Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of English
Spring 2020
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SPRING 2019 Graduate Seminars (provisional)

MSU Department of English 


ENG 802 | Literary Criticism and Theory

Dr. Yomaira Figueroa (yomairaf@msu.edu)

Wednesdays, 5-7:50pm


This seminar will offer an overview on disciplinary formations in the humanities and will fous on three distinct and intersecting areas of study: theories of the human, diaspora studies, and decolonial thought. This course should be of interest to students engaging in transdisciplinary approaches to literary and cultural studies, critical approaches to the study of race, gender, and sexuality, and those interested in epistemologies from below.


ENG 818 | Studies in Genre and Media

Dr. Scott Michaelsen (smichael@msu.edu)

Topic: Climate Change Knowing (and Unknowing)

Monday, 4:10-7pm


The anticipated coming of anthropogenic climate change is turning our world upside down, and it can be hard to get our bearings.  We seem to know so little regarding how we got here.  The term “anthropocene” entered public discourse less than twenty years ago, but this is not the beginning of the story of our modern relationship to climate.  Key geological-climatic works were published in the nineteenth century by figures such as Charles Lyell (Principles of Geology, 1830-33), Louis Agassiz (Studies on Glaciers, 1840), and James Croll (Climate and Time in Their Geological Relations: A Theory of Secular Changes of the Earth’s Climate, 1875), and geological fictions began appearing, such as The Last Man (1805) by Jean-Baptiste Francois Xavier Cousin de Grainville, and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) by Jules Verne.  There are literally hundreds of works of climate fiction written between 1805 and our present moment.


This seminar is designed as an introduction to two worlds: first, the burgeoning field of climate change theorizing, and, second, a few of the key works of climate fiction.  Key topics include climate change in relation to questions of geology, ecology, race, class, colonialism, religion, politics, psychology, sex, gender, and sexuality.  We will read our literary and theoretical materials in pairs, searching for thematic and historical connections at every turn.  Our pairs include:


Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864)

Amitav Ghosh. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016)


J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World (1962)

Bruno Latour. Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime (2017)


Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)

Katherine Keller. Political Theology of the Earth: Our Planetary Emergency and the Struggle for a New Public (2018)


Thomas M. Disch.  The Genocides (1965)

Matthias Fritsch, Philippe Lynns, and David Wood, eds.  Ecodeconstruction: Derrida and Environmental Philosophy (2018)


Ian McDonald.  Chaga (1995) or Butler, Dawn

Donna J. Haraway. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016)


N.K. Jemisin.  The Fifth Season (2015)

Kathryn Yusoff. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (2018)


Kim Stanley Robinson, New York 2140 (2017)

Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future (2014)



FLM 800 | Methods in Film Studies

Dr. Kaveh Askari (askarik1@msu.edu)

Mondays, 7-10:00pm


This course offers an introduction to methods of interpreting, writing on, and teaching film. It is designed to help graduate students to develop a research or teaching trajectory in cinema and media studies for their work at MSU and beyond. Students will begin by engaging with tools of close analysis and basic concepts of film form. They will move from there to categories of genre, authorship and other critical traditions, central to the formation of the discipline of cinema studies, that discuss aspects of the medium as a social institution, psycho-sexual apparatus, and cultural practice. The course will introduce students to subfields of film historiography, industry studies, and of studies of media infrastructures as they pertain to cinema as a medium in global circulation. Screenings will include work by Deren, Hondo, Hitchcock, Julien, Lang, Neshat, and Stephan. 


ENG 826 | Special Topics Seminar

Dr. Kinitra Brooks (kdbrooks@msu.edu)

Topic: Conjure Feminism

Tuesdays, 4:10-7:00pm


Conjure feminism is a course that will examine conjure and rootwork as intellectual traditions of black women. This course will be an ambitious hybrid of combining multiple elements of theory and praxis. We will theorize the importance of spirit work in the cosmologies of Black Women across the diaspora with particular focus on Womanist Theologies and Traditional African Religious Practices. We will also examine the construct of the Conjure Woman and how it has developed over time. Simultaneously, I would like us to begin to get our hands dirty…in the garden and discovering the practices of the rootworker as much as possible. Finally, I hope all of our work to be presented at BSAM Santiago in Cuba the second week of April as there is a planned travel portion to this course that is possible but has yet to be finalized.


