Registration is coming: Join us!

Spring 2016 Course Descriptions

We have listed the numbers and titles of many of the English courses for the Spring 2016 semester below.

In addition, information about the undergraduate catalogue for English courses can be found in MyCourseGuide (NetID log-in required). Non-UW students can contact the Undergraduate Advisor for information about courses.

English 142: Mystery and Crime Fiction (Levine)

Imagine that you come upon a dead body. How do you figure out how it got there? What if there are no eye-witnesses? What if witnesses are lying? What if the evidence has been tainted or planted? Maybe someone is acting oddly, or has a strong motive. Do you leap to conclude that that person is the killer? If you make a mistake, a killer could go free and an innocent person be jailed for life. How do you know for sure that you have arrived at the truth? 

Just like the detectives you’ve seen on TV, you are going to run into lots of questions in your own life that can’t be answered by just asking an expert or by searching for answers on Google. In this class we’ll think about how and why popular culture became obsessed with the pursuit of knowledge. We’ll think about how fictional detectives model the work of distinguishing truth from lies. They’ll introduce us to a whole range of strategies for finding knowledge, from ballistics to psychological analysis and from teamwork to guesswork. We’ll think about who gets to pursue knowledge, and how they do it. And we’ll read about historians, philosophers, and scientists who have taken the fictional detective as their model for gathering knowledge and think about how in the University we all need to act like detectives. 

We will read short stories by Poe, Conan Doyle, Hammett, and Chandler, as well as three novels: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Cotton Comes to Harlem, and Arrows of Rain. We’ll watch the first season of The Wire, The Bletchley Circle, Top of the Lake, and two episodes of Sherlock. There will be short weekly writing assignments and two longer papers as well as a midterm and an exam. 

English 150: Literature and Culture of Asian America (Yu)

Since the 19th century, “America” has often been defined by its relationship with “Asia,” through cultural influence, immigration, imperialism, and war.  This course traces the role of Asia and Asians in American literature and culture, from the Chinese and Japanese cultural influences that helped shape literary modernism to the rise of a distinctive culture produced by Asian immigrants to America and their descendants.  Texts may include poetry by Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, and Marianne Moore; Jack London’s evocation of the “Yellow Peril”; narratives of migration, labor, and community by Carlos Bulosan and Maxine Hong Kingston; poetry of Japanese American internment by Lawson Fusao Inada; Asian American graphic novels, films, and video; and visions of the “Asian” future by Ridley Scott, Chang-rae Lee, and Charles Yu. 

English 162: Shakespeare Now and Then (Britland)

We will read and discuss about half a dozen of Shakespeare’s most famous plays (including A Midsummer Night’s DreamRomeo and JulietHamlet and Macbeth) as well as looking at some of their modern film adaptations. We will take two weeks to discuss every play: there will be two lectures per week, and each play will be the subject of three lectures, at least one of which will usually consider Shakespeare films. There will also be some contextual lectures on Shakespeare’s theater, the genres of comedy and tragedy, and film and literary criticism. The class is designed both for students with a serious interest in Shakespeare and for those without much prior experience with literature. It will encourage everyone to enjoy the plays and films, to develop their own opinions about them, and to express those opinions critically in writing. The films will be streamed and there will also be regular screenings (your TAs will inform you of the dates, times and locations of the screenings). You can also make use of the DVD/video library in College Library. You are required to watch at least three films during the course: you will probably want to watch more.

English 178: Frankenstein, Robocop, Big Data (Vareschi)

"Frankenstein, Robocop, Big Data" is a course about memory. This course will consider the relative frailty of human memory in comparison to the unforgetting nature of digital storage. Humans forget; computers do not.

The course will begin by considering the relationship between memory and human identity. In many ways, we are who we are because we remember who we are day to day. However, human memory is fragile. We forget things; we misremember events.

By contrast, any and all online activity leaves a trace that can be collected to form a version of the user. This version is not identical to the human user and yet is often a frighteningly accurate image of the user whose behaviors may be tracked and predicted.

Importantly, this digital version of the user is produced by a form of memory (or more precisely a storage of information) that does not forget. You may not remember "liking" that photo on Facebook at 3 am, but Facebook does.


