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Program Sample Courses

Below you'll find course descriptions from some of our department's recent offerings. Please keep in mind that specific seminars will vary each semester, depending on the availability of professors and their specific teaching goals.

ENG 5800/ACS 5860: Ethnic American Literature & Theories of Identity
Dr. Jolie Sheffer

This course will examine ethnic American literature from the long twentieth century. Focusing particularly on Asian American, African American, Native American, and Chicano and Latino literatures, the course examines the range of meanings contained within the phrase "multi-ethnic American literature." In addition to fiction, drama, and personal essays, we'll also read critical theories of identity and representation, including work on symbolic ethnicity and whiteness.

ENG 6750/ACS 6750: Sexuality and Its Discontents: American Sexual History and Culture since WWII
Dr. Bill Albertini

We often talk about sexuality as a pleasure to be pursued, or as a site of intimate joy. But culturally, sex is as much a source of worry and discontent as pleasure. Drawing on the insights of queer theory, this graduate seminar will examine representations of sexuality—especially in fiction and film—in the post-WWII period paying special attention to narratives in which sexuality functions not only as a site of pleasure but also as a site of difficulty. By looking at works created both before and after the rise of sexual liberation movements in the 1960s and 1970s, we will discover how sexuality is articulated in relation to race, gender, ethnicity, and class positions, as well as in dialogue with difficult issues such as violence and illness. We will discover the ways that texts navigate sexuality, how they confront suffering, and where they find community, grace, pleasure, and dreams of better futures. In doing so, we will see sexuality functioning as a force to be regulated, as a set of limitations to be exceeded, as a mystery to be solved, or as the solution itself.

Authors might include: Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita), James Baldwin (Giovanni’s Room), Christoper Isherwood (A Single Man and its film adaptation), Ann Bannon (Women in the Shadows and/or I Am a Woman), Richard Yates (Revolutionary Road), Rita Mae Brown (The Rubyfruit Jungle), David Feinberg (Eighty-Sixed), Randall Kenan (Let the Dead Bury Their Dead), E. Lynn Harris (Just As I Am), Sapphire (Push and its film adaptation), Jeffrey Eugenides (Middlesex), and Darcey Steinke (Milk). Possible films include: All That Heaven Allows, The Children’s Hour, Island in the Sun, Tea and Sympathy, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Cruising, The Hunger, The Velvet Goldmine, Bugcrush, Far From Heaven, Bound, and Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Super-masochist. Critical and historical readings will include Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Lee Edelman, Jonathan Ned Katz, Michel Foucault, Dwight McBride, Kathryn Bond Stockton, José Esteban Muñoz, and others.

ENG 6800: Speaking With the Dead: Early Modern Drama, History, and the New Historicism
Dr. Stephannie S. Gearhart

“I began with a desire to speak with the dead,” confesses Stephen Greenblatt in the opening pages of Shakespearean Negotiations (1988), his seminal study of Shakespeare and early modern England. The past certainly haunts Renaissance studies in a variety of ways, and this course will consider how scholars have come to terms with the relationship between old texts (i.e., early modern drama) and the cultural/historical moment in which they were produced, paying special attention to the influence of New Historicism on the field.

During the semester, we will read a variety of kinds of texts, including plays by Shakespeare (King Lear, Henry V, Twelfth Night, among others), theoretical works, and critical books and articles. Some of the questions we will address include: How did early modern dramatists use history in their plays? What is “Old Historicism” and what did its practitioners think about the relationship between early modern drama and culture? Just how different is the New Historicism from the Old Historicism? How were New Historicists both influenced by and opposed to New Critics? Is New Historicism a “theory” or a “practice” (or something else)? We will analyze how the ideas of scholars such as Raymond Williams, Michel Foucault, and Clifford Geertz shaped New Historicism and Cultural Materialism, and ask how these two schools of thought came to be so different despite their common influences. We will also consider New Historicism’s attraction to the anecdote in light of Lyotard’s micronarrative and examine the often uneasy relationship between New Historicism and Marxism and Psychoanalysis. Overall, we will ask if the New Historicism is still new (if it ever was new) and/or useful. Ultimately, though, the larger question haunting the class will be: What is at stake in our readings of the past and our interpretations of old texts?

ENG 6800: Michel Foucault and the 19th Century Novel: The Politics of Power
Dr. Piya Lapinski

This course will examine the 19th century British and French novel through the lens of the writings of Michel Foucault. Foucault was the great theorist whose work constantly draws on and references the 19th century. We will look at emerging disciplines which conflate power and knowledge in this period—among them medicine, psychiatry, criminology, anthropology, sexology, judicial practice and how they are represented in the novel. The focus will be on the work of both major and lesser known writers: among them, works by writers such as the Brontes (Villette), Charles Maturin (Melmoth the Wanderer), Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Lady Audley’s Secret), Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White or The Law and the Lady), George Eliot (The Lifted Veil), Richard Marsh (The Beetle), Bram Stoker (The Lair of the White Worm), Arthur Conan Doyle (The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes). Since Foucault was French, we will also read some French writers in translation, including Emile Zola’s Nana (about prostitution) and Gautier’s Mademoiselle De Maupin (on cross-dressing). Alongside the novels, we will read extracts from Foucault’s major theoretical works: Discipline and Punish, The Order of Things, Madness and Civilization, The History of Sexuality and The Birth of the Clinic, as well as the newly published material from the lectures Foucault gave at the College De France.

