2021 Summer Session

Studies in the Seventeenth Century
Term 2
TTh, 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM

John Milton, poet, politician, pundit, could easily be read as an early-modern literary cross between Bernie Saunders and Jordan Peterson.  This bizarre mashup of Milton’s revolutionary (in a good way) and masculinist (not so much) public and poetic discourses will be the focus of this course.  We’ll explore Milton’s sophisticated, influential, and ambiguous fantasy of a masculinized--and radicalized--public sphere in order to understand some of the politics of the male and female subject in his fraught cultural moment.  We’ll look specifically in Milton’s writings at male friendship (including its eroticized versions); husbands and wives in marriages; men at war; men and women in education; and and men in conversation, as each contributes to a fantasy of the gendered public citizen in early modern England.  Feminist and queer-theory-inflected masculinity studies; historicism; rhetorical theory; and cultural poetics will inform our discussions and readings.

NOTE:  This course will be on-line and synchronous.


Primary Works: John Milton, Paradise Lost, Samson Agonistes, Ludlow Masque, Lycidas, Doctrine & Discipline of Divorce.   (Editions TBA).  We will also have occasional (short) readings from Milton’s contemporaries with radically differing perspectives (women writers; Levellers; etc.).  Because this is a condensed course, I strongly recommend that you read the Milton works before the start of term, ESPECIALLY Paradise Lost.

Secondary/Theoretical Works: Selections from Eve Kosovsky Sedgwick; Judith Butler; Alan Bray; Stephen Guy-Bray; Mark Breitenberg; Mary Nyquist; Paul Stevens; Will Stockton; Judith Kegan Gardiner; Jonathan Goldberg; Laura Knoppers; Alexandra Shepard; Diane Purkiss.


July 6, 8: Ludlow Masque:  schooling gender
July 13, 15: Doctrine & Discipline of Divorce: enslaved husbands, private wives
July 20, 22: “Lycidas,” Samson Agonistes: old boys
July 27, 29: Paradise Lost: first man, first woman, first garden
Aug 3, 5: Paradise Lost: locker-room talk
Aug 10, 12: Paradise Lost: men at war


We will all be responsible for our collective learning in every class, since that’s how a seminar works.  Graduate courses are also professional training grounds in which you become practiced in scholarly genres and modes.  All of the course-work is therefore geared toward those two goals.

Note that I do not assume that you are necessarily experienced in this period or this author, but we will all bring perspectives, experience, and knowledge from which we can all learn, myself included.  That is the great pleasure of a seminar! And you will obviously have considerable choice within these assignment-envelopes to discuss issues of interest to you in the course.


1 “Conference Paper”: a 20-minute researched analytical argument developed from the primary readings for that week and engaging with the scholarship on your topic and texts.  30% of seminar mark.  This will give you the chance to dive into scholarly conversations and literary texts and test out your own emergent theories.

2x “Paper Respondent”: Twice during the course, you will provide a 5-10-minute response to another student’s seminar presentation.  20% of seminar mark.  This will allow you to learn how to be a generous, analytical respondent, to open up conversations and lines of inquiry, and to sharpen your own thinking through those conversations.

12x “Reading Group”: For every class, come with 1 passage from the primary text and 1 passage from the secondary readings annotated in a shareable form and ready to discuss.  20% of seminar mark.  This will enable you to have something to offer in every class, a little prepared so that you can more fully and easily participate; it will also make it easier for us all to build our ideas together during the seminar discussion.

1 “Journal Article”:  A ~4,000-word research paper based on your seminar presentation. 30% of seminar mark. Due by August 20th.   This will give you, in a fairly small-risk way, (additional) experience in turning a conference paper into an article and also specific practice with more formal and polished argumentative writing. It will give you the chance to learn from an earlier attempt, which process is also essential to scholarly work.

1 Information Interview, 1 Exit Interview:  These are assignments for me. I will talk to each of you briefly individually at the beginning and end of the course, so that I can learn from you how best to pitch and organize the material to meet your various skills, knowledge, and goals.

Studies in American Literature since 1890
Term 1
MTh, 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM

“Faulkner in Absalom, Absalom! spends the entire book tracing race, and you can’t find it.  No one can see it, even the character who is black can’t see it.”  (Toni Morrison in interview)

We’ll read a selection of works of American literature that situate their complex and violent tracings of race in relation to the history of slavery, racial segregation and Jim Crow, Civil Rights, mass incarceration, voter suppression, white supremacy, and police brutality. How can “race” be difficult to find in a society dominated, since 1619, by the division between black and white?

There will be two reading lists. The primary list will be the basis of weekly discussions and presentations. Seminar participants will also help to compile an additional annotated reading list in support of research projects both small and large to be shared with the group.

Final selections for the primary list will be drawn from the following:

  • Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845)
  • Herman Melville, Benito Cereno (1855)
  • Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)
  • Kate Chopin, “Desirée’s Baby” (1893)
  • W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
  • James Weldon Johnson, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912)
  • W.E.B. Du Bois, “White Imperialism” (1914)
  • Jean Toomer, Cane (1923)
  • Ernest Hemingway, “The Battler” (1925)
  • Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)
  • William Faulkner, “Dry September” (1931)
  • William Faulkner, Light in August (1932)
  • William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (1936)
  • William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses (1942)
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
  • Richard Wright, Native Son (1940)
  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  • James Baldwin, “Letter from a Region of My Mind” (1962)
  • James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)
  • James Baldwin, “On Being ‘White’ and Other Lies” (1985)
  • Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)
  • Angela Davis, “Reflections on the Black Woman's Role in the Community of Slaves” (1972)
  • Don DeLillo, End Zone (1972)
  • Wallace Terry, ed., Bloods:  Black Veterans of the Vietnam War:  An Oral History (1984)
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
  • Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992)
  • Hortense Spillers, Black, White and In Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture            (2003)
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015)
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The First White President” (2017)



Active participation in the seminar's exchange and discussion, and

a ten-minute informal presentation 10%

a three-page essay (distributed and read aloud)  15%

a seminar presentation  25%

a final essay  50%



“My father was a white man.”  (Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave)

“What tangled skeins are the genealogies of slavery!  Who can measure the amount of Anglo-Saxon blood coursing through the veins of American slaves?”  (Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl)

“’It is a lie; it is not true, I am white! Look at my hair, it is brown; and my eyes are gray, Armand, you know they are gray. And my skin is fair,’ seizing his wrist. ‘Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand,’ she laughed hysterically.” (“Desirée’s Baby” by Kate Chopin)

“He watched his body grow white out of the darkness like a Kodak print emerging from the liquid.” (Faulkner, Light in August)

“We’re all black to the white man, but we’re a thousand and one different colors.  Turn around, look at each other!” (Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X)

“Abraham was black.  Did you know that?  Mary the mother of Jesus was black.  Rembrandt and Bach had some Masai blood.  It's all in the history books if you look carefully enough.  Tolstoy was three-eighths black.  Euclid was six-fifths black.  Not that it means anything.  Not that any of it matters in the least.  Lord, I think I'm beginning to babble."  (Taft Robinson, in Don DeLillo’s End Zone)

“the people who think they are white” (Baldwin, Coates)