Fall 2018
LIT 6856 Rationality, Irrationality, and Modernity

A nearly axiomatic definition of modernity, usually associated with Max Weber, emphasizes the increasing rationality – and rationalization – of social, economic, political, intellectual and other spheres of human life, and a concomitant “disenchantment” of the world: the inevitable and progressive banishment of the “irrationalities” of religion, superstition, emotion, aesthetics, political extremism, and so forth. Yet other great theorists of modernity, including Freud, Nietzsche, and many others, exposed and explored a pervasive irrational core to modern existence. Still others, meanwhile, have upended the master narrative of modernity altogether, revealing its limitations as an explanation for both historical change and our current condition.  In this course, we will use Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism as a touchstone for exploring the multiple ways in which thinkers from the late-nineteenth century to the present have challenged conventional assumptions associated with modernity about social progress, subjectivity, belief, political agency, and much more, and developed new ways of thinking about the long narrative of historical change.  This course should be of use to any graduate student who would like a grounding in Euro-American historiography and in key debates in critical theory.

ENG 4936 Law and American Literature

In this course, we will study works of American literature written between 1850 and 2018 that substantially engage with some aspect of our legal system. We will discuss how these works of literature address important themes related to the law including justice, crime, punishment, and the power of the state. We will also study the formal relationships between legal and literary forms of storytelling, and compare literary interpretation and legal reasoning. Course reading will include novels (Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Richard Wright’s Native Son, Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, among others), court cases, and works of legal and literary theory and criticism.

Spring 2016
LIT4483 Cultural Studies

Fall 2015
AML 6027 Indigeneity and American Studies (graduate level)

In 2007, the United Nations passed the “Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People” (UNDRIP), an important document that helped to define a political phenomenon already underway: The development of a global indigenous politics and identity. Indigenous people often face similar battles for recognition and against discrimination, cultural and language loss, and loss and despoliation of key economic and cultural resources. They are often the first to feel the effects of climate change and of the industrialization of rural and wilderness areas.

This course will explore the emerging field of Indigenous Studies in relation to American Studies, a field that has long struggled with imperatives to internationalize and de-provincialize. Of course, the study of the history and culture of North American Indians has always been a part of American Studies. Through reading and seminar discussion of newer works of literature, history, and criticism, this course will centrally address one question: How does a focus on indigeneity change our understanding of American Indian studies and American studies?

The course should be useful for students interested in cultural studies, American literature and culture, and (post-)colonialism. It should also serve as an introduction to some of the themes and major works of American Indian Studies and Indigenous Studies.

Spring 2015
AML 3285 American Indian Literature (advanced undergraduate level)

This course will provide an introduction to literature created by American Indian authors of the 20th and 21st centuries. We will consider American Indian literature as a postcolonial literature and as a creative and collective interpretation of history and culture. We will also examine how contemporary literature addresses issues of concern to Indian people, including legal sovereignty, cultural survival, representations of Indians in non-native communities, and issues of environmental stewardship. Readings will consist of mostly novels, but we will also discuss some poetry, critical essays, and one film, by authors including D’Arcy McNickle, N. Scott Momaday, Tomson Highway, Le Anne Howe, Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, Sherman Alexie, and Simon Ortiz.

Fall 2014
Raymond Williams’s 1976 work, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, is a classic work of literary and cultural studies. Using a formally and methodologically distinctive structure, it has provided a template for countless subsequent “keywords” books in dozens of fields. This course will examine the use of “keywords” as a method of cultural interpretation.  It will address some of the intellectual origins of a “keywords” methodology, and also survey recent works of criticism and theory that have centered around one or more keywords as part of an effort to describe and comprehend the present. We will analyze other scholars’ uses of such diverse keywords as love, debt, depression, shame, and friction. We will also use these works to try to develop our own collective understanding of the contours of contemporary society and culture. It should be of particular interest to students working in cultural studies, critical theory, and contemporary literature.

Spring 2014
AML 3285 American Indian Literature (advanced undergraduate level)

Fall 2013
LIT 6855 Cultural Studies (graduate level)

This course is predicated on a definition of cultural studies as the study of totality, the whole “way of life” of a given group of people.  There are of course competing views of the matter and challenges to such a definition, and students will have a chance to explore them, and to place this idea in the context of the history of the field more generally. But the main focus will be to consider this particular version of cultural studies and its relationship to various literary theories and methods of reading. We will consider different kinds of cultural totalities—of space, time, and scale. We will ask such questions as: What is the relationship between cultural studies as a discipline and such fields as literary and historical studies? what is the relationship between cultural studies and globalization?


LIT 4483  Cultural Studies (advanced undergraduate level)

This course will provide an introduction to the theory and practice of cultural studies, with an emphasis on its relationship to literary studies.  Topics to be addressed: what is “culture,” and what is “literature”? What is the methodology of cultural studies? How do the methods of cultural studies inform the study of literature? How do methods of literary interpretation inform our interpretation of culture? This course should be of interest to students studying all types of literature, literary theory, and cultural studies.  Readings will be largely critical and theoretical in nature; grades will be based on formal papers, short responses to readings, and participation.

Resources for Students

How to Write a Prospectus: a guide for graduate students, and others

Prospectus, Abstract, Research Statement, Research Paragraph…What’s the Difference?  A Short Prezi for academic job seekers on how to present your research materials