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Program Overview

American Studies

American Studies

Pursue an interdisciplinary course of study allowing intensive examination of the culture, society, political system, and other aspects of the United States. Students may engage in comparative study of history, literature, visual media, or other materials produced by and helping to constitute American culture.

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About the American Studies program

American Studies Course Schedule

The American Studies Course Schedule page provides you with detailed information on the program's offerings.

American Studies Faculty

You can find a full listing of our instructors in this certificate program on the American Studies Faculty page.

Admission for the American Studies program

Applicants to this certificate program must hold a graduate degree from an accredited U.S. college, university or its foreign equivalent. A competitive graduate record that indicates strong academic ability is required. Work, internship, or research experience is highly desirable, but not a requirement. A list of admission requirements can be found on our American Studies Admission page.

American Studies Tuition

Tuition costs can vary for each of our programs. For the most up-to-date information on financial obligations, please visit our American Stuides Tuition page.

American Studies Registration Information

Our American Studies Registration Information page outlines important dates and deadlines as well as the process for adding and dropping courses.

Gainful Employment in American Studies

Common questions and answers related to cost, financing and success in this certificate program are found on our Gainful Employment in American Studies page.

Additional Information

The post-graduate American Studies Certificate may be especially beneficial to educators, students who are thinking of going on to a PhD program, attorneys, or anyone who wants to combine interdisciplinary methods with specific subjects. The coursework will:

  • Expose students to Northwestern University’s distinguished and world class instructors.
  • Provide students with countless opportunities to engage with others who are passionate to learn more about vitally important social and cultural issues through history, religion, philosophy, art, literature and film.
  • Prepare students for the intellectual demands of professional life by enriching students’ understanding of a broad array of social and cultural issues while improving their ability to analyze, write and complete research.
  • Sharpen analytical and writing abilities, which can help prepare students for application to PhD programs.

Applicants must possess a graduate degree in order to be considered for this program.

 

Find out more about Northwestern's American Studies program

American Studies Course Options

To complete this certificate, students may take any four courses available in the topic area (which may include courses available through The Graduate School). To satisfy the four units of credit required for the certificate, students also have the option to register for the following:

  • An independent study, which is a customized course of study undertaken by a single student under the guidance of an instructor. Denoted by the course number, 499, independent studies are comparable in their demands to other graduate-level courses.
  • A capstone project, which is an essay of 45 to 75 double-spaced pages written under the supervision of an approved faculty member. The project presents an opportunity to research and explore a topic thoroughly. Students often elect to expand a seminar paper from a previous course. Students who wish to pursue a capstone project must do so as their fourth and final course in the certificate program.

Students who did not previously study the humanities at the graduate level are strongly encouraged to take IPLS 410: Introduction to Cultural Analysis. This course introduces students to interdisciplinary cultural analysis through an intellectual history of critical theorists and thinkers. Through close reading, seminar discussion and presentations, students develop their critical analysis skills.

Please note that courses completed in the certificate program cannot be transferred to the corresponding graduate degree.

Core Courses:Course Detail
From Hamilton to “Hamilton” <> IPLS 401-0

This course will explore how Lin Manuel Miranda has repurposed early American history to resonate with present-day concerns such as immigration, citizenship, and upward mobility. His musical "Hamilton" has become a national sensation, and its popularity affords us an opportunity to learn not only about our nation's founding, but also about the evolution of hip hop and the meaning of the country's demographic transformation. We will examine primary texts from Alexander Hamilton’s time, in addition to more recent musical recordings, narratives of Latina/o History, and documents related to the career of Miranda himself, including excerpts from his first musical, “In the Heights.” (This course may count towards the History, American Studies, and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the liberal studies graduate and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
Introduction to Digital Studies <> IPLS 420-0

How do we better understand the conjuncture of digital technologies and the humanities? What kinds of thinking, research, teaching, politics, and cultural analysis can the digital enhance? How, in turn, do the fields that constitute the humanities (history, literary and language studies, philosophy, art history, musicology, cultural anthropology, media studies, etc.) offer guidance and grounding in today's wireless world? This course introduces students to the emerging field of critical digital studies, which looks at the intersection of digital technology and the humanities. Through a blending of weekly online engagements and three, Saturday afternoon face-to-face seminars, we address topics such as: what is the history of both the humanities and digital approaches to it as an interdisciplinary project? How can we address humanities questions today through new tactics of computational study found in informatics, statistical analysis, data visualization, and "big data" approaches? What new modes of publishing and scholarly communication do digital technologies make possible (multimedia presentation, podcasts, video, visualization, etc.)? How do we understand the ethics and politics of the digital world (surveillance, open source, net neutrality, sustainability, power)? Each week, students conduct readings and viewings, explore case studies, and complete online experiments. We pursue vigorous online discussion and convene in person for a seminar three times over the course of the quarter. Students pursue a final digital project in consultation with the instructor and in relation to individual interests and pursuits (graduate work, professional interests, digital humanities methodologies). Weekly topics include: digital annotation and database construction for close reading; "distant reading" tactics; digital mapping and timeline building; data and archives; network analysis; glitching and deformance for hermeneutic interpretation; and platforms and social media for humanities inquiry. (This course may count towards the American Studies, Chicago Studies, Digital Studies, History, Religious and Ethical Studies, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the American Literature, British Literature, Comparative and World Literature, Film, Literature and Visual Culture, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course is required of MALS and COAGS students, specializing in Digital Studies. But any interested graduate student may take the course as an elective. Please note, this course is a hybrid which will meet in person on January 13, February 10, and March 17.)


