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Spring 2019 Graduate Course Offerings



With the exception of the Proseminar, our graduate courses are designated as either research intensive or reading intensive (you can expect all of them to be writing intensive as well, no matter the designation). The difference between the two lies mainly in the kinds of writing assignments they require. 

A research intensive course will focus on research methodologies and writing and will culminate a final research-based paper that might be turned into a publishable article.

reading intensive course, by contrast, will primarily aim at coverage and culmination in a different sort of final project, for example, an annotated bibliography, likely with a sequence of shorter papers along the way.

We are trying to have balance between these two kinds of courses and in any given term and/or academic year. Please take these differences into consideration when you choose your courses.

Spring 2019

ENGL 8138  Capitalism and Racialization (reading or research intensive - student's choice)

Alex Dubilet and Ben Tran
Wednesday 12:10pm-3pm

Capitalism and race are constitutive elements of the modern world. The exact nature of their interrelation has been a topic of a rich and ongoing interdisciplinary theoretical debate across the humanities and social sciences. This graduate seminar will explore the interactions between capitalism and race from multiple theoretical angles and across various historical and geographic sites. We will consider the ways in which the structures of capitalism have produced and enforced forms of racial ascriptions and processes of racialization – and the different ways that scholars have understood these processes. By engaging with diverse scholarship across literary studies, critical theory, black studies, history, and settler colonial studies, this seminar will introduce students to some of the most significant concepts of modern theoretical discourse, useful for research across different time periods, genres, and subdisciplines.

Topics to be covered during the semester include debates around Karl Marx’s theory of “primitive accumulation” and its racializing and gendering ramifications; Cedric Robinson’s articulation of racial capitalism and the black radical tradition; Michel Foucault’s theorization of biopower as a mode of dividing between those who are allowed to flourish and those who are marked for death; the debates on the relation between slavery and capitalism; the relation between racialization and surplus populations; as well as theories of coloniality and the decolonial imaginaries that seek to overturn it. In exploring these topics of ongoing interdisciplinary debate, the seminar will explore key theoretical perspectives, unpack their conceptual premises, and trace the requisite historical frameworks informing them. Throughout, we will ask after the different ways race has been theorized in relation to and in the ambit of liberal capitalist modernity.


ENGL 8351 – Studies in 20th and 21st century American literatures: African American Poetry:  1950s to the present  (reading intensive)

Vera Kutzinski  
Tuesday 12:10pm-3pm  

This seminar focuses on the poetic practices and theoretical propositions that have sprung from diverse twentieth-century African American poets’ formal and thematic engagements with both the limitations and the possibilities of (artistic) freedom – freedom in relation to memory, witnessing, historical ruptures, and (in)voluntary movement (exile, travel, homecoming). What visions have such poets to offer of survival, belonging, and living-together in the face of racialized difference, persistent misrecognition, and antiblack violence? As the vast majority of critical-theoretical pronouncements about African American literature have been and continue to be based on readings of narrative, it is well worth asking what poetry contributes to such formulations. What new or different questions does poetry raise? What “unspeakable” things do poets seek to put into or between words? What are the poetics and the politics – if indeed they are different – that come into view when we read this body of work?

A major initial question is, of course: which or whose body of work? To address questions of academic canon formation, we begin by comparing anthologies of African American poetry, from Robert Hayden’s Kaleidoscope (1967) and Stephen Henderson’s Understanding the New Black Poetry (1973) to Arnold Rampersad’s Oxford Anthology of African-American Poetry (2006) and Aldon Nielsen and Lauri Ramey’s What I Say: Innovative Poetry by Black Writers in America (2015). On the first day of class, each of you will choose one anthology on which to report during the two following classes (I will provide copies these anthologies for the presenters). We will take our conclusions and questions about canon formation as a springboard for reading collections of poetry by Amiri Baraka, Rita Dove, Robert Hayden, Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde, Nathaniel Mackey, Harriette Mullen, Ishmael Reed, Claudia Rankine, and Jay Wright. This course will be reading intensive and, among other things, explore how and why we might teach certain poems in undergraduate courses.                              

ENGL 8442 – Technologies of Presence:  Visions of Alterity beyond 1s and 0s (reading intensive)

