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Topics courses offered, spring 2018

Topics courses cover a wide variety of content, allowing students to explore different subject matter while fulfilling the requirements for the major or minor.

Eng 161a:  Reading Lit:  Digital and Visual Narratives
(Professor Lobdell)

Today’s gaming industry is changing the way we view and interact with digital narratives. This course treats video games as digital literature with the goal of teaching students to analyze the literary elements of video games such as characters, settings, narratives, and literary and rhetorical devices. We will study the concept of “play” using an interdisciplinary approach that pulls from literary criticism, cultural studies, and media studies, and this course will include game play and the creation and viewing of game play videos.

We will read both literature and games, covering a range of themes and topics including but not limited to realism, social justice, interactive fiction, gender, science fiction, speculative fiction, first-person narratives, puzzle narratives, immersion theory, virtual reality (VR), and adaptation (literature into games, films into games, and games into films). Students will be expected to purchase apps and online games (through platforms such as Steam) but will not be expected to purchase devices or gaming consoles. The choice of games will take into careful consideration the financial costs of games and apps and accessibility across multiple platforms and devices. Possible texts include Ready Player One (2011), Wolf in White Van (2014), How to Talk about Video Games (2015), and How to do Things with Video Games (2011), and possible games include Sweatshop (2011), Dear Esther (2012), The Stanley Parable (2013), and Monument Valley (2014).

For more information, click here.


Eng 191a Reading Literature:  Science and Technology:  The Robot Revolution
(Professor Lobdell)

This course examines literature as a response to scientific and technological change and considers how new scientific discoveries inspire new visions in literature. This section of ENG 191 will use the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as a focal point. We will read Shelley's novel as well as modern adaptations including the award-winning Arabic science fiction novel Frankenstein in Baghdad (2014) and Victor LaValle's Destroyer (2017), a graphic novel adaptation wherein a mother resurrects her son who was killed in a police shooting. We will also read literature that considers robotics, androids, and the future of AI, as well as television and film adaptations such as the television show West World (HBO) and the film Ex Machina (2012).

Learn more about the course here.


Eng 255a (W) Topics:  Readings in the Literatures of the Black Diaspora
(Professor Dickerson)
This course focuses on the literary imaginary of black people in Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States.   Achebe, Kincaid, Fanon, and Morrison are just a few of the writers whose texts we may consider.


Eng 255b:  Topics:  Artist in World Literature
(Professor Flury)
This course brings together students from DePauw University and Effat University, Jeddaj, Saudi Arabia in a collaborative course. We will study two distinctive prototypes in literature: the figure of Scheherazade, female artist and narrator-as-creator, whose tales keep at bay the sword that would end her life, and the romantic artist who continues to influence contemporary culture.


Eng 255c (W):  Topics: Writing About Film
(Professor Flury)
In this course, we will study different approaches to reading and processing film. Concomitantly we’ll practice distinctive ways of writing in response to a diverse repertoire of films.  By studying forms of writing from the more conventional to the experimental, your relationship to cinema is bound to become more nuanced, expansive, and complex.


Eng 255d (W):  Topics:   The Seven Deadly Sins
(Professor Glausser)
Here’s the lineup: Sloth, Lust, Envy, Wrath, Gluttony, Greed, Pride. As we start our analysis of each sin, our first layer of reading will include “something old, something new.” The standard list of deadly sins has its roots in medieval Christianity, and we will begin each sin by reading something old—excerpts from Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. But we will set alongside Aquinas something new: recent work in cognitive science that attempts to explain how and why our brains negotiate the emotions and behaviors Aquinas labeled sinful. To flesh out our exploration of each sin, we will discuss and write about a number of short stories, novels, poems, essays, and films.


Eng 255e (W):  Topics:  The History of the English Language
(Professor Reading)
Linguists estimate that today nearly 2 billion people world-wide use English as either a primary or a foreign language. In the US, we use the 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 the language? Through a series of writing assignments, 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?


Eng 255f (W):  Topics:  The Romantic Comedy:  Plays, Novels, and Films
(Professor Sinowitz)
Today, the Romantic Comedy remains one of the most popular of film genres.  The origins of the genre, however, can be dated at least as far back as 400 years to William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.  This class will explore the origins of the genre with Shakespeare, as well as other literary forms, including the novels of such writers as Jane Austen and Nick Hornby. We will also consider how the Romantic Comedy has evolved in film, looking at some classic Hollywood versions like Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby, darker versions like The Apartment, as well contemporary versions like Knocked Up and Out of Sight.  We’ll consider the idea of the disguised Romantic Comedy as well.  Discussions will focus on how this genre reflects upon the cultures of its creation, what it values and how it conceives of gender and marriage as an institution.  It’s a W-Course, so we’ll be writing about them too!


