Undergraduate Courses, Spring 2018
Lower Division (1000–2000) Special Content Courses
Note: Only course descriptions are listed below. For a comprehensive summary of course numbers, sections, times and locations, titles, and instructors, see the following web page:
Good Girls Gone Bad: Unruly Girls and Women in American Literature and Culture
Girls and women who transgress cultural notions of acceptable behavior—who behave badly—attract both contempt and concern at higher rates than their male counterparts. These “bad” girls and women challenge boundaries of appropriate femininity, and as a result people often perceive them as threats to social order. Of course, notions of “good” and “bad” behavior reflect norms in particular historical and social contexts. Actions once considered subversive may now be commonplace—in part because girls and women continued to misbehave. This course will examine representations of “bad” girls and women in American literature and culture to consider how they reflected, and perhaps changed, shifting notions of ‘appropriate’ womanhood.
Throughout this course, we will read, interpret, and discuss a wide variety of cultural materials from the eighteenth century through the twenty-first, with a particular focus on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—periods of dramatic change for women and girls’ legal and social standing in the United States. We will examine such figures as the “ruined” woman, the tomboy, the femme fatale, the mean girl, and the anti-heroine. Potential texts will range from The Awakening by Kate Chopin to Bedelia by Vera Caspary to Michael Lehmann’s Heathers, as well as archived materials, like newspapers, magazines, and diaries. We will consider such questions as: How do these representations serve to both demarcate and transgress social expectations? How are notions of “bad” and “good” women impacted by race, class, sexuality, and age? Why are some behaviors, like tomboyism, acceptable in girls and yet perceived as dangerous in adult women? What does it mean to embrace “bad” behavior as a subversive act?
Writing assignments will include an in-class presentation, short reading responses, and three analysis papers. With each assignment, students will use close reading and analytical skills to develop critical arguments and engage with the class theme.
Back to the Futures of American Culture
American ideology often emphasizes hopefulness with the country’s potential, yet the complexities of American life can also create fear and uncertainty about our future. We imagine utopian and dystopian futures. The question of what America’s future will be occupies many minds today, as we see in the renewed popularity of books like 1984 and It Can’t Happen Here. Yet these questions have existed for most of the country’s history. This course will interrogate literary and graphic texts that present several imagined futures for America. Through examining these texts, as well as critical material, students will investigate what these various futures reveal about the time in which they were written—as well as the present moment. We will also consider what these futures expose about American culture and its changing values.
Potential texts include Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (Bellamy), Herland (Gilman), It Can’t Happen Here (Lewis), The Iron Heel (London), The Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood), and Parable of the Sower (Butler), as well as graphic novels like American Flagg! (Chaykin) and Bitch Planet (DeConnick).
Students will compose three major critical papers, as well as discussion posts responding to the readings and in-class writing and analysis assignments. We will spend considerable class time discussing how to formulate and organize analysis papers, and how to incorporate research. By the final assignment, students will be able to apply the various critical models discussed in class to their own research to produce a 6–7 page scholarly analysis of a text of their choosing.
The Girl Detective
The figure of the detective has existed in American literature since before there was an English word for this character. The detective investigates crimes that have disturbed the social order. Thus, by considering those events (and the investigator), we can also analyze the social norms that contribute to what is and is not a crime. This course will ask students to investigate the differences between a mystery and a crime, and how the detective must both judge and resolve that initial disturbance.
Notably, the genre defaults to male detectives in American literature, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. When women occupy the role, it becomes the genre of the “Girl Detective,” regardless of their age. This course will consider the social norms and gender roles that contribute to the genre of the woman detective and the ways that she can explain social anxieties, social values, and the prejudices that inspire the two. From classics like Nancy Drew and Harriet the Spy to modern heroines like Sookie Stackhouse and Veronica Mars, the woman detective subverts gender roles by both inhabiting roles traditionally occupied by men and also delving into the crimes that have previously been seen as too “unsavory” for female eyes.
We will explore novels, movie adaptations, reboots, short fiction, television episodes, and video games. Students will consider the figure of the woman detective from first, second, and third-person perspectives to analyze how the detective genre includes the reader in its societal disturbance, mystery, and eventual closure.
Course texts will include Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, Carolyn Keene’s The Secret of the Old Clock, Sara Paretsky’s Indemnity Only, and Charlaine Harris’s Dead until Dark, among others. Course assignments will include short response papers, a group presentation, a midterm essay, and an extended final research project.
Between Page and Screen
With the arrival of film technology around the turn of the 20th century, print literature faced a dramatic challenge to its reign over artistic representation. Since that media shift, there have been countless critical and creative interests in adapting linguistic expression from page to screen. But more compellingly, there are literary explorations of what print literature can best depict if we treat the page as screen. In this course, we will therefore read literary artifacts that investigate the aesthetic and political issues of American culture between page and screen.
Our readings will survey a variety of texts which demonstrate how the book defines itself as its own uniquely “visual” technology worth studying alongside optical media. Our course texts may include some of the following: Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons (1914), Lynd Ward’s God’s Man (1929), Bob Brown’s The Readies (1930), William Carlos Williams’s Paterson (1946-1958), William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (1959), Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970), Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo (1972), Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee (1982), Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000), William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition (2003), Marisha Pessl’s Night Film (2013), and Claudia Rankine’s Citzen: An American Lyric (2014). As we read and discuss these literary works, we will also read relevant selections of critical and theoretical scholarship.
Assignments will include weekly discussion posts on issues raised in class, one short paper focused specifically on one text, a final research paper addressing a broader theoretical topic between texts, plus a multimedia project through the visual publishing platform Scalar.
Writing about Magic
From ancient religion to modern day cultural phenomena, the idea of magic has captivated humankind for thousands of years. This course will trace the evolution of magical thinking, as well as the ways in which gender, race and other cultural contexts can complicate diverse representations of magic. We will begin with the inherently magical religions of ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Phoenicia, Rome, and Ireland before moving into the Medieval period and the shifting attitudes towards magic that accompanied widespread Christianization. Next, we will consider witch hunts (both New and Old World), and new conglomerate magical traditions such as Vodou and Santeria in the age of empire and triangle trade. We will touch on the revival of spiritualism and occultism at the turn of the twentieth century before finally discussing how we consider magic in our contemporary cultural consciousness, especially in the fantasy and young adult genres.
Possible texts (both written and visual) include the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Fenian and Ulster cycles of Irish mythology, Arthurian legends and the show Camelot, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (both film and play), selected works by W.B. Yeats and other early 20th century occultists, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, Robert Jordan’s “The Eye of the World,” J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty, Penny Dreadful and American Horror Story: Coven. Potential assignments include two short argumentative papers, a short presentation, an annotated bibliography, and a final research paper.
Writing the Self
This course studies life-writing as a literary mode to understand what it means to construct oneself through writing as a personal and social entity. Some of the questions that we shall pose in our discussions include: How do autobiographies, memoirs, and personal essays complicate the distinction between fiction and non-fiction? Does transcribing the self textually make it more stable, or does narrative’s fluidity point to the inherent fluidity of the self? Is life-writing merely a manifestation of individualism, and if not, what are the ways in which we can understand it as a dialogue between the author-narrator and his/her history and society? Students will read selections from the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas De Quincey, Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, Primo Levi, Wole Soyinka, and Michael Ondaatje.
In this course students will rhetorically analyze works of life-writing to understand their aesthetic and political dimensions. They will also apply this understanding to their own ability to translate identities and life experiences into narratives for a range of academic and professional purposes.
The assignments for this course will include:
- A substantive “about me” essay for a hypothetical professional website
- Taking cue from one of the texts and translating a significant personal experience into an essay, reflecting on how it shaped your understanding of yourself and certain important social and/or political issues
- A final project examining the rhetorical and structural elements of self-construction in one of the primary works in the syllabus.