Helen Shin
Monday 3:10pm-6pm   

As the predominant operational principle of our technological infrastructure, binary logic has been expanding its rhetorical reach to the cultural sphere in the digitally networked mediascape. Software or hardware, the actual or the virtual, American or alien, real (true) or fake… indeed, precision-driven algorithms of 1s and 0s and the ontological hierarchy they assign to the two nodes of such binary formulae appear to suggest that discreteness could be readily conflated with value-weighted differentials. The technological mechanisms that undergird and channel the digital chasm, however, demonstrate that liminality is not only a presence in and of itself but also a crucial mode of engagement that rests upon instantiations of transgressive mediality across disparate states of presence. This seminar will explore visions of alterity that reconfigure the ways in which we perceive, comprehend, and in turn build our reality by feeling out the discursive contours of media studies old and new, from the analog electronic to digital networks, wetware, nonhuman cognition, data aesthetics, and ASI (artificial superintelligence) politics. Starting with foundational readings in the field including Marshall McLuhan, Raymond Williams, Giles Deleuze, and Jean Baudrillard, seminar members will trace the genealogy of media theory through cybernetics and new media studies such as Norbert Wiener and Janet Murray, leading up to recent scholarship by Nick Bostrom, Mark Hansen, Wendy Chun, N. Katherine Hayles, Lev Manovich, Donna Haraway, and more. Critical reflections will be weaved into readings, viewings, and doings of diverse media forms including hypertext literature (fictions by Luis Jorge Borges and Patchwork Girl), film (Blade Runner 2049), novel (William Gibson’s Agency), graphic narrative (We3), animation (Innocence: Ghost in the Shell II), videogame (The Stanley Parable), television (Black Mirror and/or Westworld), podcast (open to suggestion), social media platforms, and works by Ted Chiang, who will be visiting campus for an open discussion this spring. The seminar will have an interactive element, open to suggestions for texts and other materials of interest for designated days.    


ENGL 8331  Studies in Medieval and early-modern British Literature: Subject to Sexuality in the Early Modern Period.  (reading intensive)

Lynn Enterline
Monday 12:10pm-3pm

This course will approach the intersection between literature, culture, and sexuality from two angles: we will read a variety of theoretical and critical texts investigating issues of sexuality and fantasy in general alongside literature from the ancient world through the renaissance that challenges normative assumptions about erotic life.  As titles like Queer Philology, Wanton Words, Homoerotic Space, and Sexuality and Form suggest (among others), scholarship in the early modern period has been an important testing ground for sexuality studies for many years now, engaging widely with questions raised by movements in feminist theory, queer theory, gender studies, as well as psychoanalytic and historicist critique. We will read texts by Freud, Lacan, Laplanche, Kristeva, Althusser, Butler, Foucault, Bersani, Bataille and perhaps a few others; and do so in conversation with the many literary critics and scholars who have adopted and adapted theoretical positions from such writing to propose new accounts of early modern poetry, drama, and classicism. With respect to literary history, the course begins with Ovid’s unruly, but wildly influential, Metamorphoses and follows several strands of medieval and early modern engagement with the “polymorphously perverse” figures that characterize his poem—and, indeed, anticipate a number of contemporary ways of thinking. We will read the most important ancient and early modern literary genres in which sexuality makes a difference—epic, love lyric, minor epic, drama—while assessing the intersections among sexuality, rhetorical and dramatic practice, and poetic theory in Ovid, Petrarch, Louise Labé, Thomas Wyatt, Marlowe, Shakespeare, John Lyly, John Webster, Milton and Marvell. From cross-dressing to cross-voicing, early modern engagements with Ovidian mythography unleashed compelling fictions that are still with us, and are still defamiliarizing conventional erotic schemes.


Related Courses in Other Departments


AMER 8000   Graduate Workshop in American Studies:  The Rhetoric of Inquiry 

Paul Stob, Department of Communications
Wednesdays 3:10pm-6pm

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 peer-led, interdisciplinary writing groups.

Note: This course serves as the cornerstone for the Graduate Certificate in American Studies. For more information, contact Paul Stob <>


HIST 2658 - Law and Society of the Seas, 1400-1900

Lauren Benton, Department of History, and Jonathan Lamb, Department of English
Wednesdays 3:10pm-5:40pm

Maritime cultures and legal conflicts at sea.  Lived experiences of sailors and captives.  Strategies of states and navies.  Violence at sea; piracy and mutinies.


HIST 8750 - Studies in American History:  Readings in Justice, Power, and Politics

Rhonda Y. Williams, Department of History
Thursdays 12:10pm-3pm

According to the groundbreaking and award-winning "Justice, Power and Politics" book series: "Tremendous historic political shifts in the United States, alongside trends in the historical scholarship, have noticeably increased lay as well as scholarly interest in the most contested periods in our nation's past. Among scholars there has been a particularly marked interest in better understanding the ways in which people have fought for and defined "justice" in this country during the twentieth century, struggled for a greater voice in society (and thus greater power), and attempted to democratize access to politics."

With books in the JPP series as its foundation, this graduate seminar will examine the historical manifestations of power and oppression; the dynamics of organizing and movements for justice; and histories of and present-day manifestations of justice and the impact on policy and politics.

*The course also seeks to feature guest lectures by those involved with and/or authors in the JPP book series.


WGS 8303 - Queer Theory

Kathryn Schwarz
Thursdays 12:20pm-3pm

History and development of queer theory. Key intellectual antecedents, significant theorists, and current trends. How sexuality intersects with gender, race, class, nationality, ability, and religion.