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).

Before and After Beckett: Theater and Theory

Autumn 2019-2020


Loren Kruger

Beckett is conventionally typed as the playwright of minimalist scenes of unremitting bleaksness but his experiments with theatre and film echo the irreverent play of popular culture (vaudeville on stage and screen eg Chaplin and Keaton) as well as experimental Theatre and modern philosophy, even when there are no direct lines of influence. This course will juxtapose these points of reference with Beckett’s plays and those of his contemporaries (Ionesco, Genet and others in French, Pinter in English. It will then explore more recent plays that suggest the influence of Beckett by Caryl Churchill and Sarah Kane in English, Michel Vinaver in French, as well as the relevance of theorists and philosophers include Barthes, Wittgenstein, and critics writing on specific plays. (Drama)

Nineteenth Century American Gothic

Autumn 2019-2020


William Veeder

This course will trace the “Gothic” tradition in America from its initial manifestations in Brown and Irving through its first great flowering in the “American Renaissance” era of Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville, and on to the end of the century with James and Gilman. We will emphasize questions of methodology as well as practicing close analysis and defining a literary tradition.(1830-1940)

Popol Vuh, Epic of the Americas

Autumn 2019-2020


Edgar Garcia

As one of the oldest and grandest stories of world creation in the indigenous Americas, the Mayan Popol Vuh has been called “the Bible of America.” It tells a story of cosmological origins and continued historical transformations, spanning mythic, classic, colonial, and contemporary times. In this class, we will read this work fully and closely (in multiple translations, with some account of its original K’iche’ Mayan language as well), attending to the important way in which its structure relates myth and history, or foundations and change. In this light, we will examine its mirroring in Genesis, The Odyssey, Beowulf, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the Diné Bahane’ to consider how and why epics struggle with a simultaneity of origins and historiography. In highlighting this point of tension between cosmos and politics, we will examine adaptations of the Popol Vuh in contemporary political contexts by Miguel Ángel Asturias, Ernesto Cardenal, Diego Rivera, Dennis Tedlock and Andrés Xiloj Peruch, Humberto Ak’ab’al, Xpetra Ernandex, Ambar Past, Patricia Amlin, Gregory Nava, Arturo Arias, and Werner Herzog. As we cast the Guatemalan-born Popul Vuh as a contemporary work of hemispheric American literature (with extensive North American, Latin American, Latinx, and Indigenous literary engagement), we will take into account the intellectual contribution of Central America and the diaspora of Central Americans in the United States today. As a capstone to our class, we will visit the original manuscript of the Popol Vuh held at the Newberry Library in Chicago, thinking carefully about how this Mayan story of world creation implicates us to this day. (Poetry, Fiction)

Secret Histories, Inside Jobs: Paranoia and Conspiracy in American Literature

Autumn 2019-2020


Nell Pach

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you,” runs the famous line – repeated everywhere from bumper stickers to Nirvana lyrics – from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, the story, in Heller’s words, of a “sane man in an insane world.” American fascination with conspiracies – real and imagined – runs through the country’s history from eighteenth-century Illuminati paranoia to today’s truthers and birthers, and finds plenty to satisfy it in fiction, film, television, and even sensationalist news coverage. Conspiracy theories and their defenders frequently invoke American ideals of democracy, justice, and free thought but also often reflect the nation’s ugliest legacies of nativism, racism, and cynical self-interest.The texts we will examine in this course entertain, to differing degrees, the possibility that American historical events and sociopolitical power dynamics are the products of unseen and unknown forces, sinister machinations, carefully arranged nets that are pulled tight at the right moment. Examining a range of fiction from around 1800 to the present, we will explore conspiracy narratives from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Thomas Pynchon. Why does the notion of one’s own manipulation in the hands of shadowy puppet-masters hold such enduring appeal and sway in the American imagination?

Archive [Yellow] Fever

Autumn 2019-2020


Sarah Johnson

Archive [Yellow] Fever reads Black Feminist approaches to the archive of slavery in the Caribbean in order to ask questions about the scholar’s embodied relationship in the present to historical documents and artifacts produced in the context of Atlantic world slave societies. How is a scholar affected by and implicated in the production such an archive? This class explores this and other questions produced by this scholarship, with a particular focus on historical and contemporary concerns about what enslavement does to the physical body and the affective impacts of institutionalized bondage. The course also provides an introduction in methods of working in historical and contemporary archives. We will explore themes of contagion, sex, birth, and death by reading fictional, archival, methodological and theoretical texts, including the work of, Saidiya Hartman, Marisa Fuentes, Jacques Derrida, Carolyn Steedman, Jennifer L. Morgan, Jenny Sharpe, Robin Coste Lewis, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Mary Prince, Mary Seacole, Bryan Edwards, James Grainger. The class will make two trips to special collections, one to view archival texts from the period and another to find an archival object of the student’s choosing (relevant to their own research interests) that will provide the topic of their final paper. This course is offered as part of the Migrations Research Sequence. (1650-1830, 1830-1940) This is a research and criticism seminar intended for third- and fourth-year English majors. Students may petition for entry.