There is no available section.
Courses:Course Detail
Cinema, History, Const. of Rel <> IPLS 401-0

Since the early years after their introduction in the closing decade of the nineteenth century, motion pictures have constituted the most popular and pervasive form of entertainment for the US general public. Even under the competitive assault of television, movies still hold the preeminent position, inasmuch as a major portion of the content of television programming, whether via the commercial networks or the plethora of cable providers, is comprised of movies - either those produced for the theater venue or specially made-for-TV/cable. From the outset, the claim has been made in various quarters that cinematic productions have significant formative influence - positive or negative - on their audiences. This course is offered on the premise that movies do, in fact, have significant influence on the formation of social and religious values, the formation of the narrative of who we are as a nation, and in informing the mode of our interaction with the public sphere. (This course may count towards the American Studies, Religious and Ethical Studies, History, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the Film, Literature, and Visual Culture or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
History of Marriage in U.S. <> IPLS 401-0

Marriage is in the news. We hear that it is a fundamental human right, or that it is the foundation of civilization, the bulwark of social order, ordained by God, valid between a man and a woman, for reproduction and property transmission. The current controversy over gay marriage is only one in a series of moments in United States history when marriage has been the subject of criticism and debate. Feminists of the 1970s and 80s – as well as feminists of the 1840s and 50s – saw marriage as an instrument of women’s oppression. States across the nation outlawed interracial marriage to preserve “racial purity.” Social commentators in the 1910s and 20s worried that the nation would be ruined by a divorce epidemic. Marriage, in short, has been the object of controversy and the source of anxiety, positioned both as the source and solution to the nation’s problems. This course will examine not only the controversies over marriage but also the history of marriage in the United States. What kind of institution is marriage – political, religious, social, or economic? What purpose and functions does it serve? Why does the state have an interest in marriage? How has marriage changed over time, and why? (This course may count towards the American Studies, History, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the liberal studies graduate and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
Religion, Existentialism, and Film <> IPLS 401-0

In the aftermath of the World War I, many artists and filmmakers asked new questions about the relationship between realism and religion. Could one reconcile concrete reality (or realism) with faith in the other-worldly? Many of the artists under discussion in the course drew upon themes that had already been raised by Kierkegaard in the 19th century. What is the relationship between religion and modernity, faith and ethics, reality and the supernatural, observable phenomena and invisible causes? How does one make sense of death in a meaningless universe? Is the universe meaningless? Can meaning be found in realism itself? This course asks students to grapple simultaneously with philosophy and film. We will dig into the language of existential philosophy and compare it to the language of film. We will read Kierkegaard and Sartre and watch films made by Robert Bresson, Luis Buñuel, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Ingmar Bergman, and Woody Allen. In so doing, we will study how mid-to-late 20th century filmmakers sought to understand and portray life's many meanings, presenting protagonists who actively take up religious life, or who consider themselves inhabiting a godless and meaningless universe. In both genres, we will think about the problem of “experience” and how to narrate it. We will discuss the relationship between realism, atheism, Christianity and modernity, as well as the role of Christian symbolism in existentialist literature and film. (This course may count towards the American Studies, History, Religious and Ethical Studies, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may count towards the Film, Literature and Visual Culture, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
Imagining the Internet: Fiction, Film and Theory <> IPLS 401-0

Much recent fiction, film, and theory are concerned with representing the internet and online environments. Sometimes cyberspace is depicted as a continuation of previous media such as television, cinema, or telephone, but often it is envisioned as a new frontier. This course will examine the ways in which digital interfaces appear in cultural discourses. We consider how technological objects and tools participate in shaping elements of our culture that may appear natural, logical, or timeless. Our guiding questions will include the following: In what ways are these narratives shaping collective perceptions of the internet? How have virtual technologies challenged experiences of language, gender, sex, race, ethnicity, and location? We will focus on literary and filmic representations of social networking, gaming, news delivery, and artificial intelligence. Following a Cultural Studies model for inquiry, this course will be text-based with require that you develop close reading strategies, as well as revise your work. (This course may count towards the American Studies, Digital Studies, History, Religious and Ethical Studies, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the Film, Literature and Visual Culture, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. But any interested graduate student may take the course as an elective. Please note, this course is a hybrid which will meet in person on January 13, February 10, and March 17.)


There is no available section.
Seminar II:Chicago Communities <> IPLS 402-0

Chicago is known both as a city of neighborhoods and as a city made up of multiple ethnic groups. This course explores both, and especially their intersection in local ethnic communities. It will look at the historical waves of immigration that built the city and compare that to current ethnic groups and the construction of today's local urban communities. We will explore issues of identity, inequality, and political economy surrounding ethnicity. Finally, we will locate these issues in the context of Chicago as a global city. (This course may count toward the American studies, history, and Chicago studies specializations.)


