Lower Division (1000–2000) Special Content Courses
Note: Course numbers listed in the table below are linked to course descriptions. Descriptions will open in a new web page in this window. Use your browser’s “back” function to return to this page.AML 2410
Topics in American Literature and Culture: Disneyfication
The word “Disney” has become less of a name of one man and more of an idea of a nation. This course will study the phenomenon known as Disneyfication as it pertains to American literature and culture. While the company
name may now be synonymous with anthropomorphic mice or princesses, during Walt Disney’s lifetime, the studio made several adaptations (animated and otherwise) of historical and contemporary literature and events
(e.g., Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain, and even U.S. relations with Latin America through Saludos Amigos). We will explore
how these works and events as well as they’re Disneyfied adaptations shaped a nation at crucial moments in history: pre- and post-WWII. We will then explore how Disney radicalized three major industries: animated
films, television, and theme parks. We will conclude with a discussion of how Disney has changed the notions of copyright forever.
Times: M W F 3
Topics in American Literature and Culture: Transfiction: Representations of Translation in Modern America
This course focuses on “transfiction”—the introduction of and increasing use of translation-related phenomena in fiction—in the context of late 20th- and 21st-century American literature. Students will read and analyze
works that feature interpreters, translators, guides, and language scholars as characters, and which are grounded in a variety of cultural contexts (immigrant writing, bilingual upbringing, minority language study,
international travel, war interpreting, and literary translation). Throughout the course, students are invited to consider translation as a “master metaphor” that epitomizes our present condition in a globalized
and centerless world (Delabatista) and the figure of translator as “an icon of fluidity and multiplicity of modern culture” (Klaus and Spitzl). Ultimately, we will endeavor to answer the question of why translation,
in spite of its unquestionable importance in American literature, history, and culture, is frequently overlooked or taken for granted by monolingual audiences.
In order to truly appreciate the transfiction phenomenon, readings are chosen from a variety of genres (literary fiction, poetry, sci-fi, non-fiction, plays, and theoretical texts). They include (but
are not limited to) Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Illuminated, David Treuer’s The Translation of Dr. Apelles, Suki Kim’s The Interpreter, Rajiv Joseph’s
play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Leela Corman’s graphic novel Unterzakhn, short pieces by Jumpa Lahiri, Tom Bissell, Ha Jin, and James Salter, and influential essays by
translation scholars. Finally, because the act of translation is inseparable from the context of its production, the readings will be augmented with ongoing classroom discussions of current events as factors that
make translation in American culture both observable and invisible.
Times: T 2-3, R 3
Topics in American Literature and Culture: Queer Graphic Narrative
This course will examine queer cultural history in the United States through a visual approach, uniting two fields of inquiry: comics studies and queer studies. This course is designed to train students to interpret
comics texts (with an emphasis on the unique visual codes of the medium) through a queer theoretical lens and present such analyses through careful, structured academic writing. The course will approach this subject
through a selected historical overview of American comics texts, beginning with underground comix, including Gay Comix and Wimmen’s Comix, moving into graphic narratives like On Loving Women and Dykes to Watch Out For,
and finishing with contemporary webcomics, superheroes, and representations of trans* identities, such as that of How Loathsome. Students will apply foundational comics and literary scholarship to
these texts in order to analyze visual, narrative, and thematic properties.
The course will centralize questions such as: what makes any particular graphic text “queer” (queer characters, themes, author/artists, transgressive potential, etc.)? How are marginalized groups (women and LGBT individuals)
visually represented in a variety of graphic narratives? How is the history of queer experience, place, culture, and politics in America reflected through these visual texts?
Students will interrogate these questions through class discussion, weekly readings of both primary texts and scholarly criticism, semi-weekly short response papers, and three major paper assignments: an arthrological
analysis paper, a scholarly critique paper, and a critical analysis paper.
