Courses

Spring 2021

Humanities 200: Ideas and Issues

Slavery on Film

The earliest blockbuster films, from The Birth of a Nation (1915) before sound and color to Gone with the Wind (1939) after, prominently featured stories of the Old South, stories of slavery. Though today’s Hollywood studios tread similar thematic ground with historical films like 12 Years a Slave (2013) and Harriet (2019) and horror films like Get Out (2017) and Antebellum (2020), they’re arguably telling vastly different stories about the history and afterlives of slavery in the United States. In examining a range of US films from the interwar period to the present, this course will trace the thematic development of slavery as a subject of film alongside the development of filmmaking technologies across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Likewise, it will consider the influence of earlier theatrical forms, such as blackface minstrelsy, on the creation and performance of enslaved and emancipated Black characters. Furthermore, it will investigate how conventions of narrative genres such as action, comedy, drama, horror, and romance shape the stories about slavery that film tells.

Why does slavery appear so often on film? What are the legacies of the early films, and why are contemporary filmmakers returning to slavery in this cultural moment? How do these films call their audiences to bear witness to slavery? How do they understand slavery as a cultural, political, and economic institution? What do the stories these films tell about slavery and Blackness reveal about the historical moment in which they were created? These are just some of the questions we’ll explore in this course.

To access a tentative syllabus for this course, click here.


Spring 2021

English 371: Introduction to Ethnic Literatures

Nineteenth-Century Black Radical Thought

This course traces nineteenth-century Black radical thought in the United States through an examination of a wide range of literary genres including political pamphlets and speeches, manifestos, and speculative and utopian fiction. In doing so, it considers how and why Black radical thinkers responded to the oppressions of their historical moment by imagining an entirely different world and persuading others to help them build it. Investigating notions of Black freedom—as opposed to liberal freedom—from chattel slavery through Jim Crow, this course asks students to reflect on the legacies and lessons of nineteenth-century Black radicalism for today’s social justice movements.

How did Black radicalism develop across the course of the nineteenth century in response to and anticipating legal and extralegal subjection in the United States? What kinds of Black freedom and Black worlds did it imagine? And how and why do Black radical strategies and appeals resonate in the current moment? These are just some of the questions we’ll explore in this class as we develop skills of literary and cultural analysis and read primary texts with a variety of methodological lenses.

To access a tentative syllabus for this course, click here.


Spring 2021

English 490: Senior Seminar

This course serves as the capstone for advanced undergraduate students majoring in English, giving you the opportunity to develop your research skills to your fullest potential and apply your knowledge of the methods and content of one or more of the various scholarly disciplines housed in English—including literature and culture, folklore, rhetoric and composition, and linguistics—in a semester-long research project. In this course, we’ll investigate and perhaps even rethink what it means to “do research” in humanities disciplines, understanding research as a process of knowledge production that builds on and responds to ongoing conversations in our disciplines using carefully-selected methods. Your capstone research projects will be thoughtfully and intentionally designed and executed not only through reading and writing but also through learning to: conceptualize problems in our disciplines; pose research questions about our topics; situate ourselves in relevant scholarly conversations; and choose and implement relevant methods for gathering and interpreting evidence. In generating our capstone research projects, we’ll come to identify academic writing as a continual process of reading, thinking, writing, and revision.

To access a tentative syllabus for this course, click here.


Fall 2021

English 550: Studies in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (graduate)

Citizenship and Sovereignty in the Long Nineteenth Century

The nineteenth-century United States was rife with questions of citizenship and sovereignty as the nation developed from independence through westward and global imperialism, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and rapid industrialization. All of these historical moments necessitated redefinitions of who counted as American and what counted as America, recalibrating power relationships among individuals across the country and nations around the world. In this seminar, through an examination of sentimental, western, realist, and speculative literature written primarily by authors of color across the long nineteenth century, we’ll ask: How do US authors in this period construct the relationship between citizenship and sovereignty? How do social, cultural, and legal definitions of personhood contribute to evolving notions of who counts as citizen and what entities are sovereign? What freedoms and burdens does citizenship bestow on its subjects, and how does this manifest along axes of identity and difference? What cultural work does literature do in the nineteenth-century liberal-democratic nation?


Spring 2022

English 440G: Southern Literature (partial graduate)

Reading Confederate Monuments and Counter-Monuments

Since the 2015 Charleston church massacre, more than eighty Confederate monuments have been removed from public lands in the United States—some toppled by protestors, many relocated to museums, and others put into storage. Meanwhile, more than seven hundred monuments remain, and at least twenty, mostly installed on private lands and funded by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, have been newly unveiled. Waves of removal, following the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and the 2020 George Floyd protests, have revealed that Confederate monuments activate agonistic discussion of Civil War memory, so-called white Southern heritage, the legacies of slavery, and the persistence of anti-Blackness. From courts and legislatures to town squares and city parks, the public is now actively engaged with how to read Confederate monuments—interpreting the meanings of their existence and their persistence or removal.

This course addresses what’s at stake in how we read Confederate monuments and offers frameworks for interpreting them in context, then and now. Tracing the rise and fall of Confederate monuments in US culture, we’ll engage questions about Confederate memory and memorialization alongside notions of social justice and national belonging. In doing so, we’ll necessarily read Confederate monuments as southern literature. Yet we’ll also do the inverse, reading some southern and Black literature as Confederate monuments and counter-monuments. Thus, we’ll interpret both literal and literary Confederate monuments, from the Mouton statue in downtown Lafayette to early blockbuster films like The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone with the Wind (1939), juxtaposed with contemporary Confederate counter-monuments, ranging from Natasha Trethewey’s poetry, to Suzan-Lori Parks’s plays, to Kehinde Wiley’s statue Rumors of War (2019).