For undergraduate courses, the distribution requirements that a course fulfills will appear in parenthesis at the end of the description. For courses offered prior to 2018-19, distribution requirements are flagged using the following system: (A) gateway, (B) fiction, (C) poetry, (D) drama, (E) pre-1650, (F) 1650–1830, (G) 1830–1940, and (H) literary or critical theory.

Provisional syllabi for some English courses can be found here. Please note that all syllabi are subject to change.

Students should consult the following list of courses that have been approved to fulfill the new literature in translation option for the undergraduate Foreign Language Requirement. Courses taken prior to 2019-20 or otherwise not on this list must be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies (Benjamin Morgan).

Teaching Undergraduate English

Autumn 2016-2017


Lisa Ruddick

This course is restricted to third-year Ph.D. English department students only. This course seeks to provide a setting in which graduate students, prior to their first formal teaching assignment at this institution, can explore some of the elements of classroom teaching of English. The course, for purposes of focus and with the recognition that not all our students will teach at the graduate level, is intended primarily as an introduction to teaching undergraduate English. While emphasizing the practical issues of classroom instruction, the class includes theoretical readings on pedagogy, which help the students to reflect on and speak to their practice. The course will provide significant opportunities in conceptualizing, designing, and running a college-level course in English: e.g., the opportunity to lead a mock-classroom discussion, to construct a sample syllabus, to grade a common paper.

Text, Archive, Data: From New Criticism to Digital Humanities

Spring 2016-2017


Richard So

This is a methods class for graduate students. It carefully explores canonical models and examples of close reading (New Criticism, deconstruction) and archival research for the literary discipline. It does so in order to contextualize and understand the emergence of new empirical forms of textual criticism, such as “distant reading.” Students will gain a grasp of the arc of methodological innovations centered on reading and historicism in our discipline, while also getting a strong introduction to the digital humanities. (20th/21st)

PhD Colloquium

Autumn 2016-2017


Frances Ferguson

For first-year English Ph.D. students only. This course provides a theoretical and practical introduction to advanced literary studies. Readings are drawn from four modes of inquiry that helped to produce our discipline and that continue to animate scholarship in the present – namely, philology, criticism, aesthetics, and genealogy. In addition, participants will complete several short assignments meant to familiarize them with common skills and practices of literary studies.

Transformations of Style, Genre, Institution: 1750-1850

Autumn 2016-2017


James Chandler

This seminar would explore topics and facilitate research projects in the very long Romantic period reaching back to the age of Sensibility and forward to the emergences of Victorian forms like the three decker novel and the dramatic monologue. Ripe for inclusion in such an overview would be the culture changing novels of Richardson and Sterne, the poetry of sentiment (Grat, Collins, Charlottes, Smith), antiquarian ballad collections, the feminization of the novel (Burney, Smith, Inchbald), the Gothic (Radcliffe, Shelley), various genre-transformations in Romanticism (the conversation poem, the personal eipc, the lyrical ballad), the national tale (Edgeworth and Morgan), the historical novel (Scott and Galt), the major reviews (Edinburgh, Blackwoods, Quarterly), the weeklies (Examiner, London Magazine), and the serialized fiction that leads to the early work of Dickens and Thackeray. The point would not only be to look at processes of transformation of literary styles, genres, and institutions, but to correlate changes on all three levels with attention to larger developments in publishing, readership, demographics, political movements, technology, and overarching structures of thought. (18th/19th)

I'm a Slave for You

Spring 2016-2017


Chris Taylor

This course will trace the philosophical, juridical, and literary itinerary of modernity’s impossible subject: the person who enslaves himself. From Grotius to Vitoria through Hobbes and Locke up to Mill and beyond, the one thing that modernity’s self-possessive subject cannot will to alienate, sell, or give away is himself. From this perspective, slavery can only be a relation of domination or as a vanishing moment before the enslaved contracts into servitude. In the process of installing this perspective, philosophical modernity foreclosed myriad philosophical and legal traditions of self-enslavement at the precise moment that slavery itself was generalized as the Atlantic world’s foundational mode of political and social relation. This course will explore how this philosophical bracketing of the problem of auto-enslavement enabled Atlantic modernity to bracket slavery itself as an exceptional, pathological condition; we will then explore how the philosophical coding of humans as free by anthropological default affected the social, legal, and political life of the actually enslaved. The first part of this course will track the impossibilization of auto-enslavement in early modern and Enlightenment philosophical texts on international law, political theory, Biblical hermeneutics, and abolitionism. In the second part of this course, we will examine black and white improvisations with the figure of the self-enslaving subject, reading slave narratives, legal texts and cases occasioned by the late legalization of self-enslavement in five antebellum U.S. states, the pro-slavery genre of anti-sentimental literature known as the “anti-Tom,” and more. (18th/19th)

Multidisciplinary Study of American Culture

Spring 2016-2017


Eric Slauter

This seminar surveys the study of American culture as it is currently practiced at the University of Chicago. Seminar members read and discuss recent work by faculty specialists from the Humanities, the Social Sciences, the Divinity School, and the Law School at Chicago. Though interested in how different disciplines frame questions and problems, we will be attuned to convergences in themes, approaches, and methods. During the last half of our seminar meetings our authors will join us for a focused discussion of their work. Many of our guests will also deliver public lectures the day before visiting the seminar.

