Hailed as a masterpiece of American fiction, Herman Melville's Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851) is a genre-defying work that pulls epic, romantic, dramatic, scientific, and historiographic forms into its literary vortex. The cosmic scope and metaphysical complexity of this text have enthralled, and sometimes left stranded, many an intrepid reader. Members of this research seminar, however, will likely avert the latter fate by harnessing their collective interpretive skills in a semester-long study of this endlessly rewarding novel, one that has become a key touchstone for writers, artists, philosophers, and political thinkers alike. Guided by their own close-readings of Moby-Dick and selected contemporaneous texts, students will consider the historical and cultural contexts in which the novel was written--the rise of industrial capitalism, the national debate over slavery, U.S. expansionist efforts across the globe, and so on--as well as engage with the novel's own speculations about the nature of agency, freedom, and meaning-making. At once a rigorous and irreverent meditation on the relationship between literature and knowledge, Moby-Dick will serve both as inspiration and point of departure for students' own critical explorations in and beyond the major.
The Junior Research Seminar is designed to involve students in the kinds of research that the discipline of literary studies currently demands, including: working with primary sources and archival materials; reviewing the critical literature; using online databases of historical newspapers, periodicals, and other cultural materials; exploring relevant contexts in literary, linguistic, and cultural history; studying the etymological history and changing meanings of words; experimenting with new methods of computational analysis of texts; and other methodologies. The course typically involves a few main texts that are studied intensively from a variety of approaches. Research exercises throughout the semester will enable and culminate in a final project: either a scholarly essay of 10-15 pages or a creative project. In either case, the final project must emerge out of each student's intensive, independent research agenda.