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Fall 2016 Course Descriptions

We have listed the numbers and titles of many of the English courses for the Fall 2016 semester below.

In addition, information about the undergraduate catalogue for English courses can be found in MyCourseGuide (NetID log-in required). Non-UW students can contact the Undergraduate Advisor for information about courses.

Integrated Liberal Studies 102: Language by the Numbers (Wanner)

This course--part of a FIG--will introduce students to the study of language based on digital corpora.  Students will learn to identify grammatical constructions (noun phrases, pronouns, verb phrases, subordinate clauses) and to analyze patterns of language use.  (For example, academic writing makes use of long noun phrases while conversations show the use of pronouns.)  Emphasis will be put on the notion of "complexity."  What is complexity in language, how do we calculate it, how do we visualize it?  A second focus is the emergence of new genres and construction through computer-mediated communication (for example, online restaurant or book reviews.)

Students will address these questions based on data from actual language use.  They will be introduced to working with large linguistic corpora (electronic collections of texts and conversations) and to develop their own research project.  Their end-of-semester project will be a poster presentation--students will learn to create effective posters and to present their research to experts and lay people alike. 

This is a hands-on course with weekly homework assignments and two exams.  The final project is a poster presentation.  The reading load is not high, but students are expected to perform linguistic analyses and/or collect data every week. 

English 140: The Wild, the Threatened, and the Toxic: Environmental Literature in 20th- and 21st-Century America (Keller)

The environmental crises we currently face are consequences not just of population expansion, industrial development, or the consumption of fossil fuels, but perhaps more fundamentally of the ways in which people in the industrialized nations have thought about the natural environment and their relation to it. One way to get access to that thinking is through works of literature. This lecture/discussion course will explore how some major North American writers of the 20th and 21st centuries have represented nature or wilderness, humankind’s relation to the rest of the natural world, and human-induced environmental transformation. Course texts will allow us to consider the consequences of some common ways of thinking and, where those consequences seem damaging, invite us to consider possible alternatives. 

The course will have three interconnected parts.  In the first part, titled “Land Ethics,” we will read works by writers who, while criticizing some familiar ways of thinking about (and enacting) the human relation to nature, propose some constructive alternatives.  In this unit, our texts will probably be Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, poems and essays by Wendell Berry, poems by Gary Snyder and Ed Roberson, an essay about wilderness by environmental historian William Cronon, and Ceremony, by the Native American novelist, Leslie Marmon Silko.  Likely texts for our second unit, “Human Relations to Non-Human Animals,” include William Faulkner’s difficult but fascinating novella, “The Bear,” Valerie Plumwood’s essay, “Being Prey,” selected chapters from Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, and Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats.  Ozeki’s novel will provide a transition into our final unit, “Discourses of Toxicity,” in which we will probably read selections from Rachel Carson’s landmark work about pesticides, A Silent Spring, John D’Agata’s extended lyric essay about the storage of nuclear waste, About a Mountain, perhaps a selection from Terry Tempest Williams’ memoir Refuge, and Allison Cobb’s Plastic: An Autobiography. We’ll almost certainly conclude the course with Margaret Atwood’s “speculative fiction” about a near future of environmental apocalypse, Oryx and Crake

This is a four-credit Comm B course in which students meet twice each week for lectures and twice each week in discussion sections to practice skills of analyzing literary texts and developing persuasive arguments in both oral and written forms.  In addition to doing the required reading, students will produce a short researched paper and an oral presentation on that same material; two analytic essays in draft and revised forms; a midterm; and a final exam. The research projects will involve specific aspects of environmental issues that figure in the course texts and will enable students with scientific interests to integrate those interests more fully into the course. 

English 169: 20th and 21st C. American Literature and the Environment (Keller) 

*This course is part of a FIG.* 

Why are we now facing such massive environmental crises involving global climate change, mass extinctions, toxic spills, ground water pollution, and environmental degradation in many forms?  These are consequences not just of population expansion, industrial development, or the consumption of resources fostered by globalized capitalism, but perhaps more fundamentally of the ways in which people in the industrialized nations have thought about the natural environment and their relation to it. One way to get access to that thinking is through works of literature. Open to twenty first-year students, this discussion-based class will explore how some major North American writers from 20th and 21st centuries have represented nature or wilderness, humankind’s relation to the rest of the natural world, and human-induced environmental transformation.  These texts will allow us to consider the consequences of some common ways of thinking and, where those consequences seem damaging, encourage us to consider possible alternatives. 

