ENGL 115 Sections

Literature Seminars

Fall 2024 Sections

01. Folk, Blues, Rock. MW 11.35-12.50

Dylan Davidson

This seminar on 20th century American music will examine the relationship between the genres of folk, blues, and rock. We will learn about the concept of “people’s music,” thinking about how songs reflect and respond to their cultural, historical, technological, political, and geographic contexts. We will listen closely and repeatedly to recordings, we will discuss them at length with one another, and we will practice writing and research as ways of deepening our relationship with music. In addition to discussing memoirs, films, and published studies of music history, we will approach performance itself as a literary, historical, critical, even scholarly practice in its own right. And we will think deeply about how we encounter and respond to music in our lives today. We will pay particular attention to the transformation of the folk genre of country blues into early iterations of rock and roll in the mid-20th century.

In addition to audio and visual recordings by dozens of artists, the material we study together will include authors and works such as:

  • Angela Y. Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism (1998)
  • Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume 1 (2004)
  • Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory (1943)
  • LeRoi Jones, Blues People (1963)
  • Bill C. Malone, Country Music USA (1968)
  • Robert Palmer, Deep Blues (1981)


  • The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1967)
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
  • Elvis (2022)

02. The Aesthetics of Exhaustion. TTh 11.35-12.50

Jessikah Díaz

The concept of exhaustion refers to the use of natural resources and its material impact on people and environments. This course routes exhaustion through the long eighteenth-century, when transatlantic projects of empire and industrialization restructured energy usage in ways that define our lives today. Together, we’ll examine these colonial economies through a poem about growing sugar and an engraving of Mining Towns in Mexico. We’ll learn from the poet Anna Letitia Barbauld and the painter Joseph Wright about scientific experiments in oxygen, before imagining the more mystical powers of human energy through William Blake’s mind and the depletion of the countryside through William Wordsworth’s. We’ll read the enervation of rural life against the vitality of the steam engine to ask how this transformative technology is illuminated by industrial poetry and J.M.W. Turner’s late painterly style. The depletion of natural resources, consumption of commodities, and fatigue of laborers are motifs the class will explore variously through poets, philosophers, and artists, all of whom used their works to aestheticize structures of economy, science, gender, and race. Drawing on terms like the sublime and the picturesque, we’ll articulate exhaustion through eighteenth-century aesthetic philosophy and use it to hone our ideas and critical writing about the course.

03. Black Women’s Narration. TTh 2.30-3.45

Kassidi Jones

At its core, the course revolves around the pivotal question: “What can we learn from the way Black women perceive the world? The students will find their answers in the work of writers like Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Phyllis Wheatley, Anna Julia Cooper, Harriet Jacobs, Octavia Butler, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Audre Lorde, Michelle Obama, Claudia Rankine, Hortense Spillers, and Saidiya Hartman. Thinking through themes of form, voice, authorship, and identity, we will pay close attention to ways in which Black women participated in the formation of Black literary traditions and culture. In addition, students will hone their skills in academic research, writing, and close reading, as well as archival exploration through visits to Beinecke Library. Students will have the opportunity to engage directly with primary sources, enriching their understanding of the historical and cultural contexts in which these literary voices emerged. Assignments will include short- and long-form writing, as well as an option for a creative final project.

Overall, this course provides a transformative learning experience, inviting students to critically engage with the diverse and profound insights offered by Black women writers, while honing their analytical, research, and creative skills in the process. At the end of the semester, it is my hope that students will feel confident in their abilities to read and write academically, and conscious of the roles that the multifaceted intersections of race, gender, class, and power play in their own lives.