English 182: Renaissance Romance: Subversion and Delight (Bearden)

In this course we’ll read a selection of Renaissance romances that circumnavigate the globe, perform death-defying deeds, undermine social norms, and surprise at every turn.  The course will take a comparative approach, treating romance texts from a variety of national traditions and will engage theoretical works that will enrich and expand our understanding of romance. Lively class discussions will encourage critical thinking and debate. Students will hone their analytical and writing skills through class presentations, a take-home midterm, and a substantial final project. Creative writing assignments will culminate in a class project that will stimulate the students’ ability to relate these early modern texts to their own ways of imagining the world.

The course is divided into three thematic sections: romance structure, romance cosmos, and romance cultural identity. The student should have a firm understanding of these overarching concepts by the end of the class. These topics will help to define our discussion of the texts at hand. In addition, students will engage topics for discussion in class including the following:

  • Subversion and delight, romance as friend and foe of the Epic
  • Transatlantic romance, counter-colonial discourse and tales of chivalric barbarism
  • Viragos and Amazon eyes, queer hero/heroines and romance as gender-bender
  • Sex and the city, the erotic urban landscape and the female picaresque
  • Spells and potions, how to get what you want when you want it romantically
  • Debts to the East and deeds to the West, the “vast geographies” of romance

Film and TV clips will be used in the course to emphasize romance’s relevance to current formulations of storytelling, entertainment, and identity politics.

The goal of the course is not only to provide an understanding of the narrative form and function of Renaissance romance, but also to stimulate students’ awareness of romance’s capacity to give a voice to marginalized groups and to cross social and geographic boundaries through subversion and delight. 

English 182: Introduction to Literature for Honors: "Medieval Media: The Hidden History of Information" (Foys)

We live in the age of information media, and this course will introduce you to its hidden past.  When we hear the word "medieval," we don't normally think "technology."  And when we hear the word "media," we definitely don't think "medieval."  We will begin with a quick study of contemporary media theory and history--how we use technology to communicate and record information, and where we imagine media comes from--printing presses, computers, phones, and so on.  After this we will go off the grid to study the prehistory of media in the Middle Ages.  We'll look at how medieval writers imagined Twitter 600 years before it was invented, how Viking runes reveal an entire network of information that survived for centuries, how church bells spoke to entire villages at once, and how medieval monks believed in cyberspace--among many, many other things.  All medieval materials will be read in modern translation, and most will be available digitally for download.

English 214: The English Language (Young)

Whether you have spoken English since you were a baby or you learned English as an adult, you probably have asked yourself questions about the English language.  Do you feel good or do you feel well?  Who wrote the dictionary?  Is hip-hop poetry?  How do children learn to speak?  Will the Internet really change the English language?  In this class, we will ask many questions like these and attempt to answer them by using the techniques of modern linguistics (the systematic study of language in all its aspects).  We will investigate how the English that we use today is organized into sounds, into small meaning-bearing units called morphemes, into words, and by groups of words into sentencesthen sentences gather together to form discourse from which we derive meaning.  Though most people have strong feelings about what is right and wrong about today's English, we will see that there is no such thing as ONE English language.  No, there is no single English language today, and when we look back over the past 50 years or over the past 500 years, it is obvious that English has changed.  What processes have brought about this change?  And why do different native speakers today speak different Englishes?

This class is intended for anyone who is interested in how English works and how the English of today came to be what it is.  By the end of the course you will have acquired skills in linguistics and have used them to understand the structure, uses, varieties, styles, and history of the English language.

Your knowledge and interpretation of the readings and lectures will be assessed by two exams.  The midterm will focus on material covered in Weeks 1-7.  Questions on the final exam will focus on material covered in Weeks 9-15.  Questions on both exams will be taken from the exercises at the end of each chapter in How English works: A linguistic introduction. 

English 241: Literature and Culture I: to the 18th Century (Zweck)

This course provides an introduction to literature in English from the Middle Ages to the early eighteenth century. Together with English 242, it provides an introduction to British literary history, and its primary goals include familiarizing students with the canon of English literature and preparing students for more specialized study in advanced courses in the major. The course spans roughly 1000 years, from the origins of English literature to the rise of the novel. Along the way, we will examine how literature engaged with topics as disparate as love, religion, and science, and we will read everything from elegant descriptions of angelic beings to six-hundred-year-old fart jokes. To focus our discussions, we will concentrate on questions of form and genre, including the epic, fabliau, romance, sonnet, lyric, and novel. Emphasis will be on close reading and literary analysis, but we will also pay close attention to the social, cultural, and political contexts from which each text emerged. This course also develops skills for writing clearly and critically that are essential to majors and non-majors alike. 

Texts may include Beowulf; Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; Paradise Lost; Oroonoko; and poetry by Shakespeare, Spenser, and Donne.


245a. Contemporary African American Literature (Levy-Hussen) 

This course provides a selective overview of African American and Black diasporic literature from the 1980s to the present. We will examine a range of formal and thematic developments in contemporary black fiction and poetry, in the context of major cultural, political, and legal developments of the last thirty-five years. Our guiding questions will include the following: What makes a text a black text? Must African American literature serve a moral or political cause? How does today’s African American literature revise, reject, or re-imagine the black literary tradition? How and why has the topic of racial slavery come to occupy a central place in contemporary black literature? 

Over the course of the semester, students will write five directed response papers of 1-2 pages each, designed to build specific skills in close reading, critical thinking, and effective written expression. Students will also be responsible for a 5 page midterm paper and an 8-10 page final paper, the latter of which may be a revision of the former. 

Assigned reading will likely include Toni Morrison’s Beloved, M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!, Mat Johnson’s Pym, Charles Johnson’s Dreamer, Andrea Lee’s Sarah Phillips, Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, and Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely.

English 314: The Structure of English (Wanner)

Watch the trailer for English 314

Should it be "taller than I" or "taller than me?" In this course, we will not focus on what is considered "proper" English, rather, we will study English grammar from a descriptive perspective. To a linguist, grammar -- the ability to put words together to form natural-sounding sentences -- is not something that is written down in a book, it is a tacit form of knowledge that exists in a speaker's mind. We will try to make that knowledge visible. You will learn to classify parts of speech (everybody knows what a noun is, but what about prepositions, conjunctions, and particles?), identify syntactic constructions (e.g., infinitives, passives), and, most importantly, analyze the structure of a sentence, both verbally and visually (in tree diagrams). Knowing how to do this will make you a more confident speaker and writer.

Class meetings will generally be a mix of lecture, discussion, and problem solving. Attendance is mandatory and will be recorded. Expect to be called on in class and to participate in group work. There is a required textbook for this class; additional materials will be made available on Learn@UW. The reading load for this class is not very high, but there will be weekly homework assignments. Assessments include two graded homework assignments (exam length for both), two in-class exams (midterm and final), and an individual project, in which you will contrast the linguistic profiles of two genres based on two pages of text (e.g., news article/editorial; lab report/grant proposal).

(For the record, both "taller than I" and "taller than me" are perfectly fine. In the first case, "than" is a conjunction followed by an elliptic clause with "I" as the subject, "taller than I am," in the second, "than" is used as a preposition, followed by an object pronoun, "me." If this sounds like gibberish to you, it is because you haven't taken "The Structure of English" yet.)

Required textbook: Elly van Gelderen: An Introduction to the Grammar of English. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. (Revised Edition)

English 360: The Anglo-Saxons (Foys)

What was life like in England, over 1,000 years ago, and why should we care today? This course proposes to find out. Over the semester, we will learn about how Anglo-Saxon England came into existence, how it became Christian, how it fought and assimilated with Vikings, and how it all ended with the Norman Conquest. We will study surprising and unexpected materials from literature, art and material culture – here’s a short sampling: the deviant funeral rites for burying zombies, battle poetry that rewrites a bloody defeat into a glorious victory, a manual for medieval sign language, a recently discovered hoard of Viking plunder, an illustrated manuscript depicting the monstrous races thought to inhabit the far east, a woven embroidery almost as long as a football field, religious saints' lives that seem to delight in the number of ways you can torture somebody, and clever riddles that are as profane as they are profound.  Most importantly, we will explore ways in which we explore the past to understand it: theories of how to interpret literature, how archaeology destroys as much as it preserves, how a single coin buried in the ground can tell us a story. At stake is nothing less than  how we are to understand so many of the ideas that help make up our own identity today.

English 361: American Novel since 1965 (Zimmerman)

This popular course focuses on the American novel since 1965. We'll study canonical as well as lesser-known works by some of the most prominent and pioneering novelists in the last half century. All of the novels are thematically fertile, stylistically rich, and formally innovative, ranging from postmodern classics such as Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) to Colson Whitehead's recent zombie novel, Zone One (2011). This is a discussion and writing intensive course, not a lecture class. One aim of this course is to develop your skills as close readers and interpreters of literary texts; another is to develop your expertise as analytical essay writers. Requirements include two major essays (plus revisions), several short analytical writings, and a final exam. Likely novels include Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49; DeLillo, Mao II; Didion, The Last Thing He Wanted; Morrison, A Mercy; Robinson, Housekeeping; and Whitehead, Zone One. 

English 407: Creative Writing: Nonfiction Workshop (Fiorenza)

"Telling True Stories" What kind of true story can you tell about your world? In memoir, literary journalism, or a lyrical essay, how do writers use personal experience to connect with compelling concerns about growing up? About family, inequality, music, or art? What kind of true story could you tell about a cloud, a car, a book – or something else -- that takes readers beyond the facts? How can you join research with narrative strategies used by fiction writers to encourage new or deeper understandings of a place, event, or person? In this workshop, we’ll explore such questions as writers and readers, inhabiting the territory called creative nonfiction, an expansive “fourth genre” that has been evolving for centuries. Besides students’ own work, we’ll read mainly from Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction. Students in this course will develop as writers of creative nonfiction, while gaining fluency in its demands, possibilities, and scope. A final portfolio of work produced during the course will include writing exercises, drafts, and two revised essays (10-15 pages each).

English 420 Topics in ELL: Universal Grammar and Child Language Acquisition (Cho)

This course provides an introduction to the linguistic study of child language acquisition. Children attain adult-like linguistic knowledge by the age of 5-6 without any explicit instruction or correction from their caregivers. In this course, we will examine the properties of the human mind that make language so easily accessible to children and discuss evidence for the claim that children are born with built-in universal linguistic principles (Universal Grammar) that constrain language acquisition. We will discuss experimental methods on child language acquisition. We will cover child first language/monolingual acquisition as well as child bilingual acquisition (children acquiring two languages simultaneously). We will also discuss language development of blind children, children with developmental problems, and children with SLI (specific language impairment). All reading materials will be available electronically on the course website.

English 422: Figure in English Literature before 1800: Christopher Marlowe (Harris)

Christopher Marlowe burst onto the Elizabethan theater scene while still a college student, dazzling audiences with heroes who dreamed of world conquest and defied the limits that confine mere mortals. His poems and plays inspired a generation of English writers, including William Shakespeare, his sometime friend and rival. 

Despite success as a playwright, Marlowe graduated from college facing the worst possible job market. With limited prospects, he cobbled together a life as a poet and a spy, a heretic and a counterfeiter, a gentleman and a rogue. He died before his 30th birthday, stabbed in a bar under mysterious circumstances, over “the reckoning.” (Was it a dispute over the bar tab? A lovers’ quarrel? Assassination? No one knows, though books have been written on the subject.) In between, Marlowe wrote classics that addressed themes as important today as they were four hundred years ago: personal ambition and intellectual overreach, religious conflict and civil unrest, power and sexual identity. 

In the class we will read everything Marlowe wrote in his too-brief life: seven plays, two translations from the Latin classics, and a handful of poems. Many, such as “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” and Doctor Faustus, are familiar still. The Jew of Malta anticipates contemporary religious conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. Edward II concerns itself with homosexuality and power, while Hero and Leander recounts the tragic tale of a long-distance relationship between two young lovers. Tamburlaine the Great rises from lowly shepherd to conquer the world, yet he cannot save his beloved wife from dying of illness. There’s more, much more. We will read his works chronologically in their Elizabethan context, but we will consider too how Marlowe’s writings continue to speak to us today about important problems in our own world. 

Writing assignments include a papers, journal entries, and participation in social media. 

Books (inexpensive paperbacks): 

  • Christopher Marlowe: The Complete Plays (Penguin) 

  • Christopher Marlowe: The Complete Poems and Translations (Penguin Classics) 

  • David Riggs, The World of Christopher Marlowe (Faber & Faber/Henry Holt) 

  • Miscellaneous documents posted on Learn @UW 

  •  A contemporary novel about Christopher Marlowe, to be selected in consultation with instructor

English/Medieval 423: Medieval Marvels and Monstrosities (Zweck)

In this course, we will explore what it is that we have feared, and why it is that we so enjoy, and even desire, to confront evil. From green men, to werewolves, to dragons, medieval literature was filled with monstrous beings who challenged the division between human and non-human, and between society and the mysterious world that existed outside it. Like monsters, marvels occupied a space beyond the boundaries of the normal human world. One reincarnated being with excessive strength might be seen as a ferocious heathen zombie, while another reincarnated being who lives in the trees might be worshipped as a Christian saint. With readings drawn from a wide variety of medieval genres and contexts, including Old and Middle English as well as Scandinavian literature, topics will include race, gender, animals, and the nature of belief. 

Readings may include: Beowulf; Saga of the Volsungs; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; Gerald of Wales, The History and Topography of Ireland; The Book of Margery Kempe; The Wonders of the East; Old English riddles; selected works by Marie de France, Chaucer. 

No previous experience with medieval literature is required. 

English 424: Medieval Drama (Cooper)

Passion and Production: Medieval English Drama 

This course will introduce students to the dramatic traditions of medieval England, from the church rituals of the tenth century to the flowering (and eventual decline) of the elaborate guild-produced mystery cycles and traveling troupe morality plays of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. In addition to focusing closely upon the textual traces of what were once vibrant live events, we will also consider the geographical, socio-political, and of course spiritual contexts of medieval performance. To that end, we will supplement our reading of the plays themselves with discussions of maps, city records, urban chronicles, and excerpts from spiritual texts of the period; we will also take account of the many and highly divergent approaches to the plays in both past and current scholarship. Issues we will consider include the nature and function of urban space and public spectacle; the nexus of relations binding (as well as those dividing) crown, church, and guild; the relationship of performing and observing bodies to the sacramental body of Christ; and, more generally, both the significance of work and the place of play in late medieval culture. 

Work for the course is centered upon a semester-long assignment: from the beginning of term, students will work in one or more groups to study, creatively re-imagine, and then to publicly perform a medieval play for the UW community in the last two weeks of class. All students in the course will be required to perform and/OR to share fully in the work of production with the other members of their group. The other more individual part of the project will be the writing of a cumulative 8-10-page theatrical/cultural review of this production that situates it within lessons learned from the course material over the semester. Alongside this extended project of production and review, students will be required to do regular weekly writing on the course discussion board. 

English 454: James Joyce (Begam)

This course focuses on the major writings of James Joyce, excluding Finnegans Wake. Most of our attention will be devoted to an in-depth examination of Ulysses conducted over the course of nine weeks. By way of preparation, we shall read two earlier works by Joyce, Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist, as well as Joyce’s principal source text, Homer’s Odyssey. Among the larger questions we shall address: Where does Joyce position himself in relation to the conflicting demands of nationalism, individualism and aesthetics? What is the significance of the “odyssey of styles” in Ulysses, and how does it affect the novel’s mimetic aspirations? Finally, how does Ulysses reconceive such fundamental ideas as time and place, love and marriage, truth and language, art and morality?

James Joyce, Dubliners (Penguin, Brown edition)
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Penguin, Deane edition)
James Joyce, Ulysses (Vintage, Gabler edition)
Don Gifford, Ulysses Annotated
Homer, The Odyssey (Vintage, Fitzgerald translation)

English 514: English Syntax (Wanner)

Do you like to puzzle linguistic pieces together? Do you sometimes wonder why sentences that seem to make sense semantically just don’t sound right? (*It was expected Harry to leave early)? Did you enjoy diagramming sentences in “The Structure of English?” Then this is the class for you.