English 171: American Sex Cultures (Fawaz) 

*This course is part of a FIG.  

This class will explore American sex cultures since 1945. We will ask how a variety of historical and cultural transformations made sex a topic of national concern, and allowed Americans to access new knowledge about sex, form distinct sexual subcultures, and seek out intimate connections beyond the traditional limits of marriage and the nuclear family. In so doing, we will ask what role sex has played in shaping collective life in the modern United States, and why it remains an object of intense titillation, stigma, scrutiny, and controversy despite a variety of movements for sexual liberation. The first two-thirds of the course will move historically through a range of primary sources including the Kinsey Reports of the 1950s, the sex manuals and self-help guides of the 1960s, the culture and politics of sexual liberation in the 1970s, AIDS activism and safe-sex education in the 1980s, and the culture wars of the 1990s. The last third of the course will offer an extended case study of recent debates around sex on college campuses: we will discuss the emergence of sexual harassment laws, feminist responses to rape and violence towards women, the sexual cultures of fraternities, and sex-positive youth activism. 

Required Texts: 
  • Samuel Delaney, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue
  • Jennifer Doyle, Campus Sex, Campus Security
  • Jane Ward, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men
  • Michael Warner, The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life

English 173: Introduction to Ethnic and Multi-Cultural Literature: Performing Race in America: Texts on Stage and in the Present Tense (Plants) 

From A Raisin in the Sun to Obama reading "Mean Tweets" on late-night television, this class will look at how performances challenge and inform our ideas about race, and explore how America's ideas of race get enacted on stage and in filmed performative events. 

We will study playwrights, stand-up comedians, political activists, musicians and filmmakers who all use the language of theatre, examining writers who write about blackness and whiteness and who call for their words to be spoken in front of an audience. What happens when a contemporary African-American playwright stages a text about race from the 19th century? What is "color-blind" casting? How is Beyonce like Shakespeare?  Writers and artists studied will include: Lorraine Hansberry, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, August Wilson, Amiri Baraka, Spike Lee, Key and Peele, Anna Deavere-Smith and Public Enemy. Guest speakers, attendance at local performance events and a final performance-based/creative project will be integral parts of this course. 

ENGL 181: Shakespeare, Movies, Gardens (Britland)

We will read and discuss seven or eight of Shakespeare’s earlier plays (including Love’s Labour’s Lost, As You Like It, and Titus Andronicus), and we will watch some of their modern film adaptations. The class is designed both for students with a serious interest in Shakespeare and for those without much prior experience with Shakespeare or literature. The Shakespeare movies for the class will be made available on a streaming website (and these and other films will also be available on DVD in College Library and on the Ambrose Video site available from the Databases tab on the Library webpage). 

This class will give you the opportunity to read plays and watch movies you might not have seen before, at the same time as it will let you think again about plays you have already read. At school, it’s quite common to study just one Shakespeare play in isolation. Here, though, we will look at a few plays together and consider how they reflect and build on each other, focusing particularly on how they represent the natural world and the “garden” of England. By also looking at movies, we will constantly remind ourselves that Shakespeare’s plays were written to be performed as popular entertainments and were not necessarily meant to be read as high literature. 

This course will enable you to satisfy your Communications B requirement while also fulfilling a literature requirement. Substantial time in class will be devoted to the conventions of writing about literature and, more generally, to the conventions of writing persuasive prose.


English 214: The English Language (R Young) 

Whether you have spoken English since you were a baby or you learned English as an adult, you probably have asked yourself some questions about the English language. Do you feel good or do you feel well? Who wrote the dictionary? Is hip-hop poetry? How do children learn to speak? Will the Internet really change the English language? In this class we will ask many questions like these and attempt to answer them by using the techniques of modern linguistics (the scientific study of language). We will investigate how the English that we use today is organized into sounds, into small meaning-bearing units called morphemes, into words, and how words group together into sentences. Although most people have strong feelings about what is right and wrong about today's English, we will see that there is no such thing as ONE English language. No, there is no single English language today, and when we look back over the past 50 years or over the past 500 years it is obvious that English has changed. What processes have brought about this change? And why do different native speakers today speak different Englishes? 

