Seminars

"Our gathering is small, to safeguard not its intimacy but its complexity."

-Roland Barthes, "To the Seminar"  

 

Regularly Offered Seminars

ENGLIT 2996 Writing Pedagogy | Cory Holding and Nic Marsellas

This course is a practicum designed to instruct and support graduate students who are beginning their work as teachers in the department. New TFs will teach a section of Seminar in Composition from a shared staff syllabus, will be mentored by CEAT (the Committee for the Evaluation and Advancement of Teaching), and will take this seminar. In the spring term, they will take a graduate Writing Pedagogy II, and continue with the support and mentorship of CEAT. This seminar will meet once a week to discuss a range of issues that frame the teaching of composition. We will focus on reading student writing, revision, pedagogy, and the design of writing assignments. Topics will include: the relationship of reading and writing, writing conventions, social contexts for writing, digital modes of composition, assignments and sequences, evaluation and assessment of writing.

 

Seminar in Pedagogy | Annette Vee and Geoffrey Glover

This course provides the opportunity for first-year teaching assistants and teaching fellows to develop strategies for teaching, to reflect on those strategies, and to consider the larger social, historical and institutional contexts that shape their teaching. The seminar will place students' work in the course they are teaching into dialogue with texts that focus on current critical questions and pedagogical theory and practice across English studies curricula.

 

Rotating Seminars

(offerings change based on faculty and student interests)

 

Spring 2022

ENGLIT 2124 Writing in Global Contexts: Translingual and Mobility Perspectives | Xiqiao Wang

The global flows of capital, information, artifacts, and people have increasingly made us aware of our multilingual reality. Simultaneously, enactments of physical and imaginary "borders" have permeated discourses that seek to restrain such movements. Although language use in classrooms and communities has always been multilingual, increasing linguistic and cultural heterogeneity of students enrolled in US institutions of education has renewed research interests in understanding students' literacy repertoires as mobilized and negotiated. In writing studies particularly, a conceptual turn toward translingualism has shifted our view of language and cultural differences as assets for student learning and objects of scholarly inquiry. Such attention indexes broader moves in literacy studies to conceptualize literacy as implicated with global and local forces, mobilized across languages, genres, and modes, and dynamically negotiated across life worlds. This course will introduce research that theoretically and methodologically explores a phenomenon that is rapidly changing: acts of geographical, linguistic, cultural, and disciplinary border-crossing as an important dimension of our literacy lives. How do writers make sense of their experiences and life worlds across languages, modalities, and spaces? How do researchers follow literacy practices on the move? What do principles of translingualism and mobility theories suggest about pedagogy? These are some of the questions that we inquire by way of readings across rhetoric and composition, literacy studies, and applied linguistics.

 

Fall 2021

ENGLIT 2122 Automating Writing from Amanuenses to AI | Annette Vee

Automating Writing is a historical and technical dive into why people have developed automated writing systems (AWS), what challenges AWS offer, and how to implement AWS using natural language processing and public data sets. The course brings gendered and racialized histories of office automation and amanuenses for the writing-down of narratives from enslaved people in conversation with contemporary questions in artificial intelligence such as whose intelligence is being simulated and how. We will explore: what writing is; power dynamics in writing; the limits of what computers can do; and the relationship of human consciousness to computation. Hands-on work in AWS-related systems include basic programming; Tracery (using Javascript) and InferKit (using GPT-2); Twitterbots; Conway’s game of life; the Leibniz cipher machine held by Pitt ULS. Assignments include reading histories of AWS, writing short blog posts analyzing different historical and contemporary AWS or their products, and playing with algorithms and datasets such as GPT-2 (an AWS that uses machine learning and which is publicly available in a scaled-down version). The final project for the course asks you to break the boundaries of the class: develop a unit to teach something you learned here in Pitt undergrad English courses like Composing Digital Media or Narrative and Technology; an online creative project using automated writing; a public art project; a workshop you run for others and document; or another relevant project of your choice. Through readings on algorithms and historical studies of writing automata such as the Maillardet Automaton, alongside learning how to use an AWS such as GPT-2, students will get both a theoretical and practical introduction to automated writing systems, contemporary writing and machine learning. This course was supported by a grant from Humanities Engage. 

