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Instructor: Richard Doyle

Whether you have studied the Bible your whole life or steered clear with  horror or cautious interest, this course is for you. The King James Bible, translated and compiled in 1611 under the direction of King James I of England, is one of the most influential and best selling English language texts of all time. In this course students will practice rhetorical analysis to explore the text of the King James Bible and its likely effects on readers, with a focus on exegesis and close reading. In parallel with our collective exegesis, we’ll explore texts and visual art — e.g. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, William Blake’s Job, Soren Kierkegaard’s reading of Abraham and Issac — that incorporate and respond to the Bible in order to take some small measure of its influence on art, literature, philosophy and rhetoric. Along the way we’ll contextualize the Bible as a work of world literature by comparing it with passages in the Buddhist,  Hindu, Islamic and Taoist traditions as we collectively and individually evaluate the hypothesis of the ‘Perennial Philosophy” — Aldous Huxley’s notion that all religions “were attempting to describe the same essentially indescribable Fact.”  

General Education: Humanities (GH)

 

Instructor: David Loewenstein

In this course designed for non-majors in English, we will study a selection of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. We’ll read plays from four different generic categories that he experimented with and sometimes creatively blended as a playwright: comedies, history plays, tragedies, and romances. The plays studied will likely include all or most of the following works: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, 1 Henry IV, Henry V, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Tempest. As we study these plays, we’ll consider why they continue to engage our imaginations so deeply and with such vitality. What makes them such probing representations of sexuality, gender relations, politics, power, evil, religious difference, prejudice, friendship, forgiveness, and human frailty, among other notable issues? Our selection of plays will enable us to examine Shakespeare’s ongoing development and creativity as the outstanding dramatist of his age. We’ll look especially closely at the exceptionally rich language and imagery of the plays, as well as their dramatic craftsmanship and self-conscious theatricality, so that students become more sensitive, informed readers and spectators of Shakespeare.

General Education: Humanities (GH)

Instructor: Benjamin Schreier

In this class we’ll survey American comic films from the 1930s (yes, sadly, we WILL be watching some black and white movies–but only a couple) through the present in an attempt to answer the pressing two-part question, What makes us laugh and why? We’ll think about comedy both structurally—how and why does comedy work?—and historically—in what ways have the things people find funny changed over time? Assignments will include watching films outside of class, some short readings, a few more or less informal short response papers (on the order of a page or two), a couple of longer (5 page-ish) analyses of films, and an in-class mid-term and in-class final that will include a mix of short-answer and essay questions. The vast majority of the movies we’ll analyze will be available for streaming through the library (at no cost to you), but you’ll be responsible for finding a few on your own (none is hard to find). Trigger Warning: comedy often pushes boundaries of comfort, and we’ll be studying how that works. Also, we’ll be watching a fair number of R-rated films.

General Education: Humanities (GH)

Instructor: Marcy North

Looking back at the first recorded women writers in Britain, this course traces their innovations, authorial agency, protofeminism, and resistance to misogyny. The texts cover a period from the twelfth century to the eighteenth! Students will read fairy tales, mystical visions, life-writing, defenses of women, poems, plays, and early prose fiction. Students will be encouraged to ask how early women defined themselves, how they navigated the restrictions their cultures placed on women, and why they chose the kinds of writing they did. There will be cross-dressing, the gender ambiguity of anonymous texts, same-sex attraction, and the intersections of gender, race, and class in early Britain. Students will participate in class discussion, in-class group work, and Canvas discussion forums. Assignments will also include short quizzes and two papers. Early women writers often prove a delightful surprise to modern readers.

General Education: Humanities (GH)

Instructor: Stacy Tibbetts

ENGL 202B, Special Topics: Writing in the Arts will help students interested in the fine arts with a practical approach to handling some of the professional writing tasks that they might face in their careers. It is an advanced writing course that covers rhetorical considerations, types of documents, messages/purposes, conventions and expectations of writing, and writing procedures that are most commonly used in the world of the fine arts.

This section of ENGL 202B is intended for students majoring in the fine arts (graphic design, art, architecture, music, theatre, creative writing) or arts-related education majors, or those interested in arts management and administration, producing, marketing and/or promoting as a career.

