Fall 2011 CourseThe Practice of Criticism
An introduction to the interpretation and analysis of literature, this course is also an inquiry into the abstract principles and assumptions that underlie all efforts to represent the meaning, structure, and value of texts. Students interpret and analyze texts from a variety of genres, but they also use these works to gain an appreciation of the way different theoretical starting-points give rise to different, often conflicting, interpretations, analyses, and judgments of value. Examples of such starting-points are the nature of textuality, the nature of authorship, the relationship between literature and life, and the location of textual meaning. The course helps students begin to acquire a working vocabulary for relating meaning and structure in literature, and a corresponding vocabulary for discussing literary theory, that will serve them in every other English course they take.
Other CoursesDigital Humanities
Digital humanities is an emerging field for which there is still no commonly accepted definition. For the purpose of this course, we'll tentatively define it as an area of study and practice that encompasses the following: humanistic perspectives on digital technology's social and cultural impact (particularly its impact on creativity); application of digital tools to research and teaching in the humanities; and critical examination of "born digital" aesthetic objects. But whether we're happy with that definition is one thing we'll have to discuss.Victorian Literature
British literature in the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) is about sex, greed, power, money, class, work, duty, morality, decadence, humanism, liberalism, individualism, socialism, imperialism, democracy, art, character, women's rights, love, death, progress, science, religion, and a few other things besides. It is diverse, contradictory, multivocal, splendid. This course examines works by major poets, essayists, and novelists of the Victorian period, typically including Tennyson, the Brownings, Arnold, Ruskin, Carlyle, Mill, Dickens, the Brontës, and Kipling.The British Novel - Nineteenth Century
This course examines the work of major nineteenth-century British novelists from Austen to Hardy. Of central concern is the period's diverse and changing views about the literary representation of reality. The course is, among other things, a search for continuity between centuries-old narrative traditions, their adaptation and alteration by nineteenth-century novelists, and the subsequent innovations of twentieth-century modernism.Major Authors - Dickens
This course examines selected works of Victorian England's inimitable novelist and social activist in the context of his turbulent and spectacular times. See "Victorian Literature," above.British Literature II
This course is an introduction to British literature of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. One aim of the course is to interpret and analyze particular literary works - poems, novels, prose selections - in order to understand these works on their own terms. But a work's "own terms" are not the private creation of a solitary mind; they are the product of a mind interacting with a public world. Thus another, equally important, aim of the course is to find, in each work examined, the intersection of one writer's imagination with the major social, political, and cultural developments of that writer's time.Critical Writing and Reading - The Battle for Christmas
From 1659 to 1681, it was illegal to celebrate Christmas in Massachusetts. The prohibition may strike us as absurd, but it made perfect sense at a certain juncture in the long cultural battle over Christmas that began in the fourth century, when the Church deliberately chose to locate the birth of Jesus at a time of year already sacred to pagans: the winter solstice. The battle for Christmas (as historian Stephen Nissenbaum calls it) has always been a battle over meaning. Could the new Christian holiday keep its older, pagan meanings in check? Centuries later, in a democratic yet class-conscious and increasingly consumerist America, how did the middle class re-interpret Christmas, re-inventing it in its familiar modern form? And how did this new form now find itself in conflict with holiday meanings dervied from both the earlier Christian battle with pagan tradition and the never-fully-defeated pagan tradition itself? Students in this course explore the battle for Christmas by reading Nissenbaum's account, by tracing the contested meaning of a modern Christmas "myth" - Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol - by examining contemporary skirmishes over the real significance of Christmas, and by writing critically about holidays, culture, tradition, and interpretation.Major Authors - The Brontës
This course examines how the complicated legal, political, social, economic, and artistic status of Victorian women shaped the lives, work, and critical reputations of the Brontës, paying particular attention to the way the sisters themselves engaged in the debate on the "woman question." The course also considers the Brontës' importance as general critics of society, as innovators in narrative form, and as self-conscious, self-critical preservers of romantic sensibility in a post-romantic culture.Western Humanities II
This course is the second half of a two-semester sequence that examines Western history, literature, philosophy, and culture from 1600 to the present, with an emphasis on the way Western societies have constructed and chosen amongst moral, social, and political alternatives.The Guide
SUNY Geneseo's Online Writing Guide, created by Celia Easton and me.The Collaborative Writing Project
A new, experimental wiki for Geneseo students, maintained by me.A Gallery of Student Projects
Since Fall 2007, I've been inviting students in selected courses to complete an optional project in place of one final exam essay. The project may explore, examine, or illuminate one or more of the semester's texts using means other than the conventional literary essay. Here's the cream of the crop so far.
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