British Literatures and Cultures

Overview | Faculty| Fields | Recent Courses

Albion Rose

William Blake Albion Rose, c. 1796. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum

Three things particularly distinguish study in the Department of English at Chicago: the high level of intellectual discourse, informed by continuing attention to intellectual history and theory; the strong commitment to historical research; and the broadly interdisciplinary character of our intellectual lives. All three make our programs in British literature and culture particularly noteworthy.

Our commitment to the long history of Anglophone literatures and cultures is perhaps most evident in the strength of our faculty and student work in the Renaissance and the Eighteenth-Nineteenth Centuries. We also have powerful clusters in a number of other areas that combine the resources of Departmental and other University faculty, brought together by faculty-graduate student workshops, centers, committees, and institutes in which we are heavily involved. For example, students will find rich resources in Medieval Studies, Poetry and Poetics, Theater and Performance, gender and race, and colonial, post-colonial, and transnational areas (in conjunction with centers for South Asian, East Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latin American studies). The Department of English also has significant groups of faculty working on law and literature (Slauter); politics and political theory (Hadley); philosophy and literature (Miller, Keenleyside); aesthetic theory and relations between literature and the visual and material arts (Mitchell, Helsinger, Slauter, Campbell, B. Brown, and Morgan); and psychoanalytic theory and criticism (Ruddick, Veeder). We maintain multiple connections with the Department of Comparative Literature and commitments to language study. And of course, our outstanding Americanist faculty share interests, students, and conversations continually with the faculty listed below.

Of particular interest to students working in British literature and culture is the University's Nicholson Center for British Studies, which offers an annual lecture series, brown-bag lunches for student presentations, and several year-long dissertation research fellowships as well as short term research grants for students who need to do research in Britain. Our undergraduate program in London, coordinated through the Nicholson Center, employs one graduate student as a program assistant in the fall term each year. Other University resources for students in British literature and culture include the Center for Gender Studies; the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture; and the Franke Institute for the Humanities (the last is currently directed by English faculty member James Chandler). All these regularly sponsor lectures, conferences, symposia, workshops, and exhibitions, and also offer doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships.

The ethos of cooperative work extends to close relations with colleagues at area universities and libraries (Northwestern, University of Illinois Chicago, Loyola, Roosevelt, DePaul, and others), including individual co-teaching arrangements and the more formal consortia in Medieval, Renaissance, and Eighteenth-Century studies facilitated by the Newberry Library, itself an important resource.

Note: British Literatures and Cultures is not a distinct program, but rather an area of focus within the Department of English. Prospective applicants interested in the study of British Literatures and Cultures should follow the application procedures described on the Department's homepage.

Faculty in British Literatures and Cultures

Fields

Early and Late Medieval

Study of the Middle Ages at the University of Chicago is normally interdisciplinary, with students taking courses in several departments. Of central importance to the community is the Medieval Studies Workshop at which students and faculty gather to present and discuss their own work and listen to papers by visiting scholars. Old English is regularly taught both at the University of Chicago and in seminars sponsored annually by the Newberry Library. These seminars are led by professors from all over the area; recent seminars include "The Other Texts in the Beowulf Manuscript" (Susan Kim, Illinois State University), "Beowulf" (Christina von Nolcken), "The Junius Manuscript" (Nathan Breen, DePaul University), "Sin and Forgiveness in Anglo-Saxon England" (Allen Frantzen, Loyola University of Chicago), "The Discovery and Invention of Old English Literature" (John D. Niles, University of Wisconsin at Madison), and "Law and Literature in Anglo-Saxon Literature" (Jana Schulman, Western Michigan University).

Renaissance and Early Modern

The study of the Renaissance in England is one of the great strengths of our department. We have a remarkable group of scholar-critics, a group that is both various and harmonious. We all know, respect (and read) each other's work, and we all collaborate in our long-running and very successful Renaissance Workshop. Together, our strengths include comparative and interdisciplinary perspectives on the English Renaissance, with close attention to the intersection of formal and historical models of literary study. Here's a rough sketch of how we break down: our scholars are (in alphabetical order): David Bevington, Shakespearean and critic and editor of Medieval and Renaissance drama; Michael Murrin, a comparatist, working primarily (and widely) on epic and romance, and on the history of literary criticism in the classical, medieval, and early modern periods; Joshua Scodel, who works on Renaissance literary history's relation to the classical tradition and to intellectual and political history; and Richard Strier, who works on religion, politics, Shakespeare, and the lyric.