Course projects include artist resumes and cover letters, bios and personal statements, proposal and grant writing, and marketing/promotional writing including press releases.

General Education: Writing/Speaking (GWS)

Rhetoric and Writing Concentration

Instructor: Leisha Jones

From classics you may remember such as Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are to the latest BookTok phenom, children’s literature encompasses everything from board books to graphic novels. In this course, we will examine children’s literature through the vectors of history, genre, technology, aesthetics, and cultural critique. Our goals include familiarizing ourselves with a variety of book forms, assessing books via reviews on our own BookToks or Bookstagrams, examining current controversies around book challenges, restrictions, and bans – including reading this year’s most challenged book, and writing a children’s book of our own.

General Education: Humanities (GH)

Instructor: Alison Jaenicke

This hands-on course teaches students about literary journals then asks them to take on various roles to produce the next edition of KLIO: Penn State’s Online Creative Arts Journal (see: klio.psu.edu).

Students ultimately form a staff whose essential job is to solicit and present the creative works of fellow Penn State students, as well as write and publish blog posts that illuminate the rich array of creative arts communities and activities on campus.

In addition to developing the practical skills involved in running a literary journal, we will explore the place and purpose of literary journals within the publishing world, examine contemporary literary journals (both print and online), and discuss the responsibilities of the editor to artist and audience.  The course will ask such questions as:

  • How have others built successful online literary magazines?
  • What seems to be valued in the field of literary publishing?
  • How can you build an online campus literary magazine that is distinctively yours and that does not duplicate what other Penn State student publications already do?

Students will be encouraged to expand the notion of a literary magazine by taking advantage of the possibilities that the online environment offers (think: film, music, dance, and more).

This engaged learning experience is open to students in all majors, with a range of interests and skills. It emphasizes teamwork.  Students fill various roles, allowing them to build on skills they may already have and develop new skills–from marketing to web design to event planning to writing to editing.

Professional and Media Writing Concentration

Instructor: Steele Nowlin

This course will introduce you to some of the important texts and writers that have come to make up the first half of British literary history. Our class will cover poetry, drama, and prose ranging from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century–so, a thousand years! We will study literary aspects of these works, including form, theme, and genre, and we will explore to some extent how these works relate to significant historical developments. The important cultural ideas with which these texts engage–ideas about gender, family, identity, sexuality, the home, ability, the soul, magic, the other, the nation, and a whole array of different human interactions–will demand much of our attention. Finally, we will discuss how many of these texts take up the idea of writing itself, asking what literature is, what literature is good for, and how literature relates to the rest of the world. Our class will be discussion based, and course assignments are likely to include creative writing, short reflections, and longer essay.

General Education: Humanities (GH)

Instructor: Marcy North

ENGL 223N introduces students to the plays of William Shakespeare by pairing the written texts with different types of stage productions and films. Students will read a selection of plays that may include The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, Henry V, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Along with each text, films or filmed stage productions will also be assigned. In discussion-oriented class sessions, students will talk about how the plays are adapted for the stage or screen, grappling with topics such as modernization, stagecraft, casting, and character development. One focus of the course will be the way that modern directors and producers deal with subjects that are uncomfortable to modern audiences, such as the sexual harassment in Measure for Measure and the violence in King Lear. Another focus will be inclusivity on the stage. Whenever possible, I have chosen films and productions where the casting includes actors of different colors, ethnicities, abilities, and genders. We will have many in-depth conversations about the ways that directors and producers connect Shakespeare to the values and expectations of 21st-century audiences. Assignments will include in-class exercises, Canvas discussion forum participation, short quizzes, a review of a filmed Shakespeare play, and a longer paper.

General Education: Arts (GA)

General Education: Humanities (GH)

Instructor: Janet Lyon

This course will rearrange your thinking about bodyminds, systems of “normality,” disability culture, and the broader arcs of human flourishing. We will watch films and videos, read memoirs, poems, fiction, and essays, collaborate on group projects, and think hard about the intersectional forces that determine the quality of life for people with disabilities.

