Course Descriptions

Courses Taught:

Colony, Diaspora, Nation: Images of Africa in World Literature and the Atlantic World
ENG144: World Literature
Spring 2015
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Course Description

This course is a survey of world literature with a focus on representations of Africa and Africans peoples across both time and space in the Atlantic World, ranging from England to Africa, America and the Caribbean. This unifying focus on images of Africa will allow us to explore the major events that have shaped the world in literature, as well as literatures of the world: trade, slavery, colonialism, revolution, and Independence. The historical time span will allow us to see how terms like race, progress, civilization, democracy, freedom, and rights have been used and developed, mobilized and critiqued. This class will encourage making connections across texts, but we will also emphasize the specific geopolitical contexts each of the literary texts engage.

Home and Away: Literatures of the World, Worlds of Literature
ENG222: World Literature
Fall 2014
Westfield State University

Course Description

This course is an introduction to world literature, with a focus on twentieth century fiction, colonialism, postcolonialism, and the globalized world. We will examine texts from a range of geographical locations in the world with a unifying focus on travelers: wanders, exiles, laborers, emigrants, and “been-tos.” We will seek to answer the question, “How does literature construct, represent, and create “worlds” through narrative?” Through this focus, we will explore the major events that have shaped the world in literature, as well as literatures of the world: globalization, colonialism, revolution, partitions, and Independence.

This course satisfies the Common Core requirement of Literary and Philosophical Analysis, and Global Diversity. Primarily, it addresses two fundamental questions: what is literature and why do we read it, especially outside our own culture? In addition, and no less important in terms of the goals of the Common Core program, the course also encourages a diverse outlook on culture, promotes the ideal of lifetime learning, and develops through discussion and writing the important skills of critical thinking and communication, among others

May It Please the Court? Scenes of Justice and Fairness in Contemporary Literature
ENG131: Society and Literature
Spring 2014
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Course description

In what ways can literature depict, challenge, modify, and nuance our conceptions of what is just and fair? What are the conditions by which we judge an outcome or situation to be fair? This course will explore these questions through a survey of contemporary literature that foreground issues of justice, fairness, and representations of “law.” In the process, we will pay attention to various gender, racial, and cultural contexts that challenge justice and consider for whom and for what purpose is “justice” served. The scenes of justice under consideration will range from the American legal system to the town of Ayemenem in India, to rural Zimbabwe and to apartheid South Africa.

Major British Authors: Colonial Engagements
ENG202: Later British Literature
Summer 2015, Online
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Course Description

This survey of British literature from 1700-1900 is organized around British society and culture and its increasing colonial engagements over the span of these 200 years. Through the work of Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Olaudah Equiano, and Rudyard Kipling, we will explore changes and developments in British society and literature through these texts’ references, depictions, and allusions to the geopolitical of British imperial expansion. Topics will include criminal transportation to colonies, plantations and trade, travel narratives critiques of domestic government, and slavery. While many canonical authors of British literature are represented here, our aim will be to examine them as authors in an expanding global context; to this end, we will consider the historical and socioeconomic contexts of the works in tandem with literary analysis.

College English 112: The “Write” Space
ENG112: College Writing
Fall 2015
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Welcome to College Writing! Englwrit 112 is the only course that satisfies the university’s CW requirement. A fundamental part of your General Education at UMass Amherst, this course emphasizes critical thinking and communication, consideration of plural perspectives, and self-reflection on one’s learning.

More specifically, the purpose of College Writing is to help you grow and challenge yourself as a college writer—for academic assignments and also for the writing demands in your personal, professional, and civic lives. In this course, you’ll examine how writing is a communicative act that always occurs within a particular context, and you’ll gain practice writing for different purposes in multiple contexts. This section of College Writing is designed around writing and spaces: the “write” space. We will begin by analyzing a space that is significant to you as a way of describing the contexts that impact who you are. We will then analyze texts by authors especially attuned to spaces, from bell hooks’s Southern porches to Michael MacDonald’s South Boston. Drawing from the skills developed in these two units, you will write a research paper (a focus on space, broadly defined, is encouraged but not required). Unit four will turn our attention to spaces at UMass, and unit five will facilitate a reflection on your growth as a writer in this classroom space.