 

Spring 2021

ENGLIT 2046 Science, Humanities, and Public Engagement | Elizabeth Pitts

The current pandemic seems a good time to consider the relationship between science and democratic decision-making. In this course, we will explore theories, methods, challenges, and challenges of public deliberation, especially with respect to science and technology. The course will be offered in conjunction with an art exhibition called Art's Work in the Age of Biotechnology that will take place online in spring 2021. By presenting works in which artists appropriate tools and techniques that have until recently been the exclusive purview of scientists, the exhibit invites viewers to consider what they want from genomic technologies, and why. Similarly, the course invites students to articulate what they want from community engagements, and then put their ideas into practice. We will draw on the exhibit as an opportunity to experiment with a variety of models of interdisciplinary collaboration and public scholarship. Funded by Dr. Pitt's Biotechnology SEED grant

 

Fall 2020

ENGLIT 2549 Introduction to Rhetorical Studies | Peter Campbell 

Rhetorical Methods in Composition Studies" is an advanced introduction in rhetorical techniques for performing scholarship and creative work in and around English departments. Participants will read recent and anti/canonical works of rhetorical scholarship and public-facing work (drawn from composition studies as well as poetry, public address, critical media studies, queer of color critique, fiction, and other textual fields) to build an archive of methods for composing rhetorical criticism and theory in University and other institutional contexts. Course assignments invite students to practice critical contributions to the question of what it means to do rhetoric work in and around University composition programs. Writers across all modes and disciplines are welcome.

 

Spring 2020

ENGLIT 2525 Composition Studies | Ben Miller

This seminar will offer an introduction to Rhetoric/Composition/Writing Studies as an academic discipline – including some of the reasons for, and consequences of, its difficulty finding a name for itself. Drawing on both historical and current scholarship, we will explore threshold concepts of the field and consider the range of both methodologies and subjects engaged by RCWS research. Over the course of the semester, a series of short projects will help students locate themselves in relation to the field, whether they identify as compositionists or not. The final project for the semester will be a colloquium, with students presenting revised versions of their earlier work.

 

Fall 2019

ENGLIT 2547 Critical Literacies and Pedagogies Across Urban Education and Higher Education | Khirsten Scott

This course examines historical, theoretical, and practical relationships among reading, writing, language, culture, and schooling. Specifically, these connections are explored across urban education and higher education learning sites, both in-school and out-of-school. Ultimately, students will be expected to examine the curricular, pedagogical, and theoretical contexts that shape teaching and learning as a bridge to the continued development of their own pedagogical identities.

 

Spring 2019

ENGLIT 2542 Alls my life I has to fight”: Storying Black Resistance | Lou Maraj

(No Desc)

 

ENGLIT 2002 Digital/Critical Interdisciplinary Methods |Annette Vee  

This course will theorize and practice interdisciplinary research methods. A central focus of inquiry is how interdisciplinary research might shift the content and scope of our scholarship. How might it shift our disciplines? What are the gains, losses, and syntheses entailed in that shift? (For example, how might fieldwork benefit literary critical projects?) Readings will address debates in anthropology on fieldwork; oral history methods; and the applicability to the humanities of qualitative research methods from the social sciences. Students will write a final paper in which they launch or develop an interdisciplinary research project that fits their research interests. The paper could be a step towards their manuscripts or dissertations or a more contained project. Sawyer Seminar grant from the Mellon Foundation

 

Fall 2018

ENGLIT 2544 Rhetorical Knowledge Production and Professional Craft | Elizabeth Pitts

Scholars across a variety of disciplines are becoming increasingly interested in the interrelatedness of matter and meaning. In this seminar, we will examine this relationship by placing rhetorical theory in conversation with science studies and organizational studies scholarship on professional practices ranging from laboratory work to coal mining to the making of wine and cheese. Rather than approaching the art of persuasion as a mere vehicle for conveying knowledge gained elsewhere, we will consider rhetoric as a material intervention that continually refashions the boundaries between nature and technology, human and non-human, subject and object. Along the way, we will complement theoretical exploration with hands-on critical making to address questions such as, What counts as meaningful work, to whom, and why?, How do technologies influence the organizing of work and professional identity?, and How are forms of labor intertwined with cultural ideas about gender, race, class, ability, sexuality, and age?