English 241: Literature and Culture I: to the 18th Century (Zweck) 

This course provides an introduction to literature in English from the Middle Ages to the early eighteenth century. Together with English 242, it provides an introduction to British literary history, and its primary goals include familiarizing students with the canon of English literature and preparing students for more specialized study in advanced courses in the major.  The course spans roughly 1000 years, from the origins of English literature to the rise of the novel.  Along the way, we will examine how literature engaged with topics as disparate as love, religion, and science, and we will read everything from elegant descriptions of angelic beings to six-hundred-year-old fart jokes. To focus our discussions, we will concentrate on questions of form and genre, including the epic, fabliau, romance, sonnet, lyric, and novel.  Emphasis will be on close reading and literary analysis, but we will also pay close attention to the social, cultural, and political contexts from which each text emerged.  This course also develops skills for writing clearly and critically that are essential to majors and non-majors alike. 

Texts may include Beowulf; Chaucer’s Canterbury TalesParadise LostOroonoko; and poetry by Shakespeare, Spenser, and Donne. 

English 242: Literature and Culture II: from the 18th Century to the Present (Ortiz-Robles) 

This course considers a period of unparalleled tumult: a time of vast world empires and startling new technologies, revolutions that radically redefined self and community, two cataclysmic world wars, the emergence of ideas of human rights, and the first truly global feelings of interconnectedness. How has literature captured and contributed to these dramatic upheavals? Some writers worldwide have struggled to invent new forms, new words, and new genres to do justice to a world in crisis, while others have reached back in time, seeking continuity with the past. We will explore enduring traditions of poetry and drama and think about experiments in the new, globally popular genre of the novel. This course develops skills of critical reading and writing that are essential to majors and non-majors alike. 

English 245: Back to the Future in Renaissance Literature (Elsky) 

The Renaissance was an exciting time for writers as they experimented with new kinds of poetry, prose, and drama and new forums for performance and print. They were also deeply inspired by their growing knowledge of the past.  Yet this could be a troubling time for them as well since what they found out did not always confirm what they thought they knew – about themselves or about the world at large. In this class, we will this tension, and ask: How did Renaissance writers relate to the past at this moment? What is the relationship between confronting the past and imagining the future?  To explore these questions, we will consider three inter-linking histories: native (England/Britain); classical (Greece/Rome); and global (Old/ New World).  Throughout we will consider how these concerns shaped Renaissance writing at a formal level and, at the same time, allowed writers to intercede in political and cultural debates. Finally, we will ask, how does Renaissance literature take us back to our own future? Required reading will include Thomas More’s Utopia, William Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Poems and a couple of plays, excerpts from Edmund Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender and The Faerie Queene, and Isabella Whitney’s A Sweet Nosgay. We will also read some theory about history, memory, and the promise of the future. Assignments will include two papers, two rigorous paper revisions, and a class presentation.

English 245: Bang, Zap, Pow: Sound in Lit (Zweck)

How does literature represent sounds, noise, and silence? We will study theories of sound as well as how sounds were represented in a wide variety of literary genres. Writing was one of the primary ways of recording sounds before the invention of the phonograph, so our focus will be on pre-1900 texts. Topics covered may include: sounds in and of poetry; farts and other sonic humor; listening to silence (including deafness and muteness); scary sounds; and gendered sounds. Assignments may include more traditional literary analyses as well as generating keywords for sound studies in literature for a wiki, or exercises for developing deep listening skills.


Linguistics 306: General Phonetics (Purnell) 

Overview. Linguistics 306 introduces students from many departments across campus to phonetics of speech sounds across human languages. Activities may involve recognition, reproduction, transcription, and beginning acoustic analysis of speech sounds found in various human languages. Students will submit an end-of-term paper, the pieces of which will follow activities in class. 

Objectives. By the end of the course, students will know the following: 
1.  the International Phonetic Alphabet symbols for the major classes of sounds of the world’s languages, 
2.  the articulatory description and composition of the major classes of sounds, 
3.  the acoustic manifestation of articulations, 
4.  the distribution of sounds across the world’s languages (trends across languages), and 
5.  how phonetic data is recorded and the appropriateness of each technology 

Texts and Materials. 
  • Ogden, Richard. 2009. An Introduction to English Phonetics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. (Access through UW Library, Proquest ebrary) 
  • International Phonetic Association. 1996. Handbook of the International Phonetic Association. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (; sound files from link on Learn@UW) 
  • Ladefoged, Peter, & Ian Maddieson. 1996. The sounds of the world's languages. Oxford: Blackwell.

