Graduate Courses
Spring 2018


COML 504.401                Copyright and Culture  

W 2-5    Decherney

Cross listed with ARTH 506, CIMS 505, ENGL 505


In this seminar, we will look at the history of copyright law and explore the ways that copyright has both responded to new media and driven art and entertainment. How, for example, are new media (books, photography, recorded music, film, video, software, video games, and the internet) defined in relation to existing media? How does the law accommodate shifting ideas and circumstances of authorship? What are the limits of fair use? And how have writers, artists, engineers, and creative industries responded to various changes in copyright law? A major focus of the course will be the lessons of history for the current copyright debates over such issues as file sharing, the public domain, fandom, archives, and fair use.



COML  504.402             Digital Humanities: Methods and Materials

F 3-6      Trettien

Cross listed with ENGL 505 


Digital Humanities: you've heard of it. Maybe you're excited about it, maybe you're skeptical. Regardless of your primary area of study, this course will give you the critical vocabularies and hands-on experience necessary to understand the changing landscape of your field today. Topics will include quantitative analysis, digital editing and bibliography, network visualization, public humanities, and the future of scholarly publishing. Although we will spend a good portion of our time together working directly with new tools and methods, our goal will not be technological proficiency so much as critical competence and facility with digital theories and concepts. We will engage deeply with media archaeology, feminist technology studies, and the history of material texts; and we will attend carefully to the politics of race, gender, and sexuality in the field. Students will have the opportunity to pursue their own scalable digital project.



COML 512.301                 Women Writers, Their Role in Manuscript Culture, and Their Networks in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (c.1300-1700)

T 3-6                    Stoop


Women were important and active players in the literary field in Medieval and early Modern Europe.  Many women throughout the continent and on the British Isles engaged in the book culture, as readers, owners, commissioners, copyists, illuminators, and authors.  This course intends to study the role women had in the intellectual and literary culture of their time.  Starting from a number of key publications on gender, agency and female literacy and authorship in the medieval and early modern period, we will examine what texts women  wrote, to which genres they had access, and what the (literary) agency of female writers was.  We will explore the options women had to express their experiences, ideas, opinions and feelings and their interaction with male supervisors (in case of religious women) or male colleagues.  What impressions do we get of their intellectual and literary skills?  How did women writers publish their works and for whom did they write?  We will also study the networks and literary circles in which women participated.  Sometimes these networks were local; sometimes literature for and by women circulated through all Europe.  In our travel through time and space between c.  1300 and 1700, we will explore several literary genres and meet famous and less famous women such as Hadewijch of Brabant, Marguerite Porete, Theresa van Avila, Christine de Pizan, Anna Bijns, Mary Sidney, Anna Maria van Schurman, and Margaret Cavendish, and their contemporaries.  A strong emphasis in this course will lie on the women's texts and the manuscripts in which these have been preserved, in order to shed light on the role of women in the handwritten book culture.  In this way we will explore how women, religious and secular, came to the fore in medieval and early modern literary culture.  In order to get an impression of the material aspects of the books women produced, read and/or owned, we will visit some of the important manuscript collections in Philadelphia.



COML 534.401                Words are Weapons: Protests and Political Activism in So. Asian Lit

TR1:30-3            Mohammad

Cross listed with SAST 523, COML 230, SAST 223


This course focuses on the key themes of protest and resistance in contemporary South Asian literarure. Most South Asian countries have been witnessing an endless wave of protests and resistance from various sections of public life for the last three decades. In India, for example, protest literature emerges not only from traditionally marginalized groups (the poor, religious and ethnic minorities, depressed castes and tribal communities), but also from upper-caste groups, whose protest literature expresses concerns over economic oppression, violence and the denial of fundamental rights. Literature is becoming an immediate tool to articualte acts of resistance and anger, as many writers and poets are also taking on new roles as poitical activists. In this class, we will read various contemporary works of short fiction, poetry and memoirs to comprehend shifts in public life toward political and social activism in South Asia. We will also watch two or three documentaries that focus on public protests and resistance. No pre-requisites or South Asian language requirements. All literary works will be read in English translations.



COML 562.401                 Public Environmental Humanities

W 2-5                  Wiggin

All readings and lectures in English; permission needed from instructor

Cross listed with ANTH 543, GRMN 544, URBS 544


This broadly interdisciplinary course is designed for Graduate and Undergraduate Fellows in the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities (PPEH) who hail from departments across Arts and Sciences as well as other schools at the university. The course is also open to others with permission of the instructors. Work in environmental humanities by necessity spans academic disciplines. By design, it can also address and engage publics beyond traditional academic settings. This seminar, with limited enrollment, explores best practices in public environmental humanities. Students receive close mentoring to develop and execute cross-disciplinary, public engagement projects on the environment. In spring 2018, participants have the opportunity to participate in PPEH's public engagement projects on urban waters and environmental data. These ongoing projects document the variety of uses that Philadelphians make of federal climateand environmental data, in and beyond city government; they also shine light onclimate and environmental challenges our city faces and the kinds of data we need to address them. Working with five community partners across Philadelphia, including the City's Office of Sustainability, students in this course will develop data use stories and surface the specific environmental questions neighborhoods have and the kinds of data they find useful. The course hosts guest speakers and research partners from related public engagement projects across the planet; community, neighborhood, open data, and open science advocates; and project partners in government in the City of Philadelphia and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Course assignments include: * 2 short-form essays (course blog posts); * a 12-hour research stay (conducted over multiple visits) with a community course partner to canvas data uses and desires; * authorship of 3 multi-media data stories; * co-organization and participation in a city-wide data storytelling event on May 2, 2018.



COML 572.401              Sinking/Floating:  Phenomenologies of Coastal Urban Resilience

W 3-6      Birch/Richter

Undergrads need permission

Cross listed with CPLN 573


The premise of this interdisciplinary seminar is that the combination of design and environmental humanities will allow us to develop a complex sense of the interplay of infrastructure and affect in the lived and built environment of coastal cities already contending with sea level rise. Ranging temporally (from Mesopotamia to the dystopian futures of climate fiction) and geographically (from Venice and Rotterdam, from New York and New Orleans, to Jakarta and Dhaka, for example), the seminar explores an array of exemplary historical and present-day sites of delta urbanism as portrayed through views coming from the literary and design communities. We will engage directly with notable experts of design and water management (some of whom will be invited to the seminar) as well as works of literature, philosophy, history, and film.



COML 582.401               Topics in Aesthetics:  Walter Benjamin

T 3-5      Weissberg

All readings and lectures in English; undergrads need permission

Cross listed with ARTH 560, GRMN 580, PHIL 480


Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) is a philosopher whose writings on art, literature, and politics have had tremendous influence on many disciplines in the Humanities and Social Studies. He has been variously described as one of the leading German-Jewish thinkers, and a secular Marxist theorist. With the publication of a four-volume collection of this works in English, many more of his writings have been made accessible to a wider public. Our seminar will undertake a survey of his work that begins with his studies on language and allegory, and continues with his autobiographical work, his writings on art and literature, and on the imaginary urban spaces of the nineteenth-century.



COML 592.401                Documentary Cinema

T 9-12                  Corrigan

Undergrads need permission

Cross listed with CIMS 592, ENGL 592


Over the last twenty years, no film practice has been more dynamic and innovative that documentary cinema, a trend that will be the main focus of the course. We will begin with a broader survey of the history of documentaries since the films of John Grierson and Robert Flaherty in the 1920s and through the evolution of modern documentaries such as cinema vérité, meta-documentaries, and essay films. As part of our investigation  we will attend to different cultural movements around the world, as well as the impact of technological changes and industrial shifts. Alongside these practices, we will read various critical and theoretical positions, such as those found in the writings of Dziga Vertov, John Grierson, Jean Rouch, Bill Nichols, and Stella Bruzzi. There are no prerequisites. Requirements will include a seminar presentation and a research essay.



COML 615.401                Narrating Environment

F 12-3                  Saint-Amour

Undergrads need permission

Cross listed with ENGL 584


What do theorists and historians of narrative have to contribute to the study of environment and environments? How might recent developments in environmental studies unsettle or reshape our models of plot, narratorial modes, narrative genres, suspense, protagonism, character, and character-space? This seminar explores the estuary where narrative and environment mix. Through primary and secondary readings we’ll consider environment as, variously, object and subject of narration, event, condition, and actant in plot. We’ll take up narrative’s provisions and limitations as a channel for environmental thinking and environmental justice. And we’ll pay special attention to the narrative elements of scholarship in the environmental humanities, tracing how the writers of article- and book-length studies in the field stage, pace, protagonize, and emplot their arguments.



COML 620.401                Land/Labour/Lit/18th –Century

T 6-9                    Kaul

Cross listed with ENGL 748


In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, literary writing engaged strenuously with shifts and innovations in forms of landownership and labor, both within England and then across the lands that came under British control. Even when they celebrated changes attendant upon the capitalization of land and labor at home and in plantation society, many writers were aware of social costs. The vocabularies they developed in order to diagnose and condemn these costs continue to be important for analysts of the continuing privatization, across the world, of resources held in common, as well as to those who recognize the beginnings of the holocene-anthropocene transition in land use policies developed in this period. We will read writing in a variety of literary genres, appropriate literary criticism, as well as key texts in social and labor history.

Students will make one class presentation, which will then be reworked into a 5-6 page paper to be submitted one week after the presentation. The class presentation will be patterned along the lines of a talk given at a conference panel; that is, it should be finished piece of prose that presents an argument in 12-15 minutes. Your final project (to be turned in by noon on December 21, 2015) will be a research paper (5000-6000 words long) on a topic that you must arrive at in consultation with the instructor. Students who do not plan to specialize in late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century studies and who have developed interests in other literary-historical fields are allowed to produce an annotated bibliography as their final project. This bibliography will be developed in consultation with the instructor, and should link the student’s field of expertise with topics explored in this seminar. It will typically include four or more books and six to eight articles or their equivalent. The annotated bibliography will be prefaced by a five or six page introduction; the whole will add up to between 5000 and 6000 words of prose.



COML 643.401                Theatre and Polemics in Renaissance France

F 2-4                    Francis

Cross listed with FREN 640


The sixteenth-century is commonly regarded as a turning point for French theater, a transitional period between “medieval” theatrical genres (farce, sottie, mystery and morality plays, etc.) and the classical theater that reached its apogee in the seventeenth century. As such, theater is inherently tied to the literary debates that characterized the Renaissance, and in particular the Pléiade’s militant call to abandon medieval genres and return to classical sources, even though these genres continued to be popular and influential well into the second half of the sixteenth century. At the same time, theater was a privileged medium for religious and political polemics throughout the sixteenth century in France, and provides invaluable insights into subjects such as Gallicanism (the independence of the French crown and French church from Rome) or the Reformation. This course will examine French theater from the beginning to the end of the sixteenth century with these polemics as its guiding principles, and will consider plays alongside major works in other genres with similar polemical orientations. We will learn how theater evolved from the Middle Ages to the Classical Era, how the tumultuous political and religious landscape of the French Renaissance left an indelible mark on literary production, and how authors appropriate and adapt theatrical conventions for polemical purposes. All primary readings are in French, as are many of the secondary readings, but the course will be conducted in English, and students may choose between French and English for written and oral assignments.



COML 694.401                Contemporary Latin American Cinema

W 3-5                  de la Campa

Cross listed with CIMS 694, SPAN 694


This course will examine some of the best-known Latin American films in light of various strands of influential theoretical models pertaining to the area, such as New Latin American Film, imperfect cinema, third world film, national cultural identity critiques and neoliberal manifestations. In particular, we will explore whether the waning of revolutionary and other utopian discourses has given way to themes and techniques that feature migratory displacement, new gender formation and neoliberal ambivalence in Latin American cinema. The goal is not only to observe how these topics shift the focus from national histories or ideological common places but also to study how these films engage new video cultures and market pressures in their pursuit of audiences. Film theory and criticism will therefore accompany the discussion of screened movies. The list of films will include Wild Tales, 7 Days in Havana, Revolución, XXY, No, City of God, Silent Night, Love is a Bitch, Memories of Underdevelopment, I The Worst of All, El Topo, Pixote, Entranced Earth, The Young and the Damned, El Mariachi, among others. The class will be mainly taught in English but the films will be subtitled in English and students who wish to do so may write their papers and make their presentations in English or Spanish. A minimum of two 15-page papers and a class presentation will be required.



COML 700.401                Historyo, Fiction, Narrative Form: South African Literature

R 12-3                  Barnard

Cross listed with ENGL 775


Recent critical interventions in the US have revived an interest in literary realism and, more broadly, the ways in which literature represents historical processes. They have questioned how the valuation of realism (as opposed to modernism) has affected recent canon formation, not least the construction of the field of postcolonial literature.  In South African literary studies, these issues have often been treated as a kind of contest between the two Nobel Prize winners, Nadine Gordimer and J. M. Coetzee: the former seen as developing a “history from the inside” and the latter refusing to have literature serve as a mere supplement to history (which itself, of course, already assumes narrative forms).  But new work by South African theorists and critics has begun to raise other questions. For example: Is realism even possible in a polity (and a world) where the state has assumed the character of a criminal enterprise, where mediated information has become radically untrustworthy, where societies are dizzyingly heterogeneous, polycultural, and multilingual, and where the expected plot (our teleological sense of past, present, and future) has been derailed--where knowledge, in sum, has become difficult to acquire and occulted?

This seminar will allow students (also non-specialists) to probe these and other questions in conversations about the following writers and texts: Nadine Gordimer, Something Out There and selected stories, J. M. Coetzee, Life and Times of Michael K. and Disgrace, Jonny Steinberg, Midlands, Henk van Woerden, The Assassin, Antjie Krog, Begging to be Black, Imraan Coovadia, Tales of the Metric System, Jacob Dlamini, Native Nostalgia and Askari: A Story of Collaboration and Betrayal in the Anti-Apartheid Struggle, Damon Galgut, The Imposter, Ivan Vladislavic, The Exploded View and Double Negative, Songeziwe Mahlangu, Penumbra, Lesego Rampolokeng, Bird-Monk Seding, and Hedley Twidle, Firepool.  (The list will probably be shortened and refined.) The fact that some of these are works of non-fiction (we may also see relevant films and read relevant political writings) is entirely to the point.  Students will be given a critical context for each text, and will be expected to offer a conference-like presentation in class, as well as an innovative final paper.



COML 753.401                Realisms

T 9-12                  Steinlight

Cross listed with ENGL 753


For a term that promises access to something recognizably real, realism is a peculiarly slippery concept. It announces the grand ambition of nineteenth-century novelists to make a contemporary social world concretely representable and to establish forms of experiential common ground across mass reading publics, yet its definition and effects remain in contention after nearly two centuries of debate. Does it name a form, a style, a genre, a narrative mode, or an epistemology? What does it mean to characterize realist fiction as referential or mimetic, or how else might it be understood? Does it entail any definite formal properties, subject matter, aesthetic values, or ideological functions? Given the concept’s transnational circulation and its portability across languages, does it lend itself to comparative analysis—and how consistent is realist practice from one context to another? In taking up these questions, this graduate seminar will take seriously realism’s role in creating norms as well as its capacity to defamiliarize them, its interests in a status quo and its revolutionary potential, its periodization and its uses for our time. We will consider its logics of representation, reference, and form; its concern with totality (and the status of that concept in criticism, past and present); its practices of material and social description; its historiographic techniques; its interest in the natural and social sciences; its political commitments; its relation to the rise of capitalism, the nation-state, liberalism, and imperialism; its connection to media and theories of mediation; and its role in adjudicating between genres. We will approach literary realism in part via deliberately realist writing and in part by examining some of the major categories against which it defined itself: romance, the Gothic, idealism, utopia, sentimentalism, melodrama, and sensationalism, as well as the later phenomena of naturalism and of modernism that disengaged its truth-claims. Readings may include novels by Balzac, Gaskell, Trollope, Flaubert, Eliot, Tolstoy, Howells, Gissing, and Ferrante, with critical and theoretical writing by Edmond Duranty, G. H. Lewes, Georg Lukács, Virginia Woolf, Erich Auerbach, Roland Barthes, Naomi Schor, Fredric Jameson, Peter Brooks, Richard Menke, Elaine Freedgood, Tanya Agathocleous, Alison Shonkwiler, and others.