Courses Proposed:

Terror and the Text

Course description:
The first modern use of the word “terrorism” in the English language refers to the Reign of Terror in France, and specifically characterizes acts “carried out by the party in power during the Revolution of 1789-94).” Terrorism has transformed from “the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation…used by a government or ruling group” to “practices used by a clandestine or expatriate organization as a means of furthering its aims.” While contemporary usage tends to conjure images of 9/11, acts of terrorism—by governments and clandestine groups alike—have a much longer history.

This course draws from the archive of Anglophone literature to trace the way literature has imagined and represented acts of terrorism, from 1888 to 2014. Our aim will be to explore the global and historical contexts of terrorism, and to situate the contemporary moment through works of imaginative fiction, which mediate the relationships between state and insurgent, just war and terror, and ultimately self and other.

Course goals and learning outcomes:
Our aim is to read terrorism historically and globally, and by the conclusion of the course students will have analyzed works from a variety of perspectives, some of which take US American experiences of terrorism as their focus, while others shift conversations and histories of terrorism to other terrains and experiences. The ethics of representation will be central to our class conversations; rather than asking only whether terrorism can be narrated, should it? Does fiction facilitate or impede national and personal mourning? Are there limits to what fiction should attempt to imagine?

Students will develop both historical and comparative approaches to the study of terrorism and literature. At the conclusion of the class, students will have a critical understanding of political violence and terrorism beyond US-centered representations of 9/11 and the War on Terror, and will be able to articulate the advantages and limitations of imaginative representations of terrorism—in short fiction, novels, films, poetry, and essays.

Transnational African/American Fiction

Course Description:
How do writers of the African diaspora represent transnational movement, and what is the relationship between this transnational movement and their negotiation of national identity? What role do transnational spaces have in fictional narratives? This course will examine works by African/American diasporic writers, beginning in the early 20th century and concluding in the present day. We will begin with writers of the Harlem Renaissance, for whom Africa figures as metaphor and mediator. Subsequent units will focus on the relationship between transnational movement and narratives of history, formulations of identity, and war and displacement. The concluding unit will take the course full circle, and examine novels whose characters travel back to Africa and find their ideas of their home continent, as well as their memories, troubled. Through our reading of fiction, we will interrogate the scope, applicability, and utility of terms such as black internationalism, the black Atlantic, and pan-Africanism to discuss African/American transnational fiction.

Course Goals:
Students will survey African/American writing across the 20th century, and analyze the way “America,” “Africa,” and transnational movement between the two are evoked to explore legacies of slavery and the Middle passage, negotiating the color line and passing, belonging and homelands, community and traditions. A central premise of this course is that transnational movement usefully captures the strain, struggle, and self-determination sought by the characters; students will assess the narrative function of transnational movements—real or imagined—within the texts.

By the end of the course, students will be able to compare and analyze a range of African/American texts, from poems to novels and political tracts. The African writers discussed in the second half of the course hail from a range of geographical locations in Africa—Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, South Africa—and students will situate these transnational texts in their respective historical, social, and cultural contexts.

African Literature Survey
Undergraduate introductory-level course

Description: Rather than definitively settle the question of what constitutes African literature, the attendees of the 1962 African Writers Conference instead raised a series of new questions: Can literature written in a European language be included as African literature? Does African literature depend on whether the text is written by an African, depicts African settings, or utilizes an indigenous African language? Just as the eminent attendees of that conference—including Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Wole Soyinka among many others—were unable to settle the issue, those questions remain with us today. This survey of African literature is designed to address these long-standing questions in African literature in tandem with an historical view of African literature over time, representing a range of genres, geographies, and languages (for our purposes, translated into English).

Objectives: By the end of the course, students will have an understanding of the major movements in African literature, especially from the twentieth-century onward, and an appreciation of the range of genres African writers have engaged. Through African fiction, students will have analyzed the major continental and global events that African fiction addresses: not only colonialism and neocolonialism, but language politics, issues of orality and écriture, the politics of publication, and the fraught relationship between modernity and tradition.


Power, Politics, and Paranoia: Dictators in Fiction

100-level course, approximately 25-35 students

Course Description: Trujillo, Barre, Hitler, Amin: These figures have loomed large in the history of authoritarian and tyrannical political regimes in the twentieth century. Do fictional representations of these regimes share characteristics that coalesce into “dictator novels” as a recognizable, global genre? And if so, what is the utility of linking these texts through similar explorations of power and politics? How do ordinary citizens, in the narratives, navigate and resist these oppressive regimes? And what enduring lessons do they provide about the rise of personalistic and populist authoritarian regimes not only in the 20th century, but beyond?

