The English Honors Program provides an opportunity for students to study intensively with a full-time faculty member and a small group of dedicated fellow students, and to graduate with departmental honors. Admitted students take a two-semester senior seminar, conduct an original research project, complete an Honors exam, and present their research at a college-wide conference. Students with a grade-point average of 3.3 may apply for admission to the program. Interested students should meet with the faculty Chair of the program, Jason Tougaw, as early as possible in their college careers.
After satisfactory completion of the program requirements, Honors students who meet the requirements of the program graduate with Honors, High Honors, or Highest Honors, an accomplishment (marked on student transcripts) that is a decided asset in any future endeavor.
Eligible majors must have at least a 3.3 GPA. Students must apply by their junior year, but are encouraged to apply as early as possible. Professor Tougaw will advise prospective students about courses they may take to prepare them for the program. Registration forms for the program are available in the English Office and should be submitted to Professor Jason Tougaw in hard copy or by email.
- Two-semester (six-credit) seminar during the senior year
- Independent research paper (the Honors Essay)
- Honors Exam
- Honors Conference
Note: Students MUST sign up for the first (fall) half of the Honors seminar during the spring semester of their junior year. No student will be admitted to the second (spring) semester of the Honors seminar who has not completed the work of the preceding semester. There will be two sections of the seminar each semester, one during the day and one during the evening. Taking these will serve as a replacement for the English major’s required senior seminar and one of its electives.
Honors students who meet the standards of the program will graduate with Honors, High Honors, or Highest Honors. Each student’s honors designation is based on four criteria: final GPA; final GPA in English; performance on independent research paper; performance on Honors exam. Two members of the Faculty Committee on Honors grade the essay; four additional members (two for each section) grade the exam. Grading is done anonymously. All six faculty graders vote on each student’s graduation status.
- Weekly seminar work: Analysis of several fictional and non-fictional works (of any genre) focusing on a common theme—for example, “Conversion / Identity” or “Humor as a Form of Inquiry”—and a selection of scholarly essays. Some of the texts for the fall semester are announced the preceding spring.
- Guest faculty: On several occasions, faculty with special expertise in the works under study will lead or participate in seminar discussions.
- Research projects: Each student will develop an independent research project related to the theme of the seminar, developed through a series of individual conferences with the seminar instructor and completed in stages (for example, a proposal, annotated bibliography, draft, and revision). The topics of research projects are subject to the approval of the instructor.
- Class blog: Much of the work of the seminar is posted on a class blog, which allows for ongoing interaction between the instructor and students, and among students themselves. You can view blogs from previous years’ Honors seminars here: “The Observed Life: Gossip, Secrecy, and the Circulation of Social Knowledge” and “Adaptation of Narrative across Media.”
Full-class work focuses on three tasks:
- Studying in groups for the Honors Exam. Preparations include class discussions and electronic communications. The exam has two parts: in Part I, students comment on nine (of eighteen) identified quotations from major British and American literary works; in Part II, students provide a detailed analysis of two poems with a common theme.
- Completing the independent research paper begun during the fall seminar. The final paper will be from five-to-six thousand words (due early in the semester).
- Designing, organizing, and presenting at an academic conference. The culminating event of the Honors seminar, the conference is based on students’ research projects. It is presented to an audience of faculty, students, family and friends. Further, a website may be created to preserve the results of the conference.
The Honors Seminar
The Honors seminar offers a unique opportunity to work closely with a full-time faculty member and a group of highly motivated and prepared students for two semesters. The seminars are lively and interdisciplinary, and they offer undergraduates an opportunity to pursue advanced research. To get a sense of the range of seminars offered—and the work involved—take a look at previous year’s syllabi.
Professor Steven Kruger
“Conversion / Identity”
I have become a problem to myself.
This morning I woke up in another part of my brain…. The “I” of my self had crawled through the thickness of memory and consciousness to some other place in the structure of the brain and emerged within a new gray coil.
David Wojnarowicz, Close to the Knives
One of the central problems of literary texts in the Western tradition is defined in an early and influential form in Augustine’s autobiographical Confessions: how can one be one’s self and at the same time experience a radical change within that self? What does it mean to have an established identity and yet undergo a conversion? Is it possible, even, to have an identity whose main feature is that it lives its history as non-self-identical? Would this be the identity of the convert, a conversion-identity?
