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Spring 2022 LIT 499 Course Topic Descriptions

LIT 499 Seminar in Research and Theory

LIT 499-01: Shakespeare in a Divided America
Professor Jo Carney
Monday/Thursday 11:00am-12:20pm

James Shapiro’s book, Shakespeare in a Divided America, will provide the basis for our cultural and historical exploration of how readings and performances of Shakespeare’s plays in the past two centuries have exposed fault lines in our country’s political and social fabric. Arguments over free speech, gender, immigration, and race have often been played out through the vehicle of Shakespeare’s plays, including Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet. Our readings will take us from the early 19th century to our present divisive moment.     


LIT 499-02 Albee’s Plays & Postmodernism
Professor Lincoln Konkle
Thursday 5:30-8:20pm

Many scholars and drama critics have read or reviewed Edward Albee’s plays through Martin Esslin’s critical lens “theatre of the absurd.” This section of LIT 499 re-views Albee as an early example of what some critics now call postmodern drama. We will learn about postmodern concepts by such theorists as Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Fredric Jameson, and others, and apply them to such Albee plays as The Zoo Story, The American Dream, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Three Tall Women, and The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? Assignments include weekly Canvas Discussion posts, two non-research essays, a researched presentation, and a research essay.


LIT 499-04 Captivity in Early American Literature 
Professor Michele Tarter
Tuesday/Friday 11:00am-12:20pm

America has a fascinating obsession with the experience of captivity. We see this exhibited in contemporary bestselling memoirs and popular films that focus on hostages, kidnapped victims, prisoners, and the myriad voices of those being held in confinement against their wills. Quite interestingly, America’s identification with captivity finds its origins in colonial times. This capstone seminar will explore the construction of captivity in our nation’s earliest literature, history, and culture. We will turn to some dramatic primary texts from the 17th and 18th centuries, including Indian captivity narratives, Salem Witchcraft trial records, rapturous prophesyings recorded during the Great Awakening, and classic seduction tales of Revolutionary America. Our analysis will connect to our present-day understanding of captivity and examine the ways in which this experience is deeply embedded in the roots of American identity and selfhood.  


LIT 499-05 The Beatles and Their World
Professor David Venturo
Monday/Thursday 2:00-3:20pm

The lives and musical careers of the Beatles reflect profound cultural changes that took place in the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II.  In particular, the extraordinary transformation of this group in a decade and a half from one of many local Liverpool bands to the most influential popular music group of all time and an international cultural arbiter offers insight into the modern cultural world.  With the Beatles as its focus, this seminar will explore such topics in modern cultural history as race relations, women’s rights and gender issues, youth culture, consumerism, counterculture and protest, mass media and public relations, as well as, of course, developments in popular music. 


LIT 499-06 American Literature and the Environment
Professor: Jane Robbins Mize
Monday/Thursday 3:30-4:50pm

Henry David Thoreau famously wrote, “All good things are wild, and free.” How did such a simple literary adage become the basis for environmentalism in the United States? What do we mean when we call something “wild”—and who decides which “good things” get to be free? 

This course will examine how literature reflects and shapes our understanding of the American environment. Drawing on the methods of ecocriticism and the environmental humanities, we will ask questions such as: What forms, genres, and perspectives do writers use to represent the environment? What do their representations teach us about our assumptions and biases toward the nonhuman? What are the connections between environmental writing and activism in the past and present? By reading environmental literature from the nineteenth century to today, we will discuss the fascinating and often fraught relationship between nature, culture, and power.

Potential texts include Thoreau’s Walden, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones.