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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 2020

ENGL 113.02 & 03 – “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 how 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.

ENGL 113.04 – “Writing Your Life”
Relative freedom of choice, plenty of interaction among peers and between students and prof, and multiple opportunities to revise writings before final evaluation will headline this workshop-driven writing course. Choices will include what to write about and how much to revise after initial submissions. With their final works to be collected in a portfolio at semester’s end, students will not only learn more about themselves by writing, but also about the worlds of others around them and how to communicate effectively in various modes (narrative, informative, investigative and persuasive), for various audiences (informal to formal) and to serve various purposes (to entertain, inform, persuade, inspire). The course’s readings and activities will suggest many options and inspire creative possibilities. People who like, or are willing to learn to like, examining and expressing what is important to them; who, with acclimation and practice, will not be bashful about discussing such things in critically thoughtful ways; and who do not procrastinate will thrive best in this self-motivated course.

ENGL 113.05 & 17 – “Writing in Context: Culture, Technology, and Language Practices”
This course will investigate the different contexts in which, and for which, we write that we might be more or less overtly aware of participating in. How do we define these contexts and why are those definitions important? Additionally, how do communities (even temporary ones) bring people together and complement or interrogate individual identity? How does the intertwining of culture and language practices influence our decisions as readers, and how can we harness that potential as writers? We will be reading, listening and watching various materials that demonstrate the range of existing communities (ex. Greek life, a Blue Zone, startup companies and more) to be able to write our own assessments and arguments about particular communities from the past, present and/or in the near future. This course will include an extended unit on podcast creation and development.

ENGL 113.06 & 15 - “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? 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? We will use these inquiries as the occasion for the development of skills necessary for academic writing, including coherent organization, thoughtful textual analysis, ethical research practices, persuasive rhetoric, and use of the conventions of standard written English.

ENGL 113.08 & 10 – “Spiritual Life Writing”
This course centers on spiritual writing through the lens of the Christian faith. That said, the Christian faith is global and ethnically diverse. In this course 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 in issues of race, gender, poverty and environmental degradation? This course will include a wide variety of experiences from within the historic and contemporary Christian tradition. You will encounter: Desert Fathers and Mothers, Benedict of Nursia, Teresa de Ávila, Juan de la Cruz, Howard Thurman, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, Richard Twiss, Ernesto Cardenal, Wendell Berry, Gene Luen Yang, Liara Tamani, as well as the spiritual giant of your choosing. In addition to this diversity of readings, we will write a lot: short reflective papers, a rule of life paper, a personal essay and an academic research paper on a spiritual giant.

ENGL 113.09 & 13 – “The Will to Survive”
After all, isn’t that what life is all about anyway — surviving? To what extent do human beings fight to survive? To what lengths and extremes will we go to cling to life? What is the limit of our hanging on?

In this English 113 section, participants will read, discuss, and be asked to write in response to literature that exemplifies humankind’s desire to survive. To inspire our discussing and writing, we will explore three pieces of nonfiction “survival” literature. Titles include In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton, Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

And, speaking of survival, the major goal of this class will be to help you “survive” the writing that will be demanded of you in the real world of college and beyond; therefore, we’ll explore and practice writing that narrates, informs, persuades, reviews, responds and shares.

Class time will be spent discussing the assigned literature and (to a greater extent) responding to and helping each other — in pairs, in small groups, and as a whole class — with the writing we create. We will also spend time learning together through informal lectures, student presentations, in-class writing and individual student-teacher conferences. We’ll select from different types of writing in order to create some final products, and, eventually, we’ll create a more in-depth research project. 

ENG 113.17 & 19 – “Writing Across the Curriculum”
An introduction to the art of expository writing, with attention to analytical reading and critical thinking in courses across the college curriculum. Assignments offer students opportunities to read and write about culture, politics, literature, science and other subjects. Emphasis is placed on helping students to develop their individual skills to write with clarity and fluidity for multiple audiences.

Special Topics (Upper-Level ENGL Courses)

English Upper-level section descriptions — Spring 2020

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. To see course details, including dates, times and professors, please use the Registrar's course schedule

ENGL 213.01 – Expository Writing II
In this workshop-oriented course, students will make all their own choices about both topics and nonfiction genres, depending on their needs and interests. In the process, everyone will focus on clarity and style to suit intended audiences and purposes, not the prof’s idiosyncrasies. Optional revising with further feedback will then lead to a semester’s end portfolio for the final grade.

Also available as an on-campus May Term!

ENGL 231 – Literature of the Western World 1
Aesop’s fables and Homer’s tales of war and adventure start you on an odyssey of ancient literature. Frowns and smiles accompany your dramatic responses to Greek tragedies and comedies. Ancient Roman and medieval Italian epics send you on a spiritual journey that also embraces excerpts from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita and the Chinese Tao Te Ching. Chaucer takes you on a pilgrimage with the Pardoner and the Wife of Bath, and Cervantes inaugurates a quest for an impossible dream with Don Quixote. Sappho, Lady Murasaki, Margery Kempe, Marguerite de Navarre and Sor Juana de la Cruz go places where few females dare to tread. Michelangelo, Columbus and Shakespeare lead you through the Renaissance and Reformation and prepare you for the modern world. As you investigate and explore these authors and works, you read and take tests or written test alternatives, write journals and short papers (or a longer research project), and engage in lively discussions about these masterpieces of Western literature in a global context. 

ENGL 270.01 – British Lit II
This delightful, daunting course will acquaint you with major movements and must-read writers in Great Britain, Ireland and the British Commonwealth during the Romantic, Victorian, Early Modern and Postmodern eras (roughly 1770–2020). The literary canon of vital male poets (Blake, Keats, Tennyson, T.S. Eliot and Auden) will be augmented by wondrous women warriors (Austen, Shelley, Woolf, Mansfield and Atwood), Irish giants (Shaw, Wilde, Joyce, Yeats, Heaney), and fresh Commonwealth voices (Rhys, Soyinka, Munro, Rushdie and Zadie Smith). Approximately equal time will be devoted to poetry, fiction and drama. Forging links between geographical centers, between genders, between genres, between races and between critical approaches will be among the impossible dreams of the teacher.

  • Format: Lecture, discussion, improvisation, collaborative learning.
  • Reading: Moderate but meaningful.
  • Writing: Three tests/test alternatives, three out-of-class papers or nonpapers, short journal-type reaction pieces, etc.

ENGL 248.02 – 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.

ENGL 354.01 – Intermediate Fiction Writing
According to Flannery O’Connor, “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.” She also said, “I write to discover what I know.” And also: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”

So this is your chance: Discover what you know by saying something that can’t be said any other way, make every word integral in the saying, and also, of course, let your weird out! This is a course where we’ll experiment with a wide variety of styles and techniques in short fiction, using daily writing exercises to deeply develop your characters, push your plot lines, play with point of view, and make your dialogue do good and gritty work. We’ll read and we’ll write — a delicious lot of each! And we’ll engage in several sets of in-class critique, also known as “the workshop.”

Come discover what you know, and let the truth set you strange…

ENGL 356.02 – Creative Writing in the Community
How old were you when you wrote your first poem? Who first encouraged you as a storyteller? Has writing ever helped you in a season when everything else seemed doomed?

Okay — two more questions: What if you could introduce others to the power of writing? Or, put another way, how might your own love for writing connect with others to make a difference in this world?

Richard Hugo famously suggested that a creative writing class “may be one of the last places you can go where your life still matters.” In this course, we’ll explore the ways that creative writing classes within the community — and on its margins — might have powerful, beautiful and long-lasting impact not just for participants but also for facilitators.

Whether you’re a future teacher or someone who cares about hearing from voices that are often silenced, this course is for you! (Seriously, you don’t need prior experience in creative writing to take this course; i.e. no pre-reqs.) We’ll explore what it means to enact a creative writing curriculum in and for the community, why we would seek to do so, and where you — yes, you! — are interested in engaging. You’ll have a chance to connect with a community partner, create your curriculum and facilitate classes with real, live participants.

…which means you’ll gain some “real-world” experience and a legit line on your resumé! You’ll also get to do some writing of your own as we read poetry, creative nonfiction essays and short stories in conjunction with the visiting writers series.

So come with your heart for justice, your love of writing, and the hope to help create places where your and others’ lives matter—in this class and well beyond.

ENGL 373.03 – J.R.R. Tolkien & Medieval Literature
J.R.R. Tolkien is not only the most influential author of fantasy literature but also one of the great scholars of medieval literature — and each of these interests fed the other. This course will weave together the development of Old and Middle English literature with Tolkien’s career as an author and the chronology of Middle Earth. We will read medieval works that Tolkien studied, both well known and lesser known: Beowulf and other Old English poems as well as Middle English stories such as Sir Orfeo, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Death of King Arthur, and some of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. And we will read Tolkien’s Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and several shorter works, both creative and scholarly. Seeing how medieval literature inspired Tolkien’s work will guide us in better understanding both. The many ways in which he responded to the works he loved — scholarly articles, poems imitating old forms, sequels, translations, reconstructions of fragmentary works, drama, and, of course, his own fantasy novels — will be models for our own responses.

All medieval works will be read in modern translations, often by Tolkien himself. There will be opportunities to explore medieval literature in languages other than English (such as Welsh and Old Norse), how all these works respond to the Bible, and other topics of individual interest. The course will be conducted as a discussion-based seminar. Students will write a portfolio of pieces that will include critical writing as well as other interpretive and creative genres. 

ENGL 375.01 – History of the English Language – Curtis Gruenler
How did English come to have — by far — the largest vocabulary of any language in the world? Where did the idea of standard English come from, and who says what it is? How does English vary around the world? What is its likely future?

This course follows the whole story of the English language, from its pre-history as a member of the Indo-European family of languages to the closest thing the world has known to a global language. Our focus will be on what used to be called philology, the linguistic tools for the study of English literature in its Old, Middle and Modern forms. As we approach the present, we will use these tools to look at the many varieties of English around the world (and especially in the United States).

Throughout the course we will also consider the relationship between the language and the history of those who use it, from the Norman Conquest to the impacts of computers and globalization. At each phase, we will analyze the various linguistic aspects of the language — sound (including Prof. Cole’s favorite topic, the Great Vowel Shift), vocabulary, grammar, writing — with a particular eye toward how this kind of analysis is important to understanding literary works. You’ll learn enough Old English to be able to read a passage of Beowulf with reference aids, but more important, you’ll have an idea what’s behind a modern translation and the choices a translator makes. We’ll analyze the language of Chaucer and Shakespeare and discuss controversies such as those over standard English usage and African-American Vernacular English. You’ll learn how to analyze the origins and development of English words and understand their range of meaning at any point in time.

Three of the greatest English philologists of the 20th century happen to have been part of the literary fellowship called the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Owen Barfield. As a sort of subplot, we will consider their ideas about philology, some of their philological research, and how, in Tolkien’s case, philology inspired his creation of Middle Earth and its languages.

For students of literature, the history of the English language gives you both fundamental philological tools and an overview of literary history. For writers, it provides further mastery of your medium. Recommended for those who plan to study literature or writing at the graduate level and those who plan to teach English at the secondary level or above.

ENGL 375.02 – “The I’s Have It”
The goal of this class is to deepen our understanding of American literature by focusing on the role of the first-person narrator. We’ll read across two genres, memoir and fiction, in order to demonstrate that the first-person narrator has deeply impacted the trajectory of our literary canon. The class explores why so many of our canonical texts feature a first-person narrator — even when the narrator plays an ostensibly tiny background part, as in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. How do authors establish or undermine the credibility of their first-person narrators? And has that process changed since the advent of confessional poetry and the uptick of memoir? What’s up with all the first-person narrators who seem to play the role of creepy voyeur? Why do memoirs typically outsell novels? Together we’ll discuss the unique contribution of the first-person narrator to the trajectory of American literary cultures.