My teaching interests include cinema and media studies; popular visual culture; nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. fiction; religion and secularism studies; African American Studies; literary and cinematic realisms; American Modernism; contemporary television narrative; digital cultures; and historical fictions.
I am the recipient of the 2016 Robert Udick Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award from Louisiana State University.
Recent courses include:
The Cinema of Attractions: Silent Era to Digital Age
The very first films ever made at the turn of the twentieth century were short, shocking, spectacular, and not at all concerned with story. Historians refer to these films as “the cinema of attractions.” While largely replaced by more conventional narrative films within a few years, the aesthetic of these attractions survived in unexpected places, often where film form has been challenged by new technology. This course will endeavor to trace a history of film aesthetics in the twentieth century by paying attention to when and where the cinema of attractions re-surfaces. We’ll cover early cinema, avant-garde movements, the Hollywood musical, the Hollywood blockbuster, music videos, and we’ll end the semester by looking at all of the places—from Vine to Pixar—where the cinema of attractions is alive and well in the digital age.
Henry James and The Bachelor, Grand Theft Auto and the French New Wave, Zadie Smith and Instagram—at some point or another, everything on this list has been described using one capacious, contradictory term: “realism.” We will compare and contrast texts from the nineteenth century to the present across a wide variety of media— films, novels, TV series, paintings, social media—that endeavor to represent reality in radically different ways.
American Spectacle: Visual Cultures at the Turn of the Century
The American turn of the century was a crucial moment in the histories of literary and cinematic realism, but it was also a boon time for hoaxes, humbugs, frauds, and fantasies. The eye that relished realist depictions of the urban scene also looked for scenes of magic and monstrosity. In this course, we’ll encounter novels, films, and a bizarre array of visual cultures that offered spectacles of the real, the unreal, and everything in between. And we’ll finish the course by considering how the questions addressed by these texts from the turn of the twentieth century can help us understand our own digital present. Authors, filmmakers, and artists may include Edgar Allan Poe, P.T. Barnum, William Mumler, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Jacob Riis, Pauline Hopkins, Henry Adams, F. Holland Day, W.E.B. Du Bois, Thomas Edison, D.W. Griffith, Oscar Micheaux, and Cecil B. DeMille.
What Cinema Is: Film Theory, Film Criticism
What is cinema? This simple question has been debated and fought over since the medium came into existence. This course will introduce students to a diverse array of the voices that have contributed to this conversation: the theorists, critics, and filmmakers whose writings have shaped everything we think we know about film. Each week will focus on a different theoretical perspective for the study of film through both scholarly writing on the topic and popular criticism. We will then endeavor to apply these ideas to representative films from across the globe and the century. Throughout, students will have the opportunity to contribute to a course blog where they will practice the various forms of criticism we’ve studied in the classroom: everything from the film review to the research essay to the TV recap.
The Afterlives of Realism: Film, Literature, Reality (graduate seminar)
This course will take a comparative approach to a wide variety of “realisms” from the nineteenth century to the present, in theory and practice. Starting with Howellsian “High Realism” and the Actuality tradition of early cinema, this course will move back and forth between literature, film, and even television and video games. Rather than endeavoring to create a streamlined meta-narrative of this term, we will explore the diversity of ways that “realism” has been invoked as a way of categorizing texts and think about what kind of authority it bestows upon those texts that bear its mark. Potential case studies include French poetic realism, Soviet Realism, Italian Neorealism, direct cinema, magic realism, “hysterical realism,” Dogme 95, Mumblecore, Reality TV, and the “perceptual realism” of CGI.
Surveillance and Cinema
A film scholar once said that cinema’s greatest power was its ability to reveal “things normally unseen.” If film makes the invisible visible, then it makes sense that, since the beginning of the medium, filmmakers have been interested in telling stories about surveillance and about the detectives, spies, and obsessives who have made it their art. This course will introduce students to methodologies for the close formal analysis of film through attention to works—from Hitchcock to Homeland—that think about the practices and perils of surveillance.
The Sacred Screen: Religion and World Cinema
In 1913, D.G. Phalke, who would come to be known as the father of Indian cinema, claimed that seeing an American film of the life of Christ inspired him to become a director. The history of world cinema is filled with stories of divine inspiration, and filmmakers throughout the twentieth century have been fascinated by faith. In this course, we will look at the presence of religion in several global film traditions. From silent Christ films in Europe and the U.S. to the controversial Passions of Pasolini and Gibson; the punk revolt against Islamic fundamentalism in Persepolis to the vengeful revolt against Christian evangelicalism in There Will Be Blood; supernatural incarnations from Ingmar Bergman to The Exorcist; the near-silent meditations in Ki-duk Kim’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring to the near-silent suffering of A Serious Man, we will think cross-culturally about the political, aesthetic, and spiritual investments of world cinema.
Since its very beginning, film has been interested in the adaptation of literature. From ponderous epics like Quo Vadis? to works of pulp fiction like The Big Sleep, literature has been a source of content, prestige, and even folly since cameras first filmed actors. In this course, we will view a variety of film adaptations, read their source material, and investigate the formal and ideological choices made by the filmmakers. We’ll also be looking at films with non-traditional approaches to adaptation: remakes, television serializations, and even film adaptations of other films. This course will serve as an introduction to the primary questions of contemporary adaptation studies but also to methodologies for the close formal analysis of literature and film.
This course will introduce students to a range of writing about relocation and dislocation, about experiences of moving or fleeing, relocations forced or long hoped-for, mobility that can be both alienating and liberating. Students will be reading short stories, essays, and poems by major authors from the U.S., Britain, and other countries. Broadly speaking, they will be concerned with the ways this literature treats people who are adapting to or even resisting geographic—and hence also social and cultural—change. The course will culminate with an extended research project focused on Herman Melville’s Bartleby.
The Lives of Lincoln
From the most dramatic monuments to the smallest change in your pocket, the mythology of Abraham Lincoln — the Great Emancipator, the Rail-Splitter, Honest Abe — permeates American culture. What we know, or what we think we know, about Lincoln today is largely the product of these cultural myths, created by poets, politicians, biographers and filmmakers. This course explores the evolution of Lincoln by turning to the writers and artists who have repeatedly adapted his story and image. We’ll pay close attention to the various genres, voices and rhetorical techniques these writers use in order to persuade us that theirs is “the real Lincoln” while we consider the techniques that make our own writing persuasive to an audience of peers. We’ll analyze texts by Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass and Lincoln himself, films by D.W. Griffith and John Ford, and finally, we’ll focus on the presidential campaign of Barack Obama in order to understand how the Lincoln myth animates our present moment.