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ENGL 4800: Senior Seminar
Spring 2011

Dr. Paula R. Backscheider
9082 Haley Center
(334) 844-9091

This seminar is the first trial of the department’s new capstone course and is open to studentw with senior status. According to a national organization, a capstone course should round out English students’ program of study and enable them to integrate the skills and knowledge acquired during their years of study in the English major or minor. It should be unusually collaborative, encouraging teacher and students to become “critical co-investigators in dialogue” as they study some of the most important developments in the field and come to a better understanding of what professors in the field do. Cultural Studies, its theories and methods, have profoundly changed the field of English studies, and it is estimated that 85% of all books and articles published in the last ten years show this influence. For that reason, on the theoretical level, the seminar will be an introduction to Cultural Studies methods, and students will be given an object to practice on. As an eighteenth-century British literature specialist, I have selected 5-6 genres that began in that century and that have grown and are important today. Each eighteenth-century masterpiece will be paired with a twentieth- or twenty-first century text in the same genre. Among these genres are the novel, the problem play, literary biography, books for small children, and she-tragedies. My teaching evaluations are on my website.

Requirements: Several short assignments, written and oral; a short paper, and a research paper.

Required Texts:

  • Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson, ed. George Sherburn (Houghton Mifflin, now Cengage/Wadsworth, 1961). ISBN 0395051649
  • A Glossary of Cultural Theory, by Peter Brooker (Arnold/Oxford, 2004). ISBN 0340807016
  • Bartleby the Scrivener and Benito Cereno, by Herman Melville (Dover, 1990). ISBN 0486264734
  • Samuel Johnson: Selected Poetry and Prose, by Samuel Johnson, ed. Frank Brady and William Wimsett (University of California Press, 1978). ISBN 9780520035522
  • The Dialogic Imagination, by Mikhail Bakhtin (University of Texas Press, 1981). ISBN 9780292715349
  • The School for Scandal and Other Plays, by Richard Sheridan, ed. Michael Cordner (Oxford UP, 2008). ISBN 0199540098
  • Ibsen: Four Major Plays, Henrik Ibsen (Oxford UP, 2008). ISBN 0199536198


Jan. 10: Introduction; selection of object; Declaration of Independence.

24: Samuel Johnson, The Life of Savage and debate. Biography of object due.

31: Richard Selzer, “A Mother’s Fury”**: Noriyuki Harada, “Facts, Methods, and Literary Creativity in Samuel Johnson’s Life of Savage **; Helen Deutsch, “‘The Name of an Author’: Moral Economics in Johnson’s Life of Savage” **; Debate on Wharton biographies.

Feb. 7: Reception history of object with contextualized key moments due with annotated bibliography. Johnson, Preface to the Dictionary, Rambler nos. 84 and 191; Idler, no. 14; and Hunter Thompson, “The Hell’s Angels, A Strange and Terrible Saga**; Op-ed selections**.

14: Continued discussion of 7 February readings; Richard Sheridan, The Critic; Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, Essay 2, pp. 41-68

21: Paper due. Dialogic Imagination, Essay 2, pp. 68-83; Samuel Richardson, Clarissa with inserts**, to pp. 245.

28: Clarissa, complete.

March 7: Clarissa discussion continued; round table based on modern criticism of Clarissa.


21: Presentations of final paper topics. Hermann Melville, Benito Cereno.

28: Dialogic Imagination, essay 4, applied to Clarissa and Benito Cereno.

April 4: Little Goody Two Shoes (on ECCO: see directions to accessing on Blackboard) and 2 sets of modern children’s books.

11: Sheridan, School for Scandal; Hendrik Ibsen, Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House.

18: Ibsen, The Master Builder; Elizabeth Inchbald, Such Things Are (on ECCO); Laetitia Barbauld, Epistle to William Wilberforce**.

25: Research presentations. Papers due.


** On Blackboard