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2019-20 PhD Course Offerings

Fall 2019

ENGL 8110 – Proseminar

Candice Amich

W 12:10-3

The Proseminar provides an introduction to English graduate studies through attention to both practical and theoretical issues. We will preview the arc of progress through the PhD program, from the art of the seminar paper to developing a dissertation project. Special attention will be paid to developing the writing skills necessary for professional success; we will draft and exchange conference abstracts, conference papers, and book reviews. We will also examine the stages through which an essay that begins as a conference or seminar paper may move toward publication. Together we will read a host of theoretical and critical essays that cover established and emerging approaches across historical periods, geographic areas, and genres.    


ENGL 8331 – Studies in Medieval and early-modern British Literature: Firing the Canon

Jessie Hock

T 3:10-6

In 1840, in a lecture on “The Hero as Divinity,” Thomas Carlyle declared that “the History of the World…was the Biography of Great Men.” For a long time, the study of sixteenth and seventeenth century English literature was conducted as the biography of a few Great Men—Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton—represented as the exemplary figures of their age. The canon of Renaissance literature, however, was made, not born: it was the Romantics who established Shakespeare as the great writer of the human spirit, T.S. Eliot who made Donne out as a “metaphysical” poet and the leading light of seventeenth century lyric. In the final decades of the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty-first, scholars have remade the canon of Renaissance/early modern literature, bringing in texts by and about the “othered” figures of the period—people of color, women, religious minorities, the lower classes, those with non-normative sexualities—while also adapting and developing theoretical tools suitable to the interpretation of these texts (feminist, psychoanalytic, queer, and race theory, among others). In addition to a survey of Renaissance and early modern literature from the margins, this course offers a meditation on canon formation, deformation, and reformation. Scholars are constantly restructuring the meaning and relevance of texts and periods. At stake in this constantly evolving and contentious process of redefinition—deciding who gets to read, to be read, and in what terms—is a whole series of questions about power, community, and authority of the utmost contemporary relevance. Our jumping-off point will be the Renaissance/early modernity, but the second half of the semester will move beyond the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as students undertake and present projects on their own periods.


ENGL 8370 – Studies in 18th Century British Literature: The Book of Worlds

Scott J. Juengel

Thursday 3:10-6 pm

In 1946 Jorge Louis Borges published “Del rigor en la ciencia” (“On Exactitude in Science”), a single paragraph story in the form of a fictional citation.  The entire story is as follows:

… In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography. Suarez Miranda,Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658.

A map the size of the territory it maps.  Borges’s story might serve as the history of realism in miniature: a desire for totality that collapses under its own historical weight, leaving behind the “tattered ruins” of a mimetic project offering scant refuge to survivors.  This is arguably also the story of empire.

With such outsized desires in mind, this is a seminar on fictional worlds and the theoretical armature they depend on.  What is a “world” and how does a novel create one?  How do novel worlds differ from those we find in epic, romance, tragedy and other traditional genres?  Is it principally a political formation or an aesthetic one?  Focusing primarily but not exclusively on the fate of realism, we will explore how forms of “plotting”—at once cartographical, narratological and conspiratorial—appear to give immanent form to a notoriously “formless” genre.  While this is a seminar on the history and theory of the novel, it recognizes that the scale of our current political vocabulary depends on the architectonics of world-making (e.g. globalization, planetarity, territoriality, the hemispheric, world systems, cosmopolitanism).  In addition to theoretical texts, the syllabus will be anchored by 6-7 literary works spanning from Robinson Crusoe to Exit West, and sampling from a range of subgenres such as the domestic novel, the gothic novel, the national tale, speculative fiction, Bildungsroman, magical realism and so on.  Specific titles will be available over the summer.


ENGL 8351 – Studies in 20th and 21st Century American Literatures : Narratives of Black Love and Kinship

Emily J. Lordi

T 12:10-3 pm

This course will examine some particularly well-known works of African American fiction and nonfiction that thematize black love, desire, intimacy, and the intricacies of domestic life. Reading across the shifting literary, legal, social, and critical terrains of the 20th and 21st centuries, we will ask how and to what extent the legacies of enslavement continue to shape and inspire black kinship. How are the dynamics of patriarchal racism reproduced and resisted in black domestic spaces? How do certain genres (e.g., passing narratives) speak to the imbrications of blackness and whiteness, and how might certain marriage plots—what Ann du Cille called “the coupling convention”—signify hope as well as anxiety regarding female mobility, black diasporic alliance, queer desire, and reproductive futurity? Authors of primary texts might include Nella Larsen, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, John Edgar Wideman, and Tayari Jones. Authors of secondary texts will likely include Hortense Spillers, Candice Jenkins, Jennifer Nash, Phillip Brian Harper, and Deborah McDowell, among others.


