Undergraduate Courses Fall 2009

Undergraduate Courses Fall 2009

Department of English

Undergraduate Course Descriptions Fall 2009


4150: Literary Theory and Criticism

5220: Studies in American Literature:
Jewish American Drama

4160/Honors 4200: Women in Literature

5300: Medieval Literature

4400: Studies in Verse

5370: Victorian Literature

4420: Studies in Drama 5380: Modern Literature
4440: Studies in the Novel
4440: Studies in the Novel

5660: Creative Writing Workshop—Fiction

4520: Shakespeare Seminar 5660: Creative Writing Workshop—Nonfiction
4640: Professional Writing 5660: Creative Writing Workshop—Playwriting
Writing and Performing the One Person Play or Performance
4720: Language Variation in American English 5660: Creative Writing Workshop—Poetry
4790: Writing in the Secondary School 5740: Grammar in Teaching Writing

4800: Teaching Literature in the Secondary Schools

5750: Icelandic Sagas in Translation

4840: Multi-Cultural American Literature for Children

5970: Studies in English
Language in the African-American Community
  5970: Studies in English
Legends of the Silk Road


English 4150: Literary Theory and Criticism 
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 12:00 - 1:50; Brown 4010
Dr. Christopher MacLean Nagle

This course will introduce students to the most important and influential areas of contemporary literary theory and criticism.  Since the question of what is literary is often at the heart of this work, for our purposes “literary” will be construed broadly enough to encompass a range of cultural practices—practices which involve “reading” not merely books and other conventional textual artifacts, but also those texts and practices of everyday life (the psychic, the social, the artistic, the economic, etc.) for which criticism and theory provide important interpretive tools as well.  Although our focus will be on 20th-century trends, we will engage with the most foundational modern influences (e.g., Freud, Marx, Nietzsche) on contemporary critical inquiry—both literary and cultural—and we will seek a balance between more difficult theoretical texts and more user-friendly literary criticism, adding some key works of literature to the mix as well.  The range of critical approaches will be wide, reflecting the diversity of critical thinking in a globalized, multicultural world.

A word of caution: the readings for this class will often be dense, abstract, and difficult—to some, it might seem more like a course in philosophy than one in literature.  While one of our considerations will be how such distinctions are made, these two traditions are intimately and unavoidably related, and students should be prepared for the kinds of challenges that deeply speculative—and often provocative—texts afford.  To this end, students will need to bring to this class a mind open to challenging and sometimes troubling questions of politics and aesthetics—in short, of *valuation*, of what we value and why we do so—and must be willing to work hard to come to conclusions of their own.  The expectation, in short, is that you will consider “work” not merely as the labor involved in completing your course assignments, but rather in Michel Foucault’s sense, in which “to work is to undertake to think something other than what one has thought before.”  This will be our criteria for success in the course.


English 4160/Honors 4200: Women in Literature 
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 12:00 - 1:50; Dunbar 2209
Dr. Katherine Joslin

This is a course in literature written by American, British and Canadian women.  Over the course of the semester, we will consider the quality and character of female writing.  When pressed to explain why women had not produced a writer who was the equal of William Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf pointed out that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”  To her mind, women writers were at a disadvantage because they historically had been relegated to a secondary economic status and deprived of a rigorous education.  The twentieth century, she hoped, would offer women a serious education as well as more privacy and greater time and money to pursue art.  The question at the heart of this course is what women have achieved as writers in the English language over the last two hundreds years.  We will consider, too, the idea of a female literary tradition.  The course will require you to write a researched essay on a female poet and take a midterm and final exam.


English 4400: Studies in Verse 
Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:00 - 11:50; Brown 3002
Dr. Daneen Wardrop

As William Carlos Williams famously articulated, “It is difficult / to get news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.”  In this course we will try to wring “news” of sorts from the poems we look at, I suppose, but we’ll also discern what it is that poetry has for lack of which people “die miserably.”  Toward such objectives, I anticipate a class of active questioning, talk, cross-talk, and counter-talk, in which we find the benefits and pleasures that might energize us as human beings in a changing society; we seek the Williams-articulated life-saving qualities of poetry.  The course includes poets writing in the English language from the sixteenth century through contemporary times.  We study particular forms in poetry, including the villanelle, sonnet, sestina, and others, and we examine some specific contemporary authors’ works in depth.  Thus, our inquiries will be scaled from the critically well-traversed poem to the spanking new verse of which we’ll be among the first critics to read carefully.  Within this context, we have ample opportunity to explore creatively and critically in many ways.  The basic format for the course will be poem after poem after poem.


English 4420: Studies in Drama 
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:00 - 3:50; Brown 4010
Dr. Eve Salisbury

In this course we study the major genres of medieval drama—liturgical, mystery, morality, miracle, saints’ plays—as well as the more secular drama of the early modern period.  Focusing primarily, though not exclusively on early English drama, we will read (and occasionally perform in class) select continental plays from the Fleury Playbook, select works of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim (thought to be the first woman playwright), Hildegard of Bingen (dramatist and twelfth-century Renaissance woman), selections from the York, N-Town, Chester, and Towneley mystery cycles, moral comedies—EverymanMankindThe Worlde and the Chylde, Wit and Science (young man falls in love with Lady Science), Johan, Johan(comic love triangle, husband /wife/ local priest), the Second Shepherds’ Play, and two early modern interludes—Fulgens and Lucrece and Gammer Gurton’s Needle.  We will also study the material aspects of play production and the larger social, political, and economic implications to be gleaned from the recently compiled Records of Early English Drama(REED).


English 4440: Studies in the Novel 
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 4:00 - 5:50; Brown 4010
Dr. Christopher MacLean Nagle

See course catalog or contact instructor.


English 4440: Studies in the Novel 
Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:00 - 11:50; Brown 3003
Dr. Scott Slawinski

Beginning with the late eighteenth century and ending in the early twentieth century, this course will take a chronological approach to the development of the novel as a form.  While we will be looking specifically and only at American writers, their books will serve as representative selections for a number of subgenres that have appeared around the world, including novels written in the epistolary, gothic, sentimental, seduction, Romantic, Realist, Naturalist, and Modernist modes.  We will examine the rise of the novel, the early opposition it faced as a form, and its ultimate triumph as a form of art and communication.  Issues concerning race, gender, class conflict, sexuality, science, psychology, social conventions, authorship, and publication will also be topics of discussion 

The novels we will likely read include Hannah Webster Foster, The Coquette; Charles Brockden Brown Wieland or, The Transformation; Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter; Maria Susanna Cummins, The Lamplighter; Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie; William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, and Nella Larson, Passing.

This is a baccalaureate writing-intensive course, so participants can tentatively expect to compose multiple response papers, several essays, and final exam.  Regular attendance and class participation are required.


English 4520: Shakespeare Seminar 
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 12:00 - 1:50; Brown 4017
Dr. Grace Tiffany

This is a discussion- and writing-intensive course which may fulfill the baccalaureate-level writing requirement of the student’s curriculum.  It’s also fun. We’ll discuss seven of Shakespeare’s plays and experiment with scene readings.  We’ll also watch play-scenes on video and, if possible, see a Chicago Shakespeare Repertory production at Navy Pier.  Texts (total cost approx. $30): The Taming of the ShrewThe Merchant of VeniceHenry V,MacbethHamletOthelloThe Tempest.  I work with single-play paperback editions which cost about $4 each.  But any modern editions of Shakespeare that contain line numbers are acceptable.

Assignments: three very short (2-page) papers (10% each of grade), one 8-to-10-page researched paper (25%), final exam (25%), class participation (20%).


English 4640: Professional Writing 
Wednesdays, 4:00 - 7:20; Rood 3396
Dr. Charlotte Thralls

Professional Writing provides practice in developing the forms and techniques of writing, editing, and researching required in business, industry, and government.  Students should take this course as their capstone experience in practical writing.  Prerequisite: two writing courses.  English 3050 (Practical Writing) recommended.

As a capstone to your classes (and experiences) in practical writing, this course is designed to help you move to the next level: either a career as a professional writer or a career that requires a high level of communication competence.  The course thus focuses on some of the knowledge and skills you’ll need to make this transition.

Through course projects, for example, you will have an opportunity to

1) Develop Professional Quality Projects that Demonstrate Your Communication Experience and ExpertiseHere, you will gain experience with communication strategies (for example, adapting information to readers, using print and digital technologies, designing pages and documents, creating visual evidence and displays), important in workplaces and the professions.

2) Learn What It is Like to Do a Writing Project for a Client. Here you’ll get experience in creating documents for actual organizations.

3) Develop Techniques for Effective Presentation of Your Writing Experience and Competence.  Here, you’ll learn how to create a professional portfolio—in either digital or print form—that synthesizes and articulates your knowledge and skills as a writer.


English 4720: Language Variation in American English 
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:00 - 11:50; Brown 3002
Dr. Paul Johnston

In this course, students learn about the variation in English in North America, and why it exists: the factors, geographical, social, and ethnic that cause dialects to form, to spread, to be sustained or to die out over time, and that a sociolinguistic view, paying attention to how social groupings in American society work and interplay with each other, is necessary for talking about dialect intelligently. We shall also examine the methodology used in studying dialects; the educational implications of dialect variation; and the techniques writers use in representing different dialects in literature, as well as "hot topics" such as language in the African-American community, multilingualism in America, and gender similarities and differences in language forms and use.  Students will be expected to take an essay midterm and final and to do one project of first-hand investigation of dialect variation.


English 4790: Writing in the Secondary School 
Mondays and Wednesdays, 2:00 - 3:50; Brown 3037
Dr. Ellen Brinkley

In English 4790 we’ll consider how writing has been taught historically and examine how today’s best teachers and researchers teach and work with student writers.  The class is designed in alignment with Michigan’s English Language Arts High School Content Expectations and with Michigan’s high-stakes ACT and MME assessments.  We’ll conduct research that involves middle and high school English teachers and/or students, and teach each other a range of classroom strategies and structures that can support and strengthen writing.  All our 4790 materials, class sessions, research and activities are designed to prepare you to teach writing within the context of English class and to use writing to teach in courses across the curriculum.


English 4800: Teaching Literature in the Secondary Schools 
Mondays, 4:00 - 7:20; Brown 3037
Dr. Karen Vocke

English 4800 is a capstone course which considers fundamental questions of why and how to teach literature; we will also focus on recent waves of reform, reader response, cultural studies, and the impact of the internet. Using both reader response and cultural studies approaches, we will examine the ways that culture and literature intersect to inform--and transform--our practice. We will use a thematic approach to explore a variety of themes in a problem-posing, student-led format.
Of special emphasis in this section of 4800 are the following: examining the reading process–how effective readers engage texts and use strategies to make the most of their reading experiences; understanding the history, current state, and influence of the English literary canon; examining issues of censorship, and designing curriculum and lessons sensitive to students of diverse abilities and backgrounds.

A variety of technologies are examined in this class: digital storytelling, website creation, wikis, webquests, and podcasting, to name a few.  Guest speakers will include area teachers and administrators.

For additional information, contact Dr. Karen Vocke at Karen.Vocke@wmich.edu


English 4840: Multi-Cultural American Literature for Children 
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:00 - 3:50; Brown 3037
Dr. Elizabeth Amidon

Course Description:

This course focuses on developing an understanding of American cultural diversity through multicultural oral and written literature for young people.  Attention will be paid to developing criteria for selecting and evaluating literature which reflects our multi-cultural heritage, provides positive vicarious experiences, and explores universal values, and to achieving balance in selecting such literature for elementary and middle school classrooms and libraries. 

This course fulfills a General Education requirement in Distribution Area III - The United States: Cultures and Issues.

Required Texts:

Because this course covers a wide variety of materials that have not been brought together in any one textbook, you are expected to raid area bookstores and libraries for your weekly readings.

There is no required text book for this class; we will create our own text. 

There will be additional novels required for this class.  You will get a specific list as each assignment is given.


There will be a series of Short Papers (or homework assignments) to be handed in on the various topics presented during the course of the semester. 

There will be a major project and a group report.  You will have a wide variety of topics and formats for presentation to choose from for these assignments. 

Major Project (your choice of a research paper, annotated bibliography, or thematic unit/lesson plans) should be approximately 10-12 pages.  You will be encouraged to choose and investigate a topic that appeals to you.  The format for presenting your research may be varied.


English 5220: Studies in American Literature
Jewish American Drama:
From Mordecai Manuel Noah (1820s) to Tony Kushner (the Present) 
Tuesdays, 4:00 - 6:20; Brown 3017
Dr. Steve Feffer

[A Jewish doctor?…  Really?  I got a niece in Schenectady who’s single…  Oh, a doctor of theatre…  never mind.]

In his landmark study Staging the Jew: The Performance of An American Ethnicity, 1860-1920, Harley Erdman writes, “If ethnicity is something that bleeds over boundaries, then much more so is that ethnicity known as Jewishness, the ambiguities and uncertainties of which have frequently characterized a culture through two thousand of years of Diaspora” (6).  Certainly these “ambiguities and uncertainties” become apparent when one sets out to characterize Jewish American drama.  Is it plays by Jews?  Is it plays where the subject is Jewish, but the author may not be?  Is it Jewish drama if the author is Jewish, but the “J-word” doesn’t appear in the play, and/or the characters are not Jewish?  And, of course, there are all those questions about what constitutes a study of drama, rather than theatre and performance.  This new course will attempt to grapple with some of these issues, while beginning to place a broad definition of Jewish American Drama in the context of Jewish and American culture.  My hope is that as we consider specific issues related to Judaism and its drama, we might begin to develop an approach that serves us well in considering other ethnicities in their culture contexts.

Our class will begin by considering the melodramas of the early-American period (the 1820s) by Jewish American playwrights such as Mordecai Manuel Noah and Samuel B. H. Judah.  We will continue into the 1860s by looking at contemporary and classical plays that feature American approaches to “shylocks and peddlers,” as well as “the rise and fall of the ‘belle juive’”.  In the 1880s, we will consider the grotesque ethnic variety performances that give rise to the first wave of Jewish comedians, such as “The Jolly Good Fellow” scenes and plays of the period.

As our attention turns to the 20th and 21st century, we will look at such plays and/or playwrights as Israel Zangwill’s The Melting Pot (1908) [a Brit BTW], Aaron Hoffman’sWelcome Stranger (1920), Samson Raphelson’s The Jazz Singer (1925), Elmer Rice, Clifford Odetts, Gertrude Berg, Sylvia Regan’s Morning Star, Arthur Miller, Paddy Chayefsky, Fiddler on the Roof, Wendy Wasserstein, and Tony Kushner, among others.

Additional topics will include the impact of Jewish dramatists and theatre artists on such American institutions as vaudeville, the Yiddish theatre, the Federal Theatre Project, the Broadway musical, and the 1960s American alternative theatre movement, as well as the long, significant relationship between Jewish theatrical producers (“show business,” if you will) and “becoming American.”

Our study will be guided by such secondary texts as the Erdman book cited above, Henry Bial’s Acting Jewish: Negotiating Ethnicity on the American Stage and Screen, and Julius Novick’s Beyond the Golden Door:  Jewish American Drama and Jewish American Experience.

For more information steve.feffer@wmich.edu.

[Don’t pay retail for this class.  I got an Uncle in the business…  He’ll get you in wholesale.]


English 5300: Medieval Literature 
Tuesdays, 6:30 - 9:00; Brown 3002
Dr. Eve Salisbury

Did medieval people stay in one place?  Did they move beyond the city gates, the cloistered abbey, and/or the castle moat?  This course focuses on medieval travel narratives and travel compelled by mercantile desire, exploration, crusade, pilgrimage, and the promise of conquest and monetary gain. The Travels of Marco Polo, the Book of John Mandeville, theBook of Margery Kempe, Prester John’s letters, Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale, the Romance of Alexander, selections from the Arabian Nights, Middle English romances, Bevis of Hamptonand Floris and Blancheflour, transport us from Mongolia to Africa, from the Middle East to East Anglia, from otherworlds inhabited by dragon ladies and dog-headed men to familiar realms of pilgrims, pardoners, and plowmen.  Literary and literal journeys such as these carry us into the unfamiliar worlds of the medieval imagination to reveal the reciprocal nature of global storytelling.  Waldo’s Medieval Travel Writing database, a collection of manuscripts dating from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, will provide additional resources for our study.


English 5370: Victorian Literature 
Mondays, 4:00 - 6:20; Brown 3017
Dr. Jil Larson

This course will provide an introduction to the Victorian period (1837-1901) for both undergraduates seeking a specialized course in British literature and graduate students preparing for doctoral exams.  We will investigate the period in its different phases and its preoccupations and ethos. Our focus will range from the early-century concern with social class and the “condition of England” to the mid-century confidence in progress, fascination with science, and anxiety about religious faith to the late-century rebelliousness and pessimism about agency.  The reading list is still in progress but will likely include representative Victorians, such as Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, Darwin, the Brownings, Christina Rossetti, John Ruskin, Edmund Gosse, Augusta Webster, Amy Levy, Olive Schreiner, Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, and Thomas Hardy.


English 5380: Modern Literature 
Wednesdays, 6:30 - 9:00; Brown 1048
Dr. Todd Kuchta

Literature of the early twentieth century is usually dubbed “modern,” an adjective that has come to mean brashly experimental, highly self-reflexive, and notoriously complex in form and style. This course will examine the range of stylistic innovations heralded by modern writers, considering how their writing both reflects and responds to the dramatic cultural and historical changes of the early twentieth century.

Modern literature is a product of exiles, émigrés, and travelers. While we will focus primarily on writers from the British canon, they represent a broad range of national and international contexts. As critic Terry Eagleton once put it, “the seven most significant writers of twentieth-century English literature have been a Pole, three Americans, two Irishmen and an Englishman.” We will focus on most of these authors—Polish-born Joseph Conrad, American expat T.S. Eliot, Irishmen James Joyce and W.B. Yeats, and Englishman D.H. Lawrence. We will also consider works by Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett, and perhaps take an American detour with William Faulkner.

All students will be expected to participate actively. Undergrads will write 3 essays. Grad students will lead one discussion, write 3 article reviews, and choose between two short essays or one seminar paper.

For questions, contact Dr. Todd Kuchta at todd.kuchta@wmich.edu.


English 5390: Post-Colonial Literature 
Thursdays, 4:00 - 6:20; Brown 3045
Dr. Allen Webb

The colonial, imperial, and neo-colonial domination of the planet Earth by the Western European countries, especially Portugal, Spain, England, Denmark, and France during the last 500 years created the present world system with its dramatic political, economic, and cultural inequalities.  Postcolonial studies explores that history emphasizing emerging literature and culture that speak back to European representations of the "other," "primitive," "uncivilized," and "oriental."  While drawing on a wide variety of texts from areas such as Africa, India, and the Caribbean, this class will focus energies on the Modern Middle East.  We will consider Edward Said's work in Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism, and other theorists such as Fanon, Bhabha, and Spivak.  We will look at contemporary Middle Eastern literature in translation, seeking to understand responses to on-going orientalist discourse about Islam, "terrorism," Arabs, Turks, and Iranians.  We will consider the role of women, issues of social, class, and linguistic difference, and the current renaissance of Middle Eastern literature.  We will consider the role of the United States in the Middle East, the history and consequence of American military and political incursions, including the on-going wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine.  Along with literary works we will look at historical materials, imagery, film, news reports, and YouTube.  We will have a diversity of speakers and activities.  Students will create interconnected academic blogs, collaboratively participate in developing a book about teaching Middle Eastern literature, and, individually and in groups, explore related topics of their own interest.  This course will be absolutely up-to-date, engaging us in rethinking some of the most pressing political and cultural issues of our time.


English 5660: Creative Writing Workshop—Fiction 
Tuesdays, 6:00 - 9:30; Brown 2048
Dr. Jaimy Gordon

This course, which can be repeated for credit, is the most advanced fiction writing workshop that undergraduate English majors and minors with a creative writing emphasis can take.  It is also open to graduate students in creative writing.  Each member of the workshop will present at least two stories (or excerpts of longer works) over the course of the semester.  In addition the class will read together short fiction by a number of contemporary authors, including those who will be visiting WMU in the fall; and there will be many short creative assignments based on these readings, each stressing some aspect of fictional technique.


English 5660: Creative Writing Workshop—Nonfiction 
Wednesday, 6:00 - 9:30; Brown 4017
Professor Richard Katrovas

If a cop jokes with a partner that their suspect is “getting creative with the truth,” he or she is saying that the person is lying. When we say the same of a politician, we are judging that individual to be dissembling, which is a kind of sophisticated duplicity wherein a grain of truth distracts from a field of deceptions.

We will explore what may be legitimately “creative” in creative nonfiction. We will note that the term arguably includes everything from prose reportage to “confessional” poetry, and that though the term is relatively new, the genre reaches back to the beginning of recorded history, even to prehistoric pictorial expression.

A good workshop is a seamless conversation about important ideas, and an opportunity to sharpen fundamental editing and critical skills. It must also be fun, a form of “play for mortal stakes,” as Robert Frost famously dubbed the creative process.

Whether you fancy yourself a poet, a fiction writer, a playwright, a scholar, a journalist or any combination thereof, this course will have something to offer you.


English 5660: Creative Writing Workshop—Playwriting
Writing and Performing the One Person Play or Performance 
Mondays and Wednesdays, 3:00 - 4:50; Brown 1119
Dr. Steve Feffer 

This semester's English 5660 Advanced Playwriting Workshop is a special team-taught cross-listed collaboration between playwriting professor Steve Feffer in the English Department and acting professor Jim Daniels in the Theatre Department.  This unique opportunity will explore the writing, developing and performing of one person plays or solo performance pieces.  The course will consider the one person play or solo performance piece in its multiplicity of forms, including the autobiographical monologue, such as those by Spalding Gray and Tim Miller; multi-character pieces with one actor, such as those by Eric Begosian and Danny Hoch; docudramas, biographical stories, or non-fiction plays, such as those by Anna Deavere Smith and Emily Mann; plays for one actor such as those by Sam Shepard and Terrence McNally; and performance poems and lyrics, such as those by hip-hop theatre artist Will Power.  During the first half of the course students will develop their performance texts through writing exercises and workshops, as well as acting and performance prompts; in the second half of the class, the focus will be on the performance of the solo pieces, while the text is shaped and dramaturged. This class presents an exciting opportunity for writers of all genres to see how their work might be transferred or translated to the stage in a form of performance.


English 5660: Creative Writing Workshop—Poetry 
Tuesdays, 6:30 - 9:50; Brown 4002
Dr. William Olsen

See course catalog or contact instructor.


English 5740: Grammar in Teaching Writing 
Mondays, 6:00 - 9:30; Brown 3045
Dr. Jonathan Bush

This course integrates key concepts of teaching grammar into the 'best practices' of teaching writing. Grammar, as we talk about it, includes language skills for writers of all levels as well as key issues and areas of correction within writing. The course itself is a not a grammar study course. The focus is on pedagogical applications as we explore the best ways to approach grammar within and beyond our students' writing processes.


English 5750: Icelandic Sagas in Translation 
Wednesdays, 4:00 - 6:20; Brown 2209
Dr. Jana Schulman

See course catalog or contact instructor.


English 5970: Studies in English
Language in the African-American Community 
Tuesdays, 4:00 - 6:20; Brown 3045
Dr. Lisa Minnick

African American English is often described as “incorrect grammar,” “slang,” or “broken English.”  It is in fact none of these things but is, rather, a rule-governed, productive, and thriving means of expression with a rich history and complex structure.

English 5970: Language in the African-American Community explores the linguistic structure, generative rules, and historical development of the set of varieties known collectively as African American English (AAE), varieties that meet the communicative, cultural, expressive, and creative needs of millions of speakers.

This course will consider AAE in public, private, literary, and media discourse as well as in educational contexts, along with the social, cultural, and political issues surrounding its use.  We will also analyze popularly held beliefs, attitudes, myths, and misconceptions about AAE and its linguistic success into the 21st century, success that is perhaps surprising in the face of unrelenting and institutionalized stigmatization.

Language in the African-American Community may be of particular interest to students interested in linguistics, literary stylistics, American and African American literature, and African American language and culture.  Pre- and in-service teachers interested in social justice are also invited, as are creative writers interested in the opportunities, challenges, and problems associated with attempts to represent authentic speech in their own work.

Find out why this linguistically complex, historically significant means of expression, which James Baldwin described as "this passion, this skill, ... this incredible music,” is the most widely studied variety of American English, and the most controversial.

This course assumes no previous study in linguistics but includes substantial linguistic instruction and content, so interest in linguistics or at least curiosity about it is strongly recommended.


English 5970: Studies in English
Legends of the Silk Road 
Mondays, 4:00 - 6:20; Brown 3003
Dr. Mustafa Mirzeler

The ancient Silk Road was an extensive interconnected network of trade routes across the Asian continent connecting East, South, West and Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.  The so-called Silk Road was not only a series of conduits of cultural and material goods, but was also very important for the transmission of local legends, epics, folklore, poetry, and music, linking the storytellers, ballads, and the singers of tales from the disparate steppes of Central Asia to the banks of the legendary Euphrates, Tigris, and Nile rivers, to the deserts of the ancient Iran, Azerbaijan, Anatolia, Arabia, and Egypt, and to the shores of the Caspian Sea, the Mediterranean and beyond.

In this course students will explore the sources of our affinity with the people who lived in disparate parts of the Silk Road and examine how the interplay of language, folklore, literature, music and poetry shape the historical experiences and identities of people.  In the world of the Silk Road, what assuaged the pain and suffering of people were the stories, the myths, and the imaginary worlds of the ancient storytellers.  In reading the accounts of these storytellers, the students will enter into their magical worlds and experience the magical truth of storytelling as well as the magic of the words.  In every age, the Silk Road has produced its master storytellers who have moved tradition into new dispensations through the magic of words.  They have exerted their influence on the present, giving it a mythic image in a traditional context.  The genius of these ancient storytellers can be traced in the traditional genres of the popular ballad and in the art forms of contemporary master storytellers and poets.  In the work of these storytellers new myths arise from and intertwine with the old to create unique and inventive new worlds.  Drawing from the contemporary folklore and literary theories, this course historicizes and conceptualizes cultural and social contexts that produced the verbal art forms of the Silk Road.

COURSE OBJECTIVES   To introduce students to the current folklore and literary theories and to discuss and assess their various relationship to the contemporary ethnomuicalogy, oral and literary forms.

To discuss the past and contemporary issues in the world of the nomads of steppes and the deserts of the Silk Road.

To develop and enhance students’ research skills in the field of oral and literary traditions, poetry and ethnomusicalogy.

Two 10-15 minute oral presentation on a topic and assigned reading to be determined by the student in consultation with the professor.

A 1-2 page abstract of a research project, with an annotated bibliography of 5 scholarly items (books or a combination of books and substantive articles) must be appended. Annotations should not exceed one or two paragraphs each

A 10-15 page research paper on a topic consonant with course content and objectives.

Four one page position essays, reacting to assigned readings.

Cherry Gilchrist and Niles Mistry, Stories From the Silk Road
Thomas Gustav Winner, The Oral Art and Literature of the Kazakhs of Russian Central Asia
Abolgasem Ferdowsi, Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings
Faruk Sumer, Ahmet Uysal, and Geoffrey Lewis, The Book of Dede Korkut: A Turkish Epic 
Muhsin al-Musawi, The Arabian Nights 
Ilhan Basgoz, Hikaye: Turkish Folk Romance as Performance Art

Harold Sheub, Poem in the Story
Alan Dundes, The Study of Folklore
V. Propp, Morphology of the Folktale

M. M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination

Note: Readers should consider all course descriptions and booklists to be tentative and are encouraged to confirm all times and locations before attending class.



Department of English
6th floor Sprau Tower
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5331 USA
(269) 387-2572 | (269) 387-2562 Fax