General Education: Humanities (GH)

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

Disability Studies Minor course

Instructor: Brian Lennon

Suitable for students in any area, from the liberal arts and communications to IT, computer science, engineering, and business, who are interested in cultural approaches to digital technologies. Covers fundamentals of the digital representation of linguistic, visual, and other cultural data; considers the difference between language and code; surveys the history of creative and expressive computing; explores examples of algorithmic culture; and concludes by reflecting on the limits of the digital, in the question of what computers can’t do. Many materials are web-based; others are in book form. Assignments include blog posts and a final project including creative options. No exams. For ENGL majors, this course counts toward the Professional and Media Writing concentration.

General Education: Humanities (GH)

Professional and Media Writing Concentration

Instructor: Michael Anesko

As a survey course in American literature since the Civil War, English 232 will introduce you to the major literary genres in which writers worked during the century after Appomattox: poetry, fiction, and drama. Readings have been arranged chronologically to help you discern patterns of historical development—traditions, continuities, and, just as important, discontinuities—from one era to another. The decades covered witnessed the emergence of the United States as a genuine world power and, with that, the evolution of a culture that would have disproportionate impact and influence beyond the nation’s geographic borders. The modern America that came of age by the end of World War II is, in many ways, the America we still live in: a mass consumer culture driven by unprecedented prosperity. Many kinds of “freedom” that most of us now take for granted—of mobility, made possible by the automobile; of communication, made possible by rapid technological advances; of more liberal extensions of gender and racial equality, made possible by changing legal codes and social values—first gained momentum during our period of study, which is why the literary record passed down to us from that time remains so vital to our understanding of who we are today.

The reading list likely will include poetry by Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Wallace Stevens; plays by Eugene O’Neill, Clifford Odets, and Arthur Miller; and fiction (short stories and novels) by Henry James, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Zora Neale Hurston.

The objectives for the course are simple enough:

  • to help you better understand the historical and cultural foundations of American literature;
  • to encourage your critical thinking about those foundations—and that literature;
  • to help you develop the ability—and the habit—of reading texts closely; and
  • last, but hardly least, to share with you the pleasure of words, the vigor of style, and the variety of literary forms.

 

To encourage attendance and participation, students will be expected to complete a fair number of unannounced in-class quizzes over the course of the semester. Keeping up with the assigned reading will be the best way to prepare for them.

Final grades will be based upon class participation (20%), cumulative quiz average (50%), and a final examination (30%).

General Education: Humanities (GH)

 

Instructor: Mark Morrisson

Chem/Engl 233 is a pedagogically innovative course taught by Dan Sykes from the Chemistry department and Mark Morrisson from the English department. Both of us will be present in the classroom throughout the semester, providing joint presentations and leading discussions. Integrating the GH and GN domains, this interdomain course may be counted toward the integrative Gen Ed requirement. Throughout the semester, this course teaches basic concepts of chemistry and their cultural elaboration in literature across the modern period. It seeks to provide students with a nuanced understanding of how literature and science inform each other and negotiate cultural, religious, economic, and political tensions. The course seeks to explore ways in which our modern world is defined by and dependent on a variety of sciences and technologies. The impact of scientific and technological discoveries continues to dominate discussions of who we are, where we come from, where we are going, and our place in the universe. Understanding how we, as a society, have acquired knowledge is especially important when the ideas, perspectives, and discoveries are perceived to conflict with our religious, cultural, or political beliefs. Understanding the origin and development of key concepts is an essential component of science and scientific achievement, but too often our methods of teaching science focus almost exclusively on teaching facts and theories at the expense of the historical discovery and development of those facts and theories. This course teaches both the scientific facts and theories and the contexts of their production to sharpen students’ abilities at critical evaluation of facts. Key course texts will include Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Carl Djerassi and Roald Hoffmann’s play Oxygen, H. G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Don DeLillo’s White Noise. Graded assignments will include group presentations, papers, and a final exam.

General Education: Humanities (GH)

General Education: Natural Sciences (GN)

General Education – Integrative: Interdomain

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

Instructor: Michael Berubé

Open to all English Majors

In Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction, Sami Schalk writes that “the freedom afforded speculative fiction authors through the rejection of verisimilitude, the use of nonmimetic devices, the disruption of linear time, and other tropes which subvert our expectations of reality are all beneficial to writers who wish to represent a world not restricted by our contemporary racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, and classist realities.” In other words, speculative fiction allows us to make things up, and thereby take the idea of disability (and our understanding of what it means to be human) in new and surprising directions. We’ll pursue some of those directions by reading the following novels: Philip K. Dick, Martian Time-Slip; C. S. Friedman, This Alien Shore; Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower; N. K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season; Jesse Ball, Census; Kevin Wilson, Nothing to See Here. If you are interested in taking this class, please contact Prof. Carla Mulford (cjm5@psu.edu) or Prof. Claire Colebrook (cmc30@psu.edu) in order to get enrolled into this class.