Eng 255g: Topics:  Brain on Fire: Medical Narratives
(Professor Lobdell)
The title of this course comes from Susannah Cahalan’s medical memoir Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness (2012), a work in which Cahalan explores how a rare type of encephalitis led to periods of madness and delusion before she received diagnosis and treatment. Cahalan’s memoir is compelling not only for the medical mystery it presents but also for its storytelling elements. Through readings of medical narratives, including both nonfiction (memoirs, essays) and fiction (short stories, novels), this course will explore narratives of disease and illness. We’ll read works by writers who practiced medicine, such as William Carlos Williams; writers who reflected on their own illnesses such as Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath; and doctors who became writers, such as Paul Kalanithi in When Breath Becomes Air (2016), which chronicles his diagnosis of terminal, stage IV lung cancer at age 36, when he was at the end of his training to become a neurosurgeon. “Medical Humanities” is a recent movement that emphasizes an empathetic and humanistic treatment of disease, illness, and the doctor-patient relationship, and this interdisciplinary course, open to all majors, offers students an avenue by which to explore these issues.

For more information, click here.


Eng 302a:  Fiction Topics:  Fiction, Form and Function
(Professor Stevens)
This class will focus on different lengths and shapes of fiction, including six-word stories, flash fiction, short fiction, the long short story, the novella, and the novel.  We’ll examine and try out a number of different literary techniques, especially point of view, characterization, and psychic distance.  Throughout the semester, we’ll share and workshop at least one story and flash piece--and, time permitting, an outline for a possible novel.

Eng 312a:  Poetry Topics:  Songwriting
(Professor Dye)
In this class students study song form, type and genre; and compose lyrics based on traditional and popular music models.  The course also explores the differences and similarities between song and poetry.


Eng 312b:  Poetry Topics:  An Intercultural, Eclectic, Electric Poetry Reading and Writing Workshop
(Professor Chin)
This is a rich poetry course that is designed to be half reading salon and half writing workshop. We shall cultivate a safe and open-minded class, in which we could celebrate a vibrant spectrum of “intercultural” styles and ideas as well as hone our own poetry-writing skills. Our schedule may include reading such great poets as Whitman, Ginsberg, Plath, Dickinson, Neruda, Basho, Issa, Du Fu, Etheridge Knight, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mirabai, Bessie Smith and more. We shall also study various forms and techniques including long-line and short-line free verse, haiku, renga, ghazals, blues poems, sonnets, rap and prose poems. Hopefully, our exciting reading and discussion sessions will inspire us to write our own vivid poems and variations.


Eng 332a:  Advanced Reporting Topics:  Covering the Uncovered
(Professor Spivack)
In Greencastle, Indiana, more than two dozen children are homeless on any given night; some say the number is as high as 90. At a diner on the outskirts of town, a group of older men gather almost every morning for breakfast, lamenting the high cost of prescription drugs. At nearby manufacturing plants, which began to fill the employment gap when IBM announced on Veteran's Day in 1986 that it would leave Greencastle forever, there are jobs - but starting pay is about $11 an hour. This class will embark on a journalistic journey of discovery and illumination, as we look for hidden stories that tell a larger truth about people throughout the United States who feel left out and left behind. We will combine shoe-leather reporting and narrative storytelling to produce a body of work that should shed light on life in America today - and possibly uncover solutions to problems that face many communities.

There is a tendency among many in the United States and elsewhere to blame those who are homeless, or mentally or physically ill, and ignore the policies and decisions that may have informed their current state. This narrative reporting class will examine policies and politics that affect homelessness, mental illness and health care, and attempt to understand their consequences on communities and individuals. Students will produce stories about what works, what doesn’t, what is broken and what can be fixed. We will tell the stories through the eyes of many different people and institutions, including those who are homeless, physically or mentally  ill and without health care. We’ll mine for data, explore trends, analyze policy and budgets. We hope to shine some light on what is a very dark and mysterious world, and see if we can find new ways of solving old problems.

Eng 349a:  Form and Genre:  Fiction and Film
(Professor Willey)


Eng 391a (S):  Advanced Topics:  Authors:   Walt 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 and abroad) 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:  Advanced Topics:  Tolstoy’s War and Peace
(Professor Csicsery-Ronay)
This course is devoted to the close reading of War and Peace, one of the most celebrated and innovative -- and heftiest -- novels in world literature. Because of its length, War and Peace is rarely studied in classrooms in its entirety. This course will be the exception. We will study the novel’s artistry, along with the historical backgrounds of the Napoleonic Wars, Russian and European history of Tolstoy’s time, and the broad influence the novel has had on modern literature and philosophy.