Eighteenth-Century

Eighteenth-century study offers strength in literary and intellectual history (with particular attention to political and aesthetic theory, gender and sexual politics, philosophy, and the novel); in the emergence of literature and other disciplines, scientific as well as humanistic, and the interrelations between academic and public culture; and in the relations between literary form and legal theory. Faculty and students working in British eighteenth and nineteenth century literature and culture host a joint workshop and frequently share course work, conversation, and research across the overlapping "long" eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (c. 1680-1830 and 1775-1910).

Romanticism

Faculty working in the field of British Romanticism have particular interests in poetry and fiction, Romantic visual culture and its legacy, legal and political theory, the long history of sentiment, consumer culture and urban life, and the special place of the Romantic literary moment in the emergence of historical thinking about human culture.

Victorian

Studying the British Nineteenth Century at the University of Chicago Department of English enables a student to delve both deeply and broadly in the literature, culture, and history of the Victorian period. Courses centrally engaged with visual culture, popular culture, gender and domesticity, the constitution of disciplinary knowledge, politics, and the consolidation of empire are regularly offered. While faculty who specialize in the field mobilize historicist approaches of one kind or another (literary history, cultural history, intellectual history, genealogies of knowledge and affect), every scholar in the field enriches his or her inquiry with an array of critical and theoretical readings in Marxism, post-structuralism, feminism, and post-colonialism.

Twentieth Century, Contemporary, and Transnational

In this field at Chicago, as at many institutions, faculty and students often work across national cultures and disciplinary divides, using a variety of critical paradigms. This is true for the very strong groups in film and media studies, modernist and contemporary poetry and poetics, cultural studies, twentieth-century theory (particularly Frankfurt School aesthetics and feminist and gender theory), and fiction and popular culture listed under the Americanist heading. Many of these faculty members direct projects and offer courses on Continental and British materials in addition to their work in American. Working primarily in modern British literature, Lisa Ruddick focuses on modernist fiction, psychoanalytic theory, and poetry and poetics. Loren Kruger is a transnational comparatist specializing in drama, performance studies, and Marxist theories of modernism, with a particular strength in South Africa and Africa but broad knowledge of German, French, British, and American twentieth-century theater. Leela Gandhi works on fin de siècle and early twentieth-century transnational radicalism and teaches courses on postcolonial theory and Indo-Anglian literature. W. J. T. Mitchell also works on twentieth-century literary, aesthetic and political theory, and art and media theory. Lawrence Rothfield offers courses on twentieth-century and contemporary cultural and public policy. John Wilkinson works on late Modernist and contemporary British poetry, with a focus on heterodox lyric poetry from early Auden to Prynne. The Department frequently collaborates with colleagues in History, Anthropology, Political Science, South Asian, East Asian, Comparative Literature, and the Center for Latin American Studies, for both curricular offerings and the direction of oral examinations and dissertations in colonial and postcolonial literature and theory and transnational and global literatures and cultures. Resources are particularly strong for students interested in South Asian, East Asian, African, and Latin American or Caribbean cultures as these form parts of British and Anglophone literary cultures.

Selected Recent Courses

Medieval Literature

  • Arthurian Romances (Murrin)
  • Beowulf (von Nolcken)
  • Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales (Miller)
  • Chaucer: Troilus and Criseyde and Early Poetry (Miller)
  • The Exeter Book (von Nolcken)
  • Gower and Langland: Ethics, Politics, Aesthetics (Miller)
  • Medieval Allegory (Murrin)
  • Medieval Epic (Murrin)
  • Old English (von Nolcken)
  • Old English Poetry (von Nolcken)
  • Perfection and Utopia in Late Medieval England (Miller)
  • The Politics of Literacy in Pre-Modern England (Miller)
  • Sex, Gender, and Sexuality in the Middle Ages (Miller)
  • Utopia and Perfection in Late Medieval England (Miller)

