Past Courses

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Undergraduate Courses

Graduate Courses

University of California, Davis 
ENGL 246: Literature and Alchemy
Professor: Dr. Tiffany Jo Werth 
Winter 2019 

The seventeenth-century was an exciting time to live. One dynasty died out (theTudors) and another was beheaded (the Stuart); religious reform sparked civil war that pitted fathers against daughters, neighbors against neighbors; scientific speculation refigured nature; the very fabric of knowledge and being—matter and its elements—was split open to new interpretation. In short, all was, as Donne famously remarks, called “into doubt.” This course aims to study the creative energies such turmoil unleashed.  Our controlling metaphor will be the form of knowledge known as alchemy, a discipline which aims to transform not only base metals into gold but to figure the spiritual and psychological transformation of the individual. Its principal esoteric and religious symbolism enriches culturally important topics as diverse as early modern eroticism, natural philosophy, early science, spiritual elevation, technological experimentation, and, of course, the poetic imagination.

 We will study selected works of seventeenth-century poetry and/or prose, with a particular attention to close reading (literary devices and themes) and range from the metaphysical poems of John Donne to the ‘atomic’ poems of Margaret Cavendish.


Undergraduate Courses

University of British Columbia 
ENGL 553: 
Anthropocene: Nomenclatures, Histories, Criticism.
Instructor: Dr. Vin Nardizzi
Winter 2017

We live in an epoch that scientists have named the Anthropocene. But what, exactly, is that? This seems a question with an easy, if devastating, answer: the era of “man-made” (and irreversible) geologic change. In an effort to elaborate the complexities embedded in this answer, this seminar will introduce students to the multidisciplinary literatures that have recently and increasingly constellated around this designation. We shall examine scientific accounts that aim to establish (and ratify) the origin of the Anthropocene and to predict its global effects on climate and sea levels. We shall also read scholarship that critiques the underlying assumptions about the Anthropocene. We shall explore alternate nomenclatures for it (Anthrobscene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene) as well as the different narratives that these designations condense. And, finally, we shall take a semester-long view of the forms and formats that criticism has taken in response to the Anthropocene to measure, insofar as we can, whether this epoch is also changing the way scholars are conducting and communicating research.

Simon Fraser University
ENGL 410W: Topics in Early Modern English non-dramatic Literature

Fall 2017
Instructor: Dr. Tiffany Werth

This course holds two interrelated aims: first, to consider how seemingly recent concerns about environmental sustainability and resilience within ecological thought may have roots reaching back to the world of Renaissance literature; and second, to ask how we as located moderns living on the west coast engage with premodern thought. How might our assumptions about early modern attitudes toward animals, birds, vegetation, and the physical landscape inflect our own perception of the natural world? The course takes its structure from the pervasive scala naturae (scale of nature), what modern critics have taken to calling the Great Chain of Being, which was imagined to stretch from heaven to earth, linking God, angels, humans, worms, and stone. We will consider theories of ontology—such as what makes a being, is matter stable or metamorphic, how is change determined, and what determines humans’ relationship to their environs? As we do so, we will bear in mind environmental humanist Ursula Heise’s call for an “eco-cosmopolitanism,” that imagines the global, as time as well as geography, through a local and present frame. In our reading, we will explore some of the seminal texts of Renaissance literature—including Thomas More’s utopian experiment, Spenser’s hybrid land of the Faerie Queene, the lyric vegetal ruminations of Marvell, Montaigne’s near heretical musings on creaturely life, and Milton’s attempt to justify the ways of God to men—alongside contemporary philosophies such as vitalism, new materialism, and ecocriticism.

Graduate Courses

University of British Columbia
ENGL 510: Eco-critical Approaches to Early Literature: Beowulf.

Fall 2017
Instructor: Dr. Mo Pareles

In the face of ecological crisis, new forms of criticism have arisen to rebuke and remedy unsustainable dualisms between (on the one hand) nature, the inanimate, animals, bodies, objects of study, and the feminine, and (on the other) humans, culture, mind, creativity, analysis, and the masculine. In various ways, ecocriticism and its related methodologies—animal studies, speculative realism, and science studies—have challenged some of the most cherished protocols of Western knowledge production. Because these structures of knowledge are so entangled with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European thought, they have been particularly inadequate to the interpretation of earlier texts, or those produced far from colonial centers of knowledge production. Such literature, then, provides particularly rich opportunities for ecocritical analysis.