There is no available section.
Asian Religions in Lit & Film <> IPLS 402-0

Since the age when the maritime explorers searched for a passage to India and a shorter route to the East, Asia has held a fascination for the West and the religions and cultures of Asia have influenced Western literature, philosophy and religion. This course explores some of the classic literature of the Asian religions, Hinduism, Buddhism and Daoism, and also considers some of the ways that this literature has been interpreted in the modern period in both Asian and Western film and literature. Among our readings will be two of the great epics of Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana, as well as key writings from the Buddhist tradition, and the Chinese Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing). We shall also view examples of Asian and Western film and read modern works by authors such as Thoreau, Forster and Kerouac in order to inquire how this Asian literature and its religious themes have been interpreted and re-imagined in the modern period. (This course may count toward the American, World and Comparative literature, or Literature, film, and visual culture specializations in MALit. It may count toward the American studies, History, and Religion and ethical studies specializations in MALS. It may also count toward any of these specialization certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


There is no available section.
Chicago Improv: Roots & Prac. <> IPLS 405-0

Chicago is home to a vibrant and nationally-recognized improv comedy scene, veterans of which can be seen all across the television and movie landscape. But what are the roots of that community and what explains the importance of Chicago to its past and present success? In this course, we will trace those roots back to Roman times and the theater of Comedia dell’arte. From there, we will skip forward to the particular influence of Chicago on improv, most importantly in the figures of Neva Boyd and her protege Viola Spolin. Throughout the course, students will be encouraged to participate in various improv exercises, from the most basic to the more complex. As we will find, there is no reason to limit improv to the stage, so we will also examine how improv skills and techniques might be applied to various creative endeavors, including writing and filmmaking, and also such fields as business communications and education. The course will require, as noted, participation in a number of improv exercises, along with the completion of a mid-term paper and a final creative project. (This course may count towards the American Studies, Chicago Studies, or History specializations in the liberal studies graduate and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
Millennial Masculinities <> IPLS 492-0

The “crisis of contemporary masculinity” is routinely discussed in both popular media and academic circles. Due to changing geopolitical and socioeconomic conditions, constructions of American manhood have been reconfigured in the past twenty years. Or have they? This course will examine American manhood and masculinity in the millennial age. Drawing heavily from examples of popular culture such as motion pictures, reality television, men’s magazines, literature and sports, issues that be considered will include body image, race and masculinity, fatherhood, labor, education, the anti-hero in popular culture, sexual fluidity and metrosexuality. Students will read contemporary gender theory and interrogate cinematic, televisual and online representations of masculinity. (This course may count toward the American literature or Literature, film, and visual culture specializations in MALit. It may count toward the American studies specialization in MALS. It may also count toward any of these specialization certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
Paradigms and the Cold-War <> IPLS 492-0

Can a single book capture the imagination of an entire nation? Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions has come close. Since its publication in 1962, Kuhn’s portrait of scientific revolutions and his theory of “paradigms” have inspired intellectuals, professionals, and would-be revolutionaries in many walks of life. Behind Kuhn’s book, however, lays a story of intellectual ambition and student-teacher rivalry, of the challenges facing Jewish intellectuals in America, and the geopolitical ‘struggle for men’s minds’ that consumed Joseph McCarthy’s America in the 1950s. Through readings and discussions on social history, history of science, and archival documents, this course will examine Kuhn’s book as a mirror of cold-war American history and as a framework for posing broader questions about social pluralism, the nature of scientific truth, and roles of intellectuals in American society. (This course may count toward the American studies and History specializations in MALS. It may also count toward any of these specialization certificate programs.)


View IPLS 492-0 Sections
Black Chicago <> IPLS 492-0

This course surveys the major aesthetic, political, economic, social, and cultural developments of the African American population in the city of Chicago from its founding by Jean Baptiste du Sable, an African American man, to the present day. This course will consider the role of black Chicagoans in the 19th century, through the Civil War, Gilded Age, Progressive Era, World War I, Chicago Race Riot of 1919, World War I and the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, the 1970s and 1980s up to the present day. Special emphasis will be placed upon the racial segregation of Chicago, the Black Panthers, and the relationship between the Black Chicago police and the Chicago Police Department. We will be also be exploring Black Chicago outside of the classroom. Analysis of primary source documentation of the African American press will be included in this course. (This course may  count towards the American Studies, Chicago Studies, History or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs.This course may count towards the American Literature, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs.  It may also count as an elective in the creative writing program.)


View IPLS 492-0 Sections
What is the Truth? <> IPLS 492-0

“Fake news” has become one of the most discussed contemporary issues in American culture since the 2016 presidential election. But a firm description of exactly what is “fake news” is lacking. This course will examine this phenomenon. We will begin with an examination of the cultural and political polarization of the United States in the second decade of the 21st century. We will then attempt to define “fake news” in its various incarnations and examine how it is both a national and a global phenomenon. We will investigate how “fake news” is not a new construct and we will look at historical examples of it. We will discuss YouTube as it relates to news and cultural production, its political purposes and the rationales for downloading videos on the file sharing service and its relationship to the production of documentary films. The lines between archival material, YouTube and documentary filmmaking has become muddled in the past decade, particularly as it relates to the manipulation of original footage for reasons of political intent. Students will complete the course by analyzing a full-length documentary and determine its objectivity, realism, use of archival sources, biases, purposes, and whether if extrapolates “fake news” in its construction. (This course may count towards the American Studies, Digital Studies, History, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies and Advanced Graduate Study Certificate programs. This course may also count towards the Film, Literature and Visual Culture, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the Master of Arts in Literature and Advanced Graduate Study Certificate programs. This course may also count as an elective in the Master of Arts and Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Please note, this course is a hybrid which will meet in person on three Saturdays throughout the term: June 30, August 4, and September 1.)


