ENGLISH 317 - Literature and Culture
Winter 2020, Section 001 - Threads: What Does Clothing Have to Do with Culture, Politics, and the Environment?
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
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Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
May be repeated for a maximum of 6 credit(s). May be elected more than once in the same term.
Primary Instructor:


You get dressed every day, but how often do you consider the many ways in which clothing shapes our culture, politics, and environment? This course is your chance to explore questions such as the following:

• Why do women’s clothes have fewer pockets than men’s?

• What roles have hooded garments played from the Spanish Inquisition to the murder of Trayvon Martin?

• In what ways is clothing a language?

• Why does clothing feature prominently in narratives by a broad range of authors, including Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, Michel de Montaigne, Louisa Picquet, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. DuBois, Theodore Dreiser, Edna Ferber, Edith Wharton, Nella Larsen, Willa Cather, Anzia Yezierska, Jamaica Kinkaid, Sandra Cisneros, and Shailja Patel?

• Throughout history, why have laws been passed to regulate who can wear particular kinds of fabrics and garments? How have these clothing laws reflected prevailing conceptions of race, gender, class, embodiment, religion, and nationality?

• How did enslaved American women resist the dehumanization of slavery through resourceful practices of making and wearing their own clothes?

• Why have particular garments and accessories—such as buttons, corsets, bloomers, zoot suits, saris, safety pins, qipaos, dashikis, overalls, veils, and hoodies—played central roles in movements for racial, gender, and economic equality and in struggles for political independence and global power?

• How do historical shifts in U.S. prison uniforms—including the resurgence of stripes—indicate shifting attitudes towards prisoners and punishment?

• According to various scholars, how does what we wear alter our sense of self, our interactions with others, and even how we think? What roles does clothing play in self-fashioning, meaning-making, and self-expression?

• How might we understand the popularity of personal style blogs?

• In what ways is clothing an archive of the past, a carrier of memories and a means of connecting with loved ones, both living and deceased? Why does it matter that chemical reactions between clothes and the bodies who wear them continue, such that a wearer’s perspiration may alter the molecular structure of a garment one hundred years later?

• Why is clothing part of the weekly news cycle in the United States?

• When it comes to clothing, what is the difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation?

• Why are jeans and athletic clothes—some of the most popular clothing items—viewed as disastrous for the environment?

• How are writers, clothing designers, bioengineers, and consumers trying to counter the inhumane labor practices and environmental devastation associated with “fast fashion”?

As our readings and discussions will highlight, clothing signals individuality and social legibility. It’s a necessity and a privilege, protective and decorative, utilitarian and the stuff of consuming artistic passion. Clothes manage anxieties and create them, serve as armor and sometimes as sword. They hide and render visible. They preserve and defy conventions. They reconcile and multiply our various selves. Clothing is a domain of the deadly serious and a domain of the lighthearted. It’s a site of oppression and liberation, of forced labor and free expression, of violence and healing. It’s consumption and creativity, a tourist trap and an entry point for genuine cross-cultural engagement. It’s a means to live in the present and a repository of the past. Clothing is an environmental disaster and a resource for surviving—through meaning-making and community building—as the world burns around us.

So, put on your favorite outfit and get ready to think, read, and write!

Course Requirements:

Course assignments will include: 1) a Closet Curation (a written reflection about your clothing), 2) an interview-based podcast about a contemporary clothing trend, 3) a News and Notes segment (5 minute oral analysis of a clothing-related news story), and 4) a final research project about a clothing-related subject of your choice; your research might include archival work, literary analysis, media analysis, interviews, ethnography, personal narrative, and/or engagement with a related body of scholarship.


ENGLISH 317 - Literature and Culture
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
 In Person
MW 10:00AM - 11:30AM
002 (LEC)
 In Person
MW 2:30PM - 4:00PM
003 (LEC)
 In Person
TuTh 10:00AM - 11:30AM
004 (LEC)
 In Person
TuTh 4:00PM - 5:30PM

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