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English 481-001: Seminar in English Studies

Instructor: Don Dingledine

Come spend a semester at sea . . . without ever leaving campus. In this section of English 481:
Seminar in English Studies, we will devote the semester to studying Herman Melville’s Moby-
Dick; or, The Whale (1851). Described as “the unavoidable centerpiece of the American
tradition,” Moby-Dick permeates our culture. It has inspired everyone from graffiti artist Jean-
Michel Basquiat and playwright Tony Kushner to Led Zeppelin and the founder of Starbucks. It
is a book everyone, especially English majors, should read. We will explore Melville’s
commentary on his own age—a time of westward expansion, violent clashes over slavery, and a
looming civil war—as well as his novel’s relevance to our own—Moby-Dick has been used, for
example, to frame analyses of the War on Terror, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and opposition
to the Affordable Care Act.


Along with Melville’s massive text, we will study a selection of key critical interpretations of
Moby-Dick and even recent scientific findings concerning whale cultures, dialects, and brain
functions. (Whales “fit the philosophical definition of personhood,” some researchers conclude.)
Each student will produce either an analytical or a creative seminar project, a fifteen- to twenty-
page work interpreting or inspired by Moby-Dick. Students will workshop their projects in class
and will be encouraged to share resources with their classmates. This process will be facilitated
by the fact that everyone will be working with the same novel; we all will be in the same boat.
Close attention will be paid to writing and editing as students draft and revise their seminar
projects. To this end, we will also read Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing, another
book all English majors should know.

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