View IPLS 492-0 Sections
Defining Chicago <> IPLS 492-0

In this course, we will examine two parallel, though often intersecting, discourses which attempt to define Chicago: formal urban planning documents and literary representations of the city. From Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett’s 1909 Plan of Chicago onwards, Chicago powers-that-be have tried to transform the chaotic city into the City Beautiful (and/or the City Profitable) with formal planning documents, some aspects of which (when enacted by law) transform the cityscape itself. These documents demonstrate deep and complicated relationships between economic forces, political power, and human agency and identity. Meanwhile, Chicago’s poets and fiction writers shape our understanding of American identity in that same dynamic cityscape. In this course, we will examine planners as poets, and poets as planners to explore the evolution of Chicago from the early 20th Century to today. (This course may count towards the American Studies, Chicago Studies, History, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the American Literature or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


There is no available section.
Richard J. Daley: The Man, the Myths, and the City <> IPLS 492-0

Richard J. Daley shaped the city of Chicago, and its region, more than any person in its history. Monumental public-works projects from the expressway system, high-rise public housing, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and O’Hare Airport all were born or came to fruition during his 21 years in office (1955-1976). The North Side Lakefront and the Loop bloomed with high-rises, while many low-rise neighborhoods—-especially on the South and West Sides--fell into disrepair and despair. This seminar will examine the forces in Chicago culture which most shaped Daley-the-Man (the neighborhood of Bridgeport with its parks, bars, and “social and athletic clubs”; the Roman Catholic Church; the Labor movement; the Democratic Party) in order to better understand how, and why, he in turn shaped the city in ways good and bad, which still structure our experience of this place and which helped create Daley-the-Myth. The course will read two biographies of Daley, along with selections from a wide range of scholarship, journalism, poetry, fiction, and visual art depicting Daley. We will also have at least one, and perhaps as many as three, off-site meetings to directly engage with Daley’s Chicago. (This course may count toward the American Literature, Literature, Film, and Visual Culture, and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the Master of Arts in Literature and Advanced Graduate Study Certificate programs. It may count toward the American Studies, Chicago Studies, History, Religious and Ethical Studies, and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies and Advanced Graduate Study Certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


View IPLS 492-0 Sections
Amer. Storytellers & the Theological Imagination <> IPLS 492-0

American novelists since World War II have engaged various theological currents that developed in the postwar period: the death-of-God movement, liberation theology, feminist theology, negative theology, Holocaust studies, and various poststructuralist theories of religion. One of the most interesting paradoxes during this time is that in spite of America’s steady cultural secularization, theological questions seem not to have lost but rather gained in urgency.

In other words, the frame of mind informing much of the best American fiction in the postwar period can be summed up perhaps most cogently in Paul Tillich’s phrase, “questions of ultimate concern.” These would include inquiries about the existence and nature of God, the meaning of sacrifice, the problem of evil, the possibility of justice, the relationship between violence and the sacred, and finally the exploration of gender not just as a social construction but indeed as a genuine theological problem.

Novels to be considered include Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer (1961), John Updike’s Couples (1968), Mary Gordon’s Final Payments (1978), Robert Stone’s A Flag for Sunrise (1981), Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1985), Toni Morrison’s Paradise (1997), and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006). Our readings in theology will include selections from Paul Tillich, René Girard, Mary Daly, Gustavo Gutierrez, Jacques Derrida, and Adrienne Rich. Finally, we will consider relevant film treatments of some of the questions and themes raised in the course, including most recently Paul Schrader’s First Reformed (2018).

(This course may count toward the American Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the Master of Arts in Literature and Advanced Graduate Study Certificate programs. It may count toward the American Studies, Religious and Ethical Studies, and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies and Advanced Graduate Study Certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


View IPLS 492-0 Sections
Henry James and Film <> LIT 405-0

Henry James wrote his illustrious fictions at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, just as the technology of cinema was being perfected and its artistic potentials were first realized. To an uncanny degree, James’s central concerns as a writer were also those of cinema: the mysteries of personality and behavior; the tension between the old world and the new; the contrasting traditions of Europe and America; the revelation of character through objects, environments, and reckless impulses; and the various problems posed across the social ladder by sex, gender, money, death, and the supernatural. Comparing some of James’s short stories and novels to their film adaptations shows us how his plots and themes have been differently understood over time, and how film’s capabilities for rendering psychology, conflict, love, horror, aesthetics, and thought have also evolved. Students will learn key techniques of film analysis, will absorb some core ideas and innovations in the work of a dazzling author, and will braid these two areas of knowledge in their own sophisticated essays. (This course may count toward the American literature, British literature, or Literature film and visual culture specialization in MALit or the American studies specialization in MALS.)


There is no available section.
Comp Lit: Fictions of the City <> LIT 480-0

This course will examine the central role played by the city in inventing the forms for representing modern life, beginning with Paris (sometimes called the "capital of the 19th century" because of its central place in the elaboration of the new narrative and cultural forms of industrial civilization) and then focusing on New York and Los Angeles as privileged spaces where a "culture industry" then becomes both the producer and the subject matter of literature and film. Students examine the tensions between realist and mythic representations of the modern city in such writers as Balzac and Baudelaire, as well as the city as a site for the invention of "modern myths" expressing the utopian and dystopian aspects of modern life in the work of surrealists such as Aragon. Students will also explore how these approaches are taken up by classic Hollywood cinema in the 1930s (notably in such popular genres as the musical and the gangster film) and how these same problems are ultimately reinvented, in the second half of the 20th century, in a postmodern culture dominated by media images and global cultural flows, which will give rise to new social spaces and new utopias but will consequently also give rise to new forms of mythic and realist narrative. Authors read will include such writers as Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, Louis Aragon, Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, and Don DeLillo. We will also discuss films by such directors as Raoul Walsh, Lloyd Bacon, Busby Berkeley, Jean-Luc Godard, Ridley Scott, Jim Jarmusch, and Michael Haneke. Counts toward the American Literature and the Comparative & World Literature specializations. (This course may count towards the Film, Literature, and Visual Culture, American Literature, Comparative and World Literature, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the Master of Arts in Literature and Advanced Graduate Study Certificate programs. It may also count towards the American Studies, Digital Studies, or Interdisciplinary Studies specialization in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies and Advanced Graduate Study Certificate programs. This course may also count as an elective in the Master of Arts and Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Please note, this course is a hybrid which will meet in person on three Saturdays throughout the term: June 30, July 28, and September 1.)


View LIT 480-0 Sections
The Novel Novel <> LIT 480-0

This course will explore the responses of selected writers from Eastern Europe and the United States to conditions of absurdity and alienation brought on by the loss of stable values, the rise of totalitarianism, and the experience of war in the twentieth century. We will examine the ways in which these writers use imaginative distortions of reality or create imaginary worlds in order to comment obliquely on social and political conditions, address philosophical questions, and playfully engage the reader in a dialogue on the narrative process. Beginning with fiction from the first decades of the twentieth century (Schulz, Bulgakov), we will move on to the "postmodernist" writers of the 1960s to 1980s, including one cosmopolitan novel by the Italian writer Calvino, with Nabokov as the bridge between Europeans and Americans. Our readings include a novel in the form of a lexicon, a collection of reviews of imaginary books, a novel written in the second person, and a narrative consisting of a poem with commentary.

Readings will include: Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles (1934); Michail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita (1928-1940, publ. 1966)—ONLY in the Burgin/O'Connor translation (1995); Milorad Pavic, Dictionary of the Khazars (1983)—either male or female edition; Stanislaw Lem, A Perfect Vacuum selections (1971); Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler (1979); Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (1962); Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966); and Tim O'Brien, Going After Cacciato (1978), plus secondary sources posted online.

(This course may count toward the Comparative and World Literature specialization or the American Literature specialization.)


There is no available section.
Topics in Lit: The Jazz Age <> LIT 492-0

In this course, students will read a selection of poetry, criticism, comics, film and fiction dealing with a central concern for American writers of the 1920s: the nature of art. The focusing lens will be depictions of parallels between artistic creation and romantic love/sexual procreation (as the term "jazz" refers to both, the musical art form and sex), and how these depictions grapple with the sense of cultural crisis that informs so much of modernism. Our texts will include Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and several short stories; Kay Boyle's short fiction; Dos Passos', Manhattan Transfer; poetry by Pound, Cummings, Stein, Eliot, and others; as well as pop-culture texts like Harriman's Krazy Kat and Disney's Mickey Mouse. We will pay special attention to how various sorts of subject position (including, but not limited to, race, class, and gender) influence how writers portray their own creative projects.  (This course may count towards the American Literature or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the American Studies or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


There is no available section.
In the Heart of the City <> LIT 492-0

Throughout the twentieth century, the terms "urban" and "black America" became so intimately connected that they are often used as synonyms. By tracing different representations of urban life, this course examines the signification of the metropolis in African American cultural production. Although our focus will primarily center on cultural texts, we will address a number of the "push and pull" factors that prompted the Great Migration and the social forces that have subsequently kept many African Americans in the city. In focusing on a set of cultural texts, we will consider the ways in which African Americans have imagined both the allure and dangers of life in the city. Literature may include work by Nella Larsen, Ralph Ellison, and LeRoi Jones; visual artists may include the photographers Wayne Miller and Camilo José Vergara as well as the painter Jacob Lawrence; film media may include Coolie High and Good Times; music will include hip hop artists by a range of performers from Public Enemy to Common. Critics may include W.E.B. DuBois, St. Clair Drake, Raymond Williams, Mike Davis, and Mary Patillo. (This course may count toward the American literature specialization in MALit and the American studies specialization in MALS.)