From Pentecost to Babel: Writing Between Languages

Spring 2016-2017


Jennifer Scappettone

What happens to literary works whose authors think in more than one language, and allow that excess to be registered in their texts? While in an age of global migrations, multilingual speakers have come to outnumber the number of monolingual speakers, literary studies continue to privilege works aimed at a monolingual audience. This is particularly the case in the United States, where “English-only” attitudes have dominated discourse for over a century. This course instead explores literary works that take up residence in the space between two or more languages, whether national or regional—as well as those that attempt to dodge semantic systems altogether. From modernist collage and transense to contemporary poetry of exile, migration, and diaspora, the works we will study, lodged between tongues, lend nuance and fascination to debates surrounding “global literature” and untranslatability. We will examine the formal and social prompts and repercussions of experiments in polylingualism, barbarism, dialect, creole, and thwarted translation, and will delve into examples of the potential for mixed/new media poetics to accommodate multiple linguistic systems. While it is not at all necessary for students to be fluent in more than one language to take this course, some experience learning or attempting to learn languages beyond English is essential. Texts up for discussion may include George Steiner’s After Babel, Emily Apter’s Against World Literature, Futurist and Zaum poetry, concrete poetry, Eliot’s The Waste Land, Zukofsky’s Poem Beginning “The,” Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, Amelia Rosselli’s Diary in Three Tongues and Sleep, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s DICTEE, Etel Adnan’s The Arab Apocalypse, Kamau Brathwaite’s Born to Slow Horses, Gail Scott’s The Obituary, Edwin Torres’s Popedology of an Ambient Language, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs’s TwERK, Xu Bing’s A Book from the Sky, and pamphlets by Antena. (20th/21st)

Novel Scenes

Spring 2016-2017


Lawrence Rothfield

One way of thinking about the novel is as the literary form made possible by the emergence of a distinct arena of social interactions – from flirting to striving for status to solidarity-seeking and beyond – that is captured, albeit vaguely, by the everyday use of the term “scene”. In this course, we will try to define the various elements that distinguish scenes structurally from other settings for action; we will look at some sociological theorizations of different kinds of scenes (Tardieu, Bourdieu, Habermas, Freud, Kenneth Burke, Thrift) in order to try to differentiate various kinds of scenes; and we will ask how novelists – Austen, Flaubert, Musil, Woolf, Kerouac -- have exploited for narrative purposes the power dynamics and the ethical or political possibilities inherent in scenes. (18th/19th)

Performance Theory: Action, Affect, Archive

Winter 2016-2017


Loren Kruger

This PhD seminar offers a critical introduction to performance theory and its applications not only to theatre but also to performance on film and, more controversially, to ‘performativity’ to fictional and other texts that have nothing directly to do with performance. The seminar will be organized around three key conceptual clusters: a) action, acting, and other forms of production or play, in theories from the classical (Aristotle) through the modern (Hegel, Brecht, Artaud), to the contemporary (Richard Schechner, Philip Zarilli, and others) b) affect, and its intersections with emotion and feeling: in addition to the impact of contemporary theories of affect and emotion (Massumi, Sedgwick) on performance theory (Erin Hurley), we will read earlier modern texts that anticipate recent debates (Diderot, Freud) and their current interpreters (Joseph Roach, Tim Murray and others), as well as those writing about the absence of affect and the performance of failure (Sara Bailes and others) c) archives and related institutions, practices and theories of recording performance, including the formation of audiences (Susan Bennett and with evaluating print and other media yielding evidence of ephemeral acts, including the work of theorists of memory (Pierre Nora) and remains (Rebecca Schneider), theatre historians (Rose Bank, Jody Enders, Tracy Davis and others) as well as current theorists on the tensions between the archive and the repertoire (Diana Taylor) or between excavation and performance (Michael Shanks/ Mike Pearson) Requirements: one or two oral presentations of assigned texts and final paper. To prepare PhDs for professional writing, final paper will take the form of a review article (ca 5000 words) examining key concepts in the field and the controversies they may engender, by way of two recent books that tackle these concepts (20th/21st)

The Being of Effort in Early Modernity

Autumn 2016-2017


Tim Harrison

What is effort? How might we describe the experience of expending effort? What ontological commitments subtend conceptions of effort? This seminar will examine the literary, philosophical, scientific, and theological implications of what Michel Henry calls “the being of effort” by focusing on early modernity, a period in which attempts to think through the meaning of effort were particularly fraught. Taking the multiple valences of the term conatus as our leading thread, we will situate poetry and prose by John Donne and John Milton (two writers deeply invested in what effort can and cannot accomplish) in two overlapping contexts that are not usually brought together. First, we will trace the significance of effort as vital self-preservation from the ancient Stoics, through the developing seventeenth-century sciences of life, to Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics and Anne Conway’s Principles. Second, we will examine the multiple ways that conatus or effort ramified in theological debates over the status of the will in works by Augustine, Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, and Arminius. We will also consider philosophical treatments of effort (as it relates both to vitality and the will) in the work of Maine de Biran, Bergson, Levinas, Jonas, and Arendt, among others. (Med/Ren)