Many scholars consider the genre to originate in Latin American fiction, specifically between the 1960s and 1970s. We too will begin in Latin America, with novels by Llosa and Márquez. This extended unit will examine additional secondary readings on fiction and dictatorships and serve as a reference point for the two following units, which expand our geographical considerations to the African continent, eastern Europe, and North Korea.

Course Goals:

By the end of the course, students will be able to situate the rise of modern dictatorships in the post-WWII political landscape, including a global postcolonial context. Through an ongoing discussion of genre, students will develop skills of literary analysis to identify similarities in structure and form, style, subjects, and themes. As a result, students will also interrogate genres as powerful shapers of knowledge and rhetoric, and assess the utility of the generic categorization “dictator novels” to fictional works from around the world.

Postcolonial Theory for the 21st Century
300-level undergraduate course, or graduate level course; seminar

Course Description:

Designed for students who are already familiar with the well-known texts and ideas of postcolonial theory, this course asks, “What is the relevance of postcolonial studies to the world now?” We will begin with the institutionalization of postcolonial studies in the academy, tracking its popularization as well as the critiques levelled at the field (from within and from without) in the 1990s. We will then consider the alternative, competing names that aimed to adjust the purview of postcolonial studies in the early 2000s, including transnationalism, globalization, and decolonization. The following two units will address the relationship between postcolonial theories and some of the major issues of our times: climate change and terrorism. In addition to a diversity of theoretical essays and articles, we will read several fictional texts to not only ground the theoretical discussion, but also to complement and to extend the theories themselves.

Course Goals:

Students will develop a critical understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of “postcolonial theories” for the contemporary moment. Students will also, crucially, evaluate the most recent trends in postcolonial theory and will be prepared to assess its important for their own work. At the conclusion of the course, students will have developed a sense of the interdisciplinary contributions and debts of postcolonial theories, and the utility of postcolonial concepts and theories for addressing major issues confronting the globe.

Postcolonial Studies: Key Concepts and Debates
300-level introduction to postcolonial studies; 35+ students

Course Description:

To chart the beginning of postcolonial studies, many scholars look to the pioneering work of Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, and Homi Bhahba, whose theories and approaches gave the field its early shape and focus on discourse analysis. This course will provide an overview of postcolonial studies and proceeds thematically rather than strictly chronologically, allowing us to follow the way concepts and ideas around a topic have developed over time within the field. Additionally, most units will include a work of fiction; a central premise of this course is that theories did not develop separately from fiction, nor should theories be haphazardly imposed on texts to accomplish a particular interpretation. This course aims for a conversation between theory and fiction as we follow the development of the central concepts and debates in postcolonial studies.

Course Goals:

By the end of this course, students not only will have read and analyzed the seminal and oft-cited scholarship in postcolonial studies, but also will have contextualized the field’s institutionalization in the academy. Students will develop their own positions on the strengths and weaknesses of postcolonial theories and approaches, as well as the relationship between postcolonial theories and postcolonial novels.

Graduate Level Course: State Failure and Fiction
Special Topics in contemporary, global Anglophone literature

Course Description: The term “failed state” has become synonymous with countries like Somalia, Haiti, Yugoslavia, and Cambodia ever since the phrase was coined in 1992 in an article in Foreign Policy magazine. But what assumptions undergird its appellation to such a diversity of states? What does “state failure” entail about “successful” states, and the relationship between nations and states? How has the term “state failure” been mobilized to justify international interventions? And most importantly for our purposes, how do literary texts present imaginative possibilities and alternatives to government organization?

This course will focus on global Anglophone literature set during state crisis, failure, or emergency. Texts will be selected from two distinct but related areas: literary selections either written or set during crises, and political theories of state formation and function.

Course Goals: This graduate seminar is designed to promote interdisciplinary engagement between literary studies and other disciplines. By the end of the course, students will be able to assess the advantages (and limitations) of literary texts to comment on and (re)imagine the contemporary geopolitical landscape. The final assignment has three options that students can choose from, allowing students to complete a project most suited to their stages within the graduate program.