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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 2019 Senior Seminars

Eng 450-01:  Literature of American Slavery
Professor:  Rachel Cole
TTH 1:50-3:20

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 their own design, culminating in a 20-page seminar paper that 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:  American Nabokov
Professor:  Will Pritchard
MWF 11:30-12:30

 In Watzek Library, the works of Vladimir Nabokov are shelved in two places: PG 3476 for the works he wrote in Russian, and PS 3527 for those he published after immigrating to the United States in 1940. In this seminar we will focus on the works of the “American” Nabokov. We will read the first four novels he wrote in the U.S. – Bend Sinister (1947), Lolita (1955), Pnin (1957) and Pale Fire (1962) – along with his memoir of his life before America, Speak, Memory (1951, revised 1967), a selection of his short stories and a few of his essays and lectures.

From this sampling of his works, we will aspire to a preliminary understanding and appreciation of this playful, difficult, literate, lyrical, maddening author. Or, as Nabokov put it in a lecture on “Good Readers and Good Writers,” we will “try to grasp the individual magic of his genius … With a pleasure which is both sensual and intellectual we shall watch the artist build his castle of cards and watch the castle of cards become a castle of beautiful steel and glass.”

As a tangible expression of this sensual and intellectual pleasure, each student will produce a seminar paper that is approximately 20-25 pages long and that draws on primary and secondary sources (i.e., the writings of Nabokov and of Nabokov scholars).

Eng 450-03:  John Keats
Professor:  Kurt Fosso
MW 3:00-4:30

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, students will deliver a portion of the essay’s findings in a formal, class presentation.