Descriptions of Courses Taught

ENG 386: The Literature of Climate Change, advanced interdisciplinary seminar
Course description: In 2013, Margaret Atwood joined a growing number of writers and critics to exercise the term “clifi,” short for “climate fiction,” to describe an emergent literary genre that depicts a “challenging landscape that no longer resembles the hospitable planet we’ve taken for granted.” While global in its consequences, climate change remains difficult to “see” in any straightforward sense, making literature about climate change all the more important for communicating stories of the people, places, and creatures affected by a warming planet. Even so, does the emergence of “cli-fi” as a named genre suggest increased public interest in the topic of climate change from a scientific or literary perspective? And what responsibility does literature have to engage climate change in the first place?

To address these questions and others, this course will study several texts in the growing body of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction inspired and incited by climate change. By pairing literary texts with recent work in the field of ecocriticism, we will ask how literature contributes to and is influenced by current conversations in environmental science as well as ethics, politics, and public activism. Throughout, we will also ask what might make “climate fiction” unique as a genre, as well as what counts as climate change literature more generally.

ENG 251: Survey of American Literature from 1865 to the Present, literature survey
Course description: In this survey of American texts from the nineteenth through the early twenty-first century, we will engage a diverse range of authors, genres, styles, and trends that have shaped the American literary canon. We will also interrogate how American literature has been influenced by historical events, social movements, and cultural shifts. By taking a non-chronological approach to the exploration of literary history, this course emphasizes both the brief and enduring contexts in which American literature has and continues to emerge.

Students will read key works of detective fiction, African-American literature, and women’s science fiction, for example, to see how such “currents,” or forces of influence, enable and constrain the writers of our study. Throughout, we will ask the questions of what, if anything, makes these texts “American” in character, what ideas about America and Americans inform the texts, and what place these texts and authors have within the ever-changing American literary canon.

ENG 212: Animals in Popular Literature and Culture, interdisciplinary seminar
Course description: Whether on our laps or on our plates, on television or in the zoo, in a laboratory or on the streets, animal presences are pervasive in contemporary human societies. In this writing and reading-intensive course, we will explore some of the major modes of human-animal relations from the twentieth-century and in the present day. By examining the appearance of animals, animalizations, and anthropomorphisms in popular texts, we will interrogate the function of animals, animality, and animal representations to definitions of the “human” as well as what it means to live in “human society.” In a related vein, we will also explore when, why, and how animals make the news.

ENG 205: Poemutations, introduction to literary studies course (click for course site) 
Course description:
The poem
feeds upon thought, feeling, impulse,
to breed   itself
a spiritual urgency at the dark ladders leaping.
-Robert Duncan, “Poetry, a Natural Thing”

It’s mostly someone
long dead who gets curious
all over again, who once told
a book, the book
picked clean to glow
on a website now, an address
with double slashes in it.
-Marianne Boruch, “Book and Screen”

Is poetry alive or dead? Can a poem evolve, or must it maintain an essential, timeless character? What is the relationship between nature, culture, history, technology, and poetry? This course will train you to read and write critically about poetic art through the close study of poetry as a literary text and material object. We will consider how writers, thinkers, and artists receive, disseminate, and engage modern and contemporary poetry. We will investigate how poets, readers, publishers, and archives both digital and physical influence the production, reception, mutation, and resilience of poetry. This course will involve frequent informal and formal writing assignments, creative exercises, oral presentations, and collaborative work. This course also participates in the Domain of One’s Own Program. You will build and maintain a personal website and compose with a variety of digital tools.

ENG 205: The Nature of Poetry, introduction to literary studies course
Course description: This course will introduce students to the practice of critical reading and writing about poetry and poetic forms by analyzing poems about the natural world from the sixteenth-century through the present day. We will begin our study with the pastoral poetry of the Renaissance and Romantic periods, delve into the work of early twentieth-century poets depicting nonhuman animals and the nature in cities, and conclude with contemporary “ecopoetry” that explores global environmental crises and environmental ethics. In this course, we will pay attention to the relationships between humans and “nature” explored in poetry as well as how poets interpret, represent, and find inspiration in the natural world. We will also inquire into the “use” of poetry during the present era of rapid environmental change.

ENG 181: Haunted Houses in American Literature, writing about literature course
Course description: From the ghostly apparitions of Bly in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw to the “spiteful” house at 124 Bluestone Road in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, American literature has long been fascinated with houses occupied by ghosts, spirits, and other supernatural entities. In this course, we will explore the historic, cultural, and literary specters that haunt the houses of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American fiction. Through an examination of the selected literature, students will develop skills in critical thinking, close reading, argumentation, and research.