There is no available section.
Poetics of African Amer. Lit. <> LIT 492-0

From the very outset of the nation with Phillis Wheatley to the contemporary moment with figures like Elizabeth Alexander, African American writers have been fascinated with the play and sound of words. This course seeks to explore the significance of poetics as it resonates in African American letters as well as culture more broadly. While we read poetry, we will be principally engaged with how poetry comes to bear upon, if not shape and reshape, oral forms (such as sermons, speeches, and hip hop, among others) and written forms (such as short stories and novels, for example). Works under consideration may include Gwendolyn Brooks's Maud Martha, W.E.B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk, Langston Hughes's Selected Poems, Douglas Kearney's The Black Automaton, and Jean Toomer's Cane; speeches by Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, and Barack Obama; and music by hip hop, jazz, and R&B artists. (This course may count toward the American literature specialization in MALit and the American studies specialization in MALS.)


There is no available section.
Race, Space & Place in Chicago <> LIT 492-0

Chicago is still the most segregated big city in America, and it has a long history of writers who represented its racial and ethnic conflicts. In this course, we will read and discuss the canon of Chicago’s African-American literary tradition, along with other writers who represent how American identity is shaped by the Chicago, by issues of access to space, and the freedom (or lack thereof) to move through the urban landscape.

Our texts will include: Gwendolyn Brooks, Selected Poems; Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun; Richard Wright, Native Son; James T. Farrell, Chicago Stories; Bill Granger, Time for Frankie Coolin; and Bruce Norris, Clybourne Park.

(This course may count towards the American Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the American Studies, Chicago Studies, History, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the liberal studies graduate and advanced graduate study certificate programs. )


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Contemporary Adaptation <> LIT 492-0

Courses in literature-to-film adaptation often emphasize canonical and historically distant works by such authors as Shakespeare, Austen, or the Victorians. This course instead centers on contemporary novels and short stories as well as their film adaptations, mostly but not exclusively produced in Hollywood. Beyond simply comparing these texts in terms of story or style, we will ask how literary fiction has itself changed in a 21st-century media environment where film rights are often sold before novels get finished, and where financing, production, media circulation, and creative processes constantly change. We will read American stories that have been adapted differently by U.S. and international filmmakers, and we will contemplate the politics that appear to motivate which texts get adapted -- and which themes are considered "literary," "prestigious," or globally marketable in an era when comic books, video games, and prior movies inspire more adaptations than do recent novels or plays. Along the way, we will master key skills of formal analysis and thematic argument regarding both literature and film. Key texts are likely to include "Brokeback Mountain" (Proulx), Children of Men (James), No Country for Old Men (McCarthy), "So Much Water So Close to Home" (Carver), Oil! (Sinclair), Atonement (McEwan), "Lust, Caution" (Zhang), The Reader (Schlink), and Persepolis (Satrapi), as well as the movies derived from these texts.  (This course may count towards the American literature, British Literature, Comparative and World Literature, Film, Literature, and Visual Culture or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the Interdisciplinary Studies specialization in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


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Lit of Amer. Century & After <> LIT 492-0

This course looks at the way in which U.S. writers imagined both the domestic scene and the greater world in the wake of the rising status of the United States as a global power. In the post-WWII period, writers rethought many of the presumptions about America’s place in the world and revised earlier narratives about Americans abroad and internationalism. In the twenty-first century, those presumptions changed again, both because of the changing geopolitical status of the U.S. and the impact of the digital age. This course will take a look at two extended moments: the early cold war of the late 1940s and 1950s; and the first decade of the 21st century. Authors will include writers such as: Ralph Ellison, Norman Mailer, Sylvia Plath, Paul Bowles, Gwendolyn Brooks, Dave Eggers, Claire Messud, Junot Díaz, Craig Thompson, Jennifer Egan. (This course may count towards the American Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the American Studies or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the liberal studies graduate and advanced graduate study certificate programs. )


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Inventing the American Novel <> LIT 492-0

With attention to some of the most important American writers, this course focuses on different forms of aesthetic experimentation that authors use to invent and reinvent the novel. In addition to analyzing the ways writers blur and reframe the boundaries of the novel by engaging other sub-genres of literature (including, for example, visual art, drama, and non-fiction prose), the course will investigate how themes of desire, history, and science are not only represented within narrative fiction but how they transform and render metamorphic the novel’s very form. Writers may include Herman Melville, Edith Wharton, William Faulkner, Samuel R. Delany, Toni Morrison, Don Delillo, Philip Roth, Mark Danielewski, and Alison Bechdel. (This course may count towards the American Literature or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the American Studies or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs.)


