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).

English Under Construction: Creating the Myth of 'Standard English' in 18th-C Literature

Winter 2019-2020


Lauren Schachter

This course investigates the politics of language standardization in literature and culture in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain. English was under construction, from its littlest parts (i.e. debates over the placement of prepositions in English sentences) to the 'character' of English as a national language to the negotiations between 'dialects' and a standard English that was far from settled. Together we'll ask how discussions about language and grammar are often underwritten by stakes that are racial, gendered, classed, and--in particular--imperial. What competing versions of English were alive in the long eighteenth-century (1650-1830)? How did imaginative literature construe the diversity of the language and its speakers, and on other other, work to consolidate a governing standard? How did Welsh, Irish, Scottish dialects, as well as English Creole languages and French, interact with and challenge the 'Standard English' that was under construction? Our key readings will be drawn from Samuel Johnson, Tobias Smollett, Olaudah Equiano, Anna Barbauld, Walter Scott, Robert Burns, William Wordsworth, Hester Thrale Piozzi, Jane Austen, and others. We will also ask how these issues continue to be contentious in discussions of African American English (AAE), sociolinguistics, and global anglophone literature. (Poetry, Fiction, 1650-1830)

Secrecy and Exemplarity: On Parables and Their Interpretation, from the Bible to Walter Benjamin

Winter 2019-2020


Sam Catlin

A parable – usually defined as “a short narrative told for an ulterior purpose” – should be easy to understand, given its apparent simplicity and didacticism. So why does it turn out to be so difficult, in practice, to interpret parables? From Jesus’s parables and Plato’s famous parable of the cave onward, parables have led reader after reader to the disturbing realization that it might in fact be theparables which read their interpreters, and not the other way around! In this course, we’ll ask how it is that this particular literary form so deftly articulates the relations between text and reader, narrative and interpretation, literature and religion, secrecy and power, sign and meaning, concealment and revelation, fiction and truth. The course serves as both an introduction to the history of the many ways interpreters have engaged the parabolic form in religious, literary, and philosophical contexts, on the one hand, and a chance to develop the intensity and rigor of our own close-reading practices, on the other. Besides biblical and rabbinic parables, we will read parables in works by Plato, Maimonides, La Fontaine, Pascal, G.E. Lessing, Kant, Andersen, Hawthorne, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Kafka, W. Benjamin, and O. Welles.

Mobile Life

Winter 2019-2020


Josephine McDonagh

This is a new research-intensive course which aims to provide both theoretical frames and methods for research for exploring topics related to migration and literature in the contemporary world and in historical contexts. We will explore various aspects of the migratory experience; the ways in which literary texts shape or shed light on them; and how contemporary theories help us to understand migration and its literatures. Key terms will include migration, mobility, exile, refugees, settlement, kinship, border crossing, bureaucracy. We will ask questions such as: how do printed and other forms of information enable/regulate movement? What is an imaginative transportation? What happens when we cross a border? What is at stake in settlement? Who is a refugee? How do children function in the migratory imagination? In class we will focus mainly on anglophone texts from the nineteenth century onwards, including novels, short stories, poems and plays, journalism, propaganda, bureaucratic documents, maps, guides, and other kinds of texts. The assessment for the course will include an outline of a research project of your own devising, for which you will develop your own archive of sources. (1830-1940, Theory) This course is offered as part of the Migrations Research Sequence.

Genre Fundamentals: Fiction

Spring 2019-2020


Sianne Ngai

What are basics of complex storytelling? What are its conventions and deviations? This course explores fiction by focusing on specific narrative strategies and how they change over time. Authors will most likely include Herman Melville, Henry James, Edith Wharton, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and Ali Smith, among others. (Genre Fundamentals [formerly Gateway], Fiction)

Manifesto! Art, Politics, Utopia

Spring 2019-2020


Tim DeMay

The manifesto exploded in the 20th Century, spanning aesthetic and political spectrums in order to consolidate groups, challenge dominant structures, and otherwise make claims for how the future should look. This course will examine the genre of the manifesto from Marx to cyborgs by looking at its use by writers, thinkers, and activists, asking about representation (both in how artists represent subjects, and how speakers represent their constituents), identity, the avant-garde, modernity/modernism, and the implied suggestions of utopian worlds. By examining such a specifically action-oriented genre, we will explore just what connection, if any, art and literature have to the political, real, everyday, whatever-we-call-it, shared world and our abilities to craft its future. (Theory)

 A Still Life: Feminists and Objects in Modernity 

Spring 2019-2020


Katherine Nolan

Modernity has always been fascinated by the fantasy of objects coming to life. Feminist theory, by contrast, has often been fixated on the reverse: “objectification,” or the process of human beings becoming like objects. This course puts into conversation these two different ways of imagining animate object-ness in order to assemble a critical archive on one of modernity’s foundational binaries: the “subject-object” dichotomy. We will examine a series of genres that prominently feature objects, including it-narratives, narratives about robotic women, and video games, while consider these texts in relation to prominent feminist writings about objectification. (Theory, Fiction)

