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Senior Seminar

All English majors are required to take the Eng 450: Senior Seminar course during the Fall of their senior year.

Though seminars vary in focus and content, each addresses its subject in the context of current critical discourse and requires students to write a long research-based paper.

Registration for the seminars are handled through the English department administrator.  It is conducted one year in advance, during the junior year, with majors being notified of seminars offerings and registration procedures.


Fall 2017 Senior Seminars

Eng 450-01: Literature of American Slavery
Professor: Rachel Cole
TTH 9:40-11:10AM

This seminar will focus on American slave narratives, both fictional and non-fictional, from the mid-nineteenth century and the late twentieth.

Primary-source texts will include Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845); Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs (1861); Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter, by William Wells Brown (1853); Kindred, by Octavia Butler (1979); Beloved, by Toni Morrison (1987), and The Known World, by Edward P. Jones (2003).

Each student will pursue an independent project of his or her own design,  culminating in a 20-page seminar paper which contributes to the ongoing critical conversation about the literature of American slavery. Preparatory assignments will include an annotated bibliography, topic proposal, abstract, etc. In the final days of the semester we will hold a workshop, in which students present their projects to and receive feedback from the class.

Eng 450-02:  John Keats
Professor:  Kurt Fosso
TTH 11:30-1:00PM

Nearing the end of his short life, John Keats advises a fellow poet, “‘Load every rift’ of your subject with ore.”  Keats would write little more.  But it is advice he himself had taken in his journeyman’s career, and notably in his annus mirabilis of 1819, when he composed most of the poems that secured his fame and his enduring place among the English poets—as he hoped.  Keats is indeed one of the all-time great crafters of poetry, and to study his work is to engage in his “ore”-filled vein of figurative leaps and puns, odd tropes and allusions, philosophical depths, and, as he said of Wordsworth, the “dark passages” of human life and its discontent.  In fact, for Keats it is only “those to whom the miseries of the world are misery, and will not let them rest,” who fulfill the vital vocation of poet.  

Although we’ll read poems from throughout Keats’s brief career, we shall focus especially on the mature poems of 1819, including the great Odes.  We’ll also read many of his letters, in which he provides his literary-poetic theories as well as his observations about life in a time of political, artistic, and other struggles and crises.  We’ll indeed explore how Keats is more than ‘only’ a creator of beauty (“a joy forever,” he wrote); he is, as his words about poetry suggest, a daring pioneer of the creation and discovery of truths and social meanings in a world of discontent—truths and meanings that perhaps art alone can offer.

Along with studying Keats’s poetry and selected letters, students will also read his biography and numerous critical essays.  Each seminar member will write a 20-25 page paper providing a clear, substantiated, and well-researched argument focused upon one or more of the author’s poems.  Near the semester’s end, she or he will deliver a portion of the essay’s findings in a formal, class presentation.

Eng 450-03:  Virginia Woolf, Essayist
Professor:  Rishona Zimring
TTH 1:50-3:20PM

This seminar explores the rich insights and stylistic variety of Virginia Woolf’s diverse and prolific work as an essayist. We will read not only the well-known A Room of One’s Own, but the even fiercer and exhilaratingly experimental Three Guineas, in which Woolf takes on topics such as education, patriarchy, dictatorships, and how the three are intertwined during the rise of fascism and the Spanish Civil War. We will discuss the memoir as a genre, drawing on Woolf’s explicitly autobiographical writings such as “A Sketch of the Past.” In order to compare Woolf’s non-fiction with her fiction, we will also spend time reading and reflecting on her beautiful 1927 novel, To the Lighthouse, exploring how autobiographical material contributed to it. We’ll read a range of Woolf’s commentaries on her literary predecessors (poets, novelists, playwrights, essayists) such as “I am Christina Rossetti,” as well as her essays about her contemporaries and her theories of fiction and poetry. Life writing, political commentary, advocacy for women’s rights and human rights, nature description, aesthetic appreciation, tributes to great writers, advice to young poets—Woolf relished the opportunity that essay-writing provided to figure out problems, discover and give voice to emotions, exercise her considerable gifts as a stylist, and realize her staunch ambitions as an experimental artist and engaged intellectual. Woolf’s essays are inspiring and challenging. They offer us a sustained inquiry into Woolf’s life and career, but also into the art of the essay, in general.