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Topics in 17th-Century History and Culture: Imagining Union

ENGL 730.301
Thursdays 3-6:00 pm


“Always historicize,” literary and cultural critics have long been taught. But recently, queer theorists have offered a powerful critique of historically-based criticism’s invisible commitment to causal, chronological models of explanation and value.  Is it possible to honor both the insights of queer critique and the centrality of historical particularity in literary studies? What problems and opportunities emerge when we try to keep both sets of interpretive values in view?In this advanced seminar, we’ll begin with a selection of recent secondary works that set forth the main features of the current debate over the place of historical explanation in literary-cultural studies. Then we’ll shift our focus to the long seventeenth century and a single hot-button topic -- national union between England-and-Wales and Scotland. We’ll read key works debating union that have been granted significance by history; then we’ll work together to uncover historically marginalized primary materials from the seventeenth century, proceeding in a deliberately old-fashioned way: decade-by-decade. At the same time, we’ll interrogate the purposes, limitations, and possibilities of the kind of primary research we are doing, and ask whether it can yield anything but traditional kinds of historical explanation. The goal of this semester-long exercise is not only to uncover forgotten writing, but to consider what is at stake when we select and organize materials from the past for our own understanding. What are we doing when we set out to produce a counter-history of neglected writing? -- what intellectual and ideological investments are, or can be, at work in such a project, and how far can its revisionary ambitions extend? What possible relations obtain between chronology and history? Is all historical explanation fundamentally the same? Can archival work generate more than one kind of historical project? These are the larger questions that we’ll ask of the primary materials that we find. Our goal will be to think critically and creatively about what our work does, whom it is for, and what we want from the past.