Anglophone Immigrant Literature: Narratives of Displacement, Deprivation, and Consumption

Spring 2019-2020


Upasana Dutta

In anglophone immigrant literary narratives, there is a place of particular poignancy and longing reserved for meditations upon food. What is the role, the space, and the import of food in immigrant lives? What diminution accompanies the loss of your own food, and what desire attaches to the rediscovery, or the replication of it in a foreign land? What are the stakes involved in charting out a dominion of your own familiar flavors or adapting to a new palate in an unfamiliar milieu? This course charts a few of these concerns and uses food writing as a point of entry into modes of being and making in immigrant literature, considering that emigration is a displacement that is sometimes impelled and accompanied by trauma, and characterized by rapid modes of adaptation to an unfamiliar and frequently hostile environment. Readings are likely to include fiction and poetry by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Amy Tan, Imtiaz Dharker, Amarjit Chandan, Monique Truong, and Cristina Henríquez. These primary texts will be supplemented by critical and analytical readings about patterns of displacement and consumption in immigrant lives and literature. (Fiction, Theory)

Secrets and Spies: Espionage Fiction in the 20th Century

Spring 2019-2020


Jennifer Pan

Following a few decades of low interest after the end of the Cold War, spy fiction experienced a resurgence after 9/11 with popular shows like Homeland, The Americans, and Archer. It would seem that we find espionage most interesting in times when we can envision a concrete enemy. This course will explore how tensions between the ethos and the practice of espionage produce changing and often contradictory views of nationhood. Who is included or excluded in national identity is inextricably bound to sites of difference like race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, and religion. How does espionage, which is premised both on closeness to the enemy and immaculate patriotism, show up in the way the nation constructs itself and its others? Spies and spying offer unique lenses through which to examine how nations grapple with the project of distinguishing the us from the them. We will begin with the Dreyfus Affair in 1894, and then move on to Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901), W. Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden: Or the British Agent (1928), Helen MacInnes’s While Still We Live (1944), Odell Bennett Lee’s The Formative Years of an African-American Spy: A Memoir (2012), as well as movies The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), The Lives of Others (2006), and Casino Royale (2006). (Fiction, 1830-1940, Theory)

Witnessing Medieval Evil: Literature, Art, and the Politics of Observation

Spring 2019-2020


Benjamin Saltzman

Seeing hell for oneself, watching the torture of a saint, looking at illustrations of violence: these profoundly terrible experiences, narrated and drawn, shaped the way medieval readers took in the world around them, its violence, its suffering, its preponderance of evils. But how exactly does literature allow readers to witness and process such horrors? How is the observation of violence transformed by art? What is unique about the medieval experience of these artistic and literary forms of mediation? What can they teach us about our own contemporary cultural encounters with the sights and stories of atrocity? By exploring questions like these, this course will consider the didactic, religious, and epistemological functions of witnessing in a variety of early medieval texts such as illustrated copies of Prudentius’s Psychomachia (in which the Virtues engage in a gruesome battle against the Vices), the Apocalypse of Paul (in which Paul sees hell and lives to tell about it), early medieval law codes, the Life of St. Margaret, the Old English Genesis, and the heroic poem Judith. These medieval texts will be read alongside thinkers like Giorgio Agamben, W.J.T. Mitchell, and Susan Sontag, whose work on images of atrocity in the modern world will both inform our critical examination of the Middle Ages while opening up the possibility for rethinking literature and art in relation to contemporary experiences of violence. (Fiction, Poetry, Pre-1650, Theory)

Early Modern Love: Eros in British Literature 1500-1700

Spring 2019-2020


Michal Zecharia

This course examines an age-old problem of erotic love: how can love be a chief component of the well-lived life, when at its most celebrated it departs from reason, even to the point of madness? We will consider the challenges that love presents to human knowledge and ethics through the lens of early modern English literature, where the theme of love was at the center of aesthetic creativity, but our discussion will also draw on the philosophy of love, the history of emotions, Christian theology, and psychology. With these resources at hand, we will explore the phenomenon of erotic love, the relation of Eros to self and identity, and the reasons for love, finally leading up to the question: what does it mean to love well? Readings will include poetry, drama, and prose by prominent sixteenth- and seventeenth-century authors such as Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and John Milton, as well as less studied voices in the period, alongside theoretical works by thinkers throughout the ages, from Plato and Augustine to Harry Frankfurt and Lauren Berlant. Students will have an opportunity to approach the topic through analytic and creative assignments. (Poetry, Pre-1650)