This course takes the Old English poem Beowulf, which has been a proving ground for so many theoretical regressions and renewals, as a case study for ecocritical and animal studies approaches to premodern literature. Inhuman forces (gold, seas, monsters, and many more) pervade this cryptic Old English tale of a warrior king, and the manuscript itself– a thousand-year-old book that has been mistreated and badly burned, with ragged edges and missing pages—exerts its own curious pull on the critical imagination. What happens when we decenter the human characters and allow these powers full access to our attention? In addition to discussing some of the current debates within medieval (especially early medieval) studies on ecocriticism and animal studies, we will also investigate how periodization and the legacies of colonialism and nationalism have informed previous readings of Beowulf, and discuss what categories and concepts we might use going forward. We will read Thomas Meyer’s experimental translation, with its rich poetics of place, and take advantage of our own location in place and time to engage particularly with contemporary Canadian and indigenous ecocritics such as Peter Cole, Nicole Shukin, Pauline Wakeham, and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.

Huntington Library and Simon Fraser University
Field Course in Renaissance Literature/ENGL
 831, Studies in Renaissance Literature
Renaissance Reformations: religion, print, and the natural world
Summer 2017
Instructors: Dr. John Craig & Dr. Tiffany Werth

Image: Creation by Lucas Cranach the Elder. From the Original Luther Bible, 1534.

The invention of the printing press and the translation of the Bible into English changed how people understood and interacted with the world around them. As religious doctrine splintered into competing truth claims, observation of the natural world, what Brian Ogilvie calls a “culture of describing,” gained momentum. The term “nature” and the human relationship to the non/human realms of animal, vegetable, and mineral as well as that of the supernatural realm (gods, demons, angels, saints) came under scrutiny. This course explores how the three forces of an emergent technology (print), church reform, and the “new philosophy” would redefine the early modern human engagement with his/her environment. Viewing the Renaissance as a key moment in the long history of environmental narratives, the course aims to consider how seemingly recent concerns about the anthropocene may have roots reaching back to the world of Renaissance literature.

Situated within the ongoing SFU / UBC Oecologies’ research collective (, this course will introduce students to early modern British literature at a graduate level and to archival research in early print and manuscript materials at the Huntington Library, as well as encourage students to engage with the provocative ways in which premodern culture imagined its interpellation with the creaturely and non/human world.

This course has two segments: Introduction to Huntington Library Archives (field module held at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA): 21 – 28 May, & Simon Fraser University summer session 26 June  – 7 August 2017


Undergraduate Courses

University of British Columbia
ENGL 110, Approaches to Literature – Imagining Nature

Fall 2016
Instructor: Dr. Vin Nardizzi

Through the study of drama, fiction, film, poetry, students will outline some of the relationships between criticism and literature. Intended for students who have a strong interest in literature, this course will introduce all students to the fundamentals of university-level literary study and will furnish them with the skills to think and to write critically about literature. In lectures and in discussion groups, students will explore basic literary concepts as well as methods of literary analysis to enable them to excel in more specialized English courses at the second-year level and beyond.

The theme for this course, “Imagining Nature,” aims to provide a focus for students who may find the reading materials unfamiliar or challenging. Our readings and discussions will engage how literature imagines nature. These questions are central to our endeavour: how does literature shape our relationship to nature, and does literature about nature help us to think and act differently in an era of climate change? Our syllabus will be divided into mini-themes, all of which represent a powerful way that literature has imagined nature: “catastrophe” and “pastoral,” “picturesque” and “sublime,” and“cultivation” and “wilderness.”

We’ll mainly read poetry (Andrew Marvell, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Virgil, Sir Philip Sidney,Christopher Marlowe, Walter Ralegh, Ben Jonson, William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Gordon, Lord Byron); some prose (Jamaica Kincaid, Lydia Davis, Joseph Conrad, Ann Radcliffe); less drama (Tom Stoppard and William Shakespeare) and then watch one film (Wall-E).

University of British Columbia
ENGL 490, Literature Majors Seminar (3 credits)

Cli-Fi: Climate Fiction, or How Do We Witness Disaster?
Spring 2017
Instructor: Dr. Robert Rouse

In recent years a new genre of speculative fiction has become increasingly popular; one that examines the impact of humans on the natural environment, and which speculates on the impacts of continuing climate change on modern human civilization. Cli-Fi – or Climate Fiction – has become a genre of pressing importance in recent years, acting as both a meditation upon and a warning against the now-inevitable impacts of global climate change. In contrast with post-Barthean notions of authorial agency, Cli-Fi also speaks with the urgency of activism; authors speak of their intent to make a difference, to change behaviours, to sound the warning bells that will engage change. Texts will include short stories, novels, and film, and will be read in conversation with critical and scientific writing. The course seeks to answer the question of how do we witness the disasters to come?