Twentieth Century to Present Time Period

Writing Across the Curriculum course

Instructor: Scott Smith

This course provides an accessible overview of the history of the English language from its earliest beginnings to its status today as a global language. One central issue will be the ways in which the external history (culture, political power, geography, and so on) of the language has profoundly impacted its internal history (spelling, pronunciation, dialect, and so on) over time. In the process, we will examine several sample texts which illustrate significant moments in this long process of language change. Other topics will include the traces of early English vocabulary and structures in modern English, sound changes and pronunciation, word-borrowing from other languages, the politics of language and language use, longstanding debates over what constitutes standard English, the form and status of different dialects, the impact of language guides (such as dictionaries), the influence of technology, and much more.

The course satisfies the International Cultures (IL) requirement as well as the Medieval through Sixteenth Century 400-level requirement for the English major.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

Rhetoric and Writing Concentration

Medieval through Sixteenth Century Time Period

Instructor: Alison Jaenicke

“Taking Place: A Creative Nonfiction Writing Seminar”

When so much of our time is spent in the virtual space of the “World Wide Web,” and fiction writers often transport us to fantastical realms through “world-building,” it seems more important than ever to devote time to training our senses on the tangible, real-life world around us. Even if you do not consider yourself a “creative writer,” if you are a student set on exploring our world in all its variety, this course could be for you.

Our course will focus primarily on reading and writing creative nonfiction, with a particular emphasis on exploring the role of place. Through extensive reading and writing, we will examine the world(s) and place(s) that shape us as people, even as we humans shape these places. We will ask questions such as: How do the places where we were raised shape our identities? How does leaving these formative places help us see them with different eyes? How much do we really know about the world(s) around us? How does digging beneath the surface of a place we think we know help us understand it in its fuller complexity?

In his book Landscapes with Figures: The Nonfiction of Place, writer Robert Root puts it this way: “For some it is about travel, about plunging oneself into new settings. For others it is about being—and knowing—home. For everyone it is the sense of place.” We will read widely, sampling a variety of creative nonfiction pieces by contemporary writers–essays, memoirs, nature writing, and travel narratives—all of which document the impact this sense of place has on their writing. Students will write regularly, producing not only brief writing exercises throughout the semester, but also two finished creative nonfiction essays and a final chapbook project. During several class periods, writers whose work we have read will visit (either virtually or in person) for Q&A discussions about their work and the process of polishing and publishing it.

We will read essays, excerpts, or whole books by nonfiction writers such as Hanif Abdurraqib, James Baldwin, Wendell Berry, Eula Biss, Lucy Bryan, Krista Eastman, Tessa Fontaine, David Gessner, Diane Glancy, Pico Iyer, Sebastian Junger, Elizabeth Kadetsky, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and Scott Russell Sanders.

Writing Across the Curriculum course

Instructor: Samuel Kolawole

Short stories are a unique art form with dramatic elements distinct from any other form of fiction. Students will explore what constitutes a successful story by reading a wide variety of contemporary short stories from around the world. We will learn about the building blocks of a strong short story by exploring plot, setting, character, voice, tone, dialogue, etc. Students will develop their own stories and workshop fiction grounded in literary craft elements. In addition to published stories, we will read selections from the books Man Vs. Nature by Diane Cook, and Africa39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara, edited by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey.

Creative Writing Concentration

Instructor: Shara McCallum

This is an advanced creative writing workshop, centered on poetry, poetics, and aesthetics. The course requires your commitment to being present and prepared for each class, to reading and writing continuously, to taking risks and being open to challenge. What I hope is for you to extend the work you began in English 213, your introductory poetry workshop, which is a prerequisite for this course. As with 213, this course is designed to foster your development and growth as a poet and reader of poems. You will experience many of the same practices you were exposed to in the introductory course in this sequence, though at a higher level of engagement and expectation (from yourself and from me). The activities of this course—most or all you are likely familiar with—include reading & responding to assigned poems; keeping a notebook of poetry prompts, jottings, scribbles, ideas, etc.; drafting & revising poems; attending poetry readings; memorizing poems; and more. Note: English 413 is repeatable up to three times.

