Upcoming Fall 2016

English 211: Inventing the Nation

“The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas, and form new options.”

—J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur

As St. John de Crèvecoeur remarks, America and Americanness were always a product of invention. In this class we will survey a wide body of early American literature in order to investigate how Americans began defining what it meant to be a citizen of the United States. How did individuality stand in relationship to a sense of community? How did literature help to create the ideal American? Who was included and excluded? How did writers imagine the American landscape and the American character in this process? As a class, we will examine texts from the major literary movements of the period—early national writings, antislavery and feminist fiction, Transcendentalism, realism, and naturalism—as we explore these questions. Course requirements include: participation, a commonplace book, one historical presentation, a short literary analysis, and a medium-length research essay.

English 480: Dickens Meets Steampunk

In the novels of Charles Dickens traits of the gothic blend with realism to bathe the London streets with the grime, smoke, and poverty that we have come to understand as the hallmarks of the industrial revolution. Whether he is chronicling advances in the medical profession, the conditions of life in a newly industrialized cityscape, or the cacophonous locomotion of the railway, in Dickens’s novels, tradition and technology are often warring factions. Dickens’s works explore an anxiety about technological change and its influence on human experience and community that is even more germane for twenty-first century audiences for whom digital technologies have become a fraught fixture of daily life. Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction that uses the technological advancements of Dickens’s London as the motivation for plot and as the novel characteristics of setting. These novels understand Victorian culture as a hinge upon which twenty-first century technologies and our responses to them rest. But unlike the realist depictions of London in Dickens’s novels, the books of Bruce Sterling, Paul di Filippo and China Miéville present alternate histories in which dirigibles float above the London smog, Charles Babbage’s analog computer the Difference Engine fosters artificial intelligence, and Queen Victoria is replaced by a clone. In this class we will be studying Dickens’s depictions of technology in novels including Bleak House and Hard Times alongside recent Steampunk fiction to explore how our modern imaginings and anxieties about technology remain Victorian in their conception. Course requirements will include active participation, in-class exercises, one 3-4-page midterm essay, leading a discussion on a critical article, and a final researched literary analysis of ten to fifteen pages with an accompanying literature review.

Summer 2016

Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”
—Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Like Alice and the other coming-of-age characters who define the genre, young adult literature is fraught with a multiplicity of identities. In 1802, in her periodical, The Guardian of Education, Sarah Trimmer defined “young adulthood” as lasting from ages 14 to 21. Trimmer’s publication was to have a powerful effect on young adult literature as she began to classify books appropriate for that age range. But since Trimmer’s announcement, young adult literature has come to cover a plethora of controversial topics including drug use, teen sexuality, and violence. What, then, makes young adult literature different from children’s literature or adult literature? How have the dividing lines of what is/is not appropriate shaped this genre? In this class we will study young adult literature as it has evolved from its mid-nineteenth century birth to its current popularity. In addition to providing a sampling from a variety of young adult subgenres, the class will analyze interactions between these literary texts and the cultures in which they are read. This is an online course that condenses fifteen works of a regular semester’s content into five weeks; that means A LOT of reading and writing. In a normal semester, you ideally spend nine hours per week preparing for class and completing major assignments outside of class. That means you should be prepared to devote twenty-seven hours per week to this course. In addition, because it is an online class, you will need to be extremely self-motivated and log onto the course’s WordPress blog and Blackboard side several times daily. You’ll also need to be proactive about carefully reading all of the assignment guidelines and information provided online and asking questions as needed. Also note that the primary delivery method for this course is a blog where you will write within a community of other writers and readers that includes both your classmates and a wider online audience (students wishing to use an alias are free to do so, but public writing is expected in this course). Course assignments include weekly blogging, a weekly commenting requirement, a young adult literature bibliography entry, and a final research project (this may include a Unit Plan, a paper on a pedagogical issue, or a literary analysis with research).