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Undergraduate Courses

The Department of Language, Literature, and Writing offers a huge variety of classes every semester. In addition to the courses you'll find in the undergraduate classes, we frequently offer one-time or occasional classes on special topics. This page includes descriptions from some of the unique classroom experiences we've offered LLW students.


Hardboiled

This course will examine the quintessentially American genre of hardboiled crime fiction. We will investigate the various origins of the genre: Poe’s “invention” of the detective story; the philosophical worldview of the Naturalist period; and the aesthetic and stylistic characteristics of American Modernism. Of special interest will be the historical circumstances surrounding the genre’s development, as we will study the texts in relation to the anxieties and social transformations wrought by the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II, and the Cold War. Finally, we will explore how film noir emerges from the crucible of American hardboiled fiction.


What We’ve Done With Shakespeare: Cultural Adaptations and Appropriations of the Bard in Film, Art, Comics, and Social Media

“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

This semester-long study will examine our historical collective cultural response to the works of William Shakespeare. We will begin with a brief overview of Shakespearean adaptation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, then focus significantly on film adaptations (film will comprise some 60-75% of our work) in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (working through examples from the silent era to the present) and then consider how other types of media (painting, comics, audio recordings, radio broadcasts, internet memes, and social media) have helped shape twentieth and twenty-first century understandings of Shakespeare’s plays. We will also talk about Shakespeare’s reciprocal relationship with the American classroom, how his works have been adapted and shaped historically by teachers and schools as well as how schools have shaped broader cultural perceptions of the bard. This is an ideal course for those interested in Shakespeare, theater, cultural studies, film history, and/or education.


Lit and Film

An exploration of the long-standing and often tumultuous relationship between words and images through the comparative study of literature and film. Focusing on the process of adaptation, we will examine the process of transforming the written word into an art of light and shadow, of images and sounds. We will spend a great deal of time discussing and writing about the evolution of ideas, characters, methods, and themes as they move from page to screen.


The End of the World As We Know It: 21st Century Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

Over the past few decades, many writers, especially those not affiliated with the genre of science fiction, have produced what many call speculative novels, in which they wonder what our world might look like in the near future. Each world is unique; each writer’s vision is both profoundly troubling and hopeful. These works offer us the opportunity to think through the ethical implications of our world in the 21st century. Some works use satire to criticize our world, while others simply shed light on contemporary issues (genetic engineering, climate change, the rise of global pandemics). More importantly, by envisioning worlds after apocalyptic events have occurred, these writers challenge us to consider our very existence: Is a solitary human still able to live a meaningful existence? Can there be humanity without society? Stripped of our material possessions and stable governments, what are we left with? To what degree is the “human condition” as we know it culturally constructed? These questions have always been central to the creation and study of literature, but are increasingly important in the face of a rapidly changing world.


American Empire Builders

This course will examine American fiction and film spanning the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Our foci will be projects of American empire, their social and cultural influences, and, especially, the empire-building psychology underlying each endeavor.

The first unit of the course will study the extension of the American railroad in the nineteenth century, depicted by Norris’ The Octopus, as well as the personal obsession of Robert Penn Warren’s Willie Stark in All the King’s Men to earn respect and forge a personal and political empire. These texts will be supplemented by two films: Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and Orson Welles’ classic, Citizen Kane. The former addresses the frontier myth of the westering imperial spirit while the protagonists of both films, Daniel Plainview and Charles Foster Kane, share the single-minded vision of personal empire building.

In our second unit, we’ll examine how latter twentieth-century imperial projects achieve international and intercontinental reach. Joan Didion’s Democracy will be our starting point for discussions of the Cold and Vietnam wars, while Paul Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast revolves around an American’s “cultural improvement” project in Central America. Our study of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Part II, will further address the theme of personal empire as it plays out in Vito and Michael Corleone’s ambitions, and will also address Michael’s desire to exert hemispheric influence by expanding the family empire into Cuba. We’ll conclude the course with Philip Caputo’s Acts of Faith, a novel about non-governmental organization workers in Sudan in the late 1990s and the imperially bad effects of their good humanitarian intentions. Supplemental reading may include selections from Amy Kaplan, Patricia Limerick, Richard Slotkin, Kevin Starr, and Didion’s non-fiction.


Do You Speak Missourian?

This course examines language variation and change in American Englishes, especially in dialects spoken in Missouri. We’ll review canonical sociolinguistic research to identify ways people do things with language, to reveal social meanings encoded in language and linguistic practices, and to describe varieties of American English. We’ll also study research on Missouri Englishes to understand how local communities participate in broader regional and social patterns. Most importantly, we’ll work as sociolinguists to gather real-word data on English in Missouri, and conduct empirical analysis to build new contributions to knowledge of local language variation and change. The course may be taken for undergraduate or graduate credit; enrollment for graduate credit requires additional work.