ENGL 8442 – Media Studies: Archives and End Times (Media and Critical Theory for the Anthropocene)

Jennifer Fay

M 3:10-6 pm

What is the place of the Earth in media and critical theory? How have visual and time-based media shaped, literally, the planet we call home not only by providing representations of our world and imitations of life, but also by leaving behind their own trace deposits? How do literary and media archives enable us to understand our entanglements with non-human entities and geophysical forces, even as they posit an image and a future world without us? And what does it mean to watch a film or read fiction with a view to not just “the world” but the planet?

This seminar is a primer in environmental humanities, one of the most critically vibrant and professionally expanding interdisciplinary fields. We will focus on a range of texts and reading practices in order to grapple with challenges of the Anthropocene (including challenges to the very term “the Anthropocene”) and its attendant phenomena. It situates 20th and 21st century literature, film, and theory within a longer intellectual history of technology, “nature,” and what were once presumed to be features of human exceptionalism. We will also linger over catastrophism (the Malthusian specter of over-population, species extinction, nuclear war, and apocalyptic thinking, capitalism) as a projection of end times and a forecast of a new beginning on a different kind of planet.

Topics include:

  • Climate change, history, and post-colonial studies;
  • Frankfurt school theories of film, photography, and anti-humanist media;
  • Critiques of Enlightenment reason and its turn to natural history;
  • Richard Wright’s flood fiction and the “insurgent geographies” of the “Black Anthropocene”;
  • Cinema of the mega-dam and the ecology of the poor;
  • Queer environmentalism;
  • Extinction narratives;
  • Mutation, mutants, and animal being;
  • Nuclearism and ritual in sacrificial zones.

Related Courses in Other Departments

FREN 8075 - Modern Francophone Caribbean Literature

Paul Miller

T 3:10 PM

Modern Francophone Caribbean culture, much likes its counterparts in the Anglophone and Hispanic Caribbean, can be described as a dialectical process of assimilation, resistance and negotiation of African, European and indigenous modes of being and representation. The synthesis of this dialectic, ideally, is an autonomous Caribbean cultural identity. Literature is a privileged expression of this process in that it allegorizes the travails that must be worked through in order to achieve cultural autonomy.

Modern Caribbean literature is dominated by male-centric visions of identity and history stemming from the Haitian Revolution and its legacies Haitian indigenisme and articulations of "Bovarysme collectif," Césarian Négritude, critiques of (post)-colonial discourse and discourses of Antillanité and Créolité. While we review these stalwart expressions as the foundational cases of Caribbean literature, we will then shift the focus to engage more recent literature especially (but not exclusively) by women. How do modern Francophone Caribbean writers negotiate ideas of racial, ethnic, national and sexual identity in a post-Marxist world in which neo-liberalism and departmentalization are a fait accompli? The pressing issues for modern writers are the persistence of sexual violence, machismo and homophobia; environmental catastrophes that are also the result of global inequalities in income and consumption; the continual pressures of migration and linguistic assimilation. Writers will include: Aimé Césaire, Jacques Roumain, Franz Fanon, René Despestre, Marie Chauvet, Maryse Condé, Patrick Chamoiseau, Michel-Roth Trouillot, Evelyne, Trouillot, Yanick Lahens, Giselle Pineau, Kettly Mars, Edwidge Danticat, Jamaica Kincaid, among others.

Spring 2020


ENGL 8120 Pedagogy Course

Dana Nelson

TR 10:00-11:30 (Duncan Library)

This course is required of all 3rd year PhD CandidatesThis course also requires each candidate to shadow an assigned undergraduate course the same semester, and to participate in a one-afternoon pedagogy workshop by education innovator and distinguished scholar Cathy N. Davidson (Feb 11). 

In this workshop you will develop a syllabus and assignments for the 1200-level writing course (W) you will be teaching in the fall semester of your fourth year.  We will be workshopping your teaching materials as we develop them, using your observations from the class you observe to consider various models and classroom styles for teaching, from lecture and discussion to in-class activities and assignments.  We will read material that help you think about how to create significant learning experiences, engage student ideas, interact with and manage classroom affect, and think about pedagogical questions and techniques critically—maybe even radically.  We will consider techniques for fostering intrinsic motivation in your students, and a sense of intellectual self-efficacy.  We’ll study metrics and outcome assessments, and help you design a class that has specific goals for your students and ways to measure and document their progress toward those goals, even as you also design a class that is intellectually exciting for you and aims at being so for your students.


