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2022 Fall Course Offerings

ENGL 646: 20th C. British Literature
Monday 5:00—7:30 p.m.
Professor Mindi McMann

Since 1900, the collapse of the British Empire has added a new twist to the ongoing puzzle of how to define the peoples of Great Britain. In empire’s aftermath, some have embraced the idea of national identity (an unchanging “spirit” of the British “race”), while others think of identity as historical (forged out of the contact between the British and their colonial “Others”). Both views confront changing demographics as immigrants from former colonies arrive in the British Isles. In this course, we will explore how the end of empire revises the British “race,” and how the concept of race itself is historically and culturally situated. Further, we will also see how imperial history gets revised with decolonization. Literature helps us to understand this process by providing multiple perspectives on Britain, highlighting key themes, and redefining ‘British’ again and again as conditions change. To capture this redefinition, throughout the semester we will be looking at pairs of texts from the first (imperial) and second (postcolonial) halves of the century. We will also be engaging with critical and theoretical readings that will expose students to some of the key terms and principles in postcolonial studies.


ENGL 670: African American Literature and the Environment
Tuesday 5:00—7:30 p.m.
Professor Samira Abdur-Rahman

In this course, we will discuss African American writers’ interest in environmental issues. Because of the legacies of slavery and sharecropping, African American writers have stressed equal access to public facilities (such as parks), the need for land ownership, and the importance of social justice to any proper interaction with the environment. Unlike many mainstream environmentalists, who have stressed the need for maintaining a pristine nature, African Americans have often stressed human relationships to nature as a kind of enlightened stewardship that freed up human creativity, while benefiting nature, as well.

Going further, scholars in the environmental humanities note distinctions in how African Americans represent the “natural world.” For example, Kimberly Foster In African American Environmental Thought observes that writers in the black tradition “treat individuals as embedded in a social context; they come to the natural world as members of a group, drawing on the group’s collective memory to interpret it” (199). Similarly, Carolyn Finney in Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors writes that “Memories prove to be powerful incentives in determining the characteristics of an African American’s relation to the environment” (10). This course will note the key theme of memory within African American natural writings, as we explore poetry, fiction, and non-fiction spanning the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

We will explore how African American artists (primarily writers with some attention to visual and musical artists) have imagined a cultural relationship to nature. Within these various literary contexts, we will study the intersections of nature and culture in a variety of landscapes—wilderness or the “wild,” pastoral/antipastoral, urban and suburban— while also considering some of the themes and debates in the field of ecocriticism. We will read work by Frederick Douglass, W.E.B Du Bois, Jean Toomer, Lucille Clifton, June Jordan, and Edwidge Danticat. We will also watch films by Charles Burnett and Julie Dash.


ENGL 611: Medieval Women and Literature
Wednesday 5:00—7:30 p.m.
Professor Felicia Steele

When we imagine the “medieval woman,” who—or what—do we see? Do we see a “damsel in distress”? Do we see a nun sequestered in a convent? Do we see a flea-bitten old hag? Images of medieval women are nearly as pervasive in popular culture and popular literature as other medieval images—the knight in shining armor, the monk, the peasant. But medieval literature itself is not nearly so consistent. Medieval literature is not one thing; it is not even one singular tradition. It is a complex set of literatures written in many different languages, from many different cultures, with distinct audiences and purposes, all written over the span of a thousand years.

In the last hundred years, scholars have also begun to recognize that women authors of the period, because of the accidents of history, the economics of textual production, and the ethics of the time, have been widely neglected. Many have only been rediscovered in the twentieth century when their manuscripts were discovered. Moreover, male medieval authors, writing out of a tradition of often virulent anti-feminism, based largely on interpretations of the Genesis story, wrote narratives dealing with a feminine subjectivity we would not recognize today as accurate or palatable, yet its influence endures in literature, popular culture, and religious discourse.

In this course, we will read, analyze, and discuss literary and cultural texts from some of the major genres from this period from England, France, and Iceland: the saint’s life, the mystical treatise, the national or dynastic epic, the romance, the fable, the ars amatoria, the saga, and the fabliau. We will focus not only on generic character, but also on the presentation of women within those genres. To that end, we will read works written by women and about women, all
the while trying to determine to what degree these works were written for women.


ENGL 654: Thornton Wilder’s Novels
Thursday 5:00—7:30 p.m.
Professor Lincoln Konkle

Thornton Wilder is most known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Our Town, but he first won a Pulitzer in fiction for his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey. (He is still the only writer to win Pulitzers in both fiction and drama.) Later he won a National Book Award for his penultimate novel The Eighth Day. Despite these achievements, his fiction is understudied compared to his drama. In this course we will read all seven of Wilder’s novels (See the Thornton Wilder Society website Works page for a plot summary of each novel and an overview of its critical reception:, and students will give presentations on previous published scholarship on the novels. This course will provide an opportunity to write a research essay (BYOT—Bring Your Own Theory ) that could be submitted to the Thornton Wilder Journal published by Penn State University Press. (The instructor is one of the journal editors and is willing to mentor interested students beyond the course through revision to potential publication.)