This seminar considers the ways in which a wide range of literary texts engages with such questions about identity, conversion, and their interrelationship. While conversion experience in the tradition initiated by Augustine is often conceived strictly in terms of religious change, we will also consider texts where other categories of identity (race/ethnicity, nationality, gender and sexuality) stand at the center. And we will consider the ways in which a change in one of these identity categories is thought to impinge upon the others: does, for instance, a change in religious status also alter how one’s race or gender or sexuality is conceived?
The seminar will consider primary texts in close relation to a set of theoretical/ critical readings that take up questions of identity: recent work on religion by such writers as Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, and Jean-François Lyotard; feminist and queer theory; postcolonial and critical race theory. Primary texts will include poetry, drama, prose fiction, and memoir and will be drawn from a number of historical moments and from American, British, and Anglophone traditions.
The course will be organized around three broad rubrics: (1) “Confessions (?)” – writing that plays with the first-person confessing voice of the Augustinian tradition, (2) “Dramatic Turns” – texts that represent conversion experiences on stage, and “The Art of Losing/Finding the Self” – narratives of lives in “identity crisis.”
Readings will include some of the following (texts listed here that don’t ultimately end up on the course syllabus might provide students with ideas for their individual projects):
The Book of Margery Kempe
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life
David Wojnarowicz, Close to the Knives
Jennifer Finney Boylan, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders
The Croxton Play of the Sacrament
Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta
Samuel Beckett, Endgame
Tony Kushner, Angels in America
The Art of Losing/Finding the Self
The Middle English Pearl
Aphra Behn, Oroonoko
John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress
William Wordsworth, The Prelude
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain
Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions
2013-2014: Humor as a Method of InquiryHumor as a Method of Inquiry
Professor Fred Gardaphe
What makes people laugh? How does that laughter affect the human psyche? How does humor differ within and across cultures? These are just a few of the questions that might arise when we use humor as a lens through which we examine culture. While the seminar will focus particularly on the use of humor in English and American literary culture, students will be free to choose anything as the subject for their seminar papers.
After an exploring the evolution of theories about humor from Classical to Contemporary, students will interpret roles that humor plays in artistic expression in relation to relevant theoretical bases. We will examine how modes of expression such as irony and sarcasm are constructed, expressed and received through literature and performance. Along the way we will explore the interaction between oral and literary deliveries of humor, and the roles that historical, geographical, and social contexts of race, gender, ethnicity and lifestyle play in the production and reception of humor in England and the United States.
Artists covered include Chaucer, Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Benjamin Franklin, Washington Irving, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, Ralph Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe, Artemus Ward, Mark Twain, Uncle Remus, Fanny Fern, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Dorothy Parker, Woody Allen, Chris Rock, Margaret Cho, Sherman Alexie, Russell Peters, Carlos Mencia, and others.
This focused investigation into humor and culture will provide you with a model for creating your own, original investigation into a subject matter that will become the basis for your seminar paper. The seminar is designed to model the sort of flexible, multileveled analysis that you will pursue in your Honors Essay. I do not expect you to resolve the generic and methodological complexities that we encounter, nor do I intend to lead our texts into a definitive or unified narrative. It is my hope that the very heterogeneity of our reading might help to suggest the range of projects that can spring from our central theme.
2012-2013: Adaptation of Narrative across Media
Shall we read the novel or wait for the movie to come out? We expect that popular novels will become films, that successful films will made into operas, and that comic book characters will show up in Broadway musicals. J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit, the prequel to Lord of the Rings, has been transformed into an animated film, into two live-action films to be released next year, a graphic novel (adapted by Dixon and Deming), and, like some other quest fantasies, into two role-playing video games. Jane Austen’s most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice, has been made into two films set in Regency England and transposed into other films set in today’s London (Bridget Jones’s Diary), and India (Bride and Prejudice) and Utah (A Latter-Day Comedy).
There is a tendency to treat adaptation as a one-dimensional process–to begin and end by asking what has gotten lost in translation–particularly when the “original” is a respected literary text and the adaptation is a movie which, most of the time, is just a movie. But adaptation involves creative interpretation, and two film adaptations of the same text can present very different interpretations, as do Laurence Olivier’s and Kenneth Branagh’s versions of Shakespeare’s Henry V, which read into the same text opposing attitudes toward patriotism and war.
