Courses in Imagining Social Justice
ENGLIT 0515: Contemporary African American Poetry
This course explores the rich and diverse field of contemporary poetry by African Americans, which has witnessed a marked growth over the last three decades. It examines the range of styles, aesthetic projects, and concerns of contemporary black U.S. poets, including the relation of various forms of experimentation to tradition; vernacular, oral, and musical expression; questions of race, culture, and identity; globalization and diasporic movements; the individual and society.
ENGLIT 0521: Scan Culture: Surveillance and the Digital
One way to characterize the intertwined social and technological milieu of the 21st century is as “scan culture.” From the NSA's wide reaching scanning programs revealed by Edward Snowden to be systematically scanning nearly all of our metadata to Gmail's scanning of our emails to ubiquitous body scanners at airports to the vast digitization efforts by Amazon, Google, and the Internet Archive to transfer our archives and reading practices into the modalities of the digital, our lives are largely structured by scanning techniques that are simultaneously technological and social. This course, offered alongside the launch of a larger initiative to investigate the cultural aspects of scanning, will take a multi-media approach to scan culture. We'll analyze novels, stories, films, video games, web sites, and technological systems in order to develop a critical vocabulary and conceptual framework for making sense of scanning as a form of culture. In addition, students will have the opportunity to join in the building of a book scanning system, to investigate “from the inside” the protocols, possibilities, and limitations of digitization.
ENGLIT 0541: Literature and Medicine
This course explores the relation between literature and medicine, and posits the centrality of acts of reading and writing, of interpretations of signs and symbols, to the practice of both literary criticism/production and medicine as it is commonly understood. Ever since Aristotle’s association of tragedy with catharsis, a term borrowed from medicine, literature and medicine have been more or less implicitly intertwined in the western traditions. This course examines the ways in which the art and science of healing illness, and enduring ills which cannot be cured, can be seen as part of the endeavor to attain to a fuller, more enlightened humanity. The literature of medicine--medical literature such as Hippocratic Writings and Galen--will serve as starting point for the duality of medicine as literature and literature as medicine. Through reading a wide range of works, from the very beginning of recorded literature, but also emphasizing contemporary writing on relevant themes, this course will provide students with textual and contextual analytical tools and strategies. The field of Narrative Medicine is a recognition of the centrality of critical and narrative interpretation to fields beyond the “literary.”
ENGLIT 0573: Literature of the Americas
Literature of the Americas introduces students to important issues in the study of literature and culture by focusing on colonial and postcolonial traditions in regions of the Americas beyond the United States. Beginning with the European "discovery" of the "new world", it examines comparatively literary and other texts from Britain, the West coast of Africa, the US, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, tracing the emergence of distinctive literary traditions and preoccupations of the Americas through to significant modern incarnations.
ENGLIT 0601: Protests, Politics, and the Black Lyrical Tradition
Black poetic traditions span print, the spoken word, song lyrics, especially, the Blues, and rap. This course considers the history of Black lyrical traditions in the context of various moments of protest and various political movements. The course examines the mutual influences of Black music—sound, rhythm, voice, and orchestration—and Black poetry—verse, spoken word, and song and rap lyrics. Extending the analytical practice of “close reading,” this course asks students toalso engage in practices of “close listening” to the Blues and rap as well as to the sounds of the written word. Practicing these together, students will gain an intricate understanding of the mutual influences between sonic and print forms of Black lyrical traditions. Additionally, this course will examine the role that Black lyrical traditions play in the cultural movements that address anti-Black racism in American culture.
ENGLIT 0610: Women and Literature
An exploration of writings by and about women. Through our reading of various literary forms --poetry fiction, autobiography --we will explore the aspirations and realities of women's lives. We will consider how issues of class, race, sexuality, and intersectionality affect women writers.ENGLIT0613: Asian American Literature What is Asian American literature? Can this geo-political term be used as a category for poetry, novels, and short stories by authors from such culturally diverse Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Indian (and other) heritages and histories? To conside rthe case for a cohesive body of Asian American literature, this course introduces students to themes and forms of what has come to be known as Asian American literaturefromthemid-20thcentury to the present. We practice close reading while exploring how these literary works challenge U.S. ideologies such as the melting pot and the American dream as they dramatize Asian American exclusion, incarceration, labor exploitation, discrimination, and diaspora. We will focus especially on coming-of-age stories and lyric poems, exploring their portrayal of familial strife between first and second-generation immigrants and how conflicts also occur within individuals: children are torn internally between their dual cultures while parents feel they are living in the west in body and east in mind. Our close readings will also illuminate how characters’ difficulties with national identity intersect with struggles concerning their assigned gender, sexuality, class, or religion, deepening their sense of alienation and alterity.
