture, taking an unconventional tack. In contrast to many surveys, which ordinarily rely on an historical narrative we might summarize as a “quest for citizenship,” our survey will focus on the broad critical tradition within African American letters that questions whether the modern state and national citizenship actually can provide an adequate framework for securing life with justice, safety, and dignity for all human beings. As the quote above from C.L.R. James implies, there is much at stake in this question for all of us. By identifying black history as the “history of Western Civilization,” James also reminds us that African American racial formation (a concept we’ll be learning) has always been transnational (involving movements of peoples, capital, and concepts between Europe, Africa, the U.S., the West Indies, Latin America, and Asia) and constitutive of (rather than a branch) of Western modernity. We’ll see this better as the authors we read help us decenter nationalist narratives, so that we can contemplate relations of mutuality between U.S.-style democratic freedoms and U.S. slavery, political equality and enduring economic inequality, and American exceptionalism and structural global inequalities in how life can be arranged and who survives. The literature we will examine will also help to familiarize us with particular historical incarnations of the larger critical tradition, such as anti-slavery movements, Pan-Africanism, black socialism, black internationalism, the Civil Rights Movement, third worldism, black feminism, Black nationalism, Black Power, Black Arts, black religious internationalisms (especially Christian and Islamist), and queer of color critique. Above all, we will look to what African American critical traditions can offer us right now, as we must rethink the nation-state and citizenship in light of contemporary globalization, its crises, and the increasing importance of international law, international civil society, and global regulatory regimes.
Readings: Harriet Jacobs Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Lorraine Hansberry, Raisin in the Sun, Richard Wright Native Son, Malcolm X with Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Jamaica Kincaid In a Small Place, Toni Cade Bambara Salteaters, Toni Morrison, A Mercy
Assignments: weekly short writing assignments, summary and analysis of scholarly essay, final exam, final research paper, oral presentation
Thematic Title: Cultural Preservation
Description: Recently, “sustainability” has become a powerful concept in both academic discourse and popular debate; however, since the time of Heraclitus in Ancient Greece philosophers have recognized that change is inevitable and that there is always tension between what we should preserve and what is disposable. Funded by an “Enduring Questions” grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, this new special topics course will use interdisciplinary scholarship to probe the central question underlying all cultural preservation: what should we value enough to pass on to future generations? It will ask students to confront this dilemma by interrogating what precisely makes an artifact, practice, or natural resource sufficiently valuable to cherish and keep. In our time, the concept of “value” is dominated by economic language, but this view is crucially incomplete: what gives objects value is not their exchangeability but the fact that humans care about them and are willing to preserve and maintain them. A church is just a building unless people consider it sacred; books are mere paper unless they are read, appreciated, and shared. Establishing and asserting these sorts of non-economic values has long been a defining characteristic of study in the humanities, which have always appreciated how shared heritage links us to the past, creates meaning and relevance in the present, and allows us to shape our collective future. In that spirit we will examine a wide variety of philosophical and aesthetic questions around endurability and cultural preservation, and develop a framework for engaging pressing contemporary debates about the preservation of our shared cultural and natural heritage.
Readings:Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars; Brian Friehl, Translations; Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart; coursepack
Assignments:two shorter papers, one final paper, group project, weekly forum posts, class participation