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Courses

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

Select Fall 2022 Courses

Instructor: Sean Goudie

Designed to help students answer the age-old question, “What are you going to do with an English major?,” this two-credit class introduces students to the special career-building opportunities that Penn State English has to offer—internships, organizations, fellowships and prizes, and study abroad activities—and shows them the value of the skills that the English major emphasizes. As part of this endeavor, we will hear from some of our most successful alumni who have turned their Penn State English degrees into engaging careers and who will help students envision the possibilities of their own futures. Students will prepare questions to pose to guest speakers about their career journeys as they develop their own “Personal Strategic Plan” for pursuing professional opportunities, both as a student and beyond (no exams).    

Instructor: Claire M.L. Bourne

This course takes up the theatrical writings of William Shakespeare both in the historical moment of their making more than four hundred years ago—and in our own time. We will read across genres (comedy, history, and tragedy) and set the plays in a variety of performance, publication, political, and cultural contexts in order to examine Shakespeare’s enduring theatrical and literary appeal. We will think critically and creatively about what “Shakespeare” can still offer more than four hundred years after his plays débuted in London’s commercial playhouses. Students will keep track of their own interests in a reading journal, write a series of short, low-stakes assignments relating to those interests, and produce a “performance vision” of a single scene at the end of the semester.

General Education: Humanities (GH)

Instructor: Verna Kale

This section of ENGL184 will introduce you to the genre of the short story with readings that span several centuries and continents. We will approach our study through close reading of works selected because they are representative of the possibilities of the genre, thematically relevant to readers in 2022, and because they are FUN TO READ. In addition to performing close reading and analysis, we will consider cultural influences, publication history and format, and the continued significance of these works in our own tumultuous present. Students can expect classes to include a mix of lecture, discussion, and writing exercises. Graded assignments will require you to think critically and creatively to analyze texts and will include a mix of critical and creative writing and a midterm exam.

General Education: Humanities (GH)

Instructor: Michael Bérubé

This course explores the parameters of the thinkable and the boundaries of what it means to be human. Our reading will take us into profound and unsettling inquiries into the ethics of scientific exploration and the nature (and the purpose) of intelligence. If that sounds like a tall order, it should– because these novels are ambitious and absorbing. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey; Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness; Octavia Butler, Dawn; Cixin Liu, The Three-Body Problem. Three short essays (1000-1500 words), midterm, final, lots of class discussion.

General Education: Humanities (GH) 

Instructor: Robert Edwards

In this course, we’ll read major works of British literature from the Middle Ages through the Eighteenth Century. These works establish literary traditions for male and female writers and for changing audiences. At same time, the works are diverse and challenging, often resisting the very traditions that they are supposed to establish. The works range from verse and prose narrative (epic, romance, the early novel, the memoir) to drama to lyric. We’ll read, among others, the unknown Beowulf-poet, Marie de France, Geoffrey Chaucer, Margery Kempe, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, John Donne, Margaret Cavendish, John Milton, Aphra Behn, and Olaudah Equiano. Our aim is to read the works closely, with attention to structure, the nuances of language, the development of character and ideas—and to see how our expectations of those literary elements are, by turns, confirmed and disturbed. The class includes some introductory lectures for readings but emphasizes discussion. There will be occasional quizzes, one class presentation, two in-class exams, and a final exam.

General Education: Humanities (GH)

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 five blog posts and a final project including creative options. No exams.

General Education: Humanities (GH)

Instructor: Carla Mulford

“Of American Spiritual and Civil Strivings”

Early American literature grew out of significant spiritual, civic, and political strife. For this reason, I have titled our course Of American Spiritual and Civil Strivings. We will read a very small set of public-facing voices culled from hundreds of possibilities: two writers represent the seventeenth century (Anne Bradstreet and Mary Rowlandson); two, the eighteenth century (Phillis Wheatley and Benjamin Franklin); and four, the nineteenth century (William Apess, Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau). We will be attentive to ideas about American idealism and how idealism conflicted sorely with reality. Requirements include three relatively short critical papers (roughly 1,200 words); one talking point (on which each student will lead class discussion and turn in a talking point statement); quizzes or writing impromptus to assess reading, as needed; and spirited and regular class participation. This is a hard copy book course. Attendance is taken every class, and class participation counts toward the final grade. Grade distribution will be as follows: the talking point averaged with the average of quizzes or impromptus and class participation average (25 percent); Essay 1 (25 percent); Essay 2 (25 percent); Essay 3 (25 percent).

