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Courses

For a complete list of English courses, please visit the Penn State Undergraduate Degree Bulletin.

Select Spring 2022 Courses

Instructor: Claire M.L. Bourne

This gen ed course takes up the theatrical writings of William Shakespeare both in the historical moment of their making (the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries) and in our own time. We will read across genres (comedy, history, tragedy, and tragicomedy) and set the plays in a variety of performance, publication, political, and cultural contexts. The course seeks to illuminate Shakespeare’s enduring theatrical and literary appeal and to think critically about what “Shakespeare” can still offer more than four hundred years after his plays débuted in London’s commercial playhouses. Students should expect to complete a series of low-stakes exploration posts that respond to course readings. These shorter assignments will build to a longer essay/project focused on the theatrical potential or textual history of a play we read together. In their written/creative work for the course, students will be strongly encouraged to follow their own interests.

General Education: Humanities (GH)

Instructor: Aldon Nielsen

A recording from the last century, enjoying renewed popularity today, asked “What’s Going On?” That is always a good question, one that our literary artists continue to ask us. This course will include prose and poetry, and some works in English translation. There will be a particular emphasis on works that are innovative in their aesthetic structures as well as in their subject matter. There will be two short exams and a paper, and students will make brief presentations to the class. 

General Education: Humanities (GH)

Instructor: Alison Jaenicke

Want to learn about the rapidly shifting landscape of literary journals, both print and online? This hands-on course asks students to delve into this world, and then take on editorial roles to produce their own edition of Penn State’s online creative arts journal, Klio.

Instructor: Michael Bérubé

Disability is a complex feature of human bodies and minds; disability is perceptible and imperceptible, acquired and congenital; disability has widely misunderstood relations to identity, to citizenship, to temporality, and to narrative. It is part of who are we as a species– though we don’t always want to acknowledge that. In the course of this introduction to disability studies in the humanities, we will look at disability from the perspectives afforded by contemporary films, works of literary fiction and nonfiction, and American history. We will compare disability studies to the other major “identity-based” intellectual formations of recent decades, such as feminist theory, critical race theory, and queer theory. And we will try to get some adequate sense of what it means to be human. Given the wide variety of forms of human embodiment and human consciousness, as well as the ranges of impairment and disability, we will address some important preliminary questions: what counts as “normal” in human cultures? How have fluctuating assumptions about ability and disability structured the institutions and practices of law, citizenship, education, and culture? How does disability affect and inform key social issues such as identity, community, autonomy, and justice, as well as the problems of civil rights, health care, and discrimination?

General Education: Humanities (GH)

Instructor: Brian Lennon

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; concludes by reflecting on the limits of the digital, in the question of what computers can’t do. Satisfies General Education: Humanities (GH) and counts toward the Professional and Media Writing concentration for the ENGL major. Many materials are web-based; others are in book form (Broussard, Artificial Unintelligence, Ceruzzi, Computing: A Concise History, Eve, Password, and Louridas, Algorithms, among others). Assignments: four short blog posts plus a final project including creative options. No exams.

General Education: Humanities (GH)

 

Instructor: Richard Doyle

This course will explore two distinct currents in 20th Century American discourse: The Beats and Buddhism. The Beats, a literary movement composed of writers in creative flight from the suffocation of Post War mainstream culture, rigorously and vigorously engaged in diverse practices of self experimentation. The Beats, for example, researched the effects of drugs and alternative sexualities on the human sensorium and consciousness. Along the way, the Beats encountered the practices and discourses of Buddhism, and so they rigorously and vigorously investigated Buddhist disciplines of the mind and attention that then fed back onto their creative production. Together we will explore the encounter of these discourses as an extraordinary snapshot of a globalized admixture of conceptual, practical and creative exchange vital to the emergence of contemporary global culture. Some of our discussion questions will include: How did the Beats appropriate and transform materials of foreign cultures, e.g. ayahuasca from South America and Buddhism from India, China, Tibet and Japan? How did the Beats understand the nature of self, and what effect did Buddhism have on those concepts and practices? How did Buddhism influence the emerging counter culture catalyzed by the Beats? To what extent can we perceive the influence of non western poetics and literary forms on the creative production of these writers? Were the Beats a sangha? Requirements: see Schedule of Courses for details.

