Honors Seminars Spring 2020


We live on a blue planet. 71% of Earth is covered by water, almost 97% of which is made up of a vast contiguous ocean that encircles the planet. Today, half the world’s population lives within a hundred miles of a coastline. It’s little wonder, then, that human beings have been constructing an oceanic imaginary—that is, a body of discourses, imagery, artifacts, and other cultural productions that reflect how we talk about and imagine the sea—since at least the biblical story of Noah’s ark (and presumably much, much longer).

This course will take an interdisciplinary “ocean studies” approach to the study of maritime literature. The class will begin with a survey of maritime literature since the fifteenth century, such as exploration narratives, sailor’s stories, descriptions of port cities and shipwrecks, and the horrors of slave trading ships and the Middle Passage. Then we will focus on late twentieth-century and twenty-first century literature, film, art, and music that portrays the ocean as a capitalist and imperialist tool; a weird, otherworldly, or outright alien terrain; or an ecosystem imperiled by human actions. Alongside literary and cinematic texts, we will read supplementary texts that examine the ocean from recent scientific and social scientific perspectives. In particular, we will read about how climate change is transforming the ocean: from coral bleaching and melting icebergs to overfishing, extinction, pollution, garbage patches, and microplastics.

Readings will be chosen from among the following: Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Edgar Alan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Olaudah Equiano The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno, Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer, Somerset Maugham’s stories about the South Pacific, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, poetry by Derek Walcott, Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small World; Joan Slonczewski’s A Door Into Ocean; Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us; Mat Johnson’s Pym; Samuel Delany’s “Driftglass,” among others. We’ll also watch several films. These might include Jaws, Titanic, Lessons of Darkness, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Star Trek IV—a movie in which Kirk and Spock travel back in time to save the whales. Seriously.

Course Code: ENGL402-01 / HON436-01 / HON446-01

Meeting Times: MW 2:00 - 3:15 PM


This course will examine some of the masterpieces of fantasy literature during the last hundred years and will attempt to infuse this immensely popular nonacademic genre with relevant academic insights. More specifically, the course will study tales of magic, sorcery, parallel worlds, heroic quests, identity crises, gender nonconformism, and class and race consciousness in relationship to historical and contemporary watersheds, such as World War II and the Cold War, the Space Race, the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights Movements, the Environmental Movement, the Dawn of Virtual Realities, and the Rise of Globalization. In addition, we will work towards rethinking the frequent inclusion of epic elements in fantasy fiction, given the relative absence of epic works/imaginaries in the post-modern age. We will also observe selected scenes from recent adaptations of some of our course texts and discuss their visual and stylistic impact. We will even try playing one of the nearly forgotten role-playing books of the 1980s! Fantasy fiction remains a popular contemporary pastime for students and scholars, and we will bring this traditionally neglected fiction genre to productive conversations about its social relevance and cultural impact. Authors, whose works we will read and discuss, include J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. Le Guin, Stephen King, Octavia Butler, Poul Anderson, Sterling E. Lanier, Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson, Robert Jordan, E. Lily Yu, Nora K. Jemisin, and Steven Erikson.

Course Code: ENGL 402

Meeting Times: MWF 10:00-10:50 AM