General Education: Humanities (GH) 

Instructor: Leisha Jones

The vampire as an enduring figure continues to haunt our collective imaginary as exoticized threat, violent predator, and sparkly lover. How can this horror icon continue to captivate us year after year? Our course explores many adaptations and incantations of the vampire across centuries and media. Starting with Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (1897), and F.W. Murnau’s film Nosferatu (1922), our chronology examines the vampire as it bites its way through everything from Octavia Butler’s The Fledgling (2005) to Count Chocula breakfast cereal, from vampire comedy such as What We Do In the Shadows to vampire romance’s True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, and the blockbuster Twilight series. The semester closes with an exploration of real vampire “blood-drinking” communities, such as the members of the New Orleans Vampire Association.

General Education: Humanities (GH)

Instructor: Garrett Sullivan

The “master of suspense” Alfred Hitchcock is recognized as one of the greatest filmmakers in history. He also exemplifies the concept of the auteur: a director who exercises such complete control over all elements of the moviemaking process as to described as a film’s sole “author.” What are we to make of it, then, when Hitchcock adapts preexisting works of literature? How can we reconcile the necessarily collaborative nature of moviemaking with the claims of auteur theory? And, more broadly, how do we conceptualize the process whereby a work of literature is translated into the entirely different medium of film? This class will focus on a number of Hitchcock’s major films, including Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho and The Birds, in relation to the literary texts he adapted. Students will be expected to participate in classroom discussion.

Instructor: Paul Kellermann

In this class, we apply the principles of narrative nonfiction to writing about science-related topics. This is not a science class; it’s a writing class. It’s a writing class where students employ the creative writer’s tools to translate empirical esoterica into digestible narratives. Accordingly, students develop a deeper understanding of the correlation between science and storytelling. English 416 has one simple goal: to cultivate the skills necessary to convey scientific knowledge to lay audiences. To facilitate the process, students will research, interview, and observe faculty affiliated with Penn State’s Sustainability Institute–and coordinate with communications professionals across the university–to write stories for publication.

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 literary approaches to digital media. Covers early examples of computer-generated literature, time-based or streaming electronic or digital literature, and new media poetry as an extension of print literature; includes a focus on the literary and cultural history of password authentication and the importance of randomness in expressive and creative computing; and examines depictions of new media as literary experience and cultures of new media in contemporary speculative fiction. Many materials are web-based; others are in book form. Assignments include six blog posts plus a final project including creative options. No exams. For ENGL majors, this course satisfies the 20th century or later period requirement and counts toward the Literary and Cultural Studies concentration.

Instructor: Carla Mulford

“American Past, Present, and Future, Nineteenth-Century Style”

This class meets the English major requirement in the nineteenth century. Printed media exploded in popularity during the nineteenth century, and Americans read books (whether published serially or as whole volumes) for many reasons. Writers in effect stylized the American past for a contemporary reading audience experiencing imperialist impulses to settle the West. We will be studying novelists preoccupied by inculcating in American readers an interest in British North America’s storied past and present while also offering prospects for a different and ideally a brighter future. In chronological order, we will study James Fenimore Cooper, Last of the Mohicans (1826); Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables (1851); Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1851-52); and Frances E.W. Harper, Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted (1892). This is a hard copy book course, and class presence and participation matters. Written assignments include a talking point designed for class use, along with three formal papers of roughly 1,000 to 1,300 words each. Impromptu writing or quizzes on the reading might occur, as well. The final grade for the class will be comprised of four components: the class participation average, averaged with the talking point score and the average of impromptu writings or quizzes, if given (25%); Essay 1 (25%); Essay 2 (25%); Essay 3 (25%).