ENGLIT0621: African American Literature: Introduction to Debates and Approaches
This course introduces students to several of the key methodological and theoretical approaches to African American literary studies today. Through a selection of primary and secondary readings, students will acquire a knowledge of a range of conceptual frameworks and critical terms that currently shape the study of African American literature.
ENGLIT0628: Working Class Literature
This course explores writing produced by working-class men and women. It traces its textual traditions and explores questions of the status of the "working class", its relation to self-understandings in ethnic or gender terms as well as the effect of class on social experience, social vision and cultural production. It also explores the relation between worker-writers and the dominant literary tradition.
ENGLIT 0630: Sexuality and Representation
This course will explore the relations between cultural texts and the shifting conceptualizations and figurations of sexuality and sexual politics over the past 150 years. The main objective of this course will be to understand the necessary but problematic relations between sexuality, cultural expression, and the social.
ENGLIT 0647: Harry Potter: Blood, Power, Culture
This course studies J.K. Rowling’s story of the famous boy wizard and his world, its contexts, and its impact. The course follows the story arc, character and magical-world construction based on considerations of genre (fantasy, the gothic, children’s literature, postmodern), culture (race, class, gender, ethics, politics, activism), and universal experience (love, death, heroism, child-adult relations, coming-of-age). Readings include comparable novels by authors other than Rowling, as well as literary and cultural criticism, and scholarship on the HP series and its ensuing phenomena. You will be expected to synthesize the critical essays with your own reading of the primary texts in class and in your written work. Most of the criticism we will read assumes an undergraduate level understanding of literary analysis and cultural studies, but some reading will be more challenging. In addition to studying the series in terms of its own embedded politics and symbolic meanings, we will tackle the larger issue of the book as a cultural influence and product, and the more difficult question of where to place Rowling and her writing in literary history, i.e. to what extent (or not) the series can be viewed as a “classic.”
ENGLIT 0648: Narrative and Graphic Perspectives in Health Humanities
This course emphasizes the narrating and understanding of difference as central to the education of those engaged in/with the healthcare field and examines the ways in which narratives have the power to inform and transform social spheres. Students will consider how narratives of neurodiversity; gender barriers; racial inequities in education and health services, for instance, are all crucial issues for providers and receivers of medical care. By studying literature about medicine/the health professions from diverse perspectives, students in the course will learn to observe, parse, appreciate, critique, and creatively reimagine points of contact between individuals in healthcare sphere.
ENGLIT 0670: Queer and Transgender Literature
"Queer and Transgender Literature" will examine the changing relationship between queer and transgender identities in literature, science and culture from the early twentieth century to the present. Students will learn to read literature in its historical context, pairing it with primary sources from relevant scientific and medical discourses, as well as locating it in competing literary criticism traditions in queer theory and transgender studies. The weekly course meetings will revolve around discussion of key works in queer and transgender literature, paired alternately with important literary criticism and primary sources. Classroom discussion and in-class writing assignments will focus on building these historicist and critical skills in sequence, so as to prepare students for their main assignment sequence, which asks them to apply the skills they are learning to generate their own contributions to debates in criticism about the proper boundaries between queer and transgender identities.
ENGLIT 0710: Contemporary Environmental Literature
This course examines the ways in which contemporary writers in English have engaged with the natural environment. We will read a range of authors, from the 1960s to the present day, to consider how they have looked critically at the human effects on ecosystems, and we will also study the interdisciplinary scholarly field of ecocriticism and its responses to such writings. Throughout, we will be attentive both to the literary qualities of writings about the environment and to their historical and political contexts.
