Course Descriptions and Syllabi

Beowulf: Unlocking the Word-Hoard (Hunter College: Spring 2015; Spring 2017)

Beowulf confronts us with the brutal facts of life. In this poem, nature plays favorites. A bleak and cruel world doles out advantages to some but turns its back on others. Yet the Beowulf poet imagines that we can give meaning to our mortality through companionship, heroism, and poetry. In this class, we will strive to bring that vision to life. We will use immersive methods to experience Old English from the inside out. Acting as philological researchers, we will develop the rules of Old English grammar based on our own observations. Our first-hand knowledge of the language will allow us to develop an ear for the poet’s music, the focus of our course. And to better understand why and how this epic continues to appeal to our imaginations, we will read it alongside similar stories (an Old Norse saga, Snorri’s Edda, The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag, and selections from Tolkien).

Chaucer and Other Unlikely Poets (Hunter College: Spring 2016)

A course on a specific genre can help us to theorize genre generally, and a course on a specific period can help us to theorize periodization. Single-author courses, though no longer unfashionable, can help us to think about the concept of authorship. This course focuses on Chaucer, who as an author often depicted himself as a permanent outcast (as dimwitted, nerdy, and unlovable). To investigate Chaucer’s poetic persona, we will undertake a formalist approach. We will focus on the craft of Chaucer’s verse. We will read and re-read his poems in order to appreciate Chaucer’s use of rhyme, meter, line, stanza, rhetoric, framing, and, of course, irony. We will also study the literary theorists who shaped Chaucer’s attitudes toward poetry, looking at how Chaucer medievalized Renaissance theories of authorship. And we will read Chaucer alongside other unlikely poets (e.g. Ginsberg, Dickinson, Notley, Rimbaud, Bukowski).

The History of the English Language (Hunter College: Fall 2014, Spring 2015; Fall 2016)

Known by the acronym “HEL,” courses in the History of the Language often seem hellishly tedious. Many pedagogues have suggested that such courses should dispense with medieval linguistic issues and should focus on presentist concerns. But, as an alternative to such revisionism, this course teaches the old-fashioned material, but it employs new methods to do so; and it puts historical linguistics in direct conversation with literature. Using inducitve methods, students investigate the structure and vocabulary of English as it has changed in response to historical and technological forces. Students master the terms of formal linguistics and the principles of textual criticism, and they apply this knowledge to their analysis of literary works. Students come to understand the interrelationships between language environment and literary style. Readings include: Old English elegies, Marie de France, excerpts from Piers Plowman, “The Reeve’s Tale,” Midsummer Night’s Dream, various minor poets, and hip-hop lyrics.

Getting Medieval on New York (New School University: Fall 2015)

This course focuses on ethno-temporalities. We will visit parts of New York that are queerly anachronistic (e.g. cloisters, cathedrals, and shrines), and we will challenge New York’s claim to being “new” by privileging pre-modern experiences of time. We will conduct experiments in time-travel through site-visits and creative writing, and we will analyze how temporal norms frame the city’s history. Readings will include ancient philosophers of time; medieval mystics and theologians; post-modern theorists; and pre-modern and contemporary literature.

Introduction to Writing about Literature (Hunter College: 2013-15)

In this course, we will study literature, in order to take greater pleasure in reading. We will acquire the background and skills necessary for enjoying English as it is spoken, written, read, and heard. In our explorations of poetry, prose, and drama, we will practice close reading and analytical writing, skills essential to appreciating English’s literary heritage. We will fine-tune our abilities as readers, writers, speakers, and listeners, and we will master the techniques of analysis and interpretation. Works will include Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, Woolf’s Orlando, as well as excerpts from Homer, Cicero, and Boethius, and lyrics by minor poets.