/ English Department

Courses

We offer a wide range of unique classes taught by professors who love what they do and take joy in furthering their students intellectually, spiritually and socially.

View full course information in the catalog 

Special Topics (ENGL 113)

Catalog course ENGL 113 consists of multiple topics of focus that vary each semester. Current and/or forthcoming descriptions are listed below. To see course details, including dates, times and professors, please use the Registrar’s course schedule.

ENGLISH 113 SECTION DESCRIPTIONS — Spring 2022

113.02 Secrets of the Universe
Secrets of the Universe is a writing course designed to have students read widely the works of scientists, artists and writers on the subject of the universe and of our place in it. From such readings and perspectives, students will be encouraged to ponder and write about the impact of science and technology in their everyday lives. The skills honed in this course will allow students to seek the secrets of the universe and then to share their findings. The goal is that this cycle of seeking and creating will better our world by strengthening the bonds of our shared humanity.

This course will prepare students to consider both the ways in which science and technology shape culture as well as the ways in which culture shapes science and technology, that is, how science and technology are interwoven with all aspects of culture. In this regard, literature and art, specifically works by women and writers/artists of color, have the potential to contribute to our understanding of what the universe is telling us in the ways it reveals its secrets, especially where issues concern gender, race and class and their intersections with science, technology and medicine.

113.03 & 04 Analyzing Empathy
In this course, we will use the complex and sometimes controversial concept of empathy as a basis for the study of the conventions and possibilities of academic writing. Through a variety of readings — primarily essays and short fiction — we will explore the challenges that face writers endeavoring to define empathy and to determine how it can contribute to contemporary society. We will begin with texts that depict or challenge common methods, such as personal observation and storytelling, that allow us to engage with the feelings and experiences of others. We will then turn toward more specific cases, including works of historical drama and speculative fiction that attempt to give readers access to thoughts and emotions that might be drastically different from their own experiences. Throughout the course, we will think critically about this subject matter and the questions about it that our readings might raise: What are the limits of empathy? When might an empathetic approach create harm instead of helping? To what extent is it the responsibility of writers to create an easy sense of connection for their readers, and to what extent is it the responsibility of readers to engage with perspectives that differ from their own? Is empathy valuable as an abstract feeling, or does it only take on value when it translates into action? 

113.05 Crime and Punishment
Did your mom or dad or grandparents take this same course from me?  If the COVID-19 situation allows me to teach this autumn, it will be the 50th year in a row that I have been offering this class title! Only the books and faces have changed. This is your chance to play Erin Brockovich or James Bond or Ralph Nader or Agatha Christie, hot on the trail of clues leading to the exposure of past or current problems of law and order, cops and robbers, race and gender, crime and punishment. Readings, written exercises and experiments, compositions, research projects, interviews, discussions and classroom capers will focus on such significant issues as prison conditions, crimes against women and minorities, biological terrorism, drinking laws, medical dilemmas, environmental crimes. With luck and skill, you may write the perfect crime or, at least, the perfect expository essay. Several classes will be devoted to writing workshops where you will read and comment on rough and polished drafts of papers by class members. TV programs and occasional films may supplement the reading material.  Four credit hours.

113.06 & 07 Spiritual Life Writing
This course centers on spiritual writing through the lens of the Christian faith. We will look together at the ways in which people use the written word to make sense of who they are in relation to life’s big questions: Who am I? Who or what is God? How do different people experience God? What is the role of faith in seeking justice on issues of racial and gender discrimination, poverty, and environmental degradation? This course will include a wide variety of readings from within the historic and contemporary Christian tradition. You will encounter: Desert Fathers and Mothers of Africa, Benedict of Nursia, Teresa de Ávila, Howard Thurman, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, Richard Twiss, Ernesto Cardenal and Wendell Berry, among others. In addition to this diversity of readings, we will write a lot on topics related to faith: short reflective papers, a rule of life paper, a personal essay and an academic research paper on a spiritual giant. 

113.08 Stephen King: Trash or Talent?

“I think with the best writing you can actually feel the writer’s joy, the writer’s vision, or something like that.” —Stephen King

Stephen King is a contemporary literary phenomenon: Since the beginning of his career in the 1970s he has averaged at least one new title per year, and his books continue to sell like candy corn at Halloween. Some people dismiss his work as trash, just low-quality popcult horror stories; even King has jokingly referred to himself as a “salami writer.” But other readers insist that throughout his page-turner fiction King addresses serious, even urgent concerns. What are we afraid of, both as a society and as flesh-and-goosebumped individuals? What are the problems of family life and interpersonal relations? How does American society deal with racial prejudice? What about the scourge of alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse? How has our history made us what we are as a nation? What explains our perennial attraction to the supernatural, even in its more ghoulish manifestations? How has the literature of the past — especially the Gothic tradition, spawned in 1764 and still proliferating — infiltrated the literature of the present?

These are some of the questions we will address in a course that is at its core an introduction to college-level writing: how to form sentences in a variety of modes, how to incorporate appropriate punctuation, how to compose a coherent and interesting academic essay, and how to produce a research project you can be proud of. King’s novels The Shining (1977) and The Green Mile (1996) will be our foundational texts, accompanied by a selection of shorter fiction that demonstrates his relation to other works of the supernatural. And we will also contemplate the transmogrification of his scenarios into film and other media (comic books, cartoons, even opera).