Instructor: Aldon Nielsen

“I would rather sneak off and die like a sick dog than

be a well-known literary

person in America.”

–William Carlos Williams

Radical Poetries in Contemporary America Radical in both the aesthetic and the social sense. In 2008, speaking from the steps of Penn State’s Old Main, Barack Obama, in the midst of declaring his campaign platform, added his belief that Americans “should graduate from college knowing how to read a poem.” That was something new. We had had poets at Presidential inaugurations, and we’d even had a President who was a poet, but here was somebody declaring the place of poetry in American culture and political discourse. Today the news is filled with reports of book bannings, and while graphic novels and children’s books are on the lists of embattled texts, poetry has (so far) been notable by its absence, despite past efforts to imprison texts such as Ginsberg’s Howl or Kandel’s The Love Book. In this course we will read some of America’s most daring poets, reflecting on the significance of their experiments in form and their calls to their nation. Whitman said he heard “America singing.” What songs does America sing today? There will be two brief exams and a research paper. The class will also attend poetry readings during the semester.

Instructor: Steele Nowlin

Terrifying monsters, chivalrous knights, and epic quests are perhaps among the first things that come to mind when we think of medieval literature. To be sure, those things are an important part of English literature of the Middle Ages. But the period also offers a dazzling array of topics, themes, authors, and genres. The work of our class will be to read, discuss, and write about a wide variety of texts, including epic, lyric, religious and romance narrative, tale collections, history writing, dream visions, sermons, riddles, travel writing, and spiritual meditations. We’ll also take the first steps toward exploring the forms of English in which some of these texts are written, examining the connections between present-day English and Old and Middle English. Medieval literature may at first seem distant, but it resonates strongly with our own time. What we find when we look carefully at medieval texts are things at once strange and strangely familiar.

From the time the first slaves stepped ashore in Virginia in 1619 to the Black Lives Matter movement of today, the history of America is so intertwined with the history of slavery as to be inseparable. So too, in its way, the history of American literature. Across the centuries, slavery would inspire white and black authors alike, both of whom struggled to reconcile the institution of slavery with a country whose founding document began by asserting that “all men are created equal.” In this class, we will trace the history of slavery in the literary imagination from before the Civil War to today. Among other writers, we will read Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Robert Hayden, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, and Colson Whitehead. Students will write two papers, a short one and a long one, and take a midterm and a final.

Instructors: Suresh Canagarajah and Xiaoye You

There is not just one English but are in fact many global and regional varieties. The class will take a close look at the characteristics of African-American English, Chinese English, Indian English, etc. as illustrated in a series of literary, critical, and multimodal texts. Subsequently we will draw implications for English literacy education in the United States and elsewhere. The class will have opportunity to interact with overseas college students to explore together the teaching and learning of English. Course assignments include readings, discussions, and a final project investigating English in literature, education, or everyday life.

Instructor: Debra Hawhee

Rhetoric, conceived of as the art of making things matter, is critical for addressing the climate crisis. In this course, students will investigate rhetorical approaches to the climate crisis as practiced by youth activists, climate scientists, public artists, and policy makers. Reading and writing assignments will ask students to examine particular movements or leaders and their responses to the climate crisis, and to create new or modified responses. Students will leave this course with a stronger grasp of the specific challenges that the climate crisis poses to dominant conceptions of rhetoric (e.g., rhetoric as reasoned persuasion) and how contemporary rhetors are meeting those challenges.

Rhetoric and Writing Concentration

Instructor: Stuart Selber

This course investigates the activities of and career opportunities for professional and media writers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in this area is projected to grow 11% from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations, which is 7%. But what, exactly, do professional and media writers do? Where do they work? How do they approach their work? What do they need to know? Why? We will address these questions and others by investigating the intellectual terrain of the field, situating the field in theoretical and practical terms, reviewing field approaches, and developing field knowledge. We will pay special attention to digital literacies and contexts and to how information technologies shape the work landscape of professional and media writers. A major audience for your work will be future employers.

Professional and Media Writing Concentration