Renaissance and Early Modern Literature

  • Donne and Herbert (Strier)
  • Literary Criticism from Plato to Burke (Scodel)
  • Lyric Poetry in England from Donne to Philips (Strier)
  • Milton (Scodel)
  • Queer Puritanism; or, Reformations of Eros (Simon)
  • Religious Lyric in England and America (Strier)
  • Renaissance Epic (Murrin)
  • Renaissance Intellectual Texts: Petrarch to Descartes (Strier)
  • Renaissance Romance (Murrin)
  • Seventeenth-Century Lyric Poetry (Scodel)
  • Shakespearean Comedy and Romance (Strier)
  • Shakespeare's Venetian Others (Strier)
  • Spenser (Murrin)
  • Travelers on the Silk Road (Murrin)
  • The Young Shakespeare and the Drama That He Knew (Bevington)

Eighteenth-Century Literature

  • British Literary Culture 1750-1850 (Chandler)
  • Commercial Affects of 18th-Century Britain (Campbell)
  • Composing Humans, 1760-1840 (Chandler)
  • Empiricism, Ideas, and the Realist Novel (Keenleyside)
  • Enlightened Typologies (Chandler)
  • Enlightenment Education and Children’s Lit. (Keenleyside)
  • Fashion and Change: The Theory of Fashion (Campbell)
  • The Lives of Animals (Keenleyside)
  • Transformations of Style, Genre, Institution: 1740-1840 (Chandler)

Romantic Literature

  • British Literary Culture 1750-1850 (Chandler)
  • Frankenstein (Keenleyside)
  • Literature, History, and Science: 1750-1900 (Chandler)
  • The Literature of Empire, 1750-1900 (Chandler)
  • Lyric Forms from Blake to Hardy (Helsinger)
  • Narrative Point of View: Theory/Practice, Fiction/Cinema (Chandler)
  • Romantic Fiction and the Historical Novel (Campbell)
  • The Sentimental (Chandler)

Victorian Literature

  • Culture of Victorian War (Hadley)
  • History and Fiction in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Helsinger)
  • Image and Text (Helsinger)
  • Journalism and the British Novel (Hadley)
  • Lyric Forms from Blake to Hardy (Helsinger)
  • Nation Building (Rothfield)
  • Oscar Wilde and His Contexts (Morgan)
  • The Politics of Taste (Rothfield)
  • The Pre-Raphaelites (Helsinger
  • Psychology and Literature in the Nineteenth Century (Morgan)
  • Science and the Literary Imagination, 1830-1900 (Morgan)
  • Theory of the Novel (Rothfield)
  • Victorian Childhood (Hadley)
  • Victorian Liberalism: Institutions, Ideas, Literatures (Hadley)
  • Victorian Women Writers (Helsinger)
  • The “Writing” of Modern Life (Helsinger)

Twentieth-Century Literature

  • The Afterlives of Gandhi (Gandhi)
  • Beckett and Media (Muse)
  • Before and After Beckett: Theater and Film (Kruger)
  • Brechtian Representations: Theatre, Theory, Cinema (Kruger)
  • British Writings of the 1930s (Wilkinson)
  • Cinema in Africa (Kruger)
  • Decolonizing Drama and Performance in Africa (Kruger)
  • Global Imaginary (Gandhi)
  • Global Intimacies (Thakkar)
  • India in English (Gandhi)
  • Joyce's Ulysses (Ruddick)
  • The Matter of Modernism (B. Brown)
  • Marxism and Modern Culture (Kruger)
  • Modernism and Animality (Ellmann)
  • Modernism in Poetry (Ellmann)
  • Postcolonial Intersections: The Middle East and South Asia (Gandhi)
  • Postcolonial Theory and Beyond (Gandhi)
  • Psychoanalytic Interpretation (Ruddick)
  • Radical Ethics (Gandhi)
  • Same-Sex Love and Desire in Indic Literatures (Gandhi)
  • South African Literature and Visual Culture (Kruger)
  • Thinking through Poetry (Wilkinson)
  • Woolf (Ruddick)
  • World War II in Britain (Ellmann)