ENGL 8351 – Studies in 20th and 21st Century American Literatures: Twentieth-Century American Political Fiction

Cecelia Tichi

R 3:10-6:00

“Twentieth-Century American Political Fiction” is designed to assist planning for doctoral examinations and, perhaps more significantly, to prepare doctoral students for the day when applications for professional positions are strengthened by documented proficiency in diverse fields of study. Beyond the expertise verified in the dissertation (and highlighted in the CV), English 8351 is thus structured to broaden the portfolio of courses you might offer in your own classrooms of the future.

Building each portfolio throughout the semester will be a communal effort. Each member of the group will contribute weekly to the larger enterprise in discussion and distribution of relevant material. In addition to the reading scheduled for a particular week, together with preparation for discussion, do plan to:

1) scout scholarly essays (or book chapters) relevant to the text of the week,

2)  select one that impresses you as particularly useful and

3) prepare a written response to it according to the format included below.


ENGL 8351 – Studies in 20th and 21st Century American Literatures: Black Sound Studies

Anthony Reed

T 3:10-6:00

Artists and critics have linked the emergence of distinctly black intellectual and intellectual sensibilities to the emergence of a distinctly black culture in the Americas at least since the early twentieth century. Recently, interrogations of the interactions among race, aesthetics, technology and culture have been grouped under the heading “black sound studies.” This interdisciplinary formation comprises an ideologically and methodologically heterogeneous set of theoretical interventions that respond to and shape the racial, political, academic, and intellectual milieus in which they emerge. Our primary aims are three-fold. First, we will read a range of theoretical texts that we can now understand to be black sound studies. Second, we will contextualize theories of black sound within material, intellectual, and political milieus with the aim of understanding what possibilities and limitations those texts respond to in order to see the ways arguments about aesthetics and cultural production interact with the political and theoretical horizons of their moment. We will read LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka’s Blues People (1963) alongside Ralph Ellison (from Living with Music) and Angela Davis on the blues (1998). We will also read Houston Baker’s Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature (1984) alongside selections from Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism (1983). Finally, we will consider canonical and contemporary literature as (re)sources of black sound studies, attending to the ways literature produces theories of its own practice. In addition to those already named, authors of theoretical texts to include Sherley Anne Williams, Hazel Carby, Francesca Royster, Fred Moten, Alexander Weheliye, and others. Authors of literary texts to include Nathaniel Mackey and Jayne Cortez.


ENGL 8410 – Studies in Romantic and Victorian Literatures: New Approaches to the Nineteenth Century

Rachel Teukolsky

W 12:10-3 pm

In 2015, a group of young scholars published a manifesto online attacking the current state of nineteenth-century studies. Calling themselves the “V21 collective,” the group called for the discipline to open itself to more theoretical methods, championing a “strategic presentism” that linked historical works to present-day issues. The controversy serves as a useful entryway into some of the profound questions driving current scholarship. What are the responsibilities of scholars who work in historical fields? How can literary texts speak to contemporary concerns—and should they? What kinds of theories and philosophies are current in the field of nineteenth-century studies? The class will assume no knowledge of the nineteenth century; it will introduce some of the era’s canonical works, focusing loosely on Victorian Britain, with transatlantic and global strands. Five broad units may include: 1) Ecocriticism and scholarship of the Anthropocene, with Victorian texts like John Ruskin’s Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century and Thoreau’s Walden; we’ll also read Allen McDuffie’s prize-winning essay “Charles Darwin and the Victorian Pre-History of Climate Denial” (2018); 2) Victorian race theory, modern critical race theory, antislavery debates, and Dion Boucicault’s stage melodrama The Octoroon (1859), along with its rewriting as a contemporary play by Branden Jacob-Jenkins, An Octoroon (2014); 3) Theories of empire, capitalism, and Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, along with Lisa Lowe’s The Intimacies of Four Continents (2015); 4) A unit on visual culture, media history, and the Victorian invention of photography (and cinema): with texts by Charles Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin, W. J. T. Mitchell’s Picture Theory (1994) and Tom Gunning on early film. 5) The fifth unit may contemplate ethics and politics, with George Eliot’s bildungsroman The Mill on the Floss (1860), along with philosophical writings by Friedrich Nietzsche and Hannah Arendt. In addition to weekly response papers, students will have various options for course assignments, ranging from three short papers to one longer paper.

Related Courses in Other Departments

AMER 1800 - The Rhetoric of Inquiry in American Studies

Paul Stob

W 3:10-6:00p

American Studies is an interdisciplinary field that links scholars from such disciplines as history, English, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, political science, religious studies, legal studies, communication studies, and more. This course will explore the past, present, and future of American studies through the language, symbols, and discourse that shape its interdisciplinary inquiry. Beginning with a brief history of the field, the course will feature the scholarship of and discussions led by Vanderbilt faculty from across the University. In addition, the course will offer students the chance to continue working on projects already begun in their home departments - but this time in the context of a peer-led, interdisciplinary working group.