Courses Guide

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This page offers a brief overview of the types of courses offered at the undergraduate level by the Literature Program.

ENGLIT 0505: How to Do Things with Literature I

Literary texts rarely come into the world marked as having some special value in the culture, and neatly packaged with headnotes and annotations to guide (and constrain) their interpretation. They are more often unruly, shape-shifting objects, which over time change in ways both great and small, as they enter into new forms of circulation and are put to diverse uses. They remain hard to pin down, to categorize precisely. Even after sustained close and passionate attention to many literary works, we may not know exactly or fully what we think about them. Subsequent writers regularly re-use earlier literature in creative ways, as they correct, extend or redeem an influential predecessor, or return to the scene to elaborate an imaginative alternative. A great deal of critical and scholarly energy is spent seeking at once to make classic literary texts readily legible or accessible to each new generation of readers but also endlessly to elaborate their manifold implications, their interventions into longstanding cultural debates, their formal ingenuity, craft, and imaginative openness to the world. We will be examining various critical and creative methods of doing things with literature, partly to appreciate their rationale and their value, and partly to make them available to be hacked for alternative purposes. In doing so, we will engage with some perennial questions of humanistic study: how can literary classics remain compelling works long after their moment of invention? How might contemporary readers best develop critical understandings and imaginative uses of classic texts, which respect historical traditions while also attending to the imperatives of the present moment?  

In various ways, both in and out of class, we will experiment with scholarly and creative methods of doing things with literature. Sometimes, this will involve issues of textual editing, of tracing differences across versions, of understanding how they arise, and of deciding what to do with them. Sometimes, we will play with more or less disciplined, more or less poetic procedures for transforming or re-mediating a text. Sometimes, we will perform, or imitate, or re-write a text. These experiments will, we hope, increase our appreciation and understanding of the particular features of the primary course texts. They will also introduce several scholarly practices, and model various active, imaginatively engaging ways of interacting with texts. 

ENGLIT 0506: How to Do Things with Literature II

In this course, students engage in the various scholarly, critical, and creative activities that are involved in identifying an important critical problem, posing a generative research inquiry, and producing original interpretative work. Though course topics vary, each section will focus on a critical problem or issue pertinent to literary and cultural studies (and especially to the fields represented by our concentration areas). Students will begin with intensive study and close reading of a number of course texts in the context of the course themes and then pursue individual lines of inquiry they develop from this focused study. Students will learn to craft productive research questions and gain strong competencies in a number of research and critical methods and wrap up the term with an original research project.

ENGLIT 1900: Project Seminar

The project seminar is a course in which students shape and pursue unique, individual or collaborative research projects to give greater depth and breadth to their study of the particular course topic and to contribute original scholarship. Students will learn and practice a variety of research methodologies, including those of digital humanism and those of more traditional literary study. Among the wide range of work done in the class, students: learn how to define an area of study, develop projects of different scope, conduct primary and secondary research in depth, use different presentation forms and platforms, and enrich their understanding of texts and meaning through deep and extensive study of their cultural contexts.

ENGLIT 1910: Senior Seminar

An in-depth study of a particular topic, author, or theme, the Senior Seminar encourages students to think critically and work creatively with the knowledge and practices they have learned during their time at Pitt. The seminar is also the place where students are encouraged to think about their future in relation to their continuing intellectual development: to graduate school in English or Education, or to other careers and vocations. While there are no prerequisites for senior seminar, taking project seminar first is highly recommended since the research, analytical, and writing skills you should develop in project seminar would provide a solid foundation for the kinds of work you will do for senior seminar.

The research and communication skills that students have acquired are put into play in the senior seminar as students, in class, present their own ideas in relation to others. This work can take the form of individual or group presentations. A substantial, high quality, thoroughly researched paper is expected. Senior seminars are limited to 18 majors and have a variety of topics. In the past, seminars have focused on Modern Poetry, Work and Play in Literature, Dramatizing American Women, James Joyce, Jane Austen, King Lear, and Literature and Architecture. Two or three seminars are offered each semester, so students are encouraged to choose the topics that most interest them.

Historical Period Courses

Although these are all upper-level courses, they do not presume that students already know about the periods in question. These courses intend to introduce them. They are most useful when taken early so that they can enrich the subsequent, more specialized later courses. In their conception, execution and continuing evolution, these courses never treat history as an inert background to the literature read in class. Instead, they find ways to enable the literary-historical past to surprise and disturb our contemporary expectations of it. Students will encounter texts that depart from the mainstream and, perhaps, materials from disciplines other than English literature. For some professors, literary history might involve a necessary conversation with social and political history. For others it might mean a consideration of that which constitutes the past and the ways in which it is encountered.

Independent Studies

Independent studies (ENGLIT 1901) are designed to accommodate students who urgently need to pursue a course of study not covered in the regular departmental offerings. They cannot replicate courses that already exist in the department. The College of Arts and Sciences permits a maximum of 24 credits to be taken in independent studies. A full-time faculty member in the English Department must direct an independent study. Students must obtain the individual faculty's permission before proceeding with such a course of study.