In this class we will combine the analysis of sentences with an in-depth exploration of a particular theoretical framework, the "Principles & Parameters" (also: Government & Binding) approach to syntactic analysis, first introduced by Noam Chomsky in the 1980s. Both data and analysis will be more complex than in the "Structure of English" course. For instance, we will look at infinitives (He tried __to leave), which lack a visible subject, but which are interpreted as sentences with agents nonetheless. Other constructions with invisible agents include imperatives (Wash your hands!), and passives (Mistakes were made). We will also look at complex constructions that involve the ordering of objects, for example the particle verb construction (Ilooked up the information/I looked the information up -- what exactly happens with the particle?) and the double object construction (give a book to Mary/give Mary a book -- do they mean exactly the same?). You will learn how to analyze these sentences, how to represent them as tree diagrams in an updated version of the X-bar format, and to compare the Chomskyan analysis with a more traditional approach to the analysis of syntax.

You will not have to read a lot for this class, but you will spend a fair amount of time analyzing syntax problems every week. There will be weekly homework assignments, occasional pop quizzes, two exams (take-home midterm, in-class final open book exam), and a presentation on a syntactic construction, such as the relative clause or the imperative (graduate students will also have to write a paper). Tree diagrams will get fairly complex in this class, but what really matters is the ability to construct a syntactic argument: Why is a construction problematic? Why is one analysis better than another? What are problems that remain unsolved?

This class is required for M.A. students in Applied English Linguistics, it is semi-required for the English Linguistics track in the major (you have to take this class or English 516, Grammar in Use, which is not offered this semester), and it counts as an elective towards the English Major. ENGL 314 (Structure of English) is a prerequisite for this course.

Required textbook: Andrew Carnie: Syntax. A Generative Introduction. 3rd Edition. Oxford: Blackwell.

English 543: Discourses of Disability Before 1800 (Bearden)

This course asks how disability was represented in the past, and how that history of representation effects the way we think about disability today. Along with considering how literary classics like Shakespeare’s Richard III or Milton’s Samson Agonistes represent disabled figures, we will investigate the formal and cultural contexts from which these representations arise. The reading for this course will be plentiful and challenging. Willingness to work hard and openness to new ways of thinking are required.

The course has four thematic areas of focus:

  1. Defining Disability, Monsters, miracles, marvels, medicalization?;
  2. Disabling bodies;
  3. Disabling Space;
  4. Disabling narrative.

The student should have a firm understanding of these overarching concepts by the end of the class. These topics will help to define our discussion of the texts at hand. The goal of the course is not only to provide an understanding of the history of the representation of disability in literature before 1800, but to think critically and deeply about how these early productions of disability continue to affect the way we ascribe meaning to disability today. 

English 561: Literary Criticism and Theory (Begam)

This course will introduce students to a number of the central issues in literary criticism and theory. Questions that we shall consider include: Where and how do we locate the “meaning” of a work of literature? Is it to be found in the work itself, the author’s intentions, or the reader’s interpretation? To what degree have developments in modern thought–especially the post-Nietzschean critique of objectivism–affected how we identify and define hermeneutic truth? How do our cultural and historical situations constrain our ability to understand texts of our own time and of the past? Finally, what roles do aesthetic appreciation and evaluation play, both in guiding interpretation and in establishing literary canons?

Plato, Phaedrus (Macmillan)
Jacques Derrida, Dissemination (University of Chicago)
Michel Foucault Discipline and Punish (Vintage)
xeroxed material (available Room 1650, Humanities)

English 626: Rebels and American Literature (Castronovo)

**3-week J-term course [meets every day online]**

How does literature intersect with rebellion and revolution? Literature promotes values commonly associated with the social order, which is why we learn about literature in school. But literary works often seem to have proximity to political violence and social unrest. As we move from Revolutionary-era Boston to Zuccotti Park and Occupy Wall Street, we will explore the relationship between literature and social and political movements associated with the radicalism of slave resistance, anti-capitalist demonstrators, turn-of-the-century feminism, and other conflicts. As we do so we’ll also think about different literary modes and forms, including manifestos, satire, film, short stories, poetry, and the novel. Tentative plans include a set of wide-ranging readings from Tom Paine to Langston Hughes and Kate Chopin to James Dean. 


  • Focused daily writing assignments
  • Two papers
  • Critical précis