English 314: The Structure of English (Wanner) 

Should it be "taller than I" or "taller than me?" In this course, we will not focus on what is considered "proper" English, rather, we will study English grammar from a descriptive perspective. 

To a linguist, grammar -- the ability to put words together to form natural-sounding sentences -- is not something that is written down in a book, it is a tacit form of knowledge that exists in a speaker's mind. We will try to make that knowledge visible. You will learn to classify parts of speech (everybody knows what a noun is, but what about prepositions, conjunctions, and particles?), identify syntactic constructions (e.g., relative clauses, passives), and, most importantly, analyze the structure of a sentence, both verbally and visually (in tree diagrams). We will also look into spelling issues, the creation of new words, and perceptions of "bad grammar." Gaining knowledge about the structure of English will make you a more confident speaker and writer. 

English 314: Structure of English (Cho) 

This course provides a general introduction to English linguistics with a primary focus on syntax (how sentences are constructed) and phrasal/sentential semantics (how meaning is calculated by combining the lexical meanings of all the words in a sentence and considering their order and other rules). You will learn to analyze English sentences and draw tree diagrams. For example, why is the sentence “*Students linguistics love” ungrammatical? Why is the sentence “The policeman shot the criminal with a gun” ambiguous? We will also discuss prescriptive and descriptive grammar rules, linguistic knowledge (competence) and performance, and the Universal Grammar theory. 

English 316: English Language Variation in the US (Purnell) 

This course offers an overview of English language variation in the United States from a current sociolinguistic perspective. Social, regional, ethnic, gender, and stylistic variation are examined, along with models for describing, explaining, and applying sociolinguistic knowledge. Students are exposed to a wide range of data on language variation focused on vernacular varieties of American English in general. English 316 is designed to introduce students to the variation found in American English. The course introduces students to the linguistic, historic and social bases of American English variation along with the descriptive parameters of the observed variation. 

Class Structure and Assignments. In an effort to reveal stereotypes about speakers of dialect and relate stereotypes that are prevalent in society (based on media and what people say about others), the class is centered on how US dialects are represented in movies and comparing those representations with audio recordings of actual speakers. We begin each topic section watching relevant movie clips and making observations about the language depicted in the clips. Then we compare those observations to what sociolinguists know about language in the domain we are exploring. You will write a research paper that addresses the question of how standard or nonstandard any one speaker of American English can be by transcribing a recording of an American English speaker, recorded as part of the Dictionary of American English audio recordings. Students transcribing speakers from a specific geographic region form groups for in and out of class discussions. All writing assignments are expected to be consistent with UW-Madison English Department common core values for writing, the expectations of the course is that all written work. 

Texts & Materials
  • Hodson, J. 2014. Dialect in Film & Literature. London: Palgrave. 
  • Wolfram, W. & N. Schilling-Estes. American English, 3rd ed. Oxford: Blackwell. 
  • Purnell, T, E. Raimy & J. Salmons (eds.). 2013. Wisconsin Talk: Linguistic Diversity in the Badger State. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. 
  • Additional material is distributed through Learn@UW. 

English 318: Second Language Acquisition (Cho)

This course provides an introductory overview of the current theories and studies on second language (L2) acquisition and development from both cognitive and social perspectives. Topics to be discussed in this course include the role of Universal Grammar, age effects, cross-linguistic influence, feedback, interaction, and pragmatics. We will survey both qualitative and quantitative research on L2 acquisition and discuss pedagogical implications of the current L2 research. 

English 353: Modern British & Irish Literature (Begam)

This course surveys a number of the principal works of twentieth-century British, Irish and Commonwealth literature. We will spend some time considering the function and scope of the term “modernism” (e.g. does it designate a period, a movement, or a critical perspective?), as well as examining its practical utility. Discussions will focus on the analysis of individual texts and the situation of those texts within a number of related contexts (aesthetic, philosophical, historical, cultural). Issues to be considered include the “inward turn” of modernism (its interest in subjectivity and epistemology); the fascination with myth and archetype inspired by the emerging discipline of anthropology; England’s changing economic conditions and the accompanying crisis in liberalism; the encounter between Western and non-Western cultures resulting from British colonialism; and, finally, the erosion of philosophical foundations and the attending transformation of cultural norms.
  • Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (Heinemann)
  • Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (Grove Press)
  • Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (Penguin, Hampson, edition)
  • T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land and Other Poems (Penguin)
  • E. M. Forster, Howards End (Vintage)
  • James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Penguin, Deane edition)
  • G. B. Shaw, Major Barbara (Penguin)
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Stories (Penguin)
  • Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (HBJ)
  • W. B. Yeats, Selected Poems (Scribner)
  • Paper: 1500-2000 words (25%)
  • Examination #1 (25%)
  • Examination #2 (25%)
  • Class Participation (25%)

