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Spring 2023 LIT 499 Topic Descriptions

LIT 499-01 Seminar in Research and Theory: Melville and Disability
Professor: David Blake
Meetings: Monday/Thursday 11:00am-12:20pm

This seminar will explore the writings of Herman Melville from the perspective of disability studies.  Works will include “Bartleby the Scrivener,” Moby-Dick, The Confidence Man, and Billy Budd.


LIT 499-02 Seminar in Research and Theory: Prizing the Postcolonial Novel
Professor: Mindi McMann
Meetings: Monday 5:30-8:20pm

Course Description: The Booker Prize winners and shortlisted novels are intended to identify some of the ‘best’ literature every year produced in Britain or the British Commonwealth. This course will focus specifically on literature produced outside of Britain, and analyze trends and developments through the Booker winners and shortlisted novels. What geographic areas and narrative forms are privileged in these awards? What does that suggest about the development of postcolonial studies? Can we identify trends within these awards that relate to larger political and social forces at work? In another way, the prize itself is only an organizing element, and we really are looking more closely at the state of comparative Anglophone literature in the last 50 or so years since the prize began. The course will emphasize postcolonial theory and theories of globalization. While the Booker Prize is a theme of the course, it’s just our starting point; most of our analysis and discussion will quickly move beyond that to talk more about postcolonial literature more broadly.


LIT 499-03 Seminar in Research and Theory: Ecocriticism, Unnatural Nature, and Medieval Literature
Professor: Glenn Steinberg
Meetings: Tuesday/Friday 3:30-4:50pm

Lots of the stories in the Middle Ages take place in “natural” settings.  This course examines how medieval writers conceive of and portray the natural world – in comparison with how we understand nature today and in the context of ecocritical theory and environmental sociology.  We read lots of different medieval texts, including Arthurian romances, fabliaux (dirty stories that engage in social satire), and dream visions. This course may also have a community-engaged learning component, working with a community partner on an environmental education project that uses what we have learned in class. From knights wandering in forest wilds to modern-day initiatives to encourage gardening for wildlife, we consider how humans define, describe, and engage with the natural world.


LIT 499-04 Seminar in Research and Theory: From Swift to Johnson
Professor: David Venturo
Meetings: Tuesday/Friday 2:00-3:20pm

The spoofing, hoaxing, wit, and irony of Jonathan Swift, who wrote from 1700 to 1740, and the keen, earnest social and psychological probing of Samuel Johnson, who wrote from 1740 to 1784, embody literary and cultural changes that took place over the course of the British eighteenth century. Close study of Swift’s and Johnson’s poetry and prose, including Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, A Modest Proposal, and Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift and Johnson’s The Vanity of Human Wishes, Preface to Shakespeare, and History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, will give us opportunity to explore evolving eighteenth-century literary and cultural values.    


LIT 499-05 Seminar in Research and Theory Victorian Gothic: Nature and the Monstrous Woman
Professor Nicole Dittmer
Meetings: Tuesday 5:30-8:20pm

The Victorian period, most notably the fin-de-siecle, is renowned for its Gothic figurations of grotesque monstrosities. However, while scholarship is abundant with emphasis on the Cartesian approach to bodily manifestations and fragmentation, there is an absence of focus on the monistic mind-body structure of the supposed female “monster,’ her causality and representation in Gothic narratives. Setting the course focus within the early-to-mid-Victorian era (1837-1871), we will explore how societal and environmental affectations impact popular rhetoric and shape the literature of the period. Examining both canonical and ephemeral texts, students will discover and critically analyze the relationship between social expectations, Nature, and such Gothic figures as criminals, madwomen, she-wolves, and witches.