Creative Writing Concentration

Instructor: Benjamin Schreier

In this course we’ll survey Jewish American prose from the end of the 19th century to the present. This is a pretty rich tradition of writing, and we’ll think about characteristic themes like immigration, assimilation, the Holocaust, race relations, Israel and the Middle East, and sex (which shows up quite a bit!). Assignments will include an average of about 150 to 200 pages of reading per week, a handful of short (like 1-2 pages) reading response papers, a couple of 5-or-so-page textual analysis papers, an in-class midterm, and a choice of a longer comparative paper or final exam.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

The Nineteenth Century & Twentieth Century to the Present Time Periods

Instructor: Su Young Lee

This course will explore contemporary Asian American texts that are interested in mapping the shifting borders of Asian America as a cultural nation, a site of literary production, and a shared space of coalition and identity formation. By focusing on the ongoing processes of “bordering” Asian America, which simultaneously suggests the claiming of a legible territory and constant encounters or adjacencies with other spaces, we will investigate issues of belonging in relation to borders as both physical and conceptual constructions that are continually remade. In this course, the first unit will be “Bordering Definition,” investigating the expectations and boundaries imagined as defining the borders of Asian America, which raise questions of exclusion, collectivity, and assimilation. The second unit will be examining “Border Crossings,” whether this evokes figures like the immigrant and refugee or engages with issues of interethnic solidarity, transnationalism, diaspora, and globalization. Finally, the last unit “Bordering Beyond” will ask what it might mean to look beyond established boundaries, which will involve acknowledging how Asian America brushes against histories, politics, and geographies elsewhere as well as manifests in unexpected genres like speculative fiction. Through a wide range of texts, including short stories, novels, graphic novels, film, and poetry, we will ask how borders function as ways to manage difference as figured in numerous ways—national, racial, intergenerational, historical, and as related to identity and genre.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

Instructor: Christopher Castiglia

This course will examine how people form bonds with other people and with the natural environment through love, spirituality, even obsession.  We will explore what positive attachment to the world means and how it can be made in and through the reading of literature.  Authors will include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, Harriet Jacobs, Walt Whitman, Hannah Crafts, Edgar Allan Poe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and others.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

The Nineteenth Century Time Period

Instructor: W. Oliver Baker

This course examines how Black writers have represented and advanced radical abolition from the nineteenth century to the present. Radical abolition is not only the nineteenth-century movement to end racial slavery, but also the ongoing struggle to liberate Black workers and other oppressed peoples from racial capitalism today. How do Black writers tell the story of rebellion, fugitivity, revolts, uprisings, marronage, insurrections, and self-determination against slavery and capitalism? How has African American literature participated in and shaped this often ignored history of rebellion and radicalism? The course will provide students a better understanding of the history and meaning of radical abolition and how it intersects with the struggles for freedom of other oppressed peoples. A few of the authors whose work and/or lives we will study include: David Walker, Harriet Tubman, Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Ida B. Wells, Robert and Mabel Williams, George Jackson, Assata Shakur, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Kuwasi Balagoon. Course assignments will consist of reading responses, class discussion, and critical essays. No exams.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

The Nineteenth Century Time Period

Instructor: Michael Anesko

“Nothing changes from generation to generation except the thing seen and that makes a composition.”
— Gertrude Stein, “Composition as Explanation”

By carefully attending to what Gertrude Stein and others of her generation saw, students in English 433 will try to understand why most critics of American literature generally regard the first half of the twentieth century as the high watermark of American fiction. Authors will include Edith Wharton, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathanael West, Zora Neale Hurston, and Richard Wright.

