Friday, October 26, 2007

Changes to English Honors Program

Dear English majors:

A number of you have inquired about the deadline for applications to the English Honors program. I just wanted to give you all a quick update about the program, which is currently undergoing a period of reconstruction.

Because the deadline for applications in previous years was the October of juniors' fall semester, English Honors-worthy students who declared their major only in the spring semester of their junior year were necessarily excluded from the applicant pool. As a result, we have decided to push the deadline for honors applications back to the March of the spring semester.

Postponing the deadline to March has a number of other consequences for the program, the most important of which is the cancellation of the junior honors seminar, taught previously in spring semesters. Students admitted to the English Honors program will now sign up for the senior seminar (a thesis preparation course) that is run in the fall; the following spring, they will register for a special independent study course, in which they will write their theses.

In place of the junior seminar, the English department will now offer a series of three evening workshops in the spring semester on undergraduate research. All students who wish to apply for the English Honors program are expected to attend the three workshops, which can be taken as a 1-credit course. Students studying abroad in the spring semester of their junior year are exempted from this requirement.

The evening workshop series will include discussions of

* New Directions in English Studies, featuring English department faculty;

* Library Skills and Resources, featuring Gelman staff, Library of Congress staff, and faculty from the Folger Shakespeare Library;

* How to Write a Thesis, featuring current English Honors students.

Dates and times for each of these workshops will be announced early in the spring.

An email will be sent out to all English juniors in January, inviting applications for the English Honors program; this email will also include the updated application form. And yes, applications can be submitted by students studying abroad in the spring semester.

If you have any questions about the new English Honors program, please contact me.

Best wishes,

Jonathan Gil Harris
Professor of English
Director of Undergraduate Studies

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

We need your help!

Help design a T-shirt for GWU English!

The English Department is sponsoring a contest to design a T-shirt. Submit your (funny) phrase or design idea to

If your phrase or design is selected, you win a free T-shirt, and all the glory appertaining thereto.

The winner of the T-shirt contest will be announced at our “Futures of the Field: The English Major in the 21st-Century” colloquium on Thursday, Nov. 9, at 2 p.m., in Marvin 307.

We hope to see you there.

New Course: Myths of Britain

English 40W: Myths of Britain
Spring Semester 2008
taught by Jeffrey J. Cohen

Much great English literature turns out not to be so English after all: the action of the epic Beowulf unfolds in Scandinavia; King Arthur was a Welsh king before he was an English one; Shakespeare's Tempest takes place on an island in the Mediterranean, but the play is also about the colonization of the New World.

"Myths of Britain" looks at early English literature within a transnational frame. Students will enjoy literary works like Seamus Heaney's version of Beowulf; Simon Armitage's new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; Geoffrey of Monmouth's medieval Molotov cocktail of a text, his history of King Arthur; and Shakespeare's last play, The Tempest. We will also read some lesser known texts that beautifully stress the turbulent multiculturalism of medieval England: Marie de France's poetic stories of lycanthropy and tragic love, and the monster-filled travel narrative of Sir John Mandeville.

Class meets in a lecture format every Monday (11:10-12:25), and in smaller sections each Wednesday. This course satisfies the WID requirement and is open to all interested students.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Futures of the Field

Dear English majors,

Please join us for a special event -- a forum for English majors called


English professors Herman Carillo, Jeffrey Cohen, Kavita Daiya, Robert McRuer, Jonathan Gil Harris, Gayle Wald, and Tara Wallace will speak about new directions, developments and possibilities in our fields, and what these might mean for GW English majors.

Date: Friday, November 9

Time: 2:00 - 4:00 pm

Venue: Marvin Center 307

We look forward to seeing you there!

Jonathan Gil Harris
Director of Undergraduate Studies

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Nadeem Aslam residency POSTPONED

Nadeem Aslam's visa has been so delayed by government scrutiny that it will not be granted in time to enable our October and November events. Our inaugural GW-British Council Writer in Residence will therefore have to be postponed.

We are attempting to reschedule the residency for February. Mr. Aslam is eager to come to GW. Our book club, readings, and lectures will be rescheduled.

The one event we do intend to hold is the special panel on Literature in a Global Age. We will have a variety of presentations by English Department faculty. The event is still scheduled for Friday November 9 at 2 PM in the Marvin Center. Look for an invitation soon by Professor Gil Harris, Director of Undergraduate Study.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What does the English Department want?

I met last week with the staff of GW's Advancement office to speak about projects with which they might assist the English Department in fundraising. I was surprised to learn that most of what we seek is so modest that donors probably would not be that interested: significant gifts are those above $25,000. As an English major I can say only "!" I'm seldom at a loss for words, but that revelation left me speechless.