And “getting it right” can’t be the whole story, in any case, since many canonical texts are adaptations of texts that might otherwise have been forgotten. To continue with Shakespeare, Othello was adapted from “Un capitano Moro,” a short tale by Giovan Battista Giraldi aka Cinthio, and it’s clear that there a great deal was gained in the translation. Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida was taken from Chaucer’sTroilus and Criseyde, behind which we can glimpse Boccaccio’s Filostrato and, a long way back of that, Homer’s Iliad. There we can see adaptive interpretations involved in an elaborate process of creative destruction, each new work a genuine rethinking and reframing of the earlier work, and scholars argue whether what emerged was successful or not. And sometimes the destruction is done with malice aforethought, as with Martin Rowson’s “graphic novel” version of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, an oppositional adaptation, adaptation as critique, with Rowson using film noir imagery–drawn from the Howard Hawks film of The Big Sleep–to parody the iconic modernist poem.
This seminar will focus on the differences in the ways stories are told in prose, in film, in graphic designs, the storytelling practices and strategies and techniques that operate within specific media (and resist translation), the changes adaptation force not only in the manner of telling but in what can be told, and, inevitably, the social, cultural, and political motives that may underlie these changes. We will not be interested primarily in safe and faithful reproductions of originals, but in adaptations that either take artistic liberties or challenge the rules of their own medium by attempting a literal translation, as in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Matthew, or Eric Rohmer’s Percival (from a medieval grail legend by Chretien de Troyes).
In addition to some of those named above, the seminar may include texts such as Akira Kurosawa’sRan (based on Shakespeare’s King Lear), Patricia Rozema’s Mansfield Park (based Jane Austen’s novel, letters and juvenilia), Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (based on Anthony Burgess’s novel) and Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World (based on Daniel Clowes’s graphic novel). Students will work on individually chosen projects.
For more information, please contact me at email@example.com.
2011-2012: The Observed Life: Gossip, Secrecy and the Making of Social KnowledgeThe Observed Life: Gossip, Secrecy and the Making of Social Knowledge
“Gossip is charming! History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.” —Oscar Wilde
The practice of gossip is as old as language itself, assuming a dominant role in our daily interactions and calling up powerful cultural embodiments from Virgil’s creaturely portrayal of the goddess Fama, covered with a multitude of eyes, ears, and tongues, to the disembodied voice-over and distilled malice of Kristen Bell’s Gossip Girl. As social media such as Twitter and Facebook hasten the flow of social information, raising unprecedented possibilities of intervention, access, and injury, now seems an opportune and urgent moment to reconsider the stories we tell, how they circulate, and what they reveal about what we know (or what we want to know/be known) about ourselves and others: our appetites, loyalties, preoccupations, and passions.
The word “gossip” has shifted dramatically from its Old English and Norse roots, when it designated a godparent (“god-sibbe”) of either sex who became a child’s spiritual sponsor at baptism. Samuel Johnson’s eighteenth-century dictionary offers two further definitions: “a tippling companion”; and “One who runs about like women at a lying-in” (that is, at the birth of a child). Confronting the negative connection of gossip with women and its progressive denigration as a loose, idle, and unproductive mode of speech, feminists—and other subgroups/counterpublics—have sought to reclaim gossip as a form of subjugated and subversive discourse, resistant to and critical of majority culture. Other gossip theorists in the fields of anthropology, sociology, psychology, and communication theory have explored how gossip functions both as an instrument of behavioral control and as a form of exchange in which information is lucratively traded for other goods in the social marketplace. We’ll be drawing on these theorizations of gossip and considering how useful they are for capturing its operations in different historical moments, across oral, scribal, printed, and digital media, and within changing legal and normative conceptions of public-private relations. Most important, we’ll be exploring gossip’s hermeneutic power as a narrative model, pressing the continuities between sites, protocols, and modes of gossip and works of literature which not only thematize its practice but reflect on their own (often troubled) relation to its forms.
The readings for the seminar are yet to be finalized since they depend, to a large extent, on the specialties and enthusiasms of the guest teachers I will be inviting to join us. But here are some sample readings/films to give you an idea of what to expect: Chaucer, The House of Fame and “The Manciple’s Tale”; Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing and Othello; Samuel Pepys, Diary; William Wycherley, The Country Wife; Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year; James Boswell, London Journal; Thomas Jefferson, Anas; Mary Hassal, Secret History; Jane Austen, Emma; Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan; Stephen Early, Alfred Hitchcock, and Eliot Elisofon, “Have You Heard” (Life Magazine, 1942); Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie; Mike Leigh, Secrets and Lies; Henckel von Donnersmarck, The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen); David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network.