Undergraduates in English 433 will be responsible for writing three critical essays, some occasional in-class quizzes, and a final examination. Final grades will depend upon each student’s essays (50%), quizzes and participation (25%), and the final examination (25%), although the exact weighting of these elements will be affected by demonstrated improvement over the course of the semester.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

Twentieth Century to the Present Time Period

Instructor: Robert Edwards

Chaucer’s early followers made him the Father of English Poetry, but for modern readers he is much more—smart, funny, ironic but also deeply perceptive about human emotion and motives, gender relations, social structures, and political arrangements. Chaucer lived at a moment of enormous historical and cultural change, and his writing reflects and thinks through those pressures. In this course, we will read a selection of works from Chaucer’s dream poems, lyrics, short narratives about good women and (usually) bad men, and portions of the Canterbury Tales. We’ll start by looking at the fundamentals of Chaucer’s language so that we can read and perhaps hear him in his own idiom. But our focus will be on a close critical reading of the texts—the same skill required for reading a modern novel, short story, poem, film, or video. There will be several short quizzes to check in on your progress, a midterm to pull ideas together, and in the second half of the semester a project on one of the Tales. You will have a chance to develop the project from a short abstract, through some preliminary research, to a final paper (10-12 pages). There is no final exam. Your participation in class discussion and discussion posts remains important throughout the course. This course fulfills the International Cultures requirement for General Education and the English Department requirement that majors take one 400-level course from the medieval period through the sixteenth century. Our text will be the new Norton Chaucer.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

Medieval through Sixteenth Century Time Period

Instructor: Garrett Sullivan

In this course, we will closely examine a number of plays—tragedies, comedies, histories and romances—written by William Shakespeare. The class will focus on the works themselves; on the literary, political and historical contexts of their initial production and reception; and on the nature and significance of their continued relevance today. Additionally, we will watch screen versions of three of Shakespeare’s plays and discuss the ways in which they interpret and/or illuminate aspects of the written texts. Students will be expected to participate in classroom discussion.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

Sixteenth Century through Eighteenth Century Time Period

 

Instructor: Patrick Cheney

In this course, we will read Shakespeare as a new type of English author: not simply a “man of the theater” or even a “poet,” he is one of the first poet-playwrights in English. That is, while serving as an actor, script writer, and shareholder in an acting company, he was also an author with a capacious literary career that includes both poems and plays. We will read his most famous poetic work, the Sonnets, as well as examples from his four dramatic genres: comedy, history, tragedy, and romance. Plays might include 1 Henry IV, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, King Lear, Anthony and Cleopatra, and The Winter’s Tale. In discussing Shakespeare’s poems and plays, we will concentrate on four cultural vectors that particularly engaged this author: religion (Protestantism, Catholicism, skepticism, immortality), politics (government, leadership, monarchy, republic), gender/sexuality (marriage, family, eroticism, identity), and literature itself (genre, allusion, myth, authorship). We will ground our discussion of each vector in the historical environment of Renaissance England, engage in close reading of all works, and consider Shakespeare’s contribution to modern culture. 2 short response papers; 2 critical essays; 1 final examination.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

Sixteenth Century through Eighteenth Century Time Period

Instructor: David Loewenstein

In this course we will consider seventeenth-century England as a crucial period in literary and cultural history when one of our greatest writers, John Milton (1608-74), defined, debated, and reshaped discussions about liberty. Milton examined and redefined the meanings of liberty—still so important to us today—with enormous imagination and polemical energy. How do his major prose and poems boldly rethink concepts of civic, domestic, and religious liberty? How do they envision tyranny and servility? How close are Milton’s concepts of civic, domestic, and religious liberty to ours today? Related issues—for example, press censorship, religious toleration, and religious and political dissent—will likewise be important to our discussions. At the same time, we will devote plenty of attention to the literary, rhetorical, and verbal dimensions of Milton’s writings so that we appreciate what makes Milton a particularly outstanding writer. We will study selections from his early poetry and his prose (much of it written in the middle of his career) before turning our attention to two of his greatest poems: “Paradise Lost” and “Samson Agonistes.” As we study Milton, we will also address some of the interpretative issues involved in reading literary texts historically and culturally. At the same time, we will consider how Milton’s writings can still speak to us today as we continue to struggle with such issues as political and religious liberty, freedom and gender relations, religious toleration, and freedom of the press.

