Dean’s Seminars

Open only to freshmen, dean’s seminars have proven among the department’s most popular offerings. Faculty enjoy them because they have the privilege of teaching a small group of young men and women very early in their academic journey. Students love them because they get the undivided attention of a full time faculty member who guides them in a deep exploration of a fascinating topic. Over the years we have had some of our very best English majors “recruited” from these seminars. This spring’s topics and descriptions are appended below.


Jane Austen, Literary Icon
Professor Maria Frawley
ENGL 801 96304
GCR: Humanities

This course focuses not simply on the literary achievements of England’s most influential woman writer, Jane Austen, but also on her appeal and continuing relevance to our own culture. Austen’s novels, childhood writing, and letters will combine to provide the basis for analysis of her distinctive style, techniques, and themes, and we will explore the fascinating ways her writing reflects and responds to social, political, and economic dimensions of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century British culture. The many recent film adaptations of her novels, as well as recent literary works such as Bridget Jones’ Diary and The Jane Austen Book Club, will enable us to probe just why this particular writer inspires both scholars and devotees.

Maria Frawley is Associate Professor of English and the author of several books on nineteenth-century women writers and social history, including A Wider Range: Travel Writing by Women in Victorian England, Anne Bronte, and, most recently, Invalidism and Identity in Victorian Britain. She is currently at work on a book titled Keywords of Jane Austen’s Fiction, and the bumper sticker on her car says, “I’d Rather Be Reading Jane Austen.”

Hamlet on Film
Professor Patrick Cook
ENGL 801 93060
GCR: Humanities

Shakespeare’s most famous play has been filmed at least forty times. This seminar asks how and why. We will examine the sources of the play’s appeal across the centuries, its openness to cinematic adaptation, and the ways in which Hamlet films are shaped by their creator’s varied artistic purposes and cultural backgrounds. More generally, we will consider how theatre, the most popular and dynamic of Elizabethan media, can be transformed into the most popular and dynamic form of modern media. Because the course will require close textual analysis, students will be required to have personal access to either a VCR or DVD player and will be asked to purchase copies of several Hamlet films.

Patrick Cook is Associate Professor of English. His research interests extend from classical, medieval and Renaissance literature to modern film and cyber-culture.

Sensing Bodily Boundaries
Professor Holly Duggan
ENGL 801 96301
GCR: Humanities

What are the boundaries of a body and how do sensory perceptions shape understanding of them? In this seminar, we will explore a variety of theories of embodiment in an attempt to understand cultural presumptions, taboos, and beliefs about the body and its boundaries. For example, popular television shows such as Crime Scene Investigation posit that a human body always leaves a material trace in its environment. In a similar fashion, Renaissance anatomical texts often included self-dissecting corpses, flaying, cutting, and opening themselves to reveal the body’s mysterious insides to readers. These two examples might seem extreme; the first posits that any body can be interpreted through objective, sensory data, the latter represent corpses themselves as perceiving organisms. In this course, we will investigate these two approaches to the body to explore how the bodily boundaries were defined through the five senses. Along with the two examples discussed above, we will explore texts and practices from the Middle Ages through the 19th Century. Finally, we will explore the science and sensationalism surrounding bodily boundaries within two medical museum collections: the Wellcome Museum of Medical history, explored through the Quay Brother’s film, The Phantom Museum: Random Forays into Sir Henry Wellcome’s Medical CollectionMutter Museum, by Gretchen Worden, curator of the Mutter’s collection. The hope is that by the end of the course, seminar participants will have gained insight into thinking and writing about how bodily boundaries are defined, shaped, and imagined through sensory perception.

Holly Duggan is Assistant Professor of English and teaches early modern English literature. Her scholarship focuses on the history of perfume and the
role of smell in late medieval and early modern English culture; she has an article on this topic forthcoming in the Spring 2008 issue of The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies.

The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
Professor Thomas Mallon
ENGL801 96302
GCR: Humanities

In this seminar, students will examine the immediate historical context of Abraham Lincoln’s murder, and use the assassination as a window through which to observe various aspects of 19th-centruy American culture. These will include theatrical taste, portrait photography, historical painting, and literary elegy. Visits to Ford’s Theatre and other sites associated with Lincoln’s murder will allow students to see the assassination as a part of local history. In addition, we will work at developing critical perspectives on the long-term effects of the assassination on American political psychology, including ideas about martyrdom and conspiracy. Students will write several short papers and sit for both midterm and final examinations.

Thomas Mallon is the author of thirteen books, among them the novels Henry and Clara, Bandbox and Fellow Travelers. He has published a volume of literary essays (In Fact), as well as books on diaries (A Book of One’s Own) and plagiarism (Stolen Words). He received his Ph. D. from Harvard University and has been the recipient of Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships. A former member of the National Council on the Humanities, he is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker and other magazines.

Disability Studies, Disability Culture
Professor Robert McRuer
ENGL 801 96303
GCR: Humanities

This course examines how disability has been represented and misrepresented in American cultures. We will interrogate how “normalcy” is constructed and enforced through various interpretations of bodily difference, and we will consider how men and women with disabilities have spoken and written back to the discourses that would delimit them. The course will examine a wide variety of written and visual texts in order to pose a series of overlapping questions: how have discourses of sympathy, compensation, and accommodation been deployed to constrain or empower people with disabilities? What cultural forces and what uses of language have served to unite disparate groups such as the blind, people who use wheelchairs, and people with chronic diseases? How have specific subcultures (people living with AIDS, Deaf subcultures) appropriated, contested, or expanded the meanings of “disability”? How does disability studies challenge our current sense of what it means to live in a multicultural society?

Robert McRuer is Associate Professor in the Department of English where he teaches disability studies, lesbian and gay studies, and critical theory. He is the author, most recently, of Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability (NYU Press, 2006).

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