113.09 Wit, Wisdom, and Wizardry
When you have to make a difficult decision, how do you proceed? Do you carefully analyze the circumstances and rationally weigh your options? Do you cry, “It’s not my fault!” and lash out at the world that forced the decision upon you? Do you close your eyes, grit your teeth and just accept whatever wild ride you’re on, vaguely hoping for the best? How do various aspects of your identity shape the decisions you make? How do the decisions you make shape the person you become?

In this class, we’ll read three books together, looking at ways that different characters approach the process of decision-making and identity. We’ll discuss different factors that affect their decisions, from family expectations and gender issues to friendships and special talents. We’ll write about ourselves and how we make our own decisions, as well as about these characters and what we can learn from them. Writing for this course will include daily reading responses, several short essays and a research paper.


113.10 Technology & Society
Once upon a time, writing itself was a revolutionary new technology. Perhaps it is still the most revolutionary of all. Many later technologies, from printing to social media, have reshaped and amplified its impact. As a course intended to equip you with essential writing skills and practices, this one will take as its subject matter the relationships between technology and society. It is part of a curricular pathway on technology and society that also includes Engineering 100: Introduction to Engineering and Computer Science 225: Software Design and Implementation and is expanding to include a new program in data analytics. Our reading and writing will provide opportunities to think about a wide range of technologies and how they shape society and are shaped by it. We will focus especially on data-intensive digital technologies and how they are changing the ways we live, read and write now.

113.11 & 14 Dr. Kristin VanEyk
This writing course explores how language creates and interprets culture. We will learn about how our attitudes about language shape our realities and about how language mediates the way we understand ourselves and our cultures. Readings and projects will cover a range of topics including the ways that language and culture influence one another, the rhetoric of social media and analyses of cultural phenomena. Students will also develop research projects in an area of personal interest.

113.17 Outdoor Writing
Welcome to the trailhead! This outdoor-themed section of English 113 aims to equip students with the writing foundation needed to journey far in both education and life. In learning to write with prose that is concise, powerful and persuasive, we will study literature inspired by the outdoors and make a semester-long exploration based on one question: How do people and places shape one another? For the first third of the semester, we will ask this question on an individual level as we read narrative accounts of men and women in remote and wild places. During the rest of the semester, we will explore this question on a societal level, studying essays and arguments about the relevance of the environment to humanity’s health and well-being. We will read fiction and nonfiction by modern outdoor writers — including Wendell Berry, Rachel Carson, Latria Graham and Edward Abbey — to study the intricacies of language and how to craft strong, thesis-driven works. We will learn the art of persuasive research writing as we read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, which crafts a strong argument about the dangers of separating young people from nature. All the while, we will learn to write with specificity and authority, gaining the kinds of research and critical-thinking skills necessary to thrive in academia. Throughout the course of the semester, we will also venture off-campus a few times to practice writing with specificity and imagery in outdoor areas.

113.18 Creativity & The Unexpected
What are the ways and habits of creative people? How do creative people respond to adversity and the unexpected? In what ways (if any) are the insights and skills of creative people valuable during times of unexpected (or even catastrophic) change? In “Creativity and the Unexpected” we will explore these and related questions. Our reading will include The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, One Day of Life by Manlio Argueta, and A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo. We will watch two films and you will be encouraged to attend exhibitions, readings, public presentations and similar events. We will have lively class discussions, and you will write four short essays, participate in a group presentation, and write a longer research paper. We will utilize the “workshop” format for the discussion of our work. Each student will assemble a final portfolio that will contain all five papers and a brief introductory statement. We will also receive some expert training in the use of the Van Wylen Library. The ultimate objective of this class is to make you a better writer and critical thinker. Along the way we will have a great deal of fun, learn much and have some interesting discussions.

Special Topics (Upper-Level ENGL Courses)

Several upper-level ENGL courses consist of multiple topics of focus that vary each semester. Current and/or forthcoming descriptions will be listed here as they become available.

This is not a complete list of available English classes. For a complete list of upcoming classes or to see course details, including dates, times and professors, please use the Registrar's course schedule

English Upper-level section descriptions — Spring 2022

248.01 Monsters, From Beowulf to Beloved
What if we read Beowulf, an early medieval text written in Old English, through the lens of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a novel about a ghost and about slavery? What would we learn about ourselves? About others?

This course is about monsters. It is a course on literature, because tales and stories are where monsters find form, where they find life. In this, monsters are bound up in our imagination, in what we find abhorrent, frightening, horrifying. And, to a large extent, what we most fear is the Other. This, then, is our task: to look at monsters through “dark” lenses that allow us see the devaluation of humanity in the making of monsters: in other words, the making of Others.

Along with Beowulf and Beloved, we will read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Octavia Butler’s Fledgling, William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Jorge Luis Borges’s “The House of Asterion,” a short story told from the perspective of the Minotaur.

248.02 Intro to Literary Studies
We will explore a variety of texts from different genres, including poetry, short fiction, drama, and the novel. We will begin by focusing on methods of close reading in order to examine ways in which authors use literary devices and forms to communicate meaning. After that, we will turn our attention to the ways in which literary works both reflect and construct the societies around them. In order to facilitate this inquiry, we will examine a number of contemporary critical theories. Throughout the course, we will practice methods of both critiquing and appreciating literary works. Both English majors and non-majors are welcome. Authors will include Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Claude McKay, Adrienne Rich, Margaret Atwood, Robert Browning, Bharati Mukherjee, Gwendolyn Brooks, Emily Dickinson, Edwidge Danticat, Toni Morrison, Franz Kafka, and Bram Stoker.