Instructor: Julia Kasdorf

Craft and Content. Have you taken English 213: Introduction to Poetry Writing or another section of this course? Would you like to continue writing poetry? In this course, we will read and discuss at least 6 books of contemporary poetry. And you will write, workshop and revise at least 10 new poems in the company of other serious poets. Satisfies the 400-level ENGL creative writing requirement.

Prerequisite: ENGL 213

Instructor: Brian Lennon

Preparing and editing writing in technical genres. Topics to be covered may include selected technical genres; evaluating and explaining graphical and other visual representations of data; electronic document formats; text and document comparison tools; version control and editorial collaboration; semantic versioning; documenting revisions and other changes. Weekly or semi-weekly mini-projects and a substantive final project. No exams. Counts toward the Professional and Media Writing concentration and the Technical Writing Minor within the ENGL major.

Instructor: Brian Lennon

An introduction to new media in liaison with literature, literariness, and literary study, with a focus on new media’s digital and computational character. We will consider the novelty of electronic screen media, in a print culture of newspapers, magazines, and books; the simulation and remediation of older by newer media, and of newer by older media; the residuality of modern print culture in a “postmodern” technocratic society; and the broader questions of technology, temporality, and modernity that shape these concepts. Beginning with a tour of literary uses of computational media, we will look at early examples of computer-generated literary writing; learn about the importance of randomness in expressive or creative uses of computing; examine new media poetry produced as an extension of ongoing work in traditional paper-based print literature; study the literary and cultural history of password authentication and discuss a poem encrypted and embedded in an artist’s book; and examine examples of time-based or streaming electronic or digital literature. Subsequently, we will turn from literary uses of computational media to conventional literary depictions of technologically extended literary cognition — in other words, new media as literary experience — in contemporary speculative fiction, and to literary depictions of cultures of new media in the contemporary novel. Counts toward the Literary and Cultural Studies concentration in the ENGL major. Many materials are web-based; others are in book form (Chiang, Stories of Your Life and Others; Eve, Password; Okorafor, Binti; and Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, among others). Assignments: six blog posts plus a final project including creative options. No exams.

Instructor: Christopher Castiglia

This class will explore American literature of the mid-1800s, with a particular emphasis on genre. We will read short stories by Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Chestnutt, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Sarah Orne Jewett; poetry by Poe, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Fanny Fern, and Emily Dickinson; slave narratives by Frederick Douglass and Emily Dickinson; and Herman Melville’s masterpiece, Moby-Dick. The class satisfies the 19th century/pre-1900 requirement. Students will take occasional quizzes and write three 5-7 page papers.

Instructor: Hester Blum

This semester we will learn about the history of the novel in the United States before 1900 while reading a range of works about how people find themselves in relation to one another: whether by love, force, proximity, chance, enslavement, marriage, trade, or opportunity. Our nation may seem divided today; it was very much so in the nineteenth century, and we will read novels that attempt to speak to such divisions. This course will satisfy your ambition to read Moby-Dick.

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, or poem. 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 requirement that English majors take one 400-level course from the medieval period through the sixteenth century. Our text will be the new Norton Chaucer.

Instructor: Scott Smith

ENGL 442 surveys English medieval literature in its many genres. Assigned readings include, but are not limited to, heroic narrative (Beowulf), medieval romance (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), dream vision (Dream of the Rood), allegory (Piers Plowman), Arthurian literature (Malory), and medieval drama. The course also considers several issues central to the study of medieval texts: manuscript contexts, translation practices, ecclesiastical and intellectual culture, and the circulation and reception of different literary traditions. Assigned work will include two short papers, two exams, and one summary/response of a scholarly article. This class satisfies the Medieval through 16th Century period requirement for the English major.