Representations of Islam in Early Modern England

Autumn 2019-2020


Noémie Ndiaye

This seminar explores the representation of Islam and Islamic cultures in early modern English literature, from the 1580s to the 1650s with a primary but not exclusive focus on drama. What enduring fantasies about the Islamic world does early modern English literature express? How do religion, race, gender, and sexuality intersect in the formation of those fantasies? How do specific English social, political, and cultural issues inform literary representations of Islam? Ultimately, what do texts about Islam tell us about early modern England? (Drama, Pre-1650 This is a research and criticism seminar intended for third- and fourth-year English majors.

Genre Fundamentals: Poetry: Rhythm and Myth

Winter 2019-2020


Edgar Garcia

This course is an introduction to poetry that is focused on two core elements of poetry: rhythm and myth. We will consider how rhythm is an experience of time that the patterned language of poetry produces. And myth here refers to the persistent present of the poem, which wishes to be the event that it describes, rather than just a representation of it. With these elements in tension, a poem is a complex temporal system, simultaneously pulsing with the changing rhythms of everyday life and timeless—dynamic and resonant across histories, languages, and cultures. In this class we will read poetry from a variety of genres as well as cultures and languages (ancient and modern, western and non-western, oral and written) to better understand this lasting poetic tension. Along the way, we will take into account key theorists on poetic form and the function and meaning of myth. (Genre Fundamentals [formerly Gateway], Poetry)

The Future

Winter 2019-2020


Bill Brown

This course focuses on the future as imagined by American science fiction of the 20th century. On the one hand, we will pay attention to the scientific, political, and cultural contexts from which particular visions of the future emerged; on the other, we will work to develop an overarching sense of science fiction as a genre. We will deploy different analytical paradigms (Formalist, Marxist, Feminist, &c.) to apprehend the stakes and the strategies for imagining future worlds. After some initial attention to the magazine and pulp culture that helped to establish the genre, we will spotlight major SF movements (Afro Futurism, Cyberpunk, Biopunk, etc.) and major authors (including Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delaney, William Gibson, and Octavia Butler). Finally, we will use this 20th-century history to think about 21st-century SF work in different media (e.g., film, radio, graphic narrative). (Fiction, Theory)

Imagining Pagans in the Middle Ages

Winter 2019-2020


Julie Orlemanski; Joe Stadolnik

Thisundergraduate course investigates what became of classical paganism during the Christian Middle Ages. How did medieval writers portray Greek and Roman practices of worship and its pantheon of gods? For medieval literate culture, classical myths were both an index of historical difference – 'we no longer believe what they believed' – and an ongoing source of poetic, narrative, and symbolic potency. Through the close-reading of a variety of source texts, the course examines what classical myths and pagan belief means to late-medieval poets and thinkers. In particular, we’ll look to how ‘imagining pagans’ incited the medieval historical imagination; inspired cosmological or proto-scientific thought experiments; disrupted orthodox theology; and finally, worked to establish fiction as a domain of literature. The poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer will be at the heart of the class, but we will also read widely across medieval culture. No previous experience with Middle English is necessary. (Pre-1650)

The Arts of Detection

Winter 2019-2020


Javier Ibáñez

Blithely disregarding the distinction between high and low culture, at once nostalgic and iconoclastic with respect to the legacies of Enlightenment rationality, detective fiction is also uniquely self-reflexive in the explicit thematization of its formal concerns with the principles of narrative construction, the mechanics of semiosis and interpretation, and the logic of emplotment. In this course, we will trace the history of the genre, from its beginnings in the nineteenth century to its more recent incarnations, and think about how it stages questions concerning such issues as the cultural and institutional practices of discipline and surveillance; the epistemologies of secrecy and disclosure; the aesthetics of the detail, the mystery, and the puzzle; the relationship between inquiry and desire; the overdetermined legibility of urban spaces; and the porous boundaries between self and other. Our primary texts will include works by Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton, Dashiell Hammett, Jorge Luis Borges, Patricia Highsmith, and Agatha Christie, among others, as well as examples from television and film. In addition, we will also consider the sustained interest detective fiction has generated within a number of different theoretical traditions. (Fiction, 1830-1940, Theory)