Graduate Courses

University of British Columbia
ENGL 502A-002, Studies in Criticism (3 credits) – Ecocriticism

Instructor: Dr. Robert Rouse
Fall 2017

This course will provide a graduate level introduction to Ecocritical Theory and Practice in the discipline of English. We will begin by examining the origins of of Ecocriticism alongside the rise of western environmentalism in the 1960s and 70s, before tracing the development of Ecocritical theory and the establishment of the field of Literature and the Environment in the 1990s, through to our own moment and the rise of the Environmental Humanities. Topics will include eco-poetry, ecofeminism, material ecocriticism and the ontological turn, intersectional ecocriticisms, debates about the Anthopocene, and the rise of Climate Fiction as a genre.

The course will not cover any one period of literature, but will instead seek to equip students with the theoretical and methodological tools to read ecocritically across literary material of their own choosing. Assessment will include a theoretical reading journal, a number of short response papers, and an analytical research paper.

Simon Fraser University
ENGL 830, Studies in Medieval Literature (3 credits)
The Black Death and the Literature of Medieval England

Instructor: Dr. David Coley

John Froissart’s terse summation of the fourteenth-century plague pandemic, “in 1347 a third of the world died,” turns out to bean understatement. Recent estimates culled from chronicle and documentary evidence as well as from modern epidemiological techniques put the mortality figures for the Black Death between 50 and 60 percent of Europe’s population,reaching even higher in the hardest hit regions. The demographic aftershocks of the catastrophe, a population collapse from which Europe would not fully recover until the mid-sixteenth century, affected every aspect of late-medieval life, causing or catalyzing many of the religious, economic, political, and social upheavals still used to mark the hazy line separating the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Curiously, while writers on the Continent frequently address the event of the plague directly — we might cite Giovanni Boccacio’s long description of disease’s progress through Florence or Guillaume Machaut’s moving lament for “great heaps of women, youths, / Boys, old people, those of all stations . . . dead from the buboes” — the literature of post-plague England shows a surprising reserve in dealing with the pestilence.True, Chaucer sets his “Pardoner’s Tale” in Flanders during an outbreak that “hath a thousand slayn” (CT VI 679) and Langland mentions”kene soores / As pokkes and pestilences” (B.20.97-105) near the conclusion of Piers Plowman, but the comparison between the subdued references in English poetry and the graphic evocations of the disease in Continental writing tends to reinforce the opinion, expressed most influentially by Siegfried Wenzel, that “the medieval plague experience left a surprisingly small and unremarkable imprint on the artistic consciousness and imagination inEngland.”

This course will focus on several major English works of the post-plague period, including the Canterbury Tales, The Book of the Duchess,Piers Plowman, and the writings of the Gawain-Poet, as well as less canonical works like Wynnere and Wastoure, The Parlement of Thre Ages, and The Disputacione betwyx the Body and Wormes, in order to reassess the relationship between the Black Death and Middle English literature. In doing so, it will also engage with the growing body of criticism, both heavily theoretical and deeply historicist, striving not only to establish connections between plague and poetry, but also to understand the frequently understated and sometimes surprising forms in which those connections were manifest, the ways in which medieval English poets represented a traumatic event that fundamentally exceeded representation, the words they used to speak the unspeakable.


Undergraduate Courses

Simon Fraser University
ENGL 410W, Topics in Early Modern English Non-Dramatic Literature (4 credits)
Singing Shepherds: The Pastoral Poet in the English Renaissance

Instructor: Nathan Szymanski

This course will provide a study, rooted in the English Renaissance, of pastoral poetry and its accompanying models of love, lust,loss, sex, friendship, and competition. Our initial focus will be to analyze poems that respond to Classical literary forebears of the pastoral (Theocritus and Virgil). Then, over the course of the semester, we will track the proliferation of pastoral motifs into diverse poetic genres in England, first and foremost the epic, but also the ‘minor’ genres of the epyllion (mock epic),estate poem, and elegy.Questions this course will investigate include the following: What is the basis of literary or poetic relationships during the period? Which models of lust and love become most associated with the pastoral? How does one embark upon a poetic / literary career? Why do so many Renaissance poets adopt the names of Classical shepherds? Alongside foundational pastoral criticism, we will read a diverse range of scholarship (studies of influence, Queer studies) to help us answer these questions and pose many others. But,mainly we will look closely at the poems themselves to see what they have to say. We will read poems by Barnabe Googe, Edmund Spenser, Mary Sidney Herbert, Philip Sidney, Christopher Marlowe, Walter Raleigh, John Donne, Richard Barnfield, Ben Jonson, Robert Herrick, John Milton, and Andrew Marvell, among others.