English 408: Creative Writing: Fiction (Fiorenza)

This section of English 408, Intermediate Fiction workshop, will have a particular interest in worlds imagined outside the boundaries of “realism.” While developing foundational knowledge and practices related to fiction generally (character development, point of view, scene building, dialogue, etc.), we will also explore possibilities that become available when working in the territories of fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction, and magical realism as alternatives to our more familiar lived landscapes. Readings will include stories and chapters from a range of diverse current and late 20th century writers, such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Neil Gaiman, Malinda Lo, and Patrick Ness.

English 410: Creative Writing: Playwriting (Plants) 

What is a play? Why do writers choose such a form? What differentiates the language of action required by the stage from other narrative forms? What role do playwrights play in the art of theatrical collaboration? We'll start with the most basic questions and examine them by experimenting all semester with our own writing for the stage—in realistic, autobiographical and experimental forms. Guest artists, in-class exercises and readings of work will be integral to the class structure. Learn more about what forms and writers are popular on the American stage and why, all the while creating short works of your own that will lay the groundwork for further writing and exploration. 

English 420: Pragmatics (R Young) 

This is an introduction to pragmatics for undergraduates in the English department, students pursuing the M.A. in Applied English Linguistics, the Ph.D. in English Language and Linguistics, the Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition, and interested students from other departments. Pragmatics is the study of the relationship between the meaning of an utterance and the context in which the utterance is produced. We normally think of people using language to produce utterances, though the act of production involves words and grammar but also vocal prosody, gesture, gaze, and bodily stance. The context of production is also much grander than the time and place of utterance and it includes the physical, spatial, temporal, social, interactional, institutional, political, and historical circumstances in which a person produces an utterance. By ‘utterance’ and ‘context’ we name systems of interconnection among very many features, and the study of the relationship between utterance and context is not to be undertaken lightly. Nonetheless it is a study that for centuries has been of great interest to philosophers, linguists, semioticians, and psychologists. And even if you don’t want to focus on pragmatics as a field of academic study, it’s worth considering a few questions that we will ask and try to answer in this course: 
  • I know the kind of actions I can perform with my body and with tools I use, but what kind of actions can I perform with my words? 
  • Sometimes, I am in conversation with somebody and, although we both know exactly the meaning of every word, I still don’t get what the other person is driving at. What am I missing? 
  • I know some people who are forever saying please and thank you, just like my mother taught me when I was a child.  And then there are some other people I know who rarely say please or thank you, and I know my mother would say they are not being polite, but nobody else seems to bother.  Why is that? 
  • Why did the defense attorney object when the prosecutor asked the defendant when he had stopped abusing his daughter? 
  • Say “It’s cold in here” and mean “It’s warm in here”. Can you do it? — And what are you doing as you do it? And is there only one way of doing it? 
That last question was asked by a philosopher. Asking and answering questions like these is not just what we should do as students and scholars; it is also a matter of practical communication—especially communication among people from different social and cultural backgrounds. If you decide to take this course, I hope it will not only be one more step on the road to an academic qualification, but it should also be a means to make us all better communicators. 

Texts & Materials
  • Archer, D., Aijmer, K., & Wichmann, A. (2012). Pragmatics: An advanced resource book for students. Routledge. 
  • Thirty-four supplementary readings are available for download from Box. 


ENGL 430 Ben Jonson and City Comedy (Britland)

We will study the plays, poetry and prose of Ben Jonson and his imitators (the "tribe of Ben ), focusing particularly on plays about the city and upon satirical poems and epigrams. Plays studied will include Jonson's Epicoene and Volpone, plus work by Middleton and Dekker. We will consider the ways in which country and city dwellers are represented in the work of London writers, and will investigate the rewards and challenges that living in the city in the 1500s and 1600s presented to its inhabitants. The city at this time was expanding rapidly, bringing with it anxieties about crime, prostitution, social mobility and economic change.

English 438: Gender and Sexuality in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Literature: Libertines, Eunuchs, Mollies, and More!