ENGL 1102: Technocritters, writing about literature course
“[I]t seems reasonable…that nature should produce its own automata, much more splendid than artificial ones. These natural automata are the animals.”
-René Descartes, 1649

“What a pity and what a poverty of spirit, to assert that beasts are machines deprived of knowledge and sentiment, which affect all their operations in the same manner, which learn nothing, never improve…”
-Voltaire, 1824

How does technology impact how humans interact with, represent, and understand nonhuman animals? How do animals and our relationships to them affect the design and purposes of technology? This course will engage these and related questions by exploring a range of fictional and nonfictional texts that depict the relationship between animals and technology in contemporary culture. With the theme of “technocritters” as a thematic guide to our literary and rhetorical analyses, we will practice how to structure and support arguments, engage in inquiry-driven research, produce meaning through situation-appropriate language, genre, and design choices, and critically reflect on our rhetorical strategies and the strategies of others.

Fundamentally, this course will train you to identify, employ, and synthesize the principles of written, oral, visual, electronic, and non-verbal (WOVEN) communication through informal and formal writing assignments, collaborative work, in-class discussion, exercises, and presentations, as well as the use of a variety of digital tools.

ENGL 1101: Science in Public, first-year writing course (click for course site)
Neil deGrasse Tyson, David Attenborough, Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking, and Bill Nye the Science Guy: these household names likely come to mind when we consider the “public face” of science. Beyond the work of these popular figures, a diversity of science communicators—journalists, artists, web designers, documentary filmmakers, and others—also nourish the public’s appetite for accessible and entertaining discussions of scientific breakthroughs, controversies, and curiosities. Broadly, this course will explore the values, ethics, and communication challenges revealed when we look closely at the intersections of science, culture, and composition. While compositions produced by students will constitute the major texts of this course, additional readings will include recent nonfictional texts composed about science-related topics. We will practice how to structure and support arguments, produce meaning through situation-appropriate language, genre, and design choices, and critically reflect on our rhetorical strategies and the strategies of others. In addition, we will develop a familiarity with the rhetorical and cultural trends that currently shape how public audiences consume, circulate, and comprehend scientific knowledge and methods.

This course will train you to identify, employ, and synthesize the principles of written, oral, visual, electronic, and non-verbal (WOVEN) communication through informal and formal writing assignments, collaborative work, in-class discussion, exercises, and presentations, as well as the use of a variety of digital tools.

ENG 101: Composing Animals, first-year writing course (click for course site)
Course description: Arctic tern, velvet worm, Grevy’s zebra, goliath grouper, Surinam toad: the term “animal” signifies a vast and varied number of creatures. Nearly as diverse as animals themselves are the places and conditions in which they live. Some animals migrate across continents; some emerge after dark to raid backyards and trash cans. Still more are stacked in wire cages, and many even occupy our living rooms and laps. Owing in part to their diversity of being, animals, as well as how humans interact with, regard, and represent animals, designate a complex site of debate and contradiction in contemporary American culture.

In this course, we will analyze how old and new media both conditions and reflects our strange, divergent, and often paradoxical understandings of animals. In particular, we will examine a variety of texts, situations, and genres in which animals appear, and we will ask how an animal’s species, habitat, appearance, and perceived intelligence affects its relationship with humans. However, this is not a course on “animal rights” or the movement to promote legal protections for animals. Rather, this course will use contemporary human-animal relationships and the issues, debates, and inconsistencies they expose as inspiration for critical thinking, inquiry, and expression in active engagement with the world. This course will train you to communicate clearly and effectively through frequent informal and formal writing assignments, creative exercises, oral presentations, and collaborative work.

ENG 101: Writing In/Of Environment, first-year writing course (click for course site)
Course description: In this course, we will analyze and compose within natural, built, and digital environments that inspire, facilitate, and constrain writing. In so doing, we will expand your critical reading and writing skills, rhetorical knowledge, and familiarity with historic and ongoing issues pertaining to “the environment.”

While writing produced by students will constitute the major texts of this course, additional readings will include environmental writing from a range of genres, textual modes, and historical contexts. This focus will enable us to interrogate ways texts explicitly and implicitly address the influences of environment on writing processes. We will also explore the rhetorical features of physical places to assess how environments may themselves be analyzed as texts. Finally, we will ask what writing and rhetoric have to do with urgent environmental crises such as mass species extinction, resource depletion, and global climate change. This course will train you to communicate clearly and effectively through frequent informal and formal writing assignments, field work, creative exercises, oral presentations, and collaborative work.

ENG 101: Writing With Perspective, first-year writing course
Course description: How can I give an account of myself in writing? To what extent is my writing representative of me and my point-of-view? How can I use language to communicate with you, the reader of the text I produce? How, in turn, might my “I” read yours?

In this writing-intensive course, we will address questions related to what it means to write from one’s own position as a subject-in-language. We will examine various forms of self-referential texts, including autobiography, memoir, fiction, testimony, opinion articles, and film documentary. We will pay particular attention to grammar, diction, mechanics, genre, and rhetorical situations in our own thinking and writing as well as in the texts we study. Students will develop their writerly “voices” by exercising their “I’s” within some of these very forms. We will also explore the rhetorical and stylistic functions of the explicit or implicit use of the grammatical “I” in order to critically assess its relevance for our own thinking and writing.

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