ENG 190: Senior Thesis: Human Rights & Literature

Year offered

Ernest Hemingway famously wrote that “the great thing is to last and get your work done.” As the capstone for the English major, this course asks you to demonstrate, to extend, and to reflect on your learning. You will do those things by producing a senior thesis. Normally 25 pages, the senior thesis is a time-honored part of the academy, one that asks English majors to apply what they have learned in a more sustained and rigorous way than they may have done before. The course offers the occasion for you to write a work of academic excellence combining traditional and innovative research methods, rhetorical risk and constraint, holistic and syntactic attunement, and critical inquiry, and literary and historical context. Additionally, English 190 asks you to present your work orally, and to look back on your time as an English major by writing a short reflective essay that prompts you to discuss what you think your work within the discipline has done for you. The main learning outcome for this course is that you will demonstrate your ability to articulate and apply what you have learned throughout your course of literary study. In that sense, the learning outcomes for this course are the same as the outcomes for the English major. Reading and writing are crucial to being an English major, and thus, the senior thesis acknowledges this, asking you to engage in the richest component of literary studies. Writing excellence is equally as important as success in speech or other forms of rhetoric, yet there is not a definable way to share ideas that is better than writing, publishing (in some form) and reading that publication. Thus, bringing your ideas into a written form is the heart of your major, and allows you to demonstrate that you have not simply learned in your classes, but you have become ready to step into a world of critical correspondence with others who also inhabit that world; at the same time, writing is the most democratic of institutions in the United States—at least at this point in the country’s history—and thus, writing is a way for you to join the broader community of others who care about ideas, are interested in current and historical realities, and whose attitudes and politics, even if different than yours, entitle them to engage with your rhetorical production in the public sphere. Many published authors cite the senior thesis experience as the beginnings of successful careers; ideas they came up with in the classroom—in the company of their peers—and turned into academic essays and theses were later expanded into published articles and books.

For spring 2020, the Senior Thesis seminar will have Human Rights & Literature as its general theme. A human rights revolution gained momentum at the midway point of the twentieth century, resulting in collections of global rights and protections that individuals could not previously appeal to in the face of abusive governments and regimes. This course traces the development of the social, legal and political discourses of global human rights, and the inter-related emergence of literary forms that embody, challenge and critically engage with

human rights ideas. The course examines the foundations of human rights, its modern and contemporary formations, as well as key organizations, concepts, documents, treaties, and statutes that have combined to cast human rights as a global lingua franca. Debates about human rights will emphasize the legal and political, as well as the artistic and imaginative.

Required texts:


Booth, Wayne C., et al. The Craft of Research. Fourth ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016. Print. Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing.

Kushner, Rachel. The Mars Room: A Novel. First Scribner hardcover ed. New York: Scribner, 2018.

Turabian, Kate L., et al. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers. 9th ed. Chicago ; London: The University of Chicago Press, 2018.