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Featured Courses

Summer 2016

Understanding Africa
AFST 435 941
Professor Ali Ali-Dinar

This course will explore the economic, social, and political realities facing sub-Saharan Africa today by placing them in historical and global contexts. Key themes will include colonial and precolonial history, nationalist movements and cold war politics, economic development and foreign aid, ethnic and political conflicts, media representation and popular culture. The course will focus on local and global dynamics that have a role in shaping the present day Africa.

Orwell and Hemingway
ENGL 461 940
Professor David Espey

George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway are giants of 20th century literature. This course will compare their careers as writers within the contrasting literary and political cultures of England and America. Both men both fled the middle-class worlds of their youth, learned the writing trade as journalists, were wounded in wars, and gained enormous popularity. We'll trace the effects of journalism on their writing, their codes of masculinity and depictions of women, their views on politics and art, and their involvement in major events of the 20th century. We'll also consider the perspectives of their many biographers and critics. Texts will include many of Hemingway's short stories and Orwell's essays, and the following works: The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, Down and Out in Paris and London, Burmese Days, Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm, and 1984. Written work will include frequent short papers as well as mid-term and final essays.

Reading the Sanskrit Epics in a Turbulent World
COML 507 940

Professor Deven Patel

Ancient India's two epic poems, composed in Sanskrit and received in dozens of languages over the span of two thousand years, continue to shape the psychic, social, and emotional worlds of millions of people around the world. The epic Mahabharata, which roughly translates to The Great Story of the Descendants of the Legendary King Bharata, is the longest single poem in the world (100,000 lines of Sanskrit verse) and tells the mythic history of dynastic power struggles in ancient India.  While it presents us with an apocalyptic meditation on time, death, and the utter devastation brought upon the individual and the family unit through social disintegration, the epic also houses one of the great religious works of the world, The Bhagavad Gita (translation: The Song of God), which offers a buoy of hope and possibility in the dark ocean of the epic's violent narrative. The other great epic, The Ramayana (Rama's Journey), though essentially tragic, offers a brighter vision of human life, how it might be possible to live happily in an otherwise hopeless situation.  It too is about struggles for power in ancient India but it offers charactersespecially Ramathat serve as ideals for how human beings might successfully negotiate life's great challenges. It also provides a model of human social order that contrasts with dystopic polities governed by animals and demons.  Our course will engage in close reading of selections from both of these epic poems (in English translation, of course) and thus learn about the epic genre, its oral and textual forms in South Asia, and the numerous modes for interpreting the epic.  We will also look at the reception of these ancient works in modern forms of media, such as the novel, television, theater, cinema and the comic book/anime.  In the process, through selected essays and reflections, we will pay special attention to the ways in which the ancient epics remain deeply relevant in the modern world, reflecting on topics such as: the aesthetics of war, the psychic life of social ideals, and creative responses to ethical conflicts. 

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Fall 2016

The Glorious "What If?": Writing Speculative Fiction
ENGL 412 640
Professor Melissa Jensen

This is a course for anyone who is still waiting for the Hogwarts owl to arrive, who inhabits otherwordly places, or just wants to write about them. Speculative fiction takes many forms, from ordinary life with a little twist to hard sci-fi, alternate histories to imagined futures, children's fairy tales to grown-up horror... with some Grimm intersections.  Students will read across time and sub-genre, and will write a series of original pieces: honing their voice, creating believable story, characters, and language, all with a fantastical element, whether big or small, for young audiences or mature ones. We will discuss these pieces as a group in class. This course is based around lots of reading and writing, some lively debate, and livelier critique. The possibilities are endless. After all, isn't that the very best part of fiction, the idea that anything is possible?

Women and Theatre: Provocative Performance
THAR 579 640
Professor Rosemary Malague

What is "feminist theatre?" This course will examine a wide array of performance pieces by and about women, in turn serious, hilarious, outrageous, poignant—and always provocative. How can theatre provoke not only thought and feeling, but also social, political, and personal change? We will focus on both plays and performance art pieces, which we will read and/or view onstage or on film. These readings/viewings will be contextualized with material on feminist theatre theory and history. Students will have the opportunity to customize research projects to pursue their own areas of interest. The class will also take full advantage of events occurring on campus and in Philadelphia during the course of the semester. Highlights will include the LiveArts Festival in late summer; the class will also feature invited guest speakers and artists.

MLA Proseminar: Eco-Criticism, Sustainability, and the Humanities
COML 542 640

Professor Simon J. Richter

Among the many centers and institutes for the environment and sustainability cropping up at universities worldwide, we also find the occasional center for environmental humanities. What role can and should the humanities play in the burgeoning field of environmental studies? Where and how can scholars of the humanities insert themselves usefully into the conversation? The relatively new field of Eco-Criticism is certainly one way. Beginning in the mid-1990s, eco-critics have explored key concepts such as nature, the non-human, sustainability, ecology, and environmental justice and ethics in relation to works of literature, art, film and philosophy. This collaborative seminar has three goals: 1) to acquaint students with key essays and concepts in eco-criticism; 2) to practice eco-critical analysis on sample works of literature, art and film; and 3) to assess the role the environmental humanities might play in the politics and practice of sustainability in connection with several case studies (e.g., preparing for sea level rise, responding to weather-related disasters, promoting alternative energies, challenging corporate polluters).

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Individual capstone projects


The capstone project is the culminating experience, allowing you to integrate and celebrate your education at Penn.

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Individualized curriculum

Courses and Curriculum

With Penn's MLA program, you design a curriculum centering on a particular theme that interests you.

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Interdisciplinary certificates


Several certificate programs are available to help organize your discovery in a topic area.

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