Selected Courses

Fall 2020 (2)  For course descriptions see below.  Email me if you’d like to see more details.  pschmid1[at]

• English 009H, “Portraits of the Artist”  First-Year Seminar

9H Portraits of the Artist.POSTER

• English 052A, “US Fiction 1900-1950” Engl 52A poster


Portraits of the Artist (FYS, Fall 2020)

In this first-year seminar we will study works portraying artists in a variety of media, seeking a critical understanding of the ways in which artists in different times and places have interacted with their societies.  We’ll also seek to tackle answers to broader questions:

  • What is cultural studies?
  • How can we ask better questions about how a particular story-world creates meaning?
  • In what ways are artists partof their place & time, yet also able to imagine worlds that may resonate with audiences in very different eras?
  • How does literature inspire critical thinking and imagining a different future?

Here are some of the materials on the Fall 2020 syllabus:

  • “How 17 Outsize Portraits Rattled a Small Southern Town/ Newnan, Ga., decided to use art to help the community celebrate diversity and embrace change. Not everyone was ready for what they saw.”/ Artist featured: Mary Beth Meehan  NYTimes, Jan. 20, 2020
  • Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, NBC TV series pilot (episode 1)(2020)
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Breathe” from In the Heights(2008) and “My Shot” from Hamilton(2015)
  • Hope Boykin, choreographer: “It’s OK too. Feel” (dance during 2020 quarantine)
  • Plato (Parable of the Cave, from The Republic)
  • Ted Chiang, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” (2019)
  • Ghost in the Shell (film, 1995). Based on the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow.  Screenplay by Kazunori It?; directed by Mamoru Oshii.
  • A short story/portrait of the artist as a young woman by Sandra Cisneros, from Woman Hollering Creek (1991)
  • Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass (first novel in the His Dark Materials trilogy, 1995, also made into an HBO series)
  • Akwaete Emezi, Pet (YA fiction, 2019)
  • Louis Armstrong, West End Blues (jazz; 1928)
  • Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer2019 “emotion picture”/music video

Also to be assigned are selected background and critical materials, including the Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat’s essay “Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work,” and Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “The Slowness of Literature and the Shadow of Knowledge.”

Portraits of the Artist as a Tweet:

We’ll enter Plato’s cave, learn to use a Golden Compass, and befriend giant armored bears, an anime cyborg warrior, and an angel who’s also a demon.  Also on the syllabus:  Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Janelle Monaé, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sandra Cisneros.  Oh, and there’s a portal allowing time travel & return, and another that explores why literature acts slowly, not quickly, to create dangerously.


As with all first-year English Literature seminars, considerable time will be devoted to improving each student’s analytical writing and discussion skills.  The class typically includes a wide variety of students, with potential natural science and social science majors well represented, as well as those considering a major in the humanities.
English 009H will be what Swarthmore is now calling a hybrid course, with some in-person classes for enrolled studts.  In-person classes and conversations will involve masks, safe social distancing, and any other safety measures judged necessary.
            The course is also designed to accommodate students who want to take it fully online.  These students will miss the face-to-face classes, but they all will be summarized by a student, whose notes will then be shared on the course’s webpage so that all students can access and engage remotely with the content of the in-person discussions.
            Students working in either the hybrid or the fully online mode will have the same reading/viewing/listening materials and approximately the same writing assignments.  They will both have seminar discussions each week.  The goal is to give students in either mode as equal a learning experience as possible, under the circumstances.


US Fiction 1900-1950  Fall 2020

This Covid-shortened 12-week course focuses on well-known and newly recognized novelists important for this period: L. Frank Baum, Jack London, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, Anita Loos, Dashiell Hammett, and Zora Neale Hurston.

There will be attention to innovations in the novel as a flexible and varied literary form, and to the ways in which these writers engage with their historical context, particularly regarding issues of immigration, race, redefinitions of gender roles, the rising influence of new commercial media, and contestations over the meaning of “American.”
20th/21st c.

GATEWAY English Literature. Open to any student without prerequisite.
1 credit.
Fall 2020. Schmidt.

Tweet for 52A:

A menagerie, not a conventional survey.  You’ll encounter  a wolf, a war, a gold-digger, a neighbor named Rossicky, a Maltese falcon, and a hurricane.  Plus a primer on how to read.

===============Spring 2020

“The Short Story en las Américas,” co-taught with Prof. Luciano Martínez of the Spanish Department.  Email me if you’d like to see the syllabus: pschmid1[at]

Spring 2019

English 52C: “Towards a More Perfect Union: Contemporary Fiction in the U.S.”   Peter Schmidt, Swarthmore College

For a list of authors on the syllabus, see below.  Here’s the course description:

This course will focus on contemporary U.S. fiction published since 1990 or so.  The reading list will feature global perspectives on the U.S. as well as new understandings of the U.S.’s past and present.  Some authors are U.S. natives or now live here; many are immigrants or from immigrant families; and others, such as Adichie and Hamid, live and work in several nations.

We’ll explore these novels’ formal inventiveness as well as their engagement with history, race, gender and sexuality, and a variety of other social issues, including multi-racial identities. Another key theme will be the role that contemporary fiction may play in pushing the U.S. away from its white supremacist roots.  Three of the readings will use the genre of “historical fiction” to reinterpret U.S. history, but all the texts question and rewrite the possibilities of personal, family, and national/transnational narratives. All also feature complex and compelling characters, both the heroes and their antagonists.

The reading load for this course, frankly, will be intense. Some of the novels are long. But these books are compelling and transformative, both for their readers and for the future of the U.S. They brilliantly embody what daring contemporary fiction can aspire to do.

A special feature of our course will be the celebration of Swarthmore alum Patricia Park, who will return to Swarthmore to read from and discuss her first novel. Entitled Re Jane, its heroine Jane Re is a mixed-race orphan on a quest to learn more about her family history. The novel is set in Queens, Brooklyn, and Korea, and is simultaneously a fun romantic comedy, a detective story, and a clever reimagining of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre plot.

Historical fiction (the return of the repressed, revised and reimagined):

  • Philip Roth, The Plot Against America
  • Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad
  • George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo

On the contemporary family, race, gender, and sexuality:

  • Luis Alberto Urrea, House of Broken Angels
  • Justin Torres, We the Animals
  • Mary Gaitskill, The Mare

On relationships & family in the U.S. from a transnational perspective:

  • Luis Alberto Urrea (above), plus Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
  • Gish Jen, The Love Wife
  • Patricia Park, Re Jane
  • Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story
  • Mohsin Hamid, Exit West