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Topics Courses Offered, fall 2015

Topics courses change every semester. In this way, students can be exposed to a wide variety of subject matter while still taking courses within the discipline.

The following topics courses will be offered fall semester of the the 2014-2015 academic year.

ENG 255a/REL 241 Biblical Literature (W course) (Professor Benedix)

The term “Biblical literature” presents us immediately with a set of complicated issues:  What assumptions do we need to make in order to read the Bible as a work that we might describe as “literary” in nature?  How to approach a set of texts that do not present a unified or necessarily coherent message?  In this class, we’re going to be considering the phrase “Biblical literature” primarily from two vantage-points.  The first is the Bible as literature.  Here, we will look at Biblical texts themselves, addressing how these pieces might be read in the context of traditional interpretive approaches, but also as discrete entities that shed light on the historical, political and religious environments in which they were written.  As we look at these texts, we will want to think about the question of redaction, or the process by which these pieces become part of the Biblical canon.  Beginning with the first two chapters of Genesis, we as readers are presented with any number of seemingly conflicting claims.  How do these conflicts work together to form the finished piece we know as the Bible?  We will also be considering the Bible in literature, and this venture will occupy the majority of our discussions.  Here, we’ll encounter a number of Modern works that echo pieces of the Bible—some quite subtly, others more explicitly.  As we confront these works, we will want to explore possible motivations on the part of the authors who wrote them.  In each case, these authors are involved in a process of revision, of re-evaluation:  how does the borrowed Biblical text help them in this process?  


ENG 255b Topics:   The History of the English Language (W course) (Professor Reading)

We use the English language every day, in writing and in speech, in formal essays and in casual texting, in the classroom and in the dorm room.  But how often do we really stop and think about our language?  This class will examine the English language from its earliest stages recorded more than 1000 years ago to its current spoken and written forms in the United States, the British Isles, and across the world.  We will also learn basic linguistic concepts and descriptive terminology in order to understand English as a manifestation of the principles of human language.  We will be considering questions such as these: What are the essential features common to all human languages?  To which other languages is English related, and how?  Why is there a b in subtle?  What is grammar and why is it important?  What are the distinctive varieties and dialects of modern spoken English?  Why is it knife, but knives?  Is ð really an English letter?  What is “standard English,” and what are the social implications and ideological investments of such a construct?  This course will provide you with both a history of the English language and a basic introduction to the linguistic study of languages.


ENG 255c/ML 326 (cross-list) Twentieth-Century Russian Literature (S course) (Professor Belyavski-Frank)

This course examines some of the major works of twentieth-century Russian literature, as well as the literary and social trends connected with them.  We will read and discuss representative works by Blok, Zamyatin, Bulgakov, Bely, Zoshchenko, Akhmatova, Solzhenitsyn, and Tolstaya, among others.  From major poetry and novels, to science fiction and far-out futuristic works, socialist realism, dissident literature, and post-modern short stories, this course covers the spectrum of twentieth-century Russian literature.  Taught in English.

ENG 255d Tps: Reading Poetry (W course) (Professor Altman)

This course is for people who already like reading poetry, and also for people who aren’t sure yet whether they do or not, but would like to get better at understanding what poems say and how they work. We’ll look closely (really closely) and slowly at poems in a range of styles—long, short, formal, experimental, narrative, visual, sound-based, simple, flowery, philosophical--from a range of historical periods (ancient to the day before yesterday), on a range of topics. Love, war, plants, and politics are likely to feature. I’ll give you a toolkit of terms and concepts literary scholars use to help us figure things out … but the basic idea is that when we read together, everybody sees something different, and we all come away understanding more.

This is a W-class. There’ll be a little interpretive paper every week, which sometimes you'll exchange with each other, and also a final project where you’ll get to write about your favorite poet or a theme that grabs you. If you’re thinking about maybe being an English major, this could be a good chance to practice and hone interpretive skills that can apply to any genre of writing; but I’m hoping people from all sorts of majors will be interested, too. No prior knowledge (of anything) is assumed, beyond an interest in language, and in how it shows us the world. 

ENG 255e Tps: Reading in the Black Diaspora (W course) (Professor Wimbley)

This course explores the literary expressions of black writers in Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Course texts include works by Edwidge Danticat, Bessie Head, Chinua Achebe, Aimé Césaire, Wole Soyinka, Nalo Hopkinson, Nicolás Guillén, Adrienne Kennedy, and Zadie Smith, to name a few.

ENG 264a: Women & Lit: Topics: Women, Writing, a Space (W course) (Professor Hahn)

In this class we will read 10-12 short novels by women from diverse experiences, such as Joy Kogawa (Obasan), Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye), Helena Miria Viramontes (Under the Feet of Jesus) and Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre).  This class is loosely shaped around the themes of the three words in the title, Women, Writing, a Space.  From Virginia Woolf's notion that every women needs a "room of her own" in order to write, to Viramontes description of the homelessness of migrant farm working women and their families, to Kogawa's novel about the forced "relocation" of Japanese families during the second world War, we will explore through fiction how women are silenced by not having "a space"-and how women find both a literal space and a voice through writing.  We will explore how writing itself often becomes a space for women.   


ENG 322a: Creative Non-Fiction: Nature Writing (Professor Schwipps)

Creative nonfiction, like fiction or poetry, is a type of creative writing.  As such, it uses the tools of the creative writer: figurative language (similes, metaphors), dialogue, flashbacks, scenes, frames – in short, tools that increase the dramatic effect of a piece of writing.  Various types of creative nonfiction exist: personal essays, articles, travel accounts, profiles, memoirs and narrative histories.  We will read quite a bit to gain a sense of the genre and its possibilities.  Class discussions over the reading material should provide insight into your own writing options.  But, as a writing course, much of our class time will be spent workshopping the written work of your peers.  Not everything you write will be workshopped; some projects you will want to keep fairly private.  Creative nonfiction tends to be misunderstood, even though it is growing in popularity and scope.  My main objective in this course is to expose students to the genre and give them practical experience writing it.

