Topics Courses

Spring 2018

Every quarter, the English Department offers variable topics courses such as English 315 (Studies in a Literary Genre), English 324 (Studies in Literary Topics) and English 515 (Senior Seminar) on selected topics. The topics for these courses change each quarter, and the courses may be repeated for credit as topics change. Those scheduled for Spring 2018 are described below. If you'd like further information about these courses or other English Department offerings, please contact the instructor. You'll find their contact information on our faculty information pages.

ENG 315. Davina Warden. Literature of the Anthropocene: Fiction in an Age of Environmental Crisis. TR 2:00-3:50 pm

Since its emergence in the latter decades of the twentieth-century, the Anthropocene has been increasingly used within scientific circles and the environmentalist community to refer to the present age of human history, one distinguished by the degree to which human activity is dramatically impacting the Earth’s systems and resources. This seminar will explore how various phenomena that mark the Anthropocene (such as climate change, species extinction, resource depletion, and biodiversity loss) have influenced the development of imaginative literature over the last several decades. As we engage with the work of writers such as J. G. Ballard, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, T. C. Boyle, Paolo Bacigalupi, Ian McEwan, Peter Heller, and Barbara Kingsolver, we will consider some fundamental questions. What literary forms and tropes are most effective for articulating the complex aspects of environmental crisis? How has the Anthropocene made new demands on the novel or short story, resulting in literary innovation? In what ways do “eco-lit” and climate-change fiction reflect the environmental values and ecological perspectives embedded within contemporary cultural and political discourse? What is the potential for such literature to inform the development of our individual (or of a collective) environmental consciousness? Our consideration of these questions and our analysis of the primary texts will be supported by an introduction to eco-critical perspectives in literary theory.

ENG 319. Yumi Pak.  Imagining Otherwise: Genre Fiction by Writers of Color.  MWF 12:00-1:10 pm

As students of literature, we are asked to read a variety of texts for a variety of reasons. At times, too, we are asked to draw a firm distinction between "serious literature" and "genre fiction." Why might we be asked to do so? What knowledges emerge if we take seriously the genres of fantasy, horror and science fiction? How have underrepresented writers historically and continuously utilized genre fiction to offer redefinitions of self-identity and literature, political possibilities and alternative visions of our world? In order to engage with these questions, this course will ask students to read several works of genre fiction by writers of color, including, but not limited to, Ken Liu, Octavia Butler and Nisi Shawl. Course requirements will include a take-home midterm and final paper. 

ENG 440 (PDC):  Sarah Elder.  12th Century Fiction: Constructing the Self. M 9:00-12:50 pm

Read tales of illicit love and werewolves, hand to hand combat, decapitations, magic love potions, and beautiful women threatened with burning at the stake. The 12th century narratives reflect the sophisticated yet violent world of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, a world where both men and women could hold power, and knights fought in tournaments on a regular basis.
We will read all texts in modern English translations.

ENG 440.  Chad Luck.   American Gothic. TR 10:00-11:50 am

This course will trace the development of the American Gothic tradition, broadly conceived, as it crosses the Atlantic and takes root in the soil of the New World.  We will begin by considering the Gothic's European origins as they appear in Horace Walpole's totally insane account of supernatural revenge in The Castle of Otranto.  Then we will chart the genre's transformation in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American texts (Brockden Brown's Wieland, plus Poe, Hawthorne, Alcott, Spofford, and Wharton).  Finally, we will consider 20th- and 21st-century instantiations in novel and film (Rosemary's BabyThe Shining, etc.).

ENG 513. Jason Magabo Perez. Experiments in Creative Writing Research. MWF 10:40-11:50 am

Examining a wide range of research methodologies in performance studies, arts-based research, critical ethnography, historiography, and documentary, and studying contemporary research-informed works of creative writing, students will craft interdisciplinary, research-based creative writing projects.

ENG 513. Julie Paegle (PDC).   Creative Writing and Landscapes of Scarcity. T 1:00-4:50 pm

In this Advanced Multi-Genre Creative Writing Workshop, we will read, write, workshop, and revise poetry, short fictions, and nonfictions exploring internal and external landscapes of “Scarcity.”  Some of the questions we engage, as readers, critics, editors, and artists, will include:  how do various genres differently mitigate the risks associated with representations of such subjects as “barren” landscapes, endangered species, environmental justice, material poverty, gentrification, and regionalism?  Do particular writers “own” particular geographic regions?  How do interior and exterior landscapes interface?  How do we think about audience when we “write our own truth(s)?”  Assigned readings will include selections from Inlandia Institute’s anthology, No Place for a Puritan:  The Literature of California’s Deserts and elsewhere. 

ENG 515. Ted Ruml.  The English Bible as Literature. MW 4:00-5:50 pm

Only Shakespeare rivals the King James Version of the English Bible (KJV) as an influence on English and American language and literature over the past 400 years.  We will begin by studying passages from the KJV New Testament both as works of literature in themselves and as influences on English and American literature. We will discuss theoretical and critical approaches that can be taken toward literature in general and toward biblical literature in particular.  In the fourth week of the seminar, you will begin an individual project involving a topic relating to the Bible as literature or as an influence upon literature.  The remainder of the term will be divided between working on stages of your essay (prospectus, annotated bibliography, abstract, seminar presentation) and continued reading in the KJV New Testament. By the end of the seminar, you should have (1) improved your “Biblical literacy,” that is, your acquaintance with significant biblical characters, motifs, and stories, (2) developed skill in literary analysis of the Bible, (3) become more sensitive to how biblical passages have influenced works of English and American literature, and (4) produced an essay that you can use as a writing sample, for graduate school admission, for employment applications, etc. (as well as for your Eng 516 portfolio).

ENG 515. (PDC) Stephen Lehigh.  Imagined Americas. R 1:00-4:50 pm

Peopled by successive waves of immigrants and migratory populations, the United States has a long history of discourse about place of origin, race and national identity. Beginning with Whitman and Emerson, and surveying nativists and Saxonists such as Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt, progressives like John Dewey, and pluralists such as Randolph Bourne, we’ll build up a repertoire of imagined takes on American race, identity, and language, noticing how the concept of ‘American’ is under constant pressure and revision. Drawing upon Homi Bhabba’s categories of “time lag,” “the unhomely” and “hybridity,” and upon such theorists as Arjun Appadurpai, Jurgen Habermas, and Raymond Williams, we will frame readings of our four major American novels (and contemporaneous texts): Pietro di Donato’s Christ in Concrete (1937), Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Louis Erdrich’s Love Medicine, and Junot Diaz’s Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, asking such questions as:  How have these novelists imagined the interplay of geography, movement, language and narrative that can define “American”? How is the term “American” a mobile practice? A repeating logic of established native vs. newcomer? A relation of labor to capital, of suffering to profit? A contest of competing claims to land? An engine of indefinite linguistic and literary innovation?