Graduate Courses

 


Recent seminar offerings

ENG 529: Studies in Literature

Policing Englishes (Fall 2018, Dryer)

This seminar will focus on the cultural phenomenon of prescriptivism – a general term we’ll use to describe efforts by institutionally or self-appointed guardians of English to monitor, shape, constrain, discourage, or ‘repair’ others’ uses of  the language.  Although the balance of linguistic research and sound pedagogy in the teaching of language has firmly shifted from the prescriptive to the descriptive, we will take Anne Curzan’s point (2016) that prescriptivism is alive and well as a force shaping language use and language change, and so needs to be understood.

Thus we will seek to understand the many forms and contexts in which we encounter linguistic prescriptivism, but we also want to understand what motivates these behaviors—what’s at stake for us in others’ language practices? What provokes or necessitates these sorts of everyday interventions, and why are these interventions so often accompanied by a rhetoric of disgust, shame, horror, or violence? What accounts for the routine conflation of, for instance, an infelicity of usage and the character of its writer?

We’ll begin with some basic linguistic concepts to give us a shared basis for discussion (e.g., the distinction between ‘grammar’ and ‘usage’) and then work to develop a coherent theoretical framework for understanding the phenomenon, building on scholarship by Bourdieu (1982), Bakhtin (1986), Milroy & Milroy (1991), Crowley (1989), and Spolsky (2009). We will interrogate the feasibility of this framework by putting it into conversation with work emerging from global englishes, including Blommaert (2010), Kramsch (2009), Giltrow (2003; 2014), Pennycook (2010), and Canagarajah (ed., 2013). We will consistently go to ‘ground-level,’ putting these theoretical perspectives in conversation with primary source documents.

In the final third of the term, students will conduct secondary- and primary-source research of their own to interrogate competing theories of ‘the standard’; fieldwork applications of these interrogations will include site visits, interviews, focus groups, corpus-building, and/or quasi-experimental design or usability testing to generate a unique contribution to our understanding of this topic.


ENG 541: Early American Literature from Colonial to Romantic 

American Literature from Col-Romantics (Spring 2018, Lukens)

A study of major and representative figures in American Literature up to 1865, with emphasis on Romantics such as Cooper, Emerson, Hawthorne, Poe, Melville, Thoreau, Fuller, Stowe and Whitman.

The Biopolitical 19th Century: Slavery, Total War, Racial Tyranny (Spring 2016, Friedlander)

Deep in a second decade of global war and in the ongoing crisis of #blacklivesmatter, 21st-century America is apparently caught in a recapitulation of 19th-century traumas. This suggests the value of reexamining those traumas–and the literatures by which we know them–in light of contemporary theories of the social order they helped to establish. “Trauma” to begin with is a latter way of conceiving that era’s events. More recent still: the cluster of concepts and terms of analysis that belong to the study of “bioplitics.” In this seminar, we will read a small but significant set of primary texts alongside a sample of theoretical writings. There will be no fixed correlation of literature and theory. My hope instead is to establish a context for rethinking that era and its relationship to our own.

Biopolitics: A Reader, ed. Timothy Campbell and Adam Sitze, includes crucial work by Foucault, Arendt, Agamben, Haraway, Achille Mbembe, Paolo Virno, and Roberto Esposito. It’s a likely course text, supplemented with writings by Cathy Caruth, Dominick LaCapra, Saidiya V. Hartman, Alexander G. Weheliye and Alexander Kluge-Oskar Negt. The primary texts will possibly include slave narratives by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, the Civil War essays of Oliver Wendell Holmes, writings on lynch law by Ida B. Wells, and two novels: Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe) and Imperium in Imperio (Sutton E. Griggs). I have much more in mind (Melville’s Battle-Pieces, Alcott’s Hospital Sketches, Sherman’s Memoirs, Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson) but the calendar is limited. I’ll sort it all out in the next few months.

Writing, peer review, and editing will be an important part of this class. Students will compose a half-dozen short responses to the readings (3-4 pages each) and an essay of conference-paper length (10-12 pages). These will then be shared and talked-through by the class for collation in a book. Time will be set aside in class for the planning and some of the labor.


ENG 542: Studies in Multicultural American Literature 

Narratives of Colonization and Decolonization (Fall 2017, Lukens)

The literatures of colonization began in the fifteenth century, disseminated in multiple languages across Europe, as Europeans spread their religious and economic projects across the globe. This semester’s iteration of ENG 542 will be a chance to read documents authorizing colonization as well as its critique in the context (mostly) of the Americas. We will consider stories and outcomes of colonization in the light of both Euroamerican and indigenous perspectives and experience, try on ideas about “decolonization,” and discover what that might mean in the context of the academy and the nation.