Writing requirements include two essays—a shorter one of 5 pages and a longer one of 7 pages—and a final take-home essay question.  The class will be conducted by a mixture of lecture and discussion.  The class will also include a visit or two to our Library’s Special Collections so that students can view Penn State’s outstanding collection of early editions of works by Milton and other early modern writers. Non-majors as well as majors are very welcome to take this course.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

Sixteenth Century through Eighteenth Century Time Period

Instructor: Carla Mulford

Prose fiction in Britain became popular around the same time that Britain made its greatest move toward dominance in the African slave trade. Given that prose fiction experienced a rise in readerly interest at the same time that empire-building and chattel slavery increased, it is worthwhile for us to consider the potential intersections between slavery (a form of perpetual imprisonment) and the emplotment of novels (frequently about the imprisonment of women) appearing before and during the time of Jane Austen. We will examine a chronological selection of novels against this backdrop of the erasure of liberty and the consequent rise (in the dominant group), in Britain, of both capital and leisure. Readings will include: Samuel Richardson, Pamela (1740); Ann Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest (1791); (anonymous), A Woman of Colour (1808); and Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (1814). The final grade will be an average of four components: class participationaverage, quizzes (one per novel), talking point (25 percent); three course papers of 4-5 pages each (25 percent each paper). This is a hard-copy book course. You might read from a digital edition, but in class we will be using books in hard copy rather than digital presentation.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

Sixteenth Century through Eighteenth Century & The Nineteenth Century Time Periods

Instructor: Claire Bourne

This course explores how the modern editions that you use in most of your literature classes shape, enhance, and sometimes even distort the ways that texts written in the past can be encountered in the present. The aim is to better understand the decision-making involved in crafting navigable, coherent, and relevant editions using the early printed texts and manuscripts in which these texts survive to us. In other words, how do editors make old texts (written by hand or printed using moveable type) accessible to new readers? To answer this question, we will study the editorial histories of plays and poems by early modern writers that may include William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, John Milton, Margaret Cavendish, Hester Pulter, and ‘anonymous.’ We will also consider whether the identity of the editor matters to how literary texts are packaged and presented; examine the impact of larger social, political, and cultural contexts on editorial approaches to these texts; and explore printing and book-making techniques that give physical shape to these texts.

You should expect to complete regular, low-stakes exploration posts that respond to course readings and develop our own interests in the topic of editing. These will build towards the central assignment for the course: your own edition of a short early modern text. In addition to studying modern editions closely, we will also spend hands-on time with copies of first and other early editions of the literature on the syllabus in Penn State’s Eberly Family Special Collections Library.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

Sixteenth Century through Eighteenth Century Time Period

Instructor: Jeffrey Nealon

This course is called Twentieth Century Poetry, and we’ll spend our time reading 20th and 21st century American poetry, broadly considered, in the free-verse traditions. The style of reading we’ll be developing will have less to do with formalist assessments of “what poetry really means” (because it’s pretty clear that any given poetic usage of language means lots of different things), and focus more on how language works in and for poems – how poetic language provokes certain kinds of responses in its readers, and how differing poetic forms might impact whatever content or meaning the poem might evoke. We’ll spend a fair amount of time along the way thinking about how American poetry of the 20th and 21st century has or hasn’t been imbricated with other art forms – the African-American artistic forms of blues and jazz; modernist American visual art of the abstract expressionist and pop variety; and American popular music. If the blues or popular music isn’t “poetry,” then what is it, exactly? Of course, this is a question that functions somewhat differently today (when Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for literature and people are happy to think about rappers as poets) than it did only a few decades ago, when people were a lot more hesitant to take popular culture seriously. Far from its reputation as a hopelessly obscure corner of American culture, this course will wonder whether poetry has in fact become a kind of ubiquitous, everyday American form – much more culturally important in the era of Twitter and Instagram than its long-winded cousin the American novel?

