Category Archives: Assignments

Midterm essay prompts

1.  Drawing from the 1890s sexological texts by Ellis and Carpenter, and the overview article by Gibson, write a short paper addressing the following questions (in no particular order):

a. What are some important medical or/and cultural ideas and discourses about male and female homosexuality in the 1890s that are addressed in these texts?

b. Which rhetorical strategies and arguments do Ellis and Carpenter employ to argue for a more sympathetic and fair treatment of “inverts” in society? To develop b, please think about audience and purpose of these texts: who most likely comprises their audience, why and of what exactly do they want to convince them? Even though Carpenter’s and Ellis’s texts were progressive, they also echo the influence of cultural ideas of decadence and degeneration that ultimately pathologize homosexuality.  Still, how did they argue for changes in the laws and cultural views of homosexuality at the time?

c. And finally, what are your personal impressions of these 1890s texts, looking back from the year 2013? Do some of the sexologists’ ideas, arguments or strategies look familiar, different, or both, when we compare them with the ways our own culture still sees and debates homosexuality today?

2.  In which ways can or/and cannot The Importance of Being Earnest be considered a queer text, and why? And what does and doesn’t “queer” mean when we apply our own understanding of the term to the particular context of this play, in which sexual and gender aspects are so intricately interwoven with social, cultural, and stylistic aspects? What makes this text “queer” in your eyes, and what about this text or its author may resist such an anachronistic description?

3. Write an essay discussing how Radclyffe Hall’s novel (in the excerpts we discussed in class) tries to advance the public understanding of, and sympathy for, sexual difference through its adaptation of sexual inversion theories and by other means (such as the religious discourse it employs).

4. Compare and contrast the ways in which Girls in Uniform and The Well of Loneliness (two roughly contemporaneous texts) present lesbianism.

5. How does Velvet Goldmine develop a queer genealogy that reaches from Oscar Wilde to the glam rock era to the present of the movie’s narrator, Arthur Stuart, to the present-day audience watching the film, and what are some possible purposes of developing such a queer genealogy?

6. Pick two texts from the course thus far to discuss and elaborate on the theme of the queer family, commenting on how each text develops this theme, and spending some time thinking about differences and similarities in the ways your two picks treat this topic.  Good candidates for such a discussion might be The Importance of Being Earnest, Velvet Goldmine, the lesbian short “You Move Me” (the longer, non-swimming one we screened in class), Fun Home, All About My Mother, or the two short stories you just read, “Bodhisattva Incarnate” and/or “Brokeback Mountain.”

7. How does race intersect with and complicate ideas about queerness in Paris Is Burning, Giovanni’s Room, or in Cherrie Moraga’s work (which we’ll read the week after next)?  Pick one or more texts for this question, as you prefer no need to be exhaustive in covering all these texts; I’m just giving you various textual choices for your   In your opinion, is either text more successful in complicating these intersecting “identities”?  Why?

8. Discuss the problem of deciding or pinning down what can make a literary or filmic text “queer”, using at least two different examples from the course thus far that illustrate this problem. Is it the sexual orientation of the author, the direct or indirect presentation of queer issues (whatever those might be), the contents, the aesthetic (style) of the text, the audience’s reading of a text, the specific cultural context, or a combination of those factors?  I’m less interested here in a definitive answer to this question (let me tell you: there is none!) than in an intelligent discussion of the problem itself: what is a “queer” text, and why is that question so difficult to answer?


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Final project week instructions


  • MONDAY, Dec 2: By common consensus, we are canceling our class meeting on Monday, December 2, but anyone who wishes to use this time to speak with me more about their project should contact me before then to set up a time to talk. This can happen during class time either on the phone or in person. Just let me know as soon as you can if you’d like to do this, so I can arrange to meet or talk with you.  I am wrapping up all my regular blog commenting in the next few days, so some of you will get emails with comments on previous posts as appropriate. Let me know if you have questions or concerns, as always! I’m here to help.
  • WEDNESDAY, Dec 4: This will be our class wrap-up and also informal class conference for the final projects in class, and I’ll be bringing some cookies and fruit to celebrate our work together this quarter!  Please come to class prepared to talk about your final project in development and bring any materials you have already developed.  I will have my laptop and we can project or pull up any images or video you’d like us to look at and may already have posted on our website (see “website development” below).  At a minimum, you must bring the following  and provide AT LEAST 4 HARD COPIES of each—one will be for me, the others for classmates to look  over and workshop in class):
    • a draft of your pedagogical rationale (see below)—ca. 1 page single-spaced
    • an overview list of your teaching sequence that lists all primary and secondary texts in the order you plan to teach them in, even if you have not fully decided on the texts yet (just include all possibilities and indicate which of these might be alternatives, so we can give you some feedback on text choices and pairings)— ca. 1 paragraph (list form)
    • draft of at least one (ideally more) material(s) you are developing yourself for the sequence, such as handouts etc.  Examples are a list of reading questions for a chosen primary text, a handout on some theoretical terms or background for a specific text or writer or filmmaker, an electronic draft of a blog post with images and videos which you will link to your final project (see below under “website development”)
    • anything you’d like us to look at as a group and help you with.

Here are some thoughts to help you start writing your pedagogical rationale draft.

  • Target audience: who is the audience for this teaching sequence? How much might my target students know or do not know about my proposed topic yet?
  • Goals and objectives: Why should they care about this topic (why should this topic be taught)? What do I want my students to learn about the topic a) in general, and b) specifically in the 2-week sequence I propose, with the help of these texts?
  • Texts: why did I choose these specific texts (such as novels, theoretical readings, films), and how are they best put together to develop a logical connection between subtopics for the students?
  • Materials I have developed: which extra materials have you developed that will help you achieve the goals and objectives of your teaching sequence? For example, comment on the specific purposes and your own thoughts behind developing certain handouts, your reading or viewing questions for specific texts (what are your questions supposed to elicit or bring out?), excerpts you have chosen to give the students to stimulate their thinking about certain ideas or connections, video you are producing yourself or are linking from YouTube, visual images you are collecting to show to the students, etc.

Website development: I will be setting up an area on our website ( that will be exclusively devoted to our final projects.  You may start posting things there in draft form as soon as you are ready to put something there.  I’ll send out a separate email about this as soon as that website area is ready for you to use.  None of what you post there will be regarded finalized before the actual project deadline (Wednesday, Dec. 11), so feel free to experiment and post/repost/take things off or add before then at your will!

Please let me know if you have any questions as you move into this final phase of the course.  I am really excited about your projects and can’t wait to see how they turn out.  We’ll discuss some publication/marketing strategies for them next week; for now, please just focus on your own work.

All best, and happy Thanksgiving!

Petra Dierkes-Thrun

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