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Literature and Wartime <> LIT 492-0

From the Civil War to the Lost Generation, and from the Vietnam conflict to the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, there has long been an intimate relationship between war and American literature. In the past decade, a number of returning US veterans have published novels and short stories set in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them ambitious and sophisticated. Works set in and around war have frequently been places where questions about national identity and the changing status of the United States in the world have been played out in rich ways. In the past century, new technologies of warfare and the ever changing media used to report war has had a profound impact on the way these conflicts have been experienced and translated to a distant public. This course explores the relationship between literature (and some film) representing war, the historical understanding of the opposing side (the enemy), and narrative techniques developed to make sense of what is an inherently confusing situation. We will focus especially on World War II, Vietnam, and the 21st century conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, with comparative attention to representations of the war from the “other side.” Close readings of literature will be enhanced with some theoretical writings on cinema frontier narratives, war and postmodernism, empire and imperialism, and postcolonial studies; we will attend to questions of gender, race, disability, nation, subalternity. Texts: Works by writers such as Gertrude Stein, John Hersey, Miné Okubo, Hisaye Yamamoto, Norman Mailer, Gwendolyn Brooks, Joseph Heller, Ralph Ellison, Tim O’Brien, Michael Herr, Siobhan Fallon, Ben Fountain, Phil Klay, Michael Pitre, Elliott Ackerman, Hassan Blassim, Sinan Antoon, and Viet Thanh Nguyen. Theoretical and critical writings by authors including Paul Virilio, Friedrich Kittler, Richard Slotkin Jean Baudrillard, Gayatri Spivak, and Edward Said. (This course may count towards the American Literature, Film, Literature, and Visual Culture, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the American Studies or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


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Bad Mothers <> LIT 492-0

We hear about bad mothers on the news, read about them online and in news print, see them in movies, and perhaps complain about them with our friends. But what, exactly, is a Bad Mother? How do we know? Where does she come from? In this course we will read novels and watch films that help to constitute, perpetuate, and challenge normative scripts of what constitutes good mothering. This seminar will likewise provoke students to critically analyze the varied factors that shape and define contemporary motherhood as an embodied ideology. Our seminar’s key themes include the institutionalization of motherhood, motherhood as subjectivity, agency and performance, technologies of reproduction, narratives of adoption, and the politicization of motherhood. Texts and authors will include Nella Larsen, Adrienne Rich, Philip Roth, Alice Walker, Buchi Emecheta, Edwidge Danticat, Margaret Atwood, Tillie Olsen, Mommie Dearest, Rosemary’s Baby, The Manchurian Candidate, Kramer v. Kramer, Juno, The Good Wife, and The Blind Side, along with a unit on global media and iconic mothers including Angelina Jolie, Lady Di, Mother Theresa, Mother Goose, Margaret Sanger, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, MADD, Whistler’s mother, and Kate Gosselin. (This course may count towards the Film, Literature, and Visual Culture, American Literature, Comparative and World Literature, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the American Studies, History, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


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Chicago Transformed <> LIT 492-0

The only constant in Chicago history, and literature, is change. In this course, we will read and discuss more than a century's worth of textual explorations of fundamental shifts in Chicago's built environment, racial and ethnic identities, and literaary expressions. Who lives where? Who has power and who takes it? Who expresses the most important aspects of these transformations, and how do writers across generations agree and disagree? Our readings will include canonical and more obscure writers, from Carl Sandburg, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Nelson Algren to Bill Granger, Stuart Dybek, and Dan Sinker. (This course may count towards the  American Literature, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the American Studies, Chicago Studies, History, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


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The US-Mexico Border in Literature and Film <> LIT 492-0

The US-Mexico border has been the site of intense cultural conflict since the mid-nineteenth century. It marks both the connection and the division between two nations, and many of our most fraught conversations concern whether the border should be a bridge or a wall. As an entry point into these conversations, this course will survey literature and film centering on the US-Mexico border. Students will become familiar with the history of the border, beginning with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848 and extending through NAFTA and up to the current political climate. Together we will consider how the border has become such a potent site for contemporary mythmaking, a flashpoint for anxieties about race, labor, gender, and sexuality. Literary texts will include Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands / La Frontera (1987), Sandra Cisneros’s Woman Hollering Creek (1991), Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing (1994), Carlos Fuentes’s La frontera de cristal (1995), Juan Felipe Herrera’s 187 Reasons Mexicans Can’t Cross the Border: Undocuments (1995), and Carmen Boullosa’s Tejas (2014). (Texts originally written in Spanish will be taught in English translation.) Films will include The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982), Selena (1997), The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005), and Sin Nombre (2009). (This course may count towards the American Literature, Comparative and World Literature, Film, Literature, and Visual Culture, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may count towards the American Studies, History or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or an elective in the creative writing program.)


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Feminism in Trumplandia <> LIT 492-0

When Donald J. Trump became the 45th president of the United States, many felt that a new era of precarity for women had begun. The defunding of Planned Parenthood, the Muslim ban, assault on pro-choice legislation, rescinding of protections for transgender students, the President’s own history of sexual assault—to name only a few—all seemed to present an unprecedented dystopia for women across the political spectrum. Indeed, this course begins by asking, how we can talk about feminism in a Trump era. Taking an historical approach to feminism, this course asks how many of the issues facing American women today are familiar ones; and what might a Trump administration mean for feminism, both broadly speaking in its global iterations and on more local, micro levels of quotidian experience? How has the conception, performance, politics, embodiment and circulation of feminism been reconceived? As a research course, this class will require students to conduct original research, taking from feminism’s archive over the last thirty years an animating idea, concept, historical moment, material object, or study around which each student will frame a question in relation to Trump feminism. From this question they will devise an original argument, compose a bibliography of primary and secondary sources, outline, and then write a 10-15 page paper. Readings/texts will include but not be limited to those by Betty Friedan, Shulamith Firestone, Robin Morgan, Adrienne Rich, Angela Davis, Andrea Dworkin, Susan Faludi, Patricia Williams, Hortense Spillers, Margaret Atwood, Rebecca Traister, Barbara Ehrenreich, Beyonce, Jessa Crispin, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Victoria Lomasko, and Lena Dunham. (This course may count towards the American Literature or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the American Studies, History, or Interdisciplinary Studies specialization in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


There is no available section.
Feminism in Trumplandia <> LIT 492-0

When Donald J. Trump became the 45th president of the United States, many felt that a new era of precarity for women had begun. The defunding of Planned Parenthood, the Muslim ban, assault on pro-choice legislation, rescinding of protections for transgender students, the President’s own history of sexual assault—to name only a few—all seemed to present an unprecedented dystopia for women across the political spectrum. Indeed, this course begins by asking, how we can talk about feminism in a Trump era? Taking an historical approach to feminism this course asks how many of the issues facing American women today are familiar ones; and what might a Trump administration mean for feminism, both broadly speaking in its global iterations and on more local, micro levels of quotidian experience? How has the conception, performance, politics, embodiment and circulation of feminism been reconceived? As a research course, this class will require students to conduct original research, taking from feminism’s archive over the last thirty years an animating idea, concept, historical moment, material object, or study around which each student will frame a question in relation to Trump feminism. From this question they will devise an original argument, compose a bibliography of primary and secondary sources, outline, and then write a 10-15 page paper. Readings/texts will include but not be limited to those by Betty Friedan, Shulamith Firestone, Robin Morgan, Adrienne Rich, Angela Davis, Andrea Dworkin, Susan Faludi, Patricia Williams, Hortense Spillers, Margaret Atwood, Rebecca Traister, Barbara Ehrenreich, Beyonce, Jessa Crispin, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Victoria Lomasko, and Lena Dunham. (This course may count towards the American Literature, Comparative and World Literature, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may count towards the American Studies, History or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or an elective in the creative writing program.)


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Special Topics -- American Novel: Big Books <> LIT 492-0

One could search through the annals of American literature without being able to find two bigger books than Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Moby-Dick. In the first place, of course, both books are long, and part of this course will consider the specific pleasures and challenges of reading big books. How do we gauge, and thereby engage with, narratives of disproportionate scale and encyclopedic ambition? How do we lose--or find--our place in colossal fictional worlds? But Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Moby-Dick have also both been big in another sense: they are hugely influential and profoundly consequential novels. Indeed, one cannot really understand American literary, cultural, and political history if one is not familiar with them. Stowe’s novel was a watershed text for both sides in the Civil War. Upon meeting Stowe, Abraham Lincoln reportedly said to her, “So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!” Stowe’s novel sold 300,000 copies in the first year—an unprecedented number—and her story became the basis for countless stage adaptations, spin-offs, parodies, editorials, refutations, and re-writes. (Check out some of them here: <http://utc.iath.virginia.edu>) The reputation of Melville’s novel took longer to take shape—its early readers enjoyed the material about whaling, but didn’t quite know what to make of the story of Ahab’s obsession with the White Whale. But over the course of the twentieth century these views reversed themselves, and Ahab’s maniacal quest has come to be widely recognized as a work of unparalleled resonance and ambition. Our work will be, like Ahab, to take on these Leviathans better to understand them and the worlds they shaped—including, by no means incidentally, our own.


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Critical Frameworks in Contemporary Film LIT 492-0

This course centers around ten commercial narrative movies of the last five years, each of which achieved substantial critical and cultural impact. We will use these films to refine our abilities to close-read cinematic texts and to situate them within relevant cultural and historical contexts. Throughout the course, we will learn terms and apply concepts related to framing, editing, sound mixing, and other film-specific crafts, employing them to illuminate and debate artistic subtleties in each assigned movie. Alongside other interpretive approaches specific to each case study, we will pay particular attention to how all of these movies challenged old ideas about gender and sexuality or innovated new ones. About half the films originated as pre-existing short stories, plays, memoirs, or essays; in those instances, we will discuss how not just the scripts but the filmmaking nuances transform the literary material. Even in cases where the films hail from original screenplays, we will read and discuss historical sources, scholarly articles, and creative art works in multiple media that can deepen our analyses of the movies in question. We will occasionally use class time to screen clips of other recent films that relate meaningfully to the ideas, stories, and styles of the assigned texts. Students in the course may write their final papers about these optional “recommended” texts or about those that are foregrounded in the syllabus.

Likely films include 12 Years a Slave (2013), Birdman (2014), The Lobster (2015), 20th Century Women (2016), Arrival (2016), Moonlight (2016), A Fantastic Woman (2017), Lady Bird (2017), The Rider (2017), and The Square (2017). Other texts include fiction by Raymond Carver and Ted Chiang; prose by Solomon Northup; poetry by Danez Smith; and essays by Hilton Als, Michael Cobb, Cáel Keegan, Robin Morgan, Wesley Morris, Viviane Namaste, and others.

(This course may count towards the American Literature, Film, Literature, and Visual Culture, or Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master of arts in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the American Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies specialization in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the creative writing program.)


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