ENGLIT 0720: Global Fictions
The forces of globalization press upon our everyday world in often incomprehensible ways. Things that used to feel local and familiar are now global and dispersed. Data can travel from Pittsburgh to Beijing and back in milliseconds. The challenge of trying to make sense of this rapidly changing world—its technologies, its new cultures, its wars and revolutions—has been taken up by authors from around the world. And these same authors realize, too, that their works have been irrevocably shaped by the forces that are shrinking the planet. In this course, we’ll read texts that attempt to understand globalization through literary and textual innovations. We will read new, exciting works from authors both known and unknown, and we’ll put them in dialogue with the reigning debates about globalization. Can literature change the way we think about war, injustice, or geopolitics? What constitutes “the developing world” and how have authors depicted it? How do novels circulate in the global community? Most important, what modes of analysis do the literatures of globalization require, and how can we use them to interpret our own places in the whirlwind of modernity?
ENGLIT 0850: The Female Hero
This course studies heroism as a gendered concept as it has evolved over time. The hero is a commonly understood archetype across genres but is most often associated with masculinity. This course seeks to define, authenticate, and analyze the female hero as a powerful figure in her own right. This course will take into account the tropes of classical heroism but consider modern and contemporary texts in which the image of the hero is redefined in line with the concept of the "female hero." Issues we will investigate include: the role of the masculine gaze in the construction of female heroes; feminist versions of heroism and strength; and the role race, class, and gender play in the making of a hero. We will also consider the ways that the female hero inflects or alters traditional feminine roles. And we will consider how the binary constructions of masculinity and femininity are impacted by stories with female heroes. Through analysis of fiction, film, and criticism, we will begin to define the female hero.
ENGLIT 0880: Shakespeare and Social Justice
When Shakespeare’s King Lear finally turns his attention to the plight of “poor naked wretches” who have no clothing to protect them from a “pitiless” storm, he realizes he has taken “too little care” of human suffering in his kingdom. Departing from scenes such as this one, this course explores the work of artists and critics who have used Shakespeare’s plays to confront a range of social injustices, including US persecution of Native Americans, the legacies of white settler colonialism across the globe, and intimate partner violence. Examining adaptations, remediations, and appropriations of Shakespeare plays, such as Toni Morrison’s Desdemona or Aimé Césaire’s A Tempest, students will be invited to consider what Shakespeare signifies in different cultural contexts and to examine related contests of cultural authority and ownership. Focusing on scholarship, performances, poetry, and art by people from various marginalized groups, students will explore the histories and futures of Black Shakespeare, Indigenous Shakespeare, Trans Shakespeare, Chicano Shakespeare, and many others. Several short writing assignments will build students’ skills in a range of critical and creative practices that can contribute to social justice and diversity: archival research, critical fabulation, social network mapping, oppositional reading, comparative analysis of two or more productions, and personal reflection.
ENGLIT 1015: Unruly Bodies
This course studies the body as a phenomenon of cultural construction, as a product and process of lived experience, as the object of societal techniques of control, and as the subject of radical liberation. This course will examine the body in literature and other forms of representation. It will examine the ways that demands of “unruly bodies” to conform to normative body images intersect with gender, sex, sexuality, age, race, and other identity categories. This course studies the body as a phenomenon of cultural construction, as a product and process of lived experience, as the object of societal techniques of control, and as the subject of radical liberation. This course will examine the body in literature and other forms of representation. It will examine the ways that demands of “unruly bodies” to conform to normative body images intersect with gender, sex, sexuality, age, race, and other identity categories.
ENGLIT 1180: Humans, Animals, Machines in Victorian Literature
The Victorian Era in Britain saw radical changes in thought regarding what it means to be human. Darwin’s theory of evolution raised questions about the distinction between humans and animals at the same time that his rhetoric created stricter distinctions amongst human beings. Shifts in understanding human development brought new attention to the nature of children. Increased industrialization sparked debates about the relationships between human beings and machines. New technologies changed how people thought about experience and reality. The new capitalist relations amongst human beings also reignited struggles to define and attain universal equality. Looking at literary, philosophical, scientific, and other types of texts we will discover the ways in which the overlapping concepts of “human,” “animal,” and “machine” were redefined, tested, and debated, and we will investigate major areas of British Victorian history and culture. Students will have deep and extensive knowledge of the energies that animated Victorian culture and gain critical perspectives on the ideas and debates that have been so influential on our own contemporary world. This course is designed for literature majors and for students interested in the history of science.