Instructor: Claire M.L. Bourne

This upper-level course will introduce students to the writings of the seventeenth-century poet and polemicist John Milton. We will study Milton’s early poetry and selections from his epic Paradise Lost alongside key political writings, including ones that argue for a free press and the right to divorce. We will also explore Milton’s own reading and writing habits, both before and after he lost his sight, and what those habits might reveal about the status (and collaborative qualities) of literary authorship in the period. The course will also include several hands-on sessions with first and other early editions of Milton’s works in Penn State’s Eberly Family Special Collections Library. Students should expect to keep a commonplace book (a brief record of weekly reading tailored to their interests); a couple of short, low-stakes exploration posts; and a final essay or project stemming from those smaller assignments. This course counts for the Sixteenth Century through Eighteenth Century requirement. 

Instructor: Carla Mulford

Prose fiction in Britain became popular around the same time that Britain started making its greatest move toward dominance in the African slave trade. Given this situation that prose fiction experienced a rise in readerly interest at the same time that chattel slavery increased, it is worthwhile for us to consider the potential intersections between slavery (a form of perpetual imprisonment) and the employment of novels that appeared 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 Britain, of both capital and leisure. Readings will include: Aphra Behn, Oroonoko (1688); Daniel Defoe, Roxana (1724); Samuel Richardson, Pamela (1740); Ann Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest (1791); and Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (1814). The final grade will be an average of five components: class participation (20 percent); quizzes and a talking point (20 percent); three course papers of 4-5 pages each (20 percent each paper). This is a hard-copy book course. You can read from a digital edition, but in class we will be using books in hard copy rather than digital presentation.

This course fills the sixteenth through eighteenth century requirement for English majors.

 

Instructor Aldon Nielsen

Poet Ishmael Reed once wrote that being a black poet is like going over Niagara falls in a barrel: nobody thinks you can do it; everybody thinks you’re crazy to try; but the worst part is that you’re bigger than the barrel. Before Reed, Countee Cullen had marveled at what he termed “this curious thing . . . to make a poet black and bid him sing.” As we survey the broad history of African American poetry and poetics, we will, of course, trace the evolution of formal structures and aesthetics, but we will also take a critical view of the reception of African American verse; for whether we are reading Phillis Wheatley or the contemporary poet Ed Roberson, all of the poets we study have contended within the writing itself with the racially striated nature of the literary space they occupy. Course requirements will be two short exams and one paper, and students will make brief presentations to the class.

Instructor Matt Tierney

“Human Rights in Digital Society”

It is said we live in a fully digitized world, but what does this mean? To many people, it means the world feels smaller thanks to new technologies of travel, communication, and information; while to others, it means we can’t even distinguish anymore between what is human and what is machine. To most people though, the age of computers brings not only advantages but also new challenges: platforms for authoritarian voices; normalized racism and misogyny; uncertain conditions for teaching and learning; unseen extremes of wealth disparity; and resource consumption at an ecologically dangerous scale. The threat to planetary human rights is real, and can seem insurmountable, especially when it’s accepted as the merely unfortunate price of innovation. But it’s not too late to calculate the urgent costs and benefits for a species transformed by the things that it invents. It’s not too late, as this course explores, to learn to read this world differently. Themes include securitization, digital labor, surveillance, militarization, economic and cultural globalization, conditions of hardware manufacture, technological urbanism and tech industry gentrification, food injustice, environmental racism, and means of protest. Readings include a range of texts (novels, poems, films, memoirs, worker and CEO testimony, games, and social media) that seek an ethical route through the cybernetic century.

Instructor: Jeffrey T. Nealon

This course will serve as an Introduction to Cultural Studies. What is Cultural Studies? Well, we’ll see that there are a lot of answers to this question; but for our initial purposes, let’s just say that it’s the study of cultural production of whatever kind (visual art, literature, music, television, advertising) with special attention to its embeddedness in a particular social, historical, and economic context. Which is to say two things right off the bat: Cultural Studies as an approach works with a much wider range of “non-canonical” objects than is usually studied in college courses (Shakespeare and reality TV); and Cultural Studies approaches turn attention away from any critical apparatus that looks primarily for art’s “eternal values” or its thematic “meaning” (approaches that tend to cut artistic productions off from their immediate socio-historical contexts). In a bit of a switch from most English courses, we’ll be interested less in what X or Y cultural formation “means” than we’ll be in examining what it “does,” how it functions in a larger socio-cultural field.