Times: M W F 6
Topics in American Literature and Culture: Modernism in the Americas
This course investigates the period of American “modernism” and the related process of “modernity,” as they are deployed in literary criticism and cultural studies. While this course is, in part, meant to acquaint students
with modernist American literature, we will also complicate the history of modernism by examining texts not only from the American canon of white (largely male) authors, but also texts from Canada, the Caribbean,
South America, texts by indigenous authors, and transnational productions. By broadening the field of “American modernism” we will investigate patterns and transnational influences as they appear in a range of issues—from
nationalism, imperialism, racism, gender, economics, politics, institutionalization, and high vs. mass culture—and demonstrate the relational nature of modernist aesthetics and its socio-political dimensions.
Finally, we will conclude the semester with a nod toward the resurgence of concepts of modernism and modernity in the present moment—indeed these have become buzzwords in contemporary art and literary criticism. This
dilated field of modernism of the Americas will help clarify how the resurgence modernism is situated in conversations of globalization, and it will help to unpack some of the transformations in cultural and literary
production in contemporary media (television and web streaming, for instance) and artworks.
Times: T 8-9, R 9
An introductory fiction workshop in which students will respond to a couple of brief prompts, and then work on two stories of their own while reading a range of contemporary short stories that illustrate the key elements
of strong narratives.
Times: T 9-11
Topics in Composition: Writing About Weird Fiction
In his essay “Supernatural Horror in Fiction,” H. P. Lovecraft defines the weird tale as having to incorporate “a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard
against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”
This course will focus on “weird fiction,” a genre originating in the late 19th century and containing elements of horror, fantasy, science fiction, and the macabre. In our examination of weird authors
spanning its history, we will attempt to discover what differentiates weird fiction from similar genres and will use several theoretical and historical lenses to examine questions regarding what constitutes “The
Weird.” What was the cultural and historical context for the inception of weird fiction? Why did British weird authors receive greater literary recognition than their American counterparts? Why since the 1980s are
we experiencing a resurgence of weird fiction through the New Weird movement, and how do these authors continue the themes of their predecessors into the 21st century?
Readings for this class will span from early authors who had a strong influence over later weird writers (like E.T.A. Hoffman and Robert Chambers) to the weird writers of the early 20th century (like
Lovecraft, Robert Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith, Lord Dunsany, and Algernon Blackwood) to New Weird authors (including China Mieville, Thomas Ligotti, and Laird Barron). We will also examine theorists and historians
who have analyzed the genre, such as S.T. Joshi and Jeff and Ann VanderMeer (whose anthology The Weird will be a primary text for the class) and how the weird has manifested in other pop cultural
texts, such as the HBO TV series True Detective.
Times: M W F 8
Topics in Composition: Writing About Visionary Feminist Fictions
“Visionary fiction,” adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha write in Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, “is a term we developed to distinguish science fiction that
has relevance toward building new, freer worlds from the mainstream strain of science fiction, which most often reinforces dominant narratives of power. Visionary fiction encompasses all of the fantastic, with the
arc always bending toward justice.” Visionary fiction can thus be understood as an umbrella term that incorporates science fiction, horror, magical realism, and fantasy works that not only address theories of power/power
relations along the fault lines of class, (dis)ability, gender, race, and sexuality, but also engage the fantastical to imagine alternatives to our current dystopian conditions.
In this course, we will look at the visionary fictions produced by U.S. feminist women writers such as James Tiptree Jr., Jewelle Gomez, Octavia Butler, and Ursula K. Le Guin, and examine how these writers’ feminist
politics, and social justice orientations inform their alternative vistas of the future. We will then attempt to answer the following questions: What makes these texts feminist? How is the fantastical or the spectacular
(re)appropriated by these writers to critique—and look beyond—“real world” systems of oppression? Lastly, what (if any) is the political import of visionary feminist fiction? Our primary readings will be supplemented
with critical and theoretical readings, as well as short stories, and video clips.
Times: M W F 3
Topics in Composition: Writing About Late-Victorian Serialized Fiction and Periodicals
The popular conception of a novel today is a book bound in one self-contained volume. However, many of the major canonical British texts from the early nineteenth century were published in three volumes, and by the
middle and latter part of the 1800s, novels by authors such as Charles Dickens and H. G. Wells were not published as collected volumes until after they had been serialized over the course of several months or longer.
Serialization is responsible for many Western storytelling conventions: cliffhangers at the end of chapters or sections in a book, for example, or shorter narratives that are part of a series, such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.
However, we no longer read these texts in a format that resembles their original publication.
In this course, we will read a selection of Victorian novels, series, and other texts that were first published in British periodicals in the late 1800s. We will also look at illustrations, cartoons, advertisements,
and other materials that were printed alongside these texts in an effort to re-contextualize them. When possible, we will read the texts in facsimile editions or scans of the periodicals so that we may experience
their original format as a Victorian reader would have done.
Times: T 2-3, R 3
Topics in Composition: Writing About Intersecting Identities
This course engages with literary texts that offer complex negotiations of different categories of identity, including gender, class, race and caste, with a concentration on the twentieth century. We will turn our attention
to conflicts emerging from the interplay of identities, which problematize individuals’ roles in society and culture, as against static, linear and monolithic identity. We will read literature, with a global thrust
as far as feasible, to explore how identities are constructed through social structures of capitalism and patriarchy; historical experiences of war, colonialism, slavery; as well as regular anxieties determined
by access to capital, technology and mobility.
Throughout the course, we will focus on reading, discussing and writing about the textual representation of intersecting identities, calling for different critical positions. The course may include literary works by
writers from different parts of the globe, including Jean Rhys, Rabindranath Tagore, Saadat Hasan Manto, Ismat Chugtai, Alice Walker, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Margaret Atwood (among others).
Times: M W F 7
Topics in Composition: Writing About Adolescence and the Apocalypse
Dystopian young adult fiction has exploded in popularity in the last decade, but the post-apocalyptic adolescent protagonist is far from a new phenomenon. Long before The Hunger Games came The Chrysalids (1955), Logan’s Run (1967),
and Battle Royale (1999), among others. This course will look at the history of the adolescent and the apocalypse, tracing the context of cultural anxieties and the changing conception of the
teenager. Works will include lesser-known contemporary YA novels, adult novels featuring teenage protagonists, and short stories.
Through the readings, students will interrogate the partnership of adolescence and the apocalypse and reflect on what it means to come of age at the end of the world. Why is the teenager such a common protagonist for
the dystopian or post-apocalyptic narrative? What does the adolescent perspective add to the social critique that appears in these novels? How does a post-apocalyptic backdrop inform and complicate the space of
adolescence? Students will encounter different inciting disasters, from nuclear holocaust to technological acceleration to climate change, and will examine how the experience of the adolescent protagonist varies
through the different narrative milieus.
Times: T 8-9, R 9
Writing Through Media: Electronic Literature
Literature as a discipline is often “bound” within a print-based expectation, even as we increasingly write about it through computing technologies. In this class, the literature we encounter will not just reside on
a page, but across screens, within the network. This genre, called electronic literature, has been developing its canon from the 1980s through subsequent advancements in digital technology, even up to new digital
works which continue to be composed today. We will sample celebrated works from the history of electronic literature, including technologically influenced print texts, examples from the Electronic Literature Collection,
and various digital media extending from there.
A variety of platforms and genres will be represented in our readings. On the page, we will encounter Salvador Plascencia’s digitally progressive print novel The People of Paper. Through electronic interface,
we will experience hypertext fictions like Judd Morrissey’s The Jew’s Daughter, generative poetry like Nick Montfort’s “Taroko Gorge,” narratively experimental games like Davey Wreden’s The Stanley Parable,
and Illya Szilak’s new media “novel” Reconstructing Mayakovsky. Print and digital media will join forces when we read Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse’s augmented reality poetry chapbook Between Page and Screen. These
texts will be critically complimented by theoretical essays by Espen Aarseth, N. Katherine Hayles, Jessica Pressman, and Mark Marino, among others.
Our assignments will include periodic response blogs to specific texts and issues, a group netprov presentation on an electronic work not assigned in class, electronic compositions written through the hypertext editor
Twine and the digital publishing platform Scalar, and a final research paper engaging the critical conversations discussed throughout the semester.
Times: M W F 4, T E1-E3
Writing Through Media: Visualizing Environments
How can we, as a public or as students interested in a wide range of disciplines, perceive events such as The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill or the hypoxic dead zone in the gulf of Mexico? How can we understand (or
refuse to understand), the scientific discoveries of the ozone hole or global climate change? The effects of these events take place over long periods of time and in far-reaching areas across the world, and often
they require an advanced level of scientific understanding to fully comprehend.
Recent interest in technologies like augmented reality and data visualization have made it increasingly possible for individuals to represent abstract, temporally vast, or invisible cultural forces with maps, video,
diagrams, games, memes, and other image-based representations. This class asks the question: how does one see an environment? What is the difference between “seeing” and “imagining,” and how do
technology and popular culture supplant affective images over the physical environment? By asking what seeing is, we are also asking who is being seen and for what purpose. The class
will also consider how we remember and historicize environmental events.
This course will introduce students to technologies such as GIS mapping, augmented reality, and data visualization to interrogate the representations of ecosystems, borders, (non)humans, economic groups, and ecological
disasters in science and popular media. Students will transition between literacy and electracy using various media platforms and will analyze and create visualizations of environmental and ecological issues and
events which otherwise act invisibly in the ideological structure.
Times: M W F 6, M E1-E3
Writing Through Media: Visualizing Latinxs
This course focuses on representations of Latinxs in literature, film, television, music, and advertising by paying attention to how differences in class, race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, and sexuality are
presented across media. To frame our conversation, students will learn the difference between the term Latinx, which attempts to be more representative of individuals’ diverse backgrounds and experiences, and other
identifiers, like Latina/o and Hispanic.
Readings for this course will consist of: fiction by authors like Sandra Cisneros, Junot Díaz, and Achy Obejas, critical writing by scholars like Marta Caminero-Santangelo and Arlene Davila, and various news articles
and advertisements. Class screening times will be used to view music videos and commercials, as well as films like Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit and television series like Jane the Virgin.
This will enrich our class discussions by asking students to consider the types of Latinx roles available for actors, regional variants of the Spanish language, and the challenges of adaptation. In addition, screening
times will provide students with a space to plan and work on writing assignments.
Through exploratory assignments like reading responses and reaction papers to screenings, students will prepare for longer writing assignments that will ask them to effectively present and support original arguments
in which they analyze and synthesize primary and secondary texts. Finally, as this course focuses on writing through media, students will also be asked to produce their own representations of
Times: M W F 5, W E1-E3ENG 1131
Writing Through Media: Social Media Trends
Students in Writing through Trends write about and research social media trends. In the context of this course, writing is defined under its broader multimodal conception that includes text, image, audio, video and
any other digital artifact used to make or remix meaning. Trends are popular and sometimes viral topics that circulate among social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Vine, Tumbr, Instagram, Reddit, and
many others. Students for this course investigate trends within Twitter, Tumblr, or Google Trends to visualize trend data and to understand the way writing moves, circulates, and changes over time. During weekly
workshops, students learn to collect data using MassMine and work collaboratively to create data visualizations and infographics about their research. Many of the readings for this course focus on data literacy,
on the construction of arguments through data collection and visualization, and on the design of research presentations. All of the work completed by students during the semester builds toward the final project
in which students deliver their semester-long trend research in an oral slideware presentation. Through the use of online discussion forums and classroom workshops (screening time), the trending topics and digital
artifacts chosen by students provide thematic content for the course—allowing collaborative invention to emerge from the combination of technical practice and engaged discussion.
Times: M W F 3, R 9-11