Grades will rest upon vigorous class participation, as well as 2 essays (5 pages or so), as well as a midterm and a final exam.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

Twentieth Century to the Present

Instructor: Kevin Bell

“The person who complains that the film is ‘nothing like the book’ ought to read the book;” so writes one of the more incisive intellectuals of our moment. This course invites you to do both—and in so doing, to explore more intensively the zone of suspension between the literary work and the film that is shaped from the thematic basis of the literature. We investigate not only the sounds, images, intensities and textures of the literary source materials; but that we also work from within the sounds, images, intensities and textures of the temporal cadences and incessantly re-shaped spaces of the rejected (perhaps because unfamiliar and differently provocative) ‘nothing like’ that is figurational cinema’s point of departure. One thing we will take from every encounter with each novel, short narrative and film we work with in this course, is that no moment of any of these artworks can be flattened into ‘just another way of presenting stories;’ or into a work of representational mimesis. On the contrary, we learn that the very conversion of thought into a new linguistic or imagistic figure radically alters the scope of possibilities for thinking and imagining the boundaries of any idea.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

Writing Across the Curriculum course

Instructor: Hester Blum

The poles have captivated popular attention in Europe and the US ever since the earliest attempts to find a Northwest Passage and the voyages south that followed in the wake of James Cook’s circumnavigation of Antarctica. Although Euro-Westerners represented the polar regions as hostile to human life, Inuit and other Indigenous Northerners have lived in the Arctic for millennia. This course will consider the place of Antarctica and the Arctic regions in the poetic, scientific, and political imaginations of the late eighteenth through the present day. Attention to the literature of polar exploration takes on a special urgency in our current moment of climate change, in which the polar regions are undergoing dramatic geophysical change and are the subject of renewed colonial attention. We will read speculative hollow earth fiction, poetry, expedition narratives, and other journeys to the ends of the earth (via hot air balloon, flying ship, volcano, ski, or glacier) by authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, Mat Johnson, Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk, Tanya Tagaq, Mary Shelley, Matthew Henson, Elizabeth Bradfield, and Apsley Cherry-Garrard.

Writing Across the Curriculum course

Instructor: Marcy North

In this seminar, we’ll be stepping back in time to explore the different ways that women became authors and the different ways that authors were identified as women in medieval and early-modern British culture. We’ll be complicating the idea of authorship. Is a woman an author if she is receiving visions from God telling her what to write? Is she an author if she can’t use a pen and must dictate her story to a scribe? We’ll also be complicating the methodologies by which we define “woman” author. How do we understand a writer who speaks as a woman but may or may not be a historical woman? If an anonymous author’s texts and voice are not gendered, could they possibly be included in the canon of women’s literature? Could certain early voices be considered non-binary, and how might these voices contribute to and help us to understand women’s literature?

The texts in this seminar will introduce students to a wide range of medieval and early modern literature associated with women and speaking to issues of sex and gender. The genres will include mystical and devotional writing, drama, poetry, life writing such as diaries and autobiographies, prose fiction, and personal letters, among others. Some of the works will belong to relatively well known women such as Queen Elizabeth, Margaret Cavendish, and Aphra Behn, but other works will have more mysterious authors, authors about whom we know nothing and whose only claims to female authorship are a name and a voice. As a part of our exploration, we will consider critically how the canon of early women’s literature came to be formed and how some women found their way into modern textbooks and anthologies and others did not. We will also have opportunities to discuss the intersections of gender, race, and class in early Britain. Additionally, students will look at digitized original materials and will learn a bit about archival research and the material conditions of women’s writing.

Assignments will include Canvas forum contributions, short in-class writings, group work, or home works designed to generate discussion, quizzes, and two 3.5-5-page papers. The focus of the course will be from about 1400-1670, so this course should count for either the first or second literary period in the English major as well as fulfilling the English Department’s diversity requirement.

Medieval through Sixteenth Century & Sixteenth Century through Eighteenth Century Time Periods

Instructor: Jim Casey

In brief, the course will explore digital technology and culture using the frameworks of African American Studies. The course will include readings, class discussions, and opportunities for students to gain valuable, hands-on skills with archives and datasets (no experience is required). As we delve into algorithms that enhance inequality and the miseducation of data science on race and gender, we will seek out insights and alternatives. We will engage the cutting-edge work of critical computer scientists, data artists, historians, archivists, and community activists. Importantly, we’ll also look backwards to examine how today’s digital cultures, such as Black Twitter, fit into longer traditions of Black diasporic storytelling and memory-keeping that have driven the innovation of new technologies for centuries. These lessons will guide a class project on a new dataset about early Black activism in connection with the award-winning Colored Conventions Project, based at Penn State’s Center for Black Digital Research. This class welcomes undergraduate and graduate students from all areas of study.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration