Late medieval and early modern British literature and culture; war studies; theories of nation and empire; transnational approaches to literary studies; poetics.
‘Riot and Rebellion in Medieval Literature.’ University of Houston, Spring 2023.
In 1381 a band of rebels from across southeast England occupied London: they protested unfair taxes, a stagnant labor market, and a corrupt elite; they demanded radical change. It was the largest rebellion in premodern English history, and a dramatic example of the wide-spread social unrest that defined the late Middle Ages. This course investigates how rebellions like the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt were represented in literary history as well as examining the root causes that gave rise to them. We will study how writers like William Langland drew on the utopian energy of these rebellions but shied away from embracing their political aims, while others like John Gower and Geoffrey Chaucer responded with greater horror at the idea of political rebellion. Broader questions we will consider include: what strategies did medieval rebels use to make sure their message was communicated effectively? How do we analyze medieval sources that are deeply biased against the rebels? In what ways do concepts of medieval justice differ from our own? Texts will be read in modern translations and Middle English; no previous experience is necessary.
‘War and Representation.’ University of Houston, Spring 2023.
War has been a subject of artistic creation for as long as humans have made art. While technologies of war and the media of representation have changed, however, the same questions recur: Can art capture what Carl von Clausewitz deemed the “fog of war,” or is every attempt at representation doomed to fail? What are the ethics of representing war? Can–or should–war be beautiful? In this course, we explore the close rapport between war and art in a series of literary works, encompassing poetry, memoir, and novel, concerning wars from the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. Questions we will discuss include: What ethical demands does art about war make on the reader? In what ways do the wars of the present look like the wars of the past? How do memories of past wars haunt the present? Is a world without war imaginable? Assignments for this course develop the scholarly skills of close reading and analytical reading in order to lay the foundation for a final research project.
‘Premodern Poetics’ (Graduate Course). University of Houston, Fall 2022.
This course provides an overview of the traditions, contexts, and debates that shaped poetic practice in medieval Europe. We will anchor our class in the pedagogical contexts that generated and transmitted philosophical, theological, and literary-critical ideas about poetry. This is a multilingual and transnational endeavor: much of our material was generated by intellectuals writing in Latin or Arabic before it entered vernacular culture. Our investigations encompass some of the earliest poetry in English, Biblical interpretation, Latin arts of poetry and compositional manuals, and late-medieval vernacular poetry, in particular the Middle English writings of Geoffrey Chaucer, William Langland, and Thomas Hoccleve. Questions common to all the literary traditions will be the social, ethical, and epistemological roles of poetry. Early in the semester, students will caucus into four groups by interest (this could be field, period, methodology, topic, etc.). These groups will meet outside of class to plan part of a seminar session for the final weeks of the semester. In conversation with me, each group will decide on a poetic form/topic around which to center their class session. This form will have premodern roots but will also be used by poets today, such as the ghazal, Zuhitsu, or sonnet. The goal of this assignment is to allow students to impress their priorities and interests on the final weeks of the class while also gaining experience in syllabus creation and collaborative teaching.
‘Introduction to Literary Studies.’ University of Houston, Fall 2020 and Fall 2021.
This course introduces students to the reading skills, research methods, and contemporary scholarly debates necessary for flourishing within the English major and beyond. Students will develop and hone the skills of close reading and literary interpretation through individual reading, group discussion, and written assignments. The focus of our course will be on the Trojan War, a source of inspiration for poets and artists since at least the time of Homer’s Iliad (c. 760 – 710 BC). The course begins with Homer’s epic, the single most important source for representations of the war, before engaging with modern poetic responses to the poem: Alice Oswald’s Memorial (2011) and Derek Walcott’s Omeros (1990). We will investigate how exactly the story of Troy is written into the time and place of ancient Greece and modern St. Lucia, what strategies each author deploys to represent the valiance and horror of warfare, and how elements of Homer’s story withdraw and return across time. The central questions we will ask include: how do you represent the unrepresentable violence of war? How do these strategies change over time? Why has the Trojan War remained such an enduring topic? Given the broad scope of our course, no previous experience with any of the material is required.