From ghosts to historical traces, particles, dust, and stray signals, this course explores strategies for representing the unseen from the nineteenth century to the present. We often imagine the spectral as immaterial. However, media, physical infrastructures, and environments enable hauntings in both fiction and archives meant to preserve the past. Figures from the past themselves had (and have) a mattered character to contend with. What is a ghost? What modes of sensing and recording are used to register an intangible or unseen presence? What kinds of physical, as well as ideological, ecosystems produce a haunting? These questions have implications for thinking about the ways we mediate and access the past through archives, databases, and spaces of memory.
This seminar (1) explores the material conditions of haunted/haunting encounters in nineteenth-century speculative literature, science writing, and audio/visual media, (2) to inform approaches to material and archival media (with help from contemporary theory). Starting with Mary Shelley’s essay “On Ghosts” and Horace Walpole’s gothic novel The Castle of Otranto, we will explore strategies for narrating ghostly imaginaries. We will contend with the specters of slavery through J. M. W. Turner’s painting The Slave Ship, pass through the veil with George Eliot’s clairvoyant narrator in The Lifted Veil, channel a spectral Keats in Rudyard Kipling’s “Wireless,” and explore the way unseen physical matter itself haunts the atmosphere in Alfred Russel Wallace’s essay “The Importance of Dust.” Along the way, we will consider who or what gets mattered in these texts, and the occluded histories that haunt them. Contemporary media engagements may include: the YouTube series Buzzfeed Unsolved: Supernatural, the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, and a visit to the Seybert Commission archives that investigate “modern spiritualism.”
This Junior Research Seminar is designed to introduce students to a variety of critical research methods for literature and media studies. Work will include short writing assignments to practice these skills, such as close reading, visual analysis, and archival and site-based work. The course culminates in a final project in the form of a paper, with the possible option of a podcast, digital project, or other media object.