Course Descriptions

*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.

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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?

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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.

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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?


E329R: The Natures of Romanticism

In this introduction to British Romanticism, we will consider the concept of “nature” as a key term that shaped the period’s political, philosophical, economic, scientific, and literary thinking. As a period of revolution, Romanticism was defined by ongoing debates about the nature of the human and its relationship to the natural world, as well as the nature of social order and Englishness. What bodies, practices, ideas were naturalized and which were deemed unnatural? How did literature represent and reimagine different natures across gender, race, class, and religious lines? What was the nature of literature in its many forms?


E350R: Experimental Life

What makes us, or any other organism, “alive”? From the Paracelsian homunculus to human clones, this course explores the shifting debates surrounding the creation of artificial life and the definition of life itself. Beginning with the eighteenth-century vitalist debates surrounding what animated human and animal bodies, we will trace the ongoing influence of Darwinian thinking beginning with Erasmus Darwin's theories of biological life through Charles Darwin's theories of evolution and eugenic discourses around blood and race. This course will make a case for how such theories of life continue to underpin experimental technologies like CRISPR, which promises to better life through gene editing. We will consider the aesthetic, ethical, and moral implications of real and imagined technologies that aim to extend, manipulate, reproduce, or even simulate life. We will also examine narratives about figures who seek to harness these technologies—is it hubris or innovation to claim the ability to create life? How did art and literature respond to and (re)imagine the making of different forms of life?


NSC 110H: Introduction to Medical Humanities and Disability Studies

Throughout the history of medicine, narrative has been at the heart of how practitioners determined diagnoses, theorized treatment, and conceived of care. Such narratives took many forms from the case study to the patient history, which continue to shape the dynamic between physician and patient. Scholars of the medical humanities and bioethics have rightly called for a more patient-centered narrative practice that revalues the experience of individuals navigating the medical encounter. Narrative medicine has also been increasingly integrated into the medical training of clinicians and researchers. This course considers what is at stake in medical storytelling by turning to personal narratives from both sides of the medical encounter. In our examination of both non-fictional accounts and literary sources, we will explore together the following questions: What kinds of medical stories do we tell and how do we tend to tell them? What is it like to experience illness and disability with potentially chronic or fatal conditions? What might it mean to be incurable, to refuse cure, or to be undiagnosable? What is it like as a medical professional to treat (or even fail to treat) such individuals? What is it like to be a caregiver and a witness to those with illnesses and disabilities?