University of British Columbia
ENGL 490, Majors Seminar – Literature (3 credits)
Some Versions of Renaissance Pastoral

Instructor: Dr. Vin Nardizzi

In this seminar we shall explore examples of English pastoral literature from the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries. Since we would be hard pressed to provide a satisfactory definition of what “the pastoral” is, our central concern will be the multiple, shifting versions of pastoral figures that English Renaissance writers employed. We will study period translations of Theocritus, Vergil, and Horace; the pastoral verse of Christopher Marlowe, Richard Barnfield, Ben Jonson, and Edmund Spenser; the pastoral prose and poetry of Philip Sidney; and the pastoral drama of Shakespeare, John Fletcher, and Giovanni Guarini (in translation). Our texts will be accompanied by brief (but potent) readings by Raymond Williams, William Empson, Giorgio Agamben, Julian Yates, Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Peter Erickson, Stephen Guy-Bray, Bruce Smith, Valerie Traub, Annabel Patterson, Paul Alpers, Louis Montrose, Robert Watson, and Ken Hiltner. Our discussions of pastoral texts, then, will range from Marxism to gender and queer studies, to intellectual history, to New Criticism, to New Historicism, and to animal and environmental studies. There are indeed many – maybe too many – versions of pastoral on offer in this seminar; it has clearly had something to offer successive generations of scholars. We will thus have to address, over the course of a leisurely term, why Renaissance pastoral literature has such explanatory usefulness.

Graduate Courses

University of British Columbia
ENGL 512A, Middle English Studies (3 credits) – The Material (of) Medieval Literature 

Instructor: Dr. Robert Rouse

This course is designed to provide students with an introduction to medieval British literature at a graduate level. The course will ensure important period coverage for graduate students working pre-1900,as well as allowing more focused work for those specializing in early- and pre-modern literature. In addition, the course will involve an introduction to the frameworks of recent theoretical turns ranging across the geographical,spatial, ecocritical, transhuman, and the transtemporal.

A major theme of this course will be an engagement with the vibrant connective tissues and fluid network ecologies of medieval literature.Interfacing with the ongoing UBC/SFU Oecologies research collective, students will be encouraged to situate their work within an ongoing examination of the challenging and provocative ways in which premodern culture imagined its relationship with the non-human world.


Undergraduate Courses

ENGL 491A, Senior Honours Seminar – Research (3 credits)
Shakespeare in the Wilderness: 100 Years of Shakespeare in Canada

Instructor: Dr. Patricia Badir

2016 is the quarter centenary year of Shakespeare’s death. This seminar will use this forthcoming occasion as an opportunity to look back over 100 years of Shakespearean production in order to think about how the motives of Shakespearean aesthetics have shaped, and continue to shape, Canadian academic and cultural institutions. We will combine the reading of Shakespeare’s plays (those most frequently performed in this time period) with archival and secondary material. We will consider the English travelling companies; local community theatre and Little Theatre productions; regional theatre productions; Shakespeare societies and clubs and we will look at the rise of the big Festivals (including Stratford and Bard on the Beach). We will also explore the relationship between the formation of English Departments in Canadian Universities and the rise of the sub-discipline of Shakespeare Studies in Canada and in the UK and the US. In other words, this project is a critical and commemorative endeavor that understands the quartercentenary as an advantageous moment in which to consider the role Shakespeare has played in the foundation of English studies in the academy broadly defined.

We will also think about the relationship (most poignantly defined by Northrop Frye) between a particularly Canadian ethos that seeks to anchor culture, and thus the culture of the academy, in a ecological aesthetic that remains fundamental to the twenty-first-century university. This is a pressing problematic to engage; indeed, UBC’s most recent vision document articulates a relationship between “place” and “promise” by means of a photograph that locates professors and students on a precipice, over a beach, gazing out onto the ocean, under stormy skies ( If one regards this image in the Shakespearean, mid-First-World-War contexts this course is proposing, these figures might as well be Gloucester and King Lear less stripped of their tragic (and, of course, romantic) registers than the institutional banner-head first suggests.

Students will be encouraged to attend sessions at the Shakespeare Association of America Conference that is scheduled to be held in Vancouver in the Spring of 2015.

Graduate Courses

University of British Columbia
ENGL 515A, Shakespeare (3 credits) – Shakespeare and Nature

Instructor: Dr. Vin Nardizzi

In Keywords, Raymond Williams famously observes, “Nature is perhaps the most complex word in the language” (219). Later in the entry on“nature,” after quoting several excerpts from Shakespeare’s King Lear, Williams remarks that the “complexity of meaning” exemplified in these passages “is possible in a dramatic rather than an expository mode” (222). Taking Williams’s cue, we shall explore in this seminar what it is exactly that drama, as an aesthetic form, can make evident about the full nature of “nature”; in so doing, we will, of course, aim to test Williams’s claim. Shakespeare’s plays and poems (King Lear, Pericles, Richard III, and the so-called “procreation sonnets”) will comprise the bulk of our readings. We shall frame them with shorter works of prose and poetry by Bacon, Montaigne, Hooker, Hobbes, Descartes, Spenser,Sidney, Ovid, Donne, and Herbert.

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