ENGLIT 1225: 19th-Century African American Literature
This course will cover a wide range of materials, beginning with the late eighteenth-century poetry and prose of authors such as Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano and ending with Civil War, Reconstruction, or Gilded-age authors such as William Wells Brown, Frances Harper, Pauline Hopkins, Charles Chesnutt, or Paul Laurence Dunbar. The readings for the course will include a variety of different genres of writing (slave narratives, poetry, drama, fictive and non-fictive prose) as well as pay passing attention to the significant African American intellectual and cultural movements that had a role in shaping these various literary productions.
ENGLIT 1227: Harlem Renaissance
Throughout the 1920s, Harlem, New York was the epicenter of black artistic, cultural, literary, and intellectual innovation. Exploring this distinctive moment, this course pays particular attention to politics, cultural history, literary movements, visual culture, performance, and music as they relate to key historical events like the Great Migration, World War I, and urbanization. The course traces key themes and questions through a variety of genres, including poetry, the essay, drama, literature, photography, and art by black artists and intellectuals such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Alain Locke, Claude McKay, Nella Larsen, and Jean Toomer.
ENGLIT 1230: 20th-Century African American Literature
This course begins by briefly examining some of the major authors from the 1920s who were part of what came to be known as the “New Negro Renaissance” or “Harlem Renaissance,” such as Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, and Zora Neale Hurston. We will then study a range of modernist and naturalist writers of the 1930s and 1940s, such as Richard Wright, Ann Petry, and Gwendolyn Brooks. In the second half of the course we will focus on several post-WWII writers that were associated with the Civil Rights and Black Arts movements, from the 1950s to the 1970s, including figures such as Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Toni Cade Bambara. Finally, we will consider the recent wave of African American writers that emerged with the popularization, in the 1980s, of several new genres of African American literature.
ENGLIT 1247: August Wilson
This course closely examines the work of the American dramatist August Wilson. A significant amount of the playwright's work, including his epic 10-play 'Pittsburgh Cycle,' is set in Pittsburgh and notably in the hill district, where Wilson spent his first 33 years. The course will engage with Wilson's plays as well as criticism, history and literature by other authors. Course goals include increased insight and skill in reading, in close analysis, and in discussing and writing about this imaginative world in its historic, social, and literary contexts. Assignments may include viewing plays and videos, researching Pittsburgh history, and field trips to the hill district.
ENGLIT 1380: World Literature in English
This course examines contemporary literature, primarily in English, written in eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America, etc. It pays particular attention to its depiction of social, political and moral concerns.
ENGLIT 1382: Prized Books
How do metropolitan taste and recognition affect dominant and emergent literatures and nations? How do particular contexts and award-winning texts exert pressure on existing criteria and values? How does the category "prized books" also implicitly constitute and comment upon a body of literature that is "unprized"? How do prized books redefine notions of readership and citizenship in the world of globalization and electronic access? Such questions will open up the idea of "world literature" not as an afterthought to the canon of "English" literature, but as an integral and definitive part of it. Students will read literature, speeches, and essays by winners of the Nobel and other global literary prizes such as the booker and the commonwealth.
ENGLIT 1384: Banned Books
Banned Books examines literary writings banned, burned, or disputed across cultural, social, and national traditions. We will read works considered obscene, profane, or subversive by state, religious, or local institutions, as well as critical and historical texts engaged with writing and its restriction. We will explore debates and questions that surround banned books, such as: what makes a book dangerous? Who do books threaten, and how? Why and how do banned books often join our canons or become best sellers? How do our attitudes toward art and censorship shape us? How do they shape our world? We will also consider the specific goals, literary strategies, and cultural and historical contexts of each of the authors and novels that we read.
ENGLIT 1715: Global Black Literature
Despite their geographical and cultural differences, writers from Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States undergo similar experiences of oppression. Problems of self-identity, and the quest for self-respect. These similarities will be discussed in class along with a comparative approach to the texts with supplementary films, slides, and recordings.