English Honors Seminars

English Honors Seminars

The seminars allow close communication and interaction between a small number of students and the faculty, enriching the learning process. English Honors courses are open to qualified students in any major with permission of the instructor.

Spring 2018

ENGL 490 Gender and Violence in Shakespeare’s England • Dr. Christi Spain-Savage

Violent acts, physical, psychological, and sexual, were not only contemplated but also gruesomely portrayed on the early modern stage. Jealousy, adultery, murder, rape, incest, and revenge fuel the plots of many of the plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. At the heart of such depictions is the conflict between private desire and public power. Through close reading, careful analysis, and lively discussion, this ENGL 490 Honors Seminar will explore the interplay between violence and authority in a variety of early modern dramas, paying particular attention to the ways in which questions of sex and gender inflect these brutal scenes. We will examine the shifting portrayals of female characters. The wives, widows, maids, sisters, and mothers in these plays are both aggressors and victims of violent acts. Yet we will also consider male characters, particularly profligate kings who are feminized because they mix matters of the state and personal pleasure. Reading drama spanning from roughly the early 1590s to the late 1620s, we will investigate how scenes of violence transformed over time on the early modern stage. 

Fall 2017

ENGL490 Literature & Film after 9/11 • Dr. Keith Wilhite

This seminar explores the relationship between art, politics, and identity in literature and film produced after September 11, 2001. Some of the works we will examine directly invoke the 9/11 terrorist attacks in an attempt, as Don DeLillo writes, "to give memory, tenderness, and meaning to all that howling space." Other works, though not specifically about 9/11, will help us consider how literature and film respond to 21st-century anxieties about globalization, economic inequality, immigration, war, environmental sustainability, and the precariousness of human existence. Readings may include: Cole's Open City, Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Hamid's Exit West, McCann's Let the Great World Spin, Walbert's The Sunken Cathedral, Waldman's The Submission, and Walter's The Zero. Likely films will include: Children of Men, The Hurt Locker, Man on Wire, and War of the Worlds.

Spring 2017

ENGL490 "Bad Romance" • Dr. Chantelle Thauvette

Romance literature, has, historically, received a bad reputation. Its popularity with female readers, its commercial success, its emotional extremes, its investment in problematic patriarchal norms, and its traditional lack of diverse representation often work to disqualify romance from serious literary consideration. Using critical tools from queer and feminist studies, we will re-evaluate and expand the discourses surrounding romance and romance readership, deconstruct the way romances can reify or reject dominant narratives about gender and sexuality, and ask what role fantasies play in shaping cultural norms about power and privilege. We will read widely - starting with fairy tales and early medieval romances and working our way through queer, trans, and other diverse representations of sexuality in contemporary culture.

ENGL490 Arthurian Legend • Dr. Pam Clements

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin the Magician, Queen Guenevere, Morgan la Faye, the marvellous Excalibur:  these characters and  items are familiar to nearly everyone in twenty-first-century America.  The earliest references to Arthur date from 5th-century Wales, although the legends’ most rapid development seems to have taken place in France and England during their twelfth-century flowering of culture and intellect.  Over the centuries, this collection of stories has been told and retold, with each version reflecting the history, ideas and obsessions of its time.  The concept of “the hero” has taken on different meanings in different societies, as definitions of leadership, the just society, warfare, and the roles of men and women have changed. In this honors seminar, we will read several major works of Arthurian literature, ranging from the twelfth-century romances of Chrètien de Troyes to contemporary versions. In each case, we will focus on the way each author uses the legendary material, the way he or she adds to or reinterprets the basic story, and the cultural assumptions behind each version.  We will also have a chance to examine Arthurian stories, themes, and influence in film and other digital formats, such as video games.

Fall 2016

ENGL490 Staging London • Dr. Christi Spain-Savage

From 1550 to 1750 the population of London soared from approximately 120,000 to 675,000, making it the largest and fastest-growing city in all of Europe. London’s surge in size and importance is reflected in the drama of this period, which stages not only important civic institutions, commercial buildings, markets, and prisons but also slum neighborhoods, red-light districts, and other recreational sites so familiar to London theater goers. Through close reading, careful analysis, and lively discussion, this ENGL 490 Honors Seminar will use literary and geographical methodologies in order to examine shifting imaginative constructions of London geography in relation to crime, disease, prostitution, over-crowding, the rising merchant class, and immigrant populations. We will focus primarily on Jacobean, Caroline, Restoration, and early 18th-century drama but will also broaden our understanding of London through maps, prose writing, and poems of the period.

Spring 2016

ENGL490 Film Noir • Dr. Erich Hertz

In the wake of urbanization, industrialization, and modernity in general, a number of twentieth-century filmmakers began to advance a darker view of American identity.  This sensibility finds expression in “filmnoir” (French for “dark” or “black” film).  Thus, where the Western had posited an ethically upstanding hero who is selfless, honorable, and brave, film noir depicts “hard-boiled,” disillusioned detective-protagonists who are often as uncertain about “good” and “evil” as the criminals they pursue.  Similarly, in place of the Western’s endless, sun-soaked vistas, noir presents us with nocturnal cityscapes in which nothing is certain but danger, desire, and the double-cross.  In this sense, then, film noir may be seen as the other side of the Western—as an expression of deep misgivings vis-à-vis traditional American values.  It represents not so much that which we wish we were, but that which we fear we might be. Will will begin with classic film noirs like The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity, but will also discuss "neo-noir" films like The Big Lebowski and Brick.

ENGL490 Zombies! • Dr. Lisa Nevárez

Zombies! have worked hard to earn that exclamation point. After all, they are so disgusting to behold, yet have inspired texts and sparked conversations. We have so much to talk and think about, with this type of monster. After all, the zombie body, in all its gory decay as it shambles and moans, poses such interesting conundrums when it comes to thinking about the body and soul. Are zombies mindless creatures driven purely by "hunger"? Or, are they still....human...but trapped in deteriorating bodies? Or, does the fear factor lie not in the zombies, but in those who survive? How does this rhetoric of disease and contagion and bioterrorism resonate for us today, as we grapple with these threats in the 21st century? We will endeavor to: develop and enhance critical reading skills, further hone research abilities, refine students’ analytic writing, encourage and polish the oral presentation of students’ ideas, situate these texts in sociohistorical context, and foster above all students’ active engagement with the above questions. Students will sharpen their intellects as they work in this seminar, and are expected to rise to the demands of an upper-level Honors course.

Fall 2015

ENGL490 Illness and Medicine in Literature • Dr. Pam Clements

In this seminar we will explore aspects of illness and medicine in works of literature, from the perspectives of patients, doctors, caregivers, and survivors of traumatic illnesses. We will read works in several genres (novel, short story, drama, memoir, poetry) and from several different cultural perspectives and chronological eras.

While the reading list is not absolutely fixed at this time, readings will include works such as: Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor, Aids as Metaphor; Margaret Edson,Wit; Daniel Defoe, Journal of the Plague Year; Mohammed Hanif, Our Lady of Alice Bhatt; Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain; Tony Kushner, Angels in America, Part I; Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith; and Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals. Some short stories and poems will be included as well.

ENGL490 Suburbia: Fiction & Film • Dr. Keith Wilhite

Suburbia! White picket fences and well-kept lawns, automobiles in driveways and spacious homes.  The
 American Dream, right?  Well, as they 
say, it’s complicated.  American novels 
and films offer up fantastic, villainous, and macabre representations of these 
tree-lined neighborhoods.  How did the 
suburbs get such a bum rap?  A
 multifaceted social, cultural, and political history lies between the lines and
 beneath the images.  If you want to know 
how America became a “suburban nation” and how fiction and film can help us
 think more critically about our built and lived environments, then this course is 
for you.  Through careful reading,
 analysis, and discussion, this ENGL 490 Honors Seminar will explore the 
nuclear family, domesticity, social conformity, residential segregation,
 gendered identities, and nostalgia in American fiction and film (1945—present). 

Works of fiction and film may include:  Shirley Jackson's The Road Through the Wall, Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road, Gloria Naylor's Linden Hills, Chang-rae Lee's Aloft, Jami Attenberg's The Middlesteins, The Stepford Wives, Edward Scissorhands, Pleasantville, and Far From Heaven. For more information, contact Dr. Keith
Wilhite (kwilhite@siena.edu).

Spring 2015


ENGL490 Maps in Literature • Dr. Christiane Farnan

The Honors Seminar: Maps in Literature will investigate the meaning and power of maps in literature such as Elizabeth Kostova's THE HISTORIAN, Frank Herbert's DUNE, Joseph O'Connor's  REDEMPTION FALLS and Stephen Baxter's FLOOD.  A variety of characters (among them cartographers, pioneers, vampire hunters, and planetologists) will navigate changing boundaries and landscapes within the contexts of war, climate change, and revolution as well as the shifting of political and cultural identities. The course will explore a variety of genres and and will include an emphasis on geographical studies.

ENGL490 The Family in Literature • Dr. Mary Fitzgerald-Hoyt 

This course will employ a variety of international texts to contemplate the varied and shifting definitions of family, from traditional nuclear families to families unrelated by blood but formed out of emotional necessity to families constructed in a laboratory.  Authors may include, among others, Nadine Gordimer, Kazuo Ishiguro, Colm Toibin, Alistair MacLeod, Edwidge Danticat, and Toni Morrison.  As in any Honors seminar, the class will be student-centered, with emphasis on spirited discussion and critical thinking and writing.

Fall 2014

ENGL490 The Vampire • Dr. Lisa Nevárez

In 2014, it is awfully hard to avoid the image of the vampire. From the final season of True Blood, to Justin Cronin’s bestselling post-apocalyptic vampire fiction, to the tried-and-true plastic fangs for sale everywhere around Halloween, the vampire continues to permeate our culture. While some might argue that zombies have an edge (The Walking Dead? Warm Bodies?), let’s face it: zombies can only moan and groan and look gross while articulate vampires have long life narratives to tell. And they delight in having a (literally) captive audience.

In this seminar we will ask: Why? Why do we remain fascinated with vampires? What are the origins of this literary creature? What permutations has this taken over the years? And, where is the vampire going, since s/he cannot die? These are questions we will discuss and debate and try to answer, as best we can, in this seminar. Some of the texts will be: Stoker’s Dracula, Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In, Meyer’s Twilight, and Howe’s children’s tale of a mysterious bunny, Bunnicula. We will endeavor to: develop and enhance critical reading skills, further hone research abilities, refine students’ analytic writing, encourage and polish the oral presentation of students’ ideas, situate this literature in sociohistorical context, and foster above all students’ active engagement with the above questions. Students will sharpen their intellects as they work in this seminar, and are expected to rise to the demands of an upper-level Honors course.

ENGL490 The Immigrant • Dr. Chingyen Mayer

Twelve percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born. Who immigrates and what is the driving force that prompts them to make the journey to the United States? How is your life and that of the immigrants impacted/transformed as a result of their immigration? How will the immigrants affect the socio-economic, cultural, and political landscape of the United States? Unlike the immigrants who arrived at the beginning of the 20th century, most of the new immigrants to the United States are from Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.  In this honors seminar, we will be reading texts by and about immigrants from Asia, Europe and the Caribbean who now reside in the United States. Some of the issues under discussion are racial and cultural identities, home and exile, language and bilingualism, assimilation and resistance, interracial relationships, social mobility and bicultural conflicts.

Department Chair

Erich Hertz

Erich Hertz

Professor of English and Film Studies

214 Kiernan Hall

(518) 782‑6896