Intertribal Drama (Spring 2015, Lukens)

This is a course establishing some familiarity with a range of plays written by Native American and First Nations playwrights, but concentrating mainly on the production of critical and contextual writing about these plays and their potential audiences. Special emphasis on the development and application of theoretical approaches to intertribal theater, and on documenting the intersection of intertribal theater with both Native and non-Native communities. Some attention to the history and development of Native theater troupes will be included in the course; students will also seek out information on performance history and critical reception of plays in production. As necessary, these readings will be contextualized by instruction, research, and further reading on history and cultures of Native American and First Nations peoples and playwrights.


ENG 545: American Realism and Naturalism 

(Fall 2017, Jacobs)

Realism and naturalism have been commonly considered the dominant modes of American fiction in the period between the Civil War and the First World War (1865-1914), and authors best fitting these categories have often dominated the canon as well as American literature syllabi. There’s no question that the period saw a lively critical debate about the role of “the real” in fiction.  However, the terms “realism” and “naturalism” are problematic, in part because the writers commonly grouped into these categories evidence a very wide aesthetic range. Twain and James, for instance, could hardly be more different, yet each has been called a realist. Similarly, there is little common ground between the deliberate stylistic crudity of a Frank Norris and the polished irony of a Stephen Crane; both are often called naturalists, though Crane himself never used the term.   Furthermore, these terms have functioned to exclude many writers who didn’t fit the categories. During this period of rapid nationalist expansion, the New England dominance of American letters was challenged by writers from many other places and ethnicities.

In addition to short works useful for addressing these questions of genre and periodicity, I have selected longer works around the theme of “journeys of estrangement.”   The protagonists travel from America to Europe, from East to West, from the city to the country, and back again. Their journeys bring them (and us) face to face with the problem of determining what is “real” or “natural,” and they illuminate tensions central to the period, such as modernism vs. anti-modernism, civilization vs. nature, and nostalgia for the rural (or even pre-historic) past in the face of the new mass urban culture.    I have stretched the usual chronological boundaries a bit, so as to include the works by Cather and Austin.


ENG 549: Studies in Gender and Literature

Bodies, Identities, Non-Human Agency (Spring 2016, Billitteri)

Intensive study of the workings of gender in language and literature. Topics will vary widely, and may include studies of women writers, of feminist criticism, gender criticism, or queer theory, of femininities and/or masculinities in particular literary periods or schools, as well as of specific theoretical questions such as the gendered nature of language. May be repeated for credit. (Offered annually).

Austen and the Aesthetics of “Female” Authorship (Spring 2015, Neiman)

Since the Victorian period, Jane Austen’s novels have largely been celebrated—but in what terms and at what cost? Recently, scholars—most notably Claudia Johnson, Deirdre Lynch, and Clifford Siskin—have complicated long-standing assumptions about Austen’s novels, namely that they are charming portrayals of fashionable society. Instead, these scholars show that Austen’s novels index important socio-political and aesthetic transitions in the Romantic period and in such a way that has been anything but transparent. As Johnson argues, Austen’s novels help to create the context for their qualified acceptance into the literary canon. This is because Austen participates in—and benefits from—the making of a new category of novel (“female”) as well as a new set of standards for evaluating women’s writing. By these standards, woman’s writing should be decorous, domestic or private, and apolitical. These new standards have since shaped how scholars read and assess Austen’s work and that of her immediate contemporaries. They have also obscured the relationship between Austen’s work and that of her more overtly political predecessors, both male and female.

This course pairs Austen’s novels with those by several of her contemporaries or predecessors. We situate these novels in several larger contexts:  1) Enlightenment narratives about education and self-development and the importance of these narratives to the novel’s mid-eighteenth century rise to legitimacy as a moral form; 2) 1790s “political” novels and the way that these novels showcase the interrelationships among personal disposition, habits of mind, and socio-political mores; 3) 1810s print culture and its relation to both increasingly derogatory critical discourse about novels and increasingly fashionable portrayals of poetic genius. Through familiarizing ourselves with these contexts, we will explore how (and the degree to which) Austen contributes to socio-political and aesthetic debates, including Romantic-era concerns about “prolific” print culture and subsequent redefinitions of literature and authorship. We will also strive to discern and contextualize differences between Austen’s earliest novels, all of which were first drafted in the 1790s (Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice) and the final three (Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion), which were composed in the 1810s.

We will find that Romantic-era print culture brings a wide variety of writers into contact with other writers. Writers respond to each other’s work, both explicitly and implicitly, through intertextual references. Because can only begin to map out intertextual relationships between Austen and other writers, the final research project assigns students to pursue a research direction of their own. We will begin to prepare for this project midway through the semester. At this time, students will be asked to select one or two texts by other writers that they would like to read. They will also be assigned to do some outside research on their text or texts (several annotations of critical sources will be due at this time).