Do the ways we think, feel, and write about gender and sexuality have a history? What is the relationship between the desiring body and the desiring mind? Are they the same thing? These are a few of the central questions we will pursue in this course. Focusing on the period between 1660 and 1790, we will attend to the, sometimes radical, transformations in literature and culture. We will seek to tease out the ways in which these transformations have shaped our modern conceptions of gender and sexuality.
Our goals in this course are to develop an ability to speak and write about major developments in British literature from 1660-1790, to familiarize ourselves with the poetry, drama, and prose of the period under consideration, and to develop a critical perspective regarding the period’s literary and intellectual movements.

English 453: Backgrounds to Modernism (Begam)

This course will chart the intersection between the broad cultural phenomenon we call modernity and the narrower literary and aesthetic phenomenon we call modernism. Drawing on work in philosophy, psychology, ethics, and aesthetics, we will examine how a number of the central texts of modernist literature grappled with a number of the defining issues of twentieth-century thought. Among the ideas we shall consider are the “transvaluation of all values” (the reassessment of altruism and morality), the critique of modern forms of social association (anomie and alienation), and the redefinition of truth and knowledge (perspectivism and constructivism).
  • Beckett, Molloy (Grove Press)
  • Conrad, The Secret Agent (Penguin)
  • Descartes, Discourse on Method (Penguin)
  • Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground/The Double (Penguin)
  • Lawrence, Women in Love (Penguin, Farmer-Vasey-Worthen edition)
  • Mann, Death in Venice (Norton)
  • Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (Vintage)
  • Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals (Vintage)
  • xeroxed material (available Room 1650, Humanities)


  • 1500-2000 word paper (25%)
  • Examination #1 (25%)
  • Examination #2 (25%)
  • Class participation (25%)

English 461: Rewriting the Canon (Jovi-Humphrey)

In this course, we will examine the ways in which ethnically or racially marked authors responded to canonical works and thus created a new and diverse literary canon. What did Ralph Ellison "add" to the experiences described by Fyodor Dostoyevsky? In which ways did Chinua Achebe respond to Joseph Conrad? How did Toni Morrison's writing "fill the gaps" left in the world depicted to us by William Faulkner? How is E. M. Forster's India different from the India of Salman Rushdie? Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk once said: "When I write about love, it's Turkish love. When Proust writes about love, it's just love." Racially and ethnically marked authors often encounter the problem of representation - where one writer is perceived as representing an entire racial or ethnic group - as well as the problem of exoticization, which turns love, to use Pamuk's example, into "ethnic" or "exotic" love. We will be careful not to reduce "ethnic" writers' works only to their historical and political implications. In the assigned books, esthetic beauty and politics are intertwined, and we will examine the esthetic, philosophical, and social importance of each work.

English 474: Literature and HIV/AIDS (Gillis)

This course will examine the body of literary works that has emerged in response to HIV/AIDS. We will look at memoirs, poems, novels, plays, and films about HIV/AIDS from the initial outbreak of the epidemic in the early 1980s to the present. We will study how these works bear witness to the suffering of friends and lovers, memorialize the dead, intervene in the cultural and scientific discourses around HIV/AIDS, catalyze political action, and situate the disease in its social and historical contexts. Our discussions will also address some of the deeper theoretical and philosophical questions raised by these works: What can literature tell us about illness and the human condition? How does infectious disease alter our understanding of the relationship between self and community? And what role does literature play in the formation of social movement cultures? 

English 474: “Gay is Good”: Queer Visions of Freedom Since the 1970s (Fawaz)  

This class will explore how gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender writers, artists, and activists have imagined different visions of freedom in the late 20th century. We will ask: What does sex have to do with freedom? Can new kinds of sexual identity and expression support the spread of liberty and democratic life? And does the legal recognition of alternative sexualities enable a more equal world? To answer these questions, we will study how queer literature, art, and culture since the 1970s—in the form of novels and poetry, film, music, performance, and visual media—has been a place for linking freedom of sexual expression to political liberty; at the same time, we will engage political manifestos, queer theory, and scholarship that provided activists and artists new ideas and concepts as they worked to imagine different world for sexual minorities of all stripes.