ENG 6800/ACS 6820: Methods and Theories of American Culture Studies
Dr. Jolie Sheffer

This course serves as an introduction to methodological approaches and theoretical concerns in American Culture Studies scholarship through attentive reading of works of American Studies scholarship from the past half century. We will identify major themes in American cultural, social, and intellectual life of America. We will also go "meta," analyzing the ways in which knowledge about the field of American Studies has been structured, studied, and interpreted. This course focuses on issues of national identity, cultural memory, economic and political history, and discourses of citizenship. This course is required of all first-year ACS master's degree students, but it is also useful to MAs in English with an interest in American Studies.

ENG 6820: Shakespearean Adaptations
Dr. Stephannie S. Gearhart

From the Restoration to the twenty-first century, writers and artists have adapted William Shakespeare’s drama in diverse ways, and in English 682 we will study some of these adaptations. Thinking of adaptations both in relationship to Shakespearean texts and as works in their own right, we will analyze the ways in which adaptations, from the seventeenth century to the present, critique the Bard’s plays and address contemporary issues. Ultimately, we will seek to develop a definition of the term ‘adaptation’ and ask questions such as: When is Shakespeare no longer Shakespeare? And, what does Shakespeare, in the “original” and in adaptation, have to say to us today? Given the broad scope of this course, we will employ a variety of theoretical approaches to aid us in our analyses of the texts.

This course will include many different kinds of texts, e.g., drama, fiction, poetry, film, paintings, and theoretical material. Some of the Shakespearean texts to be studied include King Lear, Othello, Hamlet, and The Taming of the Shrew. We will read excerpts from Shakespeare’s sources, including Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain and Holinshed’s Chronicles, among others. Adaptations to be examined will include some of the following: Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Lois Burdett’s “Shakespeare Can Be Fun!” series for children, John Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius, Paula Vogel’s Desdemona: a play about a handkerchief, the 2001 film O, John Fletcher’s The Woman’s Prize; or, the Tamer Tamed, and the Broadway musical Kiss Me, Kate. The work of theorists such as Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Linda Hutcheon, and Edward Said will be integral to the course as well.

ENG 6820: Cinema and National Identity: Postcolonial & War on Terror Discourses
Dr. Khani Begum

What remains of the category of national cinema, when the national itself is in question? Why and how does cinema engage in constructing varying identities of the national? How are notions of the national figured/constructed and deconstructed in diasporic communities? What role does visual culture play in the construction of national identities? How have discourses of post colonialism and the War on Terror been represented in contemporary Indian cinema? How do global concerns over Terrorism affect the local? These and many other questions are explored through theoretical readings as applied to a number of Indian and Indian diasporic films. Beginning with films that address post Independence India (Shree 420, Mother India, Lagaan, The Chess Players), the course explores changing national identities through lighter transnational Bollywood fare (Bollywood/Hollywood, Dilwale Dulhan le Jayenge, Salaam Namaste). The third section of the course addresses how Indian cinema has responded to global discourses on the war on terror, the Hindu /Muslim conflict, and their implications for new definitions of national identity in films like Bombay, Dil Se, Mission Kashmir, and Main Houn Na.

ENG 7070: Freud’s Women, Women’s Freud: Feminist Encounters with Psychoanalysis
Dr. Kim Coates

In this graduate level seminar, we will begin by studying the debates surrounding female sexuality as articulated in the 1920s and 1930s in the work of women analysts like Joan Riviere, Melanie Klein, Helene Deutsch, and Karen Horney all of whom provoked Sigmund Freud to put forth his own exegesis of the “dark continent” in essays like “Femininity,” “Female Sexuality,” and “The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman.” We will then move on to feminist texts of the 1970s and 1980s, which Teresa Brennan has identified as constituting the second “great debate” following a long period of relative silence. This second debate was instigated by the publication of Juliet Mitchell’s Psychoanalysis and Feminism (1974) and resulted in two different approaches: the first drawing on Jacques Lacan’s work and most cogently exemplified by Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose’s Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne, including two introductory essays by Mitchell and Rose and essays by Lacan; and the second, influenced by the work of Melanie Klein and D.W. Winnicott (for example, Nancy Chodorow’s The Reproduction of Mothering and Jessica Benjamin’s The Bonds of Love). In the second half of the course, we will embark on a tour of the French feminist response to psychoanalysis (Irigaray, Cixous, Kristeva) and then turn our attention to more recent feminist engagements with psychoanalysis, which continue to address female sexuality but engage issues of race and difference, trauma and terror, violence and nationality as well. Previous course work in critical theory, cultural studies, and/or women’s studies is recommended. Please feel free to email me if you have concerns or questions in this regard.

*ENG 6010 and 6070 provide students with the same basic skills each semester, though the specific approaches will vary depending on the individual faculty member assigned.