Possible Texts Include:



Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

Stigmata by Phyllis Alesia Perry

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Destroyer by Victor LaValle

Harrow County by Cullen Bunn



Wake by Bree Newsome

Lemonade by Beyoncé

The Skeleton Key by Iain Softley



Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition by Yvonne P. Chireau

Conjuring Culture: Biblical Formations of Black America

Mojo Workin’: The Old African American Hoodoo System

Secret Cures of Slaves by Londa Schiebinger

Working Cures: Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations

Conjure in African American Society by Jeffrey E. Anderson

Rituals of Resistance by Jason R. Young


FLM 810 (cross-listed with FLM 400)

Dr. Justus Nieland (nieland@msu.edu)

Topic: It’s all True: Film, Propaganda, and PR from the Interwar to the Cold War

Tuesday, 9:10-noon; Thursday, 9:10-11am


The first two years of the Trump Administration have underscored the mass media’s capacity to dilute truth, manipulate public opinion, harvest attention, aestheticize politics, and corrupt the democratic process. This seminar excavates the prehistory of our contemporary post-fact media environment by exploring the longer history of film as an instrument of propaganda and a medium for informing and mobilizing mass publics. We will begin and end the seminar by considering the status of propaganda in the present of 24/7 communication and the attention economy of “cognitive capitalism.” However, the bulk of the course will focus on the film/propaganda nexus from the 1920s through the 1950s, when film propaganda matured as an essential strategy of governance, for liberal-democratic, Communist, and totalitarian regimes alike. Likely topics include: WWI-era propaganda and film’s role in the shaping of state-sponsored information programs; Soviet filmmaking and agit-prop; the relationship between the Hollywood star system and the nascent discipline of public relations; 1930s state-sponsored documentary film practices in the U.S. and the U.K.; the social-scientific study of “communications” during the late-30s and through WWII; Nazi propaganda films and Hollywood’s response to the rise of Hitler; the Frankfurt School’s analysis of film propaganda; the use of film in postwar programs of “democratic education” and occupation; HUAC and blacklist; the postwar politics of the MoMA film library; and the use of film as an ideological weapon in the Cold War.


Readings will be drawn largely from film and media history and theory, communications studies, business history, histories of advertising and public relations, and design history.


Screenings will include feature films, documentaries, industrial and educational films, and training films, but we will also consider propaganda as part of an intermedia practice that, to be successful, had to be total.


Selected readings:


Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep

James Webster, The Marketplace of Attention: How Audiences Take Shape in the Digital Age

Jason Stanley, How Propaganda Works

Haidee Wasson and Lee Grieveson, Cinema’s Military-Industrial Cinema

Edward Bernays, Public Relations

Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion

Peter Decherney, Hollywood and the Culture Elite: How Movies Became American

Bret Gary, Nervous Liberals: Propaganda Anxieties from World War I to the Cold War

Fred Turner, The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties

Mark Wollaeger, Modernism, Media, and Propaganda: British Narrative from 1900 to 1945

Giorgio Bertellini, The Divo and the Duce: Promoting Film Stardom and Political Leadership in 1920s America

Thomas Doherty, Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939

Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes

André Bazin, “The Myth of Stalin”

Susan Sontag, “Fascinating Fascism”

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry”

David Jeneman, Adorno in America




D.W. Griffith, The Birth of a Nation

Lev Kuleshov, The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks

Sergei Eisenstein, October and Battleship Potemkin

Dziga Vertov, Kino-Pravda, Enthusiasm, Three Songs about Lenin

Walter Wanger, Blockade

Selected films from G.P.O. Film Unit and the British Ministry of Information

Pare Lorentz, The Plow that Broke the Plains, The River

Leni Riefenstahl, Triumph of the Will and Olympiad

Frank Capra, Why We Fight

John Huston, The Battle of San Pietro

Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator

William Wyler, Mrs. Miniver

Fritz Lang, Hangmen Also Die!

Orson Welles, Citizen Kane and It’s All True

Hanus Burger and Billy Wilder, Todesmühlen/Death Mills

Leo Hurwitz, Strange Victory

U.P.A., The Brotherhood of Man

Charles and Ray Eames, Glimpses of the U.S.A.

Akira Kurosawa, Stray Dog

Billy Wilder, One, Two, Three

Jean-Luc Godard, La Chinoise

Johan Grimonprez, Double Take