Note that the seeming “lightness” of the objects of inquiry (say, classic rock or reality TV) is more than offset by the theoretical heavy lifting we’ll be doing on most days. In short, this is a “theory” course of a certain kind. You’d think that substantially less critical apparatus would be required to study YouTube videos than to study Moby-Dick, but that’s probably the first thing that Cultural Studies wants to challenge: the objects themselves may be “banal,” but that’s precisely why they require such a lot of theoretical inquiry to understand how they work. However, as everything in Cultural Studies does begin and end with the cultural objects, rest assured that least 15 minutes or so in nearly every class will be devoted to discussions of particular “everyday” cultural formations and productions (TV, internet, music, films, music, architecture, etc); and the final month of the course will be wholly devoted to a particular case study—trying to understand the cultural work of popular music in the present. For Cultural Studies to work, it has to be able to tell us something valuable about our everyday lives. Grading: There will be 2 exams, 1 graded essay—about 5-7 typed pages—and a formal class presentation.

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

Instructor: Sean X. Goudie

In the wake of COVID-19 and disasters that occurred earlier in the twenty-first century like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, narratives have been told and retold about the significance of these catastrophic events in the context of the wider political, economic, historic, and cultural conditions that produced them and which these disasters, in turn, have produced.  A central preoccupation of this course will be to examine how, why, and to what end works of American literature and culture from the eighteenth century to the present have represented catastrophes, whether “natural” and/or “manmade”: volcanoes and earthquakes, hurricanes and floods, and fires and droughts; war and genocide, terrorism and sabotage, and epidemics and chemical spills.  As we proceed, we will assess how a text’s artistic and thematic properties remark on the significance of a given disaster as well as the broader concept of the “catastrophic” itself.  A crucial component of the course will be its historic scope.  More precisely, while we will consider works responsive to disasters that have unfolded in our own contemporary moment, we will also treat texts centered on catastrophes in previous centuries—the Yellow Fever epidemics in Philadelphia in the 1790s, for example.  As we do so, we will try to understand how, if at all, cultural responses to past catastrophes clarify public and private reactions to present-day catastrophes such as COVID-19 and the ongoing wildfires in the American West and vice-versa. 

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

Instructor: Toby Thompson

The course will be conducted as a writing seminar based on the life and work of Bob Dylan. You will relate Dylan’s life to his work (the core of biographical literature and criticism), and techniques for doing so will be taught—as will be the rudiments of Literary Nonfiction writing.

Creative Writing Concentration

Instructor: Jesse Goldberg

What does it mean to be white? What might a material history of whiteness look like? What does whiteness have to do with violence? This course is an examination of the entwined histories of racial violence and the construction of whiteness, primarily though not solely focused in the US, since the eighteenth century. Our study will engage literary and historical texts as well as contemporary scholarship in the interdisciplinary fields of black studies, critical race and ethnic studies, whiteness studies, and gender and sexuality studies. We will strive to understand how whiteness as a racial, material position – as opposed to merely as a culture or a collection of ethnicities – continues to cohere as a force in the world, repeatedly changing shape over time to adapt to and contain liberatory movements and energies which would seek to displace it. That is, how does whiteness enforce its own kind of reconstruction, to borrow the title of Dylan Rodriguez’s 2020 book, itself a riff on W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction while at the same time a nod to what the poet M. NourbeSe Philip called, in a 2021 MLA address, “the persistence of whiteness.” To put it most plainly: How have white people, people who think they are white, and people who have simply been seeking to not be treated as if they were Black, used violence to re-form whiteness across historical epochs to preserve its power and privilege in the face of continuous resistance? Course readings may include work by Harriet Jacobs, Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, Luis Valdez, Cheryl Harris, George Lipsitz, and others. Students can expect to write multiple short revisable response papers, one cumulative final paper, and to complete a “take-home”/open-book midterm exam.