If you would like more information about this seminar you’re welcome to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
2010-2011: Literature and TechnologyLiterature and Technology
Professor Fred Buell
syllabus 1 [pdf] & syllabus 2 [doc]
Since the beginnings of Anglophone literature, psyches, societies, places, environments and bodies have been dramatically reshaped, again and again, by technology. Indeed, that process is accelerating rapidly today; some even feel that we have long since passed the point we live in a natural or given universe and that we now, instead, dwell in a wholly artificial, and increasingly easily modified life-world—a life-world that has become a technosphere. Whether this is catastrophe or triumph is hotly debated.
In this class, we will focus on a long history of technological intervention and how, unebeknownst to many of us, literary culture has been affected by and responded to it. In fact, history’s accumulation of technologies and techniques arguably is one of the large, relatively unexamined and often unconscious foundations of our psyches, societies, and cultures. From the time English literature begins, people have been consciously and unconsciously changed and shaped by a succession of specific in(ter)ventions, from gunpowder and printing to steam power, electricity, the automobile, television, computers, genetic technology, and robotics. But our growing technological unconscious is not just littered with these; some have tried to find order within this welter of technological changes and assert that it has a definite historical shape. The idea that there has been, in Western history, a succession of different technological “revolutions” has become familiar to many of us, as people have argued that we have gone through not just one, but two, three, or even four of these “revolutions”—i.e. larger systemic changes that have come from an accumulation of many symbolic and literal synergies between society and sets of individual technologies.
We will consider how these in(ter)ventions and the synergies between them throw new light on not just historical, but also cultural change. From Renaissance humanism to postmodern simulation, new technological eras have provided ghostly companions to the eras mapped out by literary and cultural history. Also, individual texts are regularly responsive to, and a key part of society’s absorption of, technological change. Texts that reveal these parallels between technological infrastructure and imagination are extremely various. We will pick a limited number of poetic, fictional, non-fictional, and filmic texts to show how probing their technological unconscious greatly expands their range of possible meanings and even provides an interesting new perspective on their changing styles and kinds of aesthetic impact.
Throughout the course, we will be mindful that our subject engages one of the most talked-about and thought-about issues in today’s public discourse, namely the character and value of the technologized world we increasingly inhabit. These issues are fascinating intellectually and also crucial to the shape and perhaps even continuance of lifeworlds, our economy, our society, our culture, and even, some say, our biosphere. Two key things to remember as we proceed in the course are 1) You DON’T need to be a technological enthusiast to thrive in this course; we will criticize every bit as much as we honor technology in our attempt to see how it is interwoven into our culture. 2) We will constantly THINK HISTORICALLY, always keeping our eye on the intertwining of literary and cultural history with technological history
Marie Borroff, ed. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Norton, ISBN#0393930254
William Shakespeare, The Tempest. Norton, ISBN# 0393978192
Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe. Norton, ISBN# 0393964523
Philip K. Dick, Ubik. ISBN# 0679736646
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. Norton, ISBN# 0393964582
Upton Sinclair, The Jungle. Norton, ISBN# 039397779X
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. Scribner, ISBN# 0684801523
Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2. Picador, ISBN# 0312423136
Octavia Butler, Lilith’s Brood. Grand Central Publishing, ISBN 0446676101
Wendell Berry, Remembering. Counterpoint, ISBN# 1582434158
2007-2008: Representing the Environment: Literature and EcocriticismRepresenting the Environment: Literature and Ecocriticism
Professor Frederick Buell
For the last five decades, a growing group of environmental scientists and activists have been predicting the end of life as we know it, thanks to environmental crisis; still others have been saying, oops, we’ve gone too far, but it’s not that bad, we can change; and still others have been saying that environmental pessimism like that is for chicken-littles, and that the truth is we’re living (not just despite, but because of all our supposedly nature-destroying ways) better than ever before.
The questions, however, have gotten pretty intimate these days. Did you know, for example, that a recent, and serious, legislative proposal would have allowed and encouraged industry to recycle used, still-radioactive metal from the nuclear industry into our metal stream—potentially putting it (as alarmists said) into our forks, knives, and spoons, our clothing zippers, the rods in the walls of our apartments, our bicycle seats and our mattress springs? And did you know that the proposal had a certain plausibility because we have been accumulating not just spent nuclear fuel, but also decommissioned equipment for using, processing, and handling it, without having any truly safe way of disposing of it? Well, perhaps you didn’t want to know that people had thought of such things—and even had real reasons for weighing them.
