Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of English
Cross-Field Areas of Inquiry
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The following is a current list of interdisciplinary, theoretical, and methodological approaches in which our faculty are engaged. They represent possible critical lines of inquiry for graduate study.

Black Literature, Film, and Culture

Faculty members working in this area include Tamara Butler, Yomaira Figueroa, Kenneth Harrow, Rae Paris, and Jeff Wray.

Empire and Globalization Studies

This area focuses on the imperial, global production of worlds, whether through direct means, such as colonization, or indirect ones, such as economic and cultural hegemony, and the modes of resistance that meet such efforts. Comparative and interdisciplinary, “Empire and Globalization Studies” analyzes the massive systems that exceed our cognitive ability to map them and the humans who are subjected through them. Scholars in this area have worked on the geopolitics of empire, transcultural exchanges, colonial discourse, anticolonial resistance, race and nation, subaltern subjectivities, world and diaspora literatures, slavery, globalization, and the intersections of literature and culture with political theories and social formations.

Faculty members working in this area include Zarena Aslami, Tamar Boyadjian, Ken Harrow, Salah Hassan, Sandra Logan, Sheng-mei Ma, and Jyotsna Singh.

Feminisms, Genders, Sexualities

“Feminisms, Genders, Sexualities” foregrounds feminist approaches to the study of literature and culture. While our research and teaching cover a range of national contexts, time periods, media, and genres, we share a commitment to interrogating the relations among sex, gender, and sexuality and reflect on the inextricability of sexual differences from questions of race, social class, ethnicity, ability, and nationality. Our analyses consider these relations not only as they are officially conceived or artistically imagined, but also as they are lived in the everyday. How and why do modern cultures rely upon gender and sexual differences to produce meaning and organize reality? What methods and theoretical paradigms help us explain this production, and how might it be critiqued or even queered?

Faculty members working in this area include Zarena Aslami, Sheila Contreras, Ken Harrow, Sandra Logan, Ellen McCallum, Rae Paris, Robin Silbergleid, and Jyotsna Singh.

Film, Visual Culture, and Digital Media

Our research encourages students to examine how the history of cinema and the visual arts inform the screen and literary cultures of the digital present. Animated by cross-disciplinary work and covering a range of media—including cinema, photography, architecture, graphic and digital media, and literature—research in this cluster foregrounds relationships between digital media cultures and the histories of cinema and the visual arts. In particular, we explore how our image archives may help us construct media archaeologies responsive to the art and politics of the contemporary moment. Faculty and students examine the relations between vision, embodiment, and modern subjectivity; concepts of realism, mimesis, and documentary; and the role of race, class, gender and sexuality in cultures of the moving image. Research also considers the visualization of space, time, movement and cognition in literature and the other arts, and literary forms as they anticipate, build, or respond to changing media ecologies.

In addition to faculty and graduate research in this area, the department has a thriving undergraduate major in Film Studies, as well as two production minors in fiction filmmaking and documentary. We are increasingly recruiting and training graduate students with interests in film and visual culture, and new media, as well as the digital humanities more broadly. Graduate students now serve as TAs in the Film Studies major, develop dissertations in film and media studies, and participate actively in our weekly Film Collective screening series. Graduate students also have the opportunity to serve as Research Assistants in two departmental labs, the Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition Lab and the Film Production Lab, as well as participating in a variety of Digital Humanities initiatives in the College of Arts and Letters.

Faculty members working in this area include Ken Harrow, Gary Hoppenstand, Sheng-mei Ma, Ellen McCallum, Scott Michaelsen, Justus Nieland, Patrick O’Donnell, Swarnavel Pillai, Natalie Phillips, Stephen Rachman, Jyotsna Singh, Judith Stoddart, William Vincent, Jeff Wray, and Joshua Yumibe.

Modern / Contemporary / Emergent

How does “the new” in literature, film, and culture come into being? How are current claims about “the now” of new media and the revolutionary pace of technological change to be understood in a longer history of aesthetics and broader horizon of literary experimentation? Why does the history of the book, or of film, become even more urgent in the digital present? The Department of English has long been interested in the study of modern and contemporary literatures, and has built on those historical investments with new faculty strengths in film, visual culture, and new media. We understand aesthetic innovation in literature as embedded in theory and practice, in history and culture, in politics and bodies, in technologies and social power. Faculty research in experimental aesthetics take a materialist approach to form, and considers “emergent” literary and filmic art as a space for imagining futures and critiquing the limits of any given “now.” We both historicize and theorize claims about what is incipient or revolutionary in the art or culture of the present within the longue durée of aesthetic, cultural, and political modernity, as it develops unevenly across the globe.

While faculty working in the history of emergence situate their work within familiar periods and fields (for example, Victorian literature, film and media studies, modernism, contemporary literature), they see the past of experiment, innovation, and critique in fitful dialogue with what is most urgent in contemporary cultures of aesthetic emergence.

Faculty members working in this area include William Johnsen, Ellen McCallum, Justus Nieland, Patrick O’Donnell, Natalie Phillips, Swarnavel Pillai, Steve Rachman, Robin Silbergleid, Judith Stoddart, and Joshua Yumibe.

Neuro-literary Studies

Faculty members working in this area include Natalie Phillips, Judith Stoddart, and Stephen Rachman.

Popular Culture

The popular culture movement was founded on the principle that the perspectives and experiences of common folk offer compelling insights into the social world. The fabric of human social life is not merely the art deemed worthy to hang in museums, the books that have won literary prizes or been named “classics,” or the religious and social ceremonies carried out by societies’ elite. The field of popular cultures studies continues to break down the barriers between so-called “low” and “high” culture and focuses on filling in the gaps a neglect of popular culture has left in our understanding of the workings of society. Particular strengths at MSU include popular literature, music, film, and comics.

Faculty members working in this area include Tamar Boyadjian, Gary Hoppenstand, Ann Larabee, Emery Petchauer, David Stowe, and Edward Watts.