Writing about Native Narratives
From explorers’ journals by Bartolemé de las Casas (1542) and Captain Cook (1779), to Walt Disney’s Pocahontas (1995) and Moana (2016), Euro-American audiences have long consumed narratives about Native peoples. In 2016, J.K. Rowling revealed a history of “Native American Wizards” on Pottermore, and Disneyland Paris unveiled their “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show…with Mickey and Friends.” Such representations occur globally across literature, film and television, merchandising, videogames, and comic books. However, these mediums are also used to contrast dominant narratives. For example, Native peoples establish self-representation in videogames like Never Alone (2014), film and television productions like Smoke Signals (1998) and Viceland’s RISE (2017), and collections like Hope Nicholson’s Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection (2016).
This course thus examines literature and media by and about Native peoples. We will consider how narratives have been used to construct tropes like the Indian Princess, the Indian Warrior, and the Noble Savage. We will likewise interrogate how these tropes are carried across contexts, borders, and oceans to represent Native peoples globally. Finally, we will assess how various forms of media highlight Native rights to resources and territories (RISE, #NoDAPL, #IdleNoMore), Native histories (Never Alone, Choctalking), and Native narratives (The West Was Lost). Writing assignments will include several analysis papers on course materials, short blog responses to films, and a final term paper.
Writing about Humor
Humor is a highly suggestive topic that prompts a great deal of debate about not only what is an appropriate subject for jokes, but also what role humor plays in the zeitgeist of a certain period. Humor manifests itself in a vast array of media, from literature and literary image-texts to animation and live-action television. In this course we will examine the recent history (1700-present) of visual and textual humor, tracing its development alongside social, political, and cultural changes.
Our course texts will include satires such as Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and Voltaire’s Candide, commentaries on social conventions such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, David Sedaris’s essay collection Me Talk Pretty One Day, Yusuke Murata’s anime/manga One Punch Man, Kate Beaton’s meta-textual comic Hark, A Vagrant!, and The Onion. We will also examine more physical comedy, such as stand-up comedy specials and animated cartoons (Looney Tunes). We will watch selected episodes of Rick and Morty and Over the Garden Wall (animated series), putting these texts in conversation with the ever-increasing absurdity of image-textual memes.
Writing assignments will include short analyses of image-texts and two extended critical essays. Students will address the role humor plays not only as entertainment, but also as commentary on contemporary issues—including its cultural impact on members of various socio-economic classes.
Writing about War and Identity
World War II, civil wars in Africa, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are just a few examples of wars that continue to affect the sociopolitical climate today. This course will take on the topic of war from a transatlantic perspective, exploring how it shapes one’s individual identity (gender, racial, social) as well as the broader scope of a nation’s identity. Key texts may include: Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala, Small Island by Andrea Levy, selections from A Concordance of Leaves by Philip Metres (poetry), and Memories of My Ghost Brother by Heinz Insu Fenkl. We will also look at artworks dealing with war, such as “Soldier” by Jiri Anderle and “Our Watering Places” by Winslow Homer. What are the expected and unexpected consequences or side effects of war? How does perspective work in our understanding of war? Who ‘wins’ and ‘loses?’ How are national and personal identities formed/ changed through war? What do we learn from war and how should we live in times of war and conflict around us? Writing responses will include short assessments of the readings/artwork and two research papers.
Writing about Science/Fiction
This course surveys what literary scholars such as Isiah Lavender III call the “signature language of modernity”: science fiction (SF). In particular, we will explore how the genre often represents genetics, genomics, and biotechnologies as “cure” for biological and social ills. Through a Disability Studies and Critical Race Theory (DisCrit) approach, we will consider the bioethical challenges that the intersections of race, science and medicine proffer. Moreover, because this is, first and foremost, an SF literature and popular culture course, we will map the historical development of SF in the Americas—considering how the genre has invariably animated, complicated, and/or (mis)understood medico-scientific thought and practices.
We will then critically consider how SF artists and writers such as Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Pauline Hopkins, George Schuyler, Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Alejandro Morales, and Guillermo Gómez-Peña, approach the promises—and perils—of appropriating the idioms of science, genetics/genomics, and technology in science fiction. We will also engage shows such as the BBC America series, Orphan Black, and films such Blade Runner.
Writing assignments for this course include four critical response papers, a midterm close reading assignment, and a final research paper that asks students to incorporate an outside SF text.