COML 769.401                 Feminism and Postcolonialities

T 12-3                  Loomba

Cross listed with ENGL 769, GSWS 769




How are feminisms in different parts of the world, and as espoused by different subjects, historically constructed, and how have they intersected and debated with one another? How do the histories of colonialism, race, sexuality, postcolonial nationhood and global capital shape these intersections and debates? In the academy, we often pay lip service to the idea of “differences” among women, and to such histories, and yet forget that (as Heidi Tinsman puts it), “what constitutes useful categories of feminist analysis is a matter of geopolitics rather than epistemological catch-up.”  This course provides an opportunity to read and think about such debates, categories, histories and contemporary global relations, in order to discuss three key issues: identity, agency and social justice.

We cannot cover all parts of the world, but will consider representative writings that range over questions of racial, religious and ethnic difference, “third world” women in the West, and feminist developments within the global South. Because of our location, we will concentrate on materials that tend to be less visible in the US academy, although we begin with the work of Black feminists in the US and Britain, and will regularly engage with scholars and activists working in the West. I will welcome your engagement with other spaces and histories in your work.



COML 787.401                Installations, Projections, Divagations

T 1:30-4:30        Silverman

Cross listed with ARTH 794, ENGL 778


This course will be devoted to an international group of contemporary artists who make visual works that are time-based, like cinema, but that are exhibited in museums and galleries, instead of movie theaters: Chantal Akerman, Tacita Dean, Rineke Dijkstra, Jeremy Blake, Isaac Julien,
 Anri Sala, Pierre Huyghe, William Kentridge and Paul Chan.  Some of these artists rely on digital cameras and computers, and others prefer 16mm film, but regardless which medium they use, they are having a transformative effect on the museum.  They make work that cannot be hung on a wall or placed on a pedestal, that takes up space, as well as time, that has an auditory
dimension, and that often mobilizes more than one medium.  Most of the assigned works will be available to us only in a digital form, but I will be on the lookout for installations that we can visit.  However, since few museum goers watch more that a few minutes of an installed work, which may be one or two hours long, it could be argued that the classroom is also a necessary and important exhibition site.  We will think hard about the differences between these two ways of looking at time-based work, and what they mean for the work itself.  (Limited to 16 students, by permission of the instructor.)



COML 790.401                Recent Issues in Critical Theory: What’s Left of Queer Theory Now?

W 3-6                  Eng

Cross listed with ENGL 790, GSWS 790


In the wake of the liberal mainstreaming of gay and lesbian rights in the United States, this upper-division graduate seminar explores what is politically and intellectually left of queer theory at this juncture.  The course assumes students have critical familiarity with classic texts that founded the field (such as Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Sigmund Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Gayle Rubin’s “The Traffic in Women,” and Eve Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet).  The class will be organized thematically.  The topics we examine will include queer relationality and the anti-social thesis; queer of color critique, racial violence, and the shrinking public sphere; area studies, anti-colonial thought, and the globalization of sexuality; posthumanism and science and technology studies; and disability and transgender issues.  The seminar tracks a year-long speaker series under the same rubric that brings together some of the most prominent theorists in the field to address the seminar theme.  Students are expected to attend and to participate in these sessions.








Last modified October 25, 2017
Program in Comparative Literature
School of Arts & Sciences
University of Pennsylvania