So apparently my department comes cheap. If you are reading this, have a kind heart and a love of culture and a wallet that has cash or even a credit card in it, here are some of the requests I made to Advancement on behalf of my colleagues.
  • A research fund so that faculty can travel to the archives they need to conduct their work. We work on projects as diverse as the life of Willa Cather and illustrations of incubi in medieval manuscripts. What these projects have in common (besides their ambition) is that the primary materials are housed in distant libraries, and a scholar's salary seldom allows for extended visits.
  • A once a year, major lecture on Shakespeare. The lecture would be given by a scholar known for path breaking work. The talk would be for current undergraduates, regardless of major, and would be an event that we'd invite our alumni to attend each year to catch up with us.
  • Better support for our creative writing reading series. We've accomplished much on a shoestring budget; we could accomplish so much more on a more ample one.
  • A permanent source of support for our GW-British Council Writer in Residence. Currently we have only three years worth of funding.
  • Renovation of our physical space. As those of you who have visited our departmental offices know, we do a lot with the shabby chic aesthetic. Still, it would be conducive to a better sense of community to have a functioning lounge with a couch (shouldn't every English major have access to a couch to crash upon and read Chaucer so that professors can wander by and strike up life changing conversations? That's what I thought college was all about). We'd like a better place for faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates to congregate for informal conversation.
  • Some funds to have a yearly series of talks that would give our majors a better feel for the contours of the field. We'd love to feature some of our alumni in it.
  • More ambitiously, we would like to hire a faculty member who specializes in Jewish American Literature. We are fortunate to have Faye Moskowitz on our staff, but we would like to build on the strengths that she gives us.
  • We would also like to hire another Shakespeare specialist, and to create more full time positions for creative writers.
  • The department chair would also like to fund an annual trip for him and his family to Bermuda. However, we leave that one under "dreams best left unfulfilled for legal and ethical reasons."
If you are interested in supporting anything on this list -- or have ideas of your own -- please don't hesitate to contact me [chair @] Please consider contributing via this link and designating your donation for the ENGLISH DEPARTMENT (scroll down the long list to check the box marked "Other" and then type in ENGLISH).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Second Meeting of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Seminar

The Medieval and Early Modern Studies Seminar was launched last month with a terrific paper by Professor Gil Harris, "The Writing on the Wall: Old Jewry and John Stow's Urban Palimpsest." During its initial semester the seminar will focus upon faculty work in progress, with papers circulating two weeks in advance of each meeting. The second meeting will be held on Friday, October 26th from 9-11 AM in Rome 771. Coffee and refreshments will be served. Holly Dugan will be presenting her paper entitled "Queer histories of sexual violence and the role of wonder: r(ape) in late medieval and early modern England."

An abstract is provided below. The paper is ready for distribution. RSVP to the seminar's rapporteur Lowell Duckert [lduckert[at]] and he will send you a copy. Please also contact Lowell if you would like to be added to our email distribution list.

This paper explores that which is rarely included in historiographies of
rape: tales of animal ravishment. In this article, I examine two such
examples in great detail: the late medieval romance of Alexander and its
staging of rape as a test of humanity and an early modern natural history's
mining of this tale for ethnographic data. Both tales assume that animals
desire women and that, if given an opportunity, animals will violently act
on such desire. As such, both are tales of-and tales that inspire-wonder.
They neither serve as stable historical evidence, nor solely as literary
embellishment. Because they flout categorical distinctions, these examples
seem both monstrous and mundane. Are these accounts of rape, sodomy, or
buggery? Do such categorical distinctions matter to the logic of the tale?
What do literary tales about sex with animals have to do with sexual
practices in the period? When is a sexual act violent and when is it
pleasurable? How do feminist and queer methodologies change the answer to
this question? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what might it mean to
examine the heteronormative structure of rape as a queer narrative effect?
Using these two examples, I theorize how Alexander's tale of r(ape)
underscores the usefulness of wonder to understanding a queer history of
sexual violence.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Margaret Soltan on the Lehrer News Hour

Professor Margaret Soltan was interviewed last night on the Lehrer News Hour about Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing. Here's the interview: . Follow the link on the lower right of the page.

For a full account of the adventure, see Professor Soltan's blog University Diaries.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tammy Greenwood-Stewart

We are privileged again this year to have the novelist Tammy Greenwood-Stewart teaching creative writing to our undergraduates. The author of gorgeous works like Breathing Water and Undressing the Moon, Tammy has just been awarded a contract by Kensington Press for her next two novels. Readers can discover more about her work at this website.

Tammy is also a photographer. Her work will be exhibited at the Bernstein Gallery next month. She also maintains a photo bog, The Ephemera Files, from which the image to the left was taken.

Monday, October 8, 2007


H. G. Carrillo is the author of the novel Loosing My Espanish (Pantheon 2004), and is now in his first year as Assistant Professor in the GW English Department. He has earned an MFA from Cornell University, and has taught previously there and at Knox College in Illinois.

OCTOBER 11, 2007

All readings are free and open to the public; seating is limited.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Featured Alumnus: Jason Hipp

Jason Hipp writes:
I currently work in the Development Department at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, a fairly small, 15-staff person non-governmental organization (NGO) with headquarters in New York and regional offices in Buenos Aires and Johannesburg. Basically, I help to make sure that the organization can still operate financially, through any means possible - events, membership and major donors, foundation grants and corporate support. It's a useful position to learn the ins-and-outs of the non-profit world, which, like DC, has a thriving industry in NY. Although my work doesn't specifically relate to program areas, I've been able to get a unique vantage point on the functions of media, NGO advocacy and foundation funding as they combine to produce 21st century gay and lesbian citizens around the world. Most recently, one of my colleagues has become something of a media star following Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim at Columbia University that there are "no homosexuals in Iran." It was a final research paper during Rachel Riedner's freshman year University Writing Program class that started me doing research and writing on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) identity and movement. I was perhaps intellectually nourished the most throughout my time at GW by a Cultural Studies reading group, loosely operating around the English Department, with Rachel, Bob McRuer, Dan Moshenberg and Todd Ramlow, as well as some fellow students. As a small group we were able to cover a lot of ground and foster something of an intellectual community in and around Rome Hall, in a way completely incomparable to the typical classroom experience.

Thanks for emailing, Jason. We wish you the best.