 


ENG 579: Theories of Composition 

(Spring 2018, Dryer)

Despite the current name, which dates from the 1970’s, ENG 579 is now a research methods course that focuses on current unsolved problems in text-production, -circulation, and – reception. The course will thus involve immersions into some of the historical highlights and current research trends in each of these three dimensions, in particular the exceptionally interesting problems posed by the question of “validity” in research design and data-interpretation: construct-representation, consequential validity, construct-irrelevant variance, and so on. These problems are more interesting and more pressing than they may appear. For example, construct invalid (yet dominant) models of “the writing process” do considerable social damage, particularly (though by no means exclusively) in the contexts of schooling, high-stakes testing, identity formation, and securing exchange-value for labor in the workplace.

While the course interprets “research” broadly, including critical discourse analysis and archival research as well as qualitative and quantitative approaches, projects will be driven by falsifiable hypotheses and will depend on rigorously ethical data-collection and analysis.

Course Goals:

  •  To briefly cover some of the historical and cultural context for the emergence of Writing Studies since 1963, including the abandonment of “product” approaches to teaching and assessing writing, the rise and fall of cognitive-process approaches, the turn to qualitative methodologies and the “social turn,” and the return of quantitative analysis and the growing significance of neurophenomenological research;
  •  to provide training in the reading, interpretation, and application of empirical research;
  • to introduce some theoretical frameworks commonly used in writing studies: cognitive-process, genre theory, activity theory, institutional ethnography, applied linguistics; and
  • to introduce and practice some basic qualitative and quantitative approaches to writing research, including survey design, coding of documents and transcripts, corpus analysis, critical discourse analysis, ethnography or site-study, and factor analysis.

ENG 580: Topics in Poetry and Poetics

Poetics and Discipline (Spring 2018, Friedlander)

From its inception as a modern profession, literary study has drawn inspiration and taken direction from the critical labor of poets. In this seminar, we will look at several episodes in that history, beginning with three precursors in the nineteenth century: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, first professor of comparative literature at Harvard; Sidney Lanier, who lectured on poetry at Johns Hopkins; and James Russell Lowell, first president of the MLA. We will then turn to two modes of academic study that dominated much of the twentieth century, each with a deep source in poetics: the “New Criticism,” which drew broadly on T. S. Eliot, William Empson, John Crowe Ransom, Laura Riding, and Robert Penn Warren; and the American Studies mode on display in the critical writings of Charles Olson, Muriel Rukeyser, and William Carlos Williams. The course will conclude with three poets who had a decisive influence on social movements in the sixties and seventies, with a corresponding impact on the disciplines: Amiri Baraka, Adrienne Rich, and Gary Snyder, crucial figures in the Black Power, Women’s, and Environmental Movements, and early proponents of Black Studies, Gender Studies, and Ecocriticism.

The emphasis throughout will be twofold: first, bringing to light the poetic labor hidden in so much academic study; and second, discerning missed opportunities in the disciplination of that labor. Texts and assignments are still to be determined, but I am hoping to arrange things so that most of our time is spent on the last three figures.

The Nineties (Spring 2017, Evans)

The National Poetry Foundation will host a major conference on The Poetry and Poetics of the 1990s in late June 2017 here on the flagship campus of the University of Maine. This seminar will survey the decade’s literary and artistic practices with a focus on the writers, movements, concepts, and controversies that are likely to be represented in the context of the conference. Special attention will be paid to the formidable sonic archive associated with the poetry of the 1990s, but students will have considerable leeway in determining the direction their research takes. The seminar will also offer a glimpse of—and, for those who are interested, a chance to participate in—the behind-the-scenes work that goes into hosting a national event that blends scholarship (academic conference) and creative work (literary festival).


ENG 649: Seminar in Modern and Postmodern American Poetry 

W. H. Auden as Modernist and Postmodernist Poet (Fall 2015, Cowan)

Although W. H. Auden’s (1907-1973) early poetry in the 1920s and 1930s bear the marks of his modernist inheritance, even his earliest poems interrogate modernist premises and attitudes . Many scholars have viewed him as one of the first postmodern poets.  

Born British, he moved to the United States in 1930 and became an American citizen. He was highly influenced by American modernist poets and was an important member of twentieth-century American literary circles.

Auden has been a controversial poet and I would like to include the—political, aesthetic, cultural, sexual–controversies surrounding him in my course. His poetry –starting with his 1928 self-published collection of poems—will form the nexus of the course. Auden is notorious for revising and changing his poems, so it is hard to find a “stable” text to study. We will use these first editions of his collections as our primary texts. We will also study earlier versions of the poems in these volumes which were published in periodicals and his later revised versions of these poems.  

Students will gain a sophisticated sense of poetry, the publication of poetry, and the issues at stake in generic criticism as well as historical and cultural criticism by studying the different versions of Auden’s poetry in the context of his prolific prose writings including his earliest contributions to publications at Oxford University through Commencement addresses in the 1930s and 1940s and up until the late 1960s.

We will also look at the works of Auden’s contemporaries in order to give his work a context. These contemporaries may include Christopher Isherwood, Rebecca West, and Stephen Spender.
Assignments will include response papers, class presentations, a book review of a scholarly work about W. H. Auden, and a research paper which will be proceeded by a prospectus and an annotated bibliography.