The reason for all this is that environmental issues have become, in our now clearly finite world (a world of finite resources and finite sinks to flush wastes down) more and more a source of complex controversy and concern. As this has happened, writers, artists, cultural theorists, literary historians, and philosophers have also been exploring how environmental questions go straight to the heart of our culture as well as society. What place(s) does nature have—and has it had in the
past—in our culture? How has modern Western culture conceived of nature from the Renaissance to the present; what have the dominant trends been, and what alternative traditions have persisted/been invented along with them? To what extent do the “natures” so conceived still exist today, given the massive recent changes brought on by post-World War II and then postmodern economic development, population growth, urbanization, paradigm-breaking technological change, and equally paradigm-breaking intellectual and cultural change? Is there anything left— and should there be anything left—of Romanticism’s legacy of nature as central to human creativity, beauty, social transformation, and psycho-spiritual fulfillment? Should that legacy be continued when nature is increasingly endangered and nature experience possibly outmoded? Or does postmodern society in fact dwell, these days, not in nature, but in technologically- and culturally-altered environments—in a “second nature”—and do we not in fact need to demystify and jettison the old romantic notions in order to live fully consciously in our present condition? Or are these enthusiasms for the postmodern and these dismissals of Romanticism’s nature only yet another sign of our society’s hubris, as it heads deeper than ever into environmental disregard and therefore towards its own destruction?
Thanks to three decades of revolution in literary study, the ways we as readers consume and interpret literary texts have changed dramatically. New intellectual and ethical perspectives on literature and culture have flourished, provided, for example, by feminism, multiculturalism, postcolonialism, structuralism, postructuralism, and postmodernism. Now ecocriticism joins this list as its newest member. As more and more urgent, hot-button environmental questions are perceived to be tucked away everywhere in society, they have emerged in culture, literature and literary study as well.
We will, as you might expect, discuss various kinds of writing about nature. But, just as important, we will focus also on texts that have little or nothing (overtly) to do with nature and the natural, exploring what it means to read this literature also through an ecocritical lens. Studying a wide variety of verbal—and also visual—texts from the Renaissance to the present, we will work from the ground up (or the pavement up? or the commercial carpet up? One has to watch one’s metaphors) to an understanding of what ecocriticsm involves. We’ll study Shakespeare and science fiction, nature writing and urban literature, idylls and apocalypses, the comedic and the cynical, prose and poetry. We’ll also work with photographic and filmic texts and, on a regular basis, use photography and journaling as tools for investigating our human relationships with our larger, non-human context.
A large packet of Xeroxes, available at the Queens College Copy Center.
Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism, Routledge.
William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Washington Square Press New Folger’s Edition.
William Golding, Lord of the Flies, Penguin.
Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces, Penguin.
Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer, Harper Perennial.
Don DeLillo, White Noise, Penguin.
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, Vintage.
Octavia Butler, The Parable of the Sower, Warner Books.
Professor Jason Tougaw
syllabus 1 [pdf] & syllabus 2 [pdf]
Can dreams help us understand the self, as Freud argues? Or do they blot out the self entirely, as Faulkner suggests? Are dreams mystical missives? Meaningless by-products of firing neurons? Do they consolidate memory? Drive artistic endeavors? The elusiveness of dreams, which propel us to imagined worlds whose logic falters when we wake, has made them an inspiration to innumerable artists and an object of study for neurologists, psychologists, and philosophers.
In this two-semester Honors Seminar, we will explore the art and science of dreaming. We will read classic dream theories by Aristotle, Freud, and Jung; examine contemporary theories by dream researchers such as J. Allan Hobson, Ernest Hartmann, and Stephen La Berge; read literary texts by writers such as William Shakespeare, Charlotte Brontë, Jean Rhys, Franz Kafka, and Kazuo Ishiguro; listen to music by Kurt Weill, Bob Dylan, and The Postal Service; view a variety of films, including Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, and Richard Linklater’s Waking Life; and take a virtual tour of Dalí’s Dream of Venus, the surrealist funhouse he built for the 1939 World’s Fair (in Queens!).
We will all keep dream blogs, documenting our dream lives and reflecting on them through the lens of our course readings and discussions. Students will develop interdisciplinary research projects that address current questions in the field of dream studies and present their work at a student conference in the spring.
Required Texts (all available in the QC Bookstore)
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (Norton Critical Edition)
Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (Oxford UP)
Ernest L. Hartmann, Dreams and Nightmares: The New Theory on the Origin and Meaning of Dreams (Perseus)
Allan J. Hobson, The Dream Drugstore: Chemically Altered States of Consciousness (MIT Press)
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Unconsoled (Vintage International)
C. G. Jung, Dreams (Princeton UP)
John Ratey, A User’s Guide to the Brain (Vintage)
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (Norton Critical Edition)
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Oxford World’s Classics)