Course content will include some of the following texts: 

Literature: Rita Mae Brown, Rubyfruit Jungle; Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name; Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City; David Wojnarowicz, Close to the Knives; Cherri Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua (editors), This Bridge Called My Back: Writing by Radical Women of Color; Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaw;

Movies: Word is Out, The Boys in the Band, The Times of Harvey Milk, Born in Flames, Paris is Burning, Angels in America, Thelma & Louise, Shortbus. 

English 477: Diaspora and Theatre (Dharwadker) 

This course deals with the drama and theatre of African, Caribbean, and Asian immigrant communities in three Western locations: Britain, the United States, and Canada. Since the mid-twentieth century, the experience of migrancy has emerged as a globally significant subject in literary writing, but among immigrant cultural forms, drama and theatre lag well behind print genres such as fiction, poetry, non-fiction, criticism, and even a mass cultural medium like film. (There are no immigrant playwrights, for instance, who can compete with the celebrity of writers and intellectuals like Salman Rushdie, Jamaica Kincaid, Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, and Jhumpa Lahiri). Because drama is so much “like life,” it seems to succeed as a diasporic form only when the author has fully embraced life in the diaspora, instead of creating fictions about the lost homeland. Further, the performance of drama on the stage requires material and human resources, institutional structures, patronage, and live audiences on a scale altogether different from self-sufficient forms like novels and poems. Among communities that have strong historical-cultural connections with the host country, and/or have already undergone a long process of acculturation (such as the Chinese and Latino diasporas in the United States), the theatre form is able to overcome such handicaps and appear more or less on par with other genres. But among communities that are in early stages of acculturation (for example, the Indian immigrant community in the United States), there is a strong temptation to limit theatrical activity to texts and travelling productions from the home country, thus reducing performance mainly to an occasion for nostalgia. The emergence of original and self-sustaining theatre in the diaspora is therefore a slow and difficult process that this course will trace at the levels of form, language, content, dissemination, and reception. We will focus on the generative conditions of dramatic writing as well as theatrical performance in the three Western locations, and attempt to relate the diasporic formations to “mainstream” theatre activities in meaningful ways. The course will emphasize an active engagement with relatively unfamiliar subject matter in the classroom, and the ability to frame meaningful topics for oral presentations and written assignments.

English 520, Really Old English (Foys)

Old English is the earliest form of English; it is also fascinating -- exotic, yet at the same time the backbone of the language we use today. From over 1,000 years ago, it is the language of heroes, monsters, kings, scholars, saints, and some very special sinners. Studying Old English gives you a foundational understanding of how modern English still works today, valuable knowledge for any student.
No background in languages or linguistics is required to take this class, though if you've studied another language, that can be helpful. In the first half of the class, we will cover basic pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary, while doing short translation exercises. In the second half of the semester, we will put the skills you've learned to work, working on reading Old English texts and poems in the original -- a rare opportunity. Because this is a language class, no papers will be required. Instead, there will be regular translation exercises, quizzes, exams, and a final translation project.


  • pre-requirements can be waived with appropriate background study/interest, in consultation with the instructor
  • fulfills pre-1800 requirement for English major

English/Afro-American Studies 672: Black Humor (Levy-Hussen)

According to Paul Beatty—a contemporary novelist and anthologist of black humor—the African American literary tradition is too often misconstrued as the exclusive province of tragedy and solemn protest. In the popular imagination, Beatty laments, “the defining characteristic of the African American writer is sobriety.” Taking Beatty’s complaint seriously, this class turns a curious eye to the tradition of African American literary comedy. We will ask: how and why has a rich tradition of black humor emerged from decidedly un-amusing conditions of enslavement, exclusion, and social subordination? How can the study of black humor help us to think earnestly about such topics as repression, taboo, shame, power, and stereotyping? Readings for the class will consist primarily in novels, plays, short stories and critical essays, through which we will study humor in a variety of forms, including satire, farce, irony, and caricature. We will also consider literary representations and theories of jokes that do not land—or worse, that insult or injure. Although our primary focus will be on late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century literature and criticism, we will take care to position our inquiry within a long tradition of humorous black writing. 

Students should expect to read approximately 200 pages per week. Primary texts may include work by George Schuyler, Zora Neale Hurston, Albert Murray, Fran Ross, Charles Johnson, Ishmael Reed, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Percival Everett, among others. The class format will be a mixture of informal lecture and guided discussion. In addition to attendance and active class participation, students will be responsible for a midterm paper (5 pages), a final paper (6-8 pages), a group presentation, and a couple of short writing assignments (1-2 pages each).