Department of English and Philosophy


The MA Program   • The PhD Program

Graduate Research Topics

To give potential applicants a sense of research they might do in our department, below we provide a list of some dissertation and thesis projects completed by students in our programs.

Graduate students have written PhD dissertations and MA theses in a number of areas of English studies. Most projects focus on English or U.S. literature, and/or some aspect of literature or composition pedagogy. In some cases, where we have had faculty with relevant expertise, students with demonstrated qualifications have written on Anglophone and other national literary traditions, or traditional or newer forms of narrative (oral storytelling, film, graphic novels, and even video games).

PhD in English and the Teaching of English

The PhD integrates research in literature with theoretical and practical training in the teaching of literature and composition. Each dissertation contains