 

ENGLIT 2543  Writing and Radical Rhetoric |Peter Campbell

(No Desc)

 

Spring 2018 

ENGLIT 2509 Ordinary Language | David Bartholomae

This seminar will consider ordinary or everyday language, variously defined. Why “ordinary” language? You cannot have a career in teaching without spending your time with (and standing in relation to) what many would define as the ordinary, the common, the everyday. Ordinary language is what stands before or outside language that is literary, elevated, specialized, technical, professional, official, sanctioned, approved—you can extend the list for yourself. The ordinary stands as a point of reference. It is often figured as a starting place and seldom as a goal. Readings will include a collection of student essays, some standard work in composition (Shaughnessy, Slevin, Coles, Elbow) and a selection of work in rhetoric, pedagogy, literary theory, and philosophy, with particular attention to I.A. Richards, Raymond Williams, Ludwig Wittgenstein, J.L. Austin, Jacques Derrida, William Labov, Mary Louis Pratt, Toril Moi, Richard Poirier, and Stanley Cavell. In past seminars, students have written on topics related to film and literature as well as composition and rhetoric.

 

Fall 2017

ENGLIT 2570  Materialities of Writing | Annette Vee

What difference does it make whether we write with pencils, stone tablets, quills, parchment, hyperlinks, computer code, scrolls or codices? Do our thinking or our society change with the styluses and surfaces we use to record it? How much of modern bureaucracy can be chalked up to the permanence and flexibility of paper and the organizational innovations of filing systems? How do computer databases enable government surveillance as well as sophisticated literary narratives? First explored by scholars such as Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan, questions about the materialities of writing have again become central to research on electronic texts, the history of the book, and the ways that software and objects accompany our compositional practices. In this seminar, we will focus on writing and materiality, paying attention to historical technologies as well as contemporary, computational contexts of writing. We will move, roughly, from scenes of writing to surfaces, symbols, sendings, storage, and social situations of writing, avoiding following a linear historical trajectory in order to focus on larger themes of materiality. Authors will include Drucker, Hayles, Barthes, Flusser, Shipka, Kirschenbaum, Gitelman, McLuhan, T. Gillespie, A. Banks. To draw attention to the materialities of writing, assignments — assignments — will ask you to compose not necessarily in traditional, written academic genres but in text, code, online spaces and physical objects. The course blog will be a shared space for weekly writing about these assignments and readings. The final project for the course will be an extension of your choice of one of these smaller assignments.

 

ENGLIT 2608 Genres and Genre Theory | Paul Kameen

This course examines the always intrinsic interactivity between critical theory and creative writing, in relation both to broad historical “movements” and to individual creative enterprise. We will focus on multiple genres, including hybridic forms, at two specific historical moments: the 1970s-80s, when postmodernist critical systems emerged in concert with reconfigured genres on the creative side; and right now, as alternatives are taking their place in both arenas. In the latter case, your own writing and that of your mentor-models, both creative and critical, will be among our subject texts. 

 

Spring 2017

ENGLIT 2525 Composition Studies | Ben Miller

This seminar will offer an introduction to Rhetoric/Composition/Writing Studies as an academic discipline – including some of the reasons for, and consequences of, its difficulty finding a name for itself. Drawing on both historical and current scholarship, we will explore threshold concepts of the field and consider the range of both methodologies and subjects engaged by RCWS research. Over the course of the semester, a series of short projects will help students locate themselves in relation to the field, whether they identify as compositionists or not. The final project for the semester will be a colloquium, with students presenting revised versions of their earlier work.

 

Fall 2016

ENGLIT 2499 Digital Pedagogy | Matthew Lavin

This course examines recent interventions in digital pedagogy in the humanities, with a particular focus on intersections with literary studies, film studies, composition, and creative writing. Today, technological innovation is at once seen as both a hotly contested, ideologically informed subject, and a potential force for creative disruption in higher education: Elizabeth Losh sees a “war on learning” in the age of Turnitin.com and Cathy Davidson sees technology playing a crucial role the radical remaking of how we learn. Rather than focusing on “best practices” for teaching with digital tools, this course will consider the political, social, and cultural underpinnings of various digital pedagogy movements, as well as the way scholars like Clement, Davidson, Losh, and Sayers have framed their work in relation to a rapidly shifting technological and academic context. Assignments will ask students to compose in traditional, written academic genres as well as engage in critically informed digital making, with an emphasis on they might reshape approaches to teaching and learning. No prior knowledge of software or coding skills is assumed or required. Likewise, this course is available to students with any amount of teaching experience.

 

ENGLIT 2528 Four Rhetorical Theorists: Aristotle, Kenneth Burke, Mikhail Bakhtin, Bruno Latour | Don Bialostosky

The seminar will read key texts of four major theorists whose work has been and continues to be fruitful for composition, literature, and criticism and will sample some recent inquiries and arguments informed by their work.  The first two address rhetoric directly as part of their more capacious intellectual enterprises, the latter two, without foregrounding rhetoric, touch upon it in their larger projects in ways that scholars across the humanities have found productive.  We will be interested in the imaginable dialogues among these thinkers, in the places in their work that have been generative, and in potentially interesting ideas of theirs that have not yet been taken up.  All of these thinkers cross our current disciplinary boundaries in ways that would interest students of composition, literature, criticism, writing, and communication, and student inquiries engaging them in those fields would be all welcome course projects.

 

ENGLIT 2608 Genres and Genre Theory | Paul Kameen

This course examines the always intrinsic and complementary interactivity between critical theory and creative writing, in relation both to broad historical “movements” and to individual creative enterprise. We will focus on multiple genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry) at two specific historical moments: the 1970s, when postmodernist systems emerged in concert with reconfigured genres on the creative side; and right now, as alternatives are taking their place in both arenas.  In the former case, we will look at a range of now-famous texts by writers and theorists. In the latter case, your own writing and that of your preferred mentor-models, both creative and critical, will be our subject texts. This course is designed for entering MFA students.  More advanced students and students in other graduate degree programs will be admitted if there is room.

 

Spring 2016

ENGLIT 2507 Queer Inscriptions | Peter Campbell

“Queer Inscriptions” examines the ways in which bureaucratic and judicial actors use language to inscribe normative raced, sexualized, and gendered subjectivity through and onto bodies, as well as various possibilities for resisting, revising, and queering these inscriptions. What agency is available for persons to direct the force of inscription, and to refract inscriptional rhetoric back onto institutions? If we are written, in what ways can we write back?

Participants will be invited to consider “inscription” as a hermeneutic for several topics related to bodies, identity, and institutional language, including: trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer rhetorical and legal theory; the state regulation of race, sex and gender identity; the bureaucratic operation of incarceration and punishment systems; immigration and asylum; the judicial regulation of “race-conscious” school policies; and race and sexuality in labor negotiation.

The semester will ideally help students gain practical and poetical tools for writing and inscribing identity and subjectivity within their own scholarly, professional, political, and everyday lives. Writers across modes and disciplines are welcome.

Course readings are likely to include works by authors such as Brenda J. Allen, Jonathan Alexander, Judith Butler, Cathy Cohen, Qwo-Li Driskill, Sara McKinnon, Erica Meiners, Janet Halley, Kent Ono, Claudia Rankine, Chandan Reddy, Ishamel Reed, Barbara Smith, Dean Spade, Siobhan B. Somerville, and Leti Volpp. 

 

ENGLIT 2850  Digital Archives, Book History, and Literary Circulation | Stephen Carr

Various developments in the history of the book and the digital humanities have newly focused critical attention on issues of circulation, remediation, and the diverse afterlives of the literary work.  On-line databases, for example, have made it readily possible to trace the various uptakes and re-appropriations of works in new venues and formats, in ways that only a few author-centered studies have managed, and newly visible practices of reprinting, abridgement, remediation, re-purposing, and the like challenge practices of textual editing and notions of literary history. This seminar will investigate circulation as a crucial mediation between production and reception. Much of its materials will be drawn from the long nineteenth century, especially works situated in trans-Atlantic systems of exchange, with case studies in children’s literature and in the emergent canon of poetry in English, and there will be a good deal of exploring digital archives in pursuit of the practices of print culture. As a result, we will necessarily also need to be thinking through issues of the digital at the present moment, of the uses and limits of different kinds of digital databases and digitally enabled methods of investigation. Final projects may work from the developing arguments of the course to different historical periods or topics of individual interest.

 

Fall 2015

ENGLIT 2850   Computational Media | Annette Vee

In this course, we will consider the affordances, processes, protocols and potential of computational media.

But: *all* media are now computational. Communicative and creative media artifacts are inevitably composed with, circulated through, and shaped by computation. Through computers and digital networks, computation is slipping into domains once dominated by text, with corresponding reverberations in our compositional and cultural practices. Looking at computation through the lens of media production and consumption, we will ask: What does computation mean for reading and writing? What makes a media artifact computational, and what practices must we cultivate to interact with it? Helping us to explore these questions will be theoretical work by Bogost, Galloway, Chun, Brunton, Losh, Wardrip-Fruin, C. Crawford, and J. Brown. We'll also read computational literature, play video games, and create computational texts. No previous technical knowledge is required.

 

ENGLIT 2532   History of Rhetoric: Figurative Language | Paul Kameen

Figurative language has had, from the outset, a vexed status in Western philosophical/rhetorical systems, conceived by some as an aberrant form of representational discourse, by others as the most foundational unit of meaning.  This course will examine selected texts from four specific historical moments, each of which handles the conundrum in a different manner: the Classical period (Plato, Aristotle, Longinus); the Romantic period (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Emerson, Whitman, Dickinson); the Modern period (T.S. Eliot, H. D., W.C. Williams, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, I. A. Richards, Cleanth Brooks), and the Postmodern period (Jacques Derrida, Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe, Lyn Hejinian, Charles Olson, Sylvia Plath, and Ed Dorn.) The readings will be both poetry and prose.

 

Spring 2015

ENGLIT  2006   Close and Distant Reading | Stephen Carr

Appeals to "close reading" are ubiquitous in critical and pedagogical practices across the fields and affiliated disciplines of English, yet the term covers quite different and even antithetical methods in ways that often remain unacknowledged. Moreover, since close reading became consolidated throughout the academy, numerous questions have emerged about the use, or value, or status of ever proliferating readings of canonical texts (or of new objects of study—student writing, films, new media, marginalized literary cultures, etc.). "Distant reading," a term polemically introduced by Franco Moretti and now broadly associated with the Digital Humanities, responds to some of the limit conditions of close reading, and seeks to establish a new research paradigm, though it too has its well documented problems. About half the seminar will be devoted to the careful study of some exemplary performances of, and leading arguments for and about, both these modes of reading. The rest will be given over to an active experimentation in modeling current practices of reading, adapting successful forms of criticism and pedagogy to new circumstances, and exploring emergent ways of doing English (in its most expansive articulations) at the present moment. Members of the seminar will present to the class what they consider to be especially influential or powerful instances of reading in their field or discipline, partly as a critical self-inventory and partly as an occasion for productive transfers or crossings across different academic interests.

 

ENGLIT 2560   Narratives of Teaching and Learning | Nick Coles

This course will explore a wide range of narrative strategies for representing teaching and learning in pedagogical scholarship, literary texts, and film.  We will study the ways scholars and writers dramatize and reflect on their own teaching and that of others, and we’ll pay special attention to how teachers characterize students’ learning – its occurrence, meaning, and value. A basic premise of the course is that representations of teaching and learning are necessarily partial and provocative.   What are the potentialities and problems of narrative as a mode of representation for education?  Are some narratives more responsible than others?  How can we tell?  What does it mean to write “effectively” or “ethically” about one’s teaching or learning? Along with developing a research project, students will try their hand at narrating moments in their own teaching or learning in particular classrooms or other contexts.

 

ENGLIT 2506   Women and Literacy | Jean Ferguson Carr

How does gender alter the experience and effects of literacy? How have critics and historians in composition, literacy, gender, and literary culture represented women and literacy—as a research project and a critical issue? This course will investigate how formulations of literacy are disturbed by gender and by particular historical contexts. We will consider how women’s literacy has been constructed, shaped by schooling and criticism, and framed in relationship to readers’ expectations. How have women readers and writers of particular cultural moments negotiated the terms of their reading, writing, speaking, publication, and reception? We will explore situated tensions about women’s literacy in U.S. culture: constructions of schooling and childhood literacy, emerging notions of “women’s genres,” the rise in female readership and authorship in the early 19th-century, the entry of women in colleges, and the political and critical challenge shaped by feminist projects of the 1960s and 70s. We will read materials written by women, as well as materials prepared to advise, educate, and criticize women (and girls), and we will read various critical projects that attempt to account for women’s literacy as distinct and distinctive, as a problem and a possibility. Students will develop a cultural /historical project of their own, using various kinds of literacy materials to explore women’s literacy, language, education, and reception.

 

Fall 2014

ENGLIT 2509   Ordinary Language | David Bartholomae

This seminar will consider ordinary language (variously defined) and its bearing on composition and the teaching of writing. Readings will include an anthology of student essays, some standard work in composition (Shaughnessy, Williams, Slevin, Coles, Elbow, Kameen, Sinor), selections from two books on Robert Frost (Poirier and Jost), and a selection of work in rhetoric, pedagogy, literary theory, and philosophy, with particular attention to I.A. Richards, Ludwig Wittgenstein, J.L. Austin, Raymond Williams, and Stanley Cavell.