Department of English

Fall 2022, 205 courses

the Anthropocene

According to scientists, historians, and cultural observers, we are living in the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch caused by human activity. While experts disagree about when exactly the Anthropocene started, it’s clear that we—people—have profoundly modified the atmosphere, ocean ecology, and even the ground beneath our feet. We’ve changed the planet in ways that imperil our own long-term survival and thriving (not to mention that of countless other species).

What does it mean to live in the Anthropocene? How should we proceed as a society—and how should we cope, as individuals and as collectives, with feelings of fear, guilt, and frustration? This section of 205 focuses on the Anthropocene, using literature to examine the challenges we face as a “force of nature.” We’ll read two novels, as well as some poetry and popular science writing.


Clinging to...Hiding from...


This section of Literature & the Moral Imagination examines the related and recurring themes of obsession, addiction and the desire to, the fear of, escape in three works of fiction, two memoirs and one hybrid text that mixes autobiography, fiction and nonfiction.


Food and Justice

This course uses literature to examine social and political power structures and critically analyze inequality and injustice in the US. This course has an immersive learning component, so we will be exploring the way food, in particular, has been a means of both oppression and liberation for marginalized populations. We will examine the cultural aspects of food in life and literature and work with various community partners in Cincinnati and Detroit to help improve social, health, and economic outcomes.

**Note on Extra-Curricular Events There is a small requirement for activities to be conducted outside of class.  One is the virtual engagement day with our Detroit Partners, the other is a virtual food demonstration. Your attendance and participation are required at both events, so plan accordingly. 

Guilt, Forgiveness, Atonement

Most of us learn as small children to apologize for the wrongs we’ve done. When we steal a toy from a classmate, we’re told to say “I’m sorry”; when we’re stolen from and hear this “I’m sorry,” we’re taught to respond by “accepting” the apology. But are guilt and forgiveness really this simple? This course will investigate, through a series of literary, historical, and visual texts, questions of guilt, apology, forgiveness, and atonement (or making amends) in a variety of complicated situations that range from the interpersonal to the intercultural, regarding traumas that are both immediate and historical. Throughout, we will consider the following questions:  

 How do we know when we’re guilty? Are there limits to forgiveness, to atonement? Are we still guilty if we hurt someone while thinking we’re doing the right thing? To what extent do social norms govern right and wrong, and how do we deal with the changing notions of right/wrong—in relation to guilt/forgiveness—within society over time? Do we have the right to forgive someone on behalf of another (be it another person, an ancestor, a group of people who we are taken to represent)? What role do institutions/governments play in forgiveness and atonement? When might forgiveness and/or atonement NOT be just? 


Israel and Palestine: Us, Them, and Us


Israel and Palestine has been a place of division and unrest since even before the formal establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. A number of writers have been using literature to capture and share their experience living in a state of protracted conflict and to challenge injustices committed by both their own community and the Other. This course will examine works from Israelis, Palestinians, and Israeli-Palestinians and consider how the ongoing conflict is negatively impacting citizens and how reducing alterity might improve living standards for all parties. 

Literary Club of Cincinnati

The Literary Club of Cincinnati formed in 1849 with an initial meeting of twenty-five members. Like that club, our class will use literature as an occasion for cultivating sociality and intellectual seriousness. What unites our otherwise disparate texts—speeches, debates, treaties, theories, convention proceedings, as well as poems and novels—is that they were written by people who lived near where we will meet. By reckoning with stories from about two thousand years of Cincinnati’s past (200 B.C. to 1920), you will learn about the city where you have chosen to spend part of your life and accrue a set of valuable skills as you read and write about it.


Melodrama and Telenovelas

In this course, we will read contemporary Mexican American women’s literature through the lens of the telenovela—traditionally a Spanish-language serial drama or soap opera—to examine ethical issues concerning race/ethnicity, gender, class, nation, immigration, language, and violence. We will explore representations of “the sensational” and humor in novels and English-language telenovelas as a means of social and ethical critique.


Memory and Morality

 “Memory and Morality” considers the ethical implications tied to memory. At both a personal and community level, our ability (indeed obligation) to remember the past is challenged by multiple factors. We will consider practical ways in which human memory works as well as society’s power structures that actively manipulate memory (leading to misrepresentation, denial, and misunderstanding of crucial narratives). Course texts include Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home, Toni Morrison’s short story “Recitatif,” Ariel Dorfman’s play Death and the Maiden, and Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl.


#OwnVoices: Authorial Identity in Young Adult Literature

This course will focus on #OwnVoices in young adult (YA) literature. #OwnVoices is a hashtag movement that seeks to center stories of diverse groups by authors from those groups. #OwnVoices moves beyond representation and diversity by asserting that stories from marginalized or underrepresented groups are best told by authors whose lived experience reflects the characters whose stories they tell. In this course, we will study the online movements for diverse stories and the debate about who gets to tell them. We will focus in particular on #OwnVoices in YA fiction, and how #OwnVoices representation is particularly critical to coming-of-age stories. We’ll also focus on the limitations of #OwnVoices, particularly for authors who might be harmed by disclosing their marginalized identities, including LGBTQ+ authors and disabled authors.


Resist, Reshape and Retell

Our focus in this course will be how various stakeholders in literary works (characters, authors, and, yes, we the readers) resist, reshape and retell the ideas that the works bring to the fore



Secret Identities

What is identity? Can a person have more than one identity, and, if so, is one of those identities more authentic than the others? How do people construct identities? When and how and why do we hide certain identities and adopt others instead? What are the potential consequences of such masking? What are the potential consequences of unmasking?

In this section of ENGL 205, we will explore these and similar questions, using popular U.S. literature from the past 100 years. Our texts are a mixture of fiction and memoir—imagined narratives, juxtaposed with real-life accounts. We will begin with racial passing, followed by assimilation and biculturalism, and ending with gender- and sexuality-based covering.

By analyzing identity in these works, this course aims to provide greater insight into the construction and presentation of identities in society. It does so in the hope that, by recognizing and appreciating the diversity of identities surrounding us, we can better understand the people we encounter, better hear their stories, and better share our own.