English 413: Senior Research and Writing

This course offers one of two ways to fulfill the senior capstone writing requirement. See the details on the Senior Honors Thesis for the other option.

Prerequisites: Six credits in English at the 300 level; senior major standing. Enrollment limited to 6 in each section. A collaborative group research and writing project for senior majors, conducted in supervising faculty member's area of expertise, with directed independent study culminating in a substantial final project. Possible topics include Poetic Voice, Ecocriticism, Studying Literature in Action, Modern Irish Studies, Epic. Staff. Fall, Winter

If you are not doing a senior honors thesis, you must participate in the 413 selection process. This page announces 413 sections available in fall and winter of the next academic year. There will be no spring term capstones. A 413 course usually does not count towards distribution, but if you are in a pinch, you may petition the chair for an exception, depending on your paper topic. Creative capstone courses don't count towards distribution, but they do fulfill the capstone requirement.

Capstone Course Offerings 2014-15


English 413:  Memoir (Gertz)

             This course examines twentieth- and twenty-first century self-writing, considering theories of selfhood within genres of fiction, memoir, and the personal essay.  Concepts of memory, identity, experience, agency and audience are theorized and studied in relation to disparate texts, including the novel Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, and memoirs by Mary Karr, Deborah Miranda, and Eric Wilson.  We also view self-writing as narrative, studying autobiographical texts as art forms, reading details about individual lives and historical moments primarily as crafted art forms.  At the same time, we study the techniques of self-writing by analyzing individual texts in relation to specific tools writers have identified as useful to the composition of autobiography.  We take all of this and apply it to the development of our own self-writing, which we practice in response to prompts that are keyed to the week’s topics and generic forms.  In the final third of the course, after completing a research paper on autobiographical texts, we develop a longer piece of creative self-writing (25 pages) that reflects the careful thinking about theories of selfhood, as well as specific writing tools, that we have studied and/or used throughout the term.

English 413:  Queering the Text (Kao)

             Does text have a gender or sexuality?  Or does text both embody and challenge socio-political norms?  One of the aims of the seminar is to investigate the inherent queerness of text and the textuality of queerness.  Reading select texts across historical periods, we ask whether postmodern constructs of sexuality and gender inform or problematize studies of premodern and early modern texts, and how race, class, and culture complicate notions of the queer.  We learn how to engage in practices of queering, a la Raymond Williams, through a series of keywords:  desire, friendship, romance (and “bromance”), performativity, author, reader, time, normativity, marriage, conduct, reproduction, the abject, and happiness.  Short primary texts may include works by Geoffrey Chaucer, Chrétien de Troyes, William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Truman Capote, and Carson McCullers.  Queer theorists may include Michel Foucault, Eve Sedgwick, Judith Butler, Wayne Koestenbaum, Jack Halberstam, Lee Edelman, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, and José Esteban Muñoz.  Students compile a portfolio of reading responses in the first half of the seminar as preparation for their individual guided research project. 

English 413:  Cultural Conflicts in the American West (Smout)

             In this section we study a few key texts about the American West and then see what else each student wants to explore.  There are many cultural conflicts from which to choose and wonderful texts about these conflicts in many genres.  Among the conflicting groups are American Indians, Hispanics, Asians, and white Europeans, all fighting for their land, families, names, ethnic identities, histories, culture, economic livelihood, and virtually everything else human beings can fight for.  Although we focus on literature, we also explore these conflicts historically and politically, grappling with the challenges of dealing with them today.


 English 413:  Ethnic Fiction and the Dead (Brodie)

            This seminar begins by focusing on ghosts, visions, and memories of the dead in novels and stories by African American and Caribbean women.  Students are welcome to explore the topic in writings by men and women from many traditions:  Native American, Asian, Latino.  The objective is to place each author’s treatment of the dead within its cultural context.  Authors to be used as a starting point include Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison, Maryse Conde, and Zora Neale Hurston.

English 413:  Revenge:  From Aeschylus and the Old Testament to Tarantino (Dobin)

             The revenge plot has been popular and powerful dramatic genre from Greek classical drama (the tales of murderous vengeance in Agamemnon’s family when he returns from Troy) and the Old Testament (the episode of the rape of Dinah) all the way to campy but gory contemporary films like Kill Bill and Sin City.  Our collective reading focuses on two periods and two media:  English Renaissance drama and modern film.  The Renaissance saw an explosion of experimentation in dramatic form, with the revenge plot a key element, in plays such as The Spanish Tragedy, Hamlet, and The Jew of Malta.  More recently, films as varied as The Godfather, True Grit, Hard Candy, and Munich have explored the revenge theme.  We sample various sub-genres of revenge—ghost stories, revenge for violence against women, marital conflict, revenge for the loss of children, and gangster violence.  We consider key recurring themes such as honor, justice, madness, re-enactment, gender, and metatheater.  We also study revenge plots in other cultures, such as the kabuki classic, Chushingura, the Swedish film, The Virgin Spring, and the Korean thriller, Oldboy.  Students have a wide range of texts from which to choose for their capstone project.

English 413:  Synesthesia:  Cognition, Literature, and the Senses (Pickett)

             Synesthesia is both a literary device and a neurological condition; in both cases, multiple senses are conjoined or confused.  When Bottom from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” awakes and declares, “The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was,” is Shakespeare simply poking fun at Bottom’s foolishness or is he testifying to the way that synesthesia can capture an ineffable experience (4.1.207-10)?  This course attends to moments in drama and literature where the senses fail or mingle in order to ask a series of questions:  What can an understanding of philosophical and scientific studies about bodily sensation reveal about literary texts and, conversely, what can literary texts add to those philosophical and scientific discourses of the senses?  Beyond their role in defining the material world, can the senses help define the immaterial?  Readings in the fields of (introductory) neuroscience and phenomenology supplement literary texts by Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, Sarah Ruhl, Mary Zimmerman, Raymond Carver, and/or others.