Writing in any genre will often require you to capture and present the natural world.  For example, a character in a novel who lives on a ranch in Wyoming and raises cattle lives a daily existence with almost no line between artificial and natural, and the writing must make every natural event believable to the reader.  Even the act of writing a poem about a snowstorm requires a poet with some sense of the outside world.  In this class, you will write essays, profiles, travel pieces and articles about the natural world.  We can interpret “nature” loosely – after all, there are no clear boundaries between civilization and nature.   


ENG 390a: Women and Literature: Advanced Topics:  Greece and Gender (Professor Altman)

Ancient Texts and Modern Versions

When we look into depictions of gender and sexuality in the Ancient Greek world, much seems strange to us. Still, much is also familiar, even foundational to how we think about gender and sexuality today. In law, education, and cultural life, we appeal to ancient models even as we rework them; and much important twentieth-century European and American literature was closely entwined with understanding, translating, rewriting the legacy of Ancient Greece.

This course will  take a seminar/ discussion approach to exploring some connections and disconnections in the social construction of gender then and now. We’ll read many primary ancient literary texts, including drama (Euripides and Sophocles), poetry (Sappho and others), and a little philosophy, along with some historical and critical readings to put them in context; then some twentieth-century writers who draw on ancient inspirations for new gender stories. All readings will be in English, though those who know Greek are encouraged to read along in the original; the course may be counted toward a women’s studies major or minor as well as within the English department or Classical Studies.

ENG 391a: Authors: Advanced Topics: Whitman (Professor McInnes)

 Unorthodox, sensual, prophetic, and new, Walt Whitman burst into American poetry with the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855.  His poems celebrate bodily pleasures and existential anguish; he's frank about sex, sexual attraction, depression, and grief.  But his poems also celebrate the whole United States in a big, sweeping way, as he attempts to embrace every American in every imaginable profession, insisting that old destructive ways of thinking be exposed as sham and thrown away.

 In this class we'll read Whitman's poems from the second half of the 19th century; we'll read biographies of the poet; we'll study his involvement in the relatively new art of photography; and we'll consider Whitman's legacy in the 20th century, looking at poets (in the US, in particular) who continue to take Whitman as their inspiration.  

 Finally, following the lead of the poet himself, we'll look at what Whitman has to say on topics about which we are still debating:  sex, the body, "manliness" and "womanliness," race, class, and the environment.

ENG 392a: Genre:  Advanced Topics: Environmental Crisis Narratives (Professor Brown)

This course explores the nexus of apocalyptic belief, literary imagination, and contemporary environmental crisis. In a selection of fables, memoirs, scientific nonfiction, and speculative fiction, we will survey the cultural origins, formal elements, and variations of what has emerged as the dominant narrative of the human future. In the broadest sense, this narrative describes anthropogenic disequilibrium in the planetary ecosystem. Although secular in its vision, the story of environmental crisis draws its rhetorical and emotional force from millennialist tradition, synthesizing eschatology with modern science. Projections of deforestation, resource depletion, pollution, the loss of biodiversity, climate change and consequent social and political upheavals function as apocalyptic myth, orienting the present “anthropocene” moment to the totality of history, and drawing past transgressions into concord with future retribution and renewal. The course does not seek to debunk narratives of environmental crisis as figments of the imagination but rather to discover the cultural roots of these narratives and to reach a deeper understanding of the historical and literary dimensions of contemporary environmentalism.


ENG 392b: Genre: Advanced Topics:  Poetics   (Professor Heithaus)

Poetics are theories of poetry that most often come from poets themselves.  This course will look at poetic theories of American poets from the early 20th century, a few international poets and modern and contemporary writers.  Our discussion will be far ranging, but we’ll begin with basic questions:  What is a poem?  What are poems supposed to do?  What is a poem’s relationship with language?  What is a poem’s relationship to form?  How has technology and media reshaped this ancient genre of writing which began as an oral, mnemonic form of storytelling?  How (or should) a poem reflect politics?  How is the poet’s circumstance engaged by the poem?  How does the imagination work? 

Students will write papers about various poetic theories, they will write about the work of individual poets, and finally by the courses end, they will propose their own poetic theories. 


ENG 393a:  Literature and Culture: Advanced Topics: Drugs, Literature, and Culture (Professor Glausser)

Humans of all cultures have used mind-altering drugs and written about them:  to tell stories about new moods, perspectives, and behaviors; to explore aesthetic and metaphysical implications; to shape altered consciousness into religious ritual; to promote drugs as therapeutic marvels; or to prohibit and even demonize their use.  In this course we will be studying a variety of literary and cultural texts connected with the use and interpretation of drugs.  After a few discussions of general questions and the hard-to-classify drug known as marijuana, we will focus on texts related to three basic classes of drugs:  psychedelics, narcotics, and stimulants.


ENG 395a: Literature and Theory:  Advanced Topics:  Film Theory (Professor Csicsery-Ronay)

Film – as cinema and video – has become one of the most influential forms of communication in contemporary global culture. In this course students will explore some of the dominant theoretical approaches to film as an artistic medium (including psychoanalytic, sociological, feminist, queer-theoretical, cognitive, materialist schools), as well as some of the classical debates among film theorists. We will also investigate how important material elements of film design, such as editing, acting, cinematography, star-casting, lighting, and narrative structure influence the consciousness of film viewers.