*Syllabi for these courses are available upon request.
English 200.304: Tales of Contagion from Plague to Public Health
Designed for junior majors as an introduction to research methods, this course explores literary and filmic representations of contagious disease from the eighteenth century to the present day. Plague narratives abound in literary history and have long been the means by which the body and its boundaries have been interrogated, as well as the space where social structures and the very definition of what is human might be (re)imagined. What is the relationship between illness and metaphor? If, according to Susan Sontag, the “healthiest way of being ill is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking,” how do we begin to talk about illness and contagion in ethical ways that do justice to the suffering? What are “punitive and sentimental fantasies” that Sontag condemns and what is at stake in their continued circulation in popular culture?
English 102-034: The Research Paper
This lower-division composition course aims to develop research and academic writing skills at the college level. The course is organized around the theme of public health controversies and debates. We will consider how social and cultural issues intersect with medicine and healthcare in contemporary America in studies of health policy, scientific writing, and literature about and by sick and disabled people. Students produce researched position papers on particular debates like euthanasia or universal healthcare.
ENGL 267.601: Contagion
Contagion puts into stark relief both the dangerous consequences and absolute necessity of human contact. How do we make sense of an epidemic event through narrative and through what ways have we tended to tell that story? Can contagion “infect” or even resist narrative? What characterizes an “outbreak narrative” and what kinds of cultural work do such narratives perform? We will explore what Priscilla Wald has called “outbreak narratives” drawn from different historical moments and the various means by which works of fiction grapple with scenarios of widespread epidemic disaster. How do such works imagine the limits of public health and risk in increasingly global and interconnected spaces?
ENGL 105.601: Disability Narratives
This course considers the long connection between literary representation and disability. How does literature both perpetuate and challenge stereotypes of the disabled as abnormal, infirm, or infantile? Disability, which may take physical, mental, or social forms, often serves what David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder have called “narrative prosthesis,” or a dependency on disability as a device of characterization to enable certain narratives of progress, cure, and repair. What kinds of bodies are deemed faulty and in need of repair and what logics underlie that need for a cure? How is disability imagined and reimagined by both narratives about the disabled and narratives by disabled people? Course texts will include not only poetry and novels which feature disabled characters, but also life writing and essays by disabled writers and activists.
E350M: Gothic Fictions
This course traces the development of the Gothic genre in British literature beginning in the eighteenth century alongside contemporaneous developments in aesthetics, science, and the novel. Gothic writers used novels and poetry to grapple with social and scientific problems from political revolution to the very definition of the human itself. What interventions did Gothic texts make during the Enlightenment, a period characterized by reason and rationality? How have Gothic tropes and conventions persisted into our contemporary culture and what kinds of cultural work do they continue to do? Why do we remain simultaneously fascinated and horrified by the Gothic imagination?
E329R: The Romantic Period
This course serves as an introduction to the literature, history, and culture of the Romantic period. As a period of revolutions, the Romantic era saw major upheavals in political, scientific, philosophical, economic, and aesthetic thinking. We will consider the transformative effects of “revolution” from the French Revolution to the Industrial Revolution. Romantic literature courses typically feature six male poets or “the big six”: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats. The goal of this class is to explore beyond this canon in terms of both genre and gender. Course texts include not only poetry but also novels and Romantic drama, as well as the work of female writers like Charlotte Smith, Mary Robinson, and Jane Austen.
E350R: Victorian Maladies: Disease, Illness, Disability
Throughout the long nineteenth century (c. 1780 – 1914), medicine shifted greatly in theory and practice as a product of professionalization within teaching hospitals and the rise of the specialized sciences. The Industrial Revolution also produced increasing numbers of disabled people that required new institutions and technologies. We will consider how the poetry, prose, and drama of this extended period responded to the developments in medical science from diagnosis to treatment. Rather than thinking about literature and medicine as separate, we will consider their shared rhetorics and networks to trace how these domains interacted with one another in Victorian culture. What new forms of pathology emerged and how did literature represent or even challenge these pathologies of class, race, gender, and sexuality? How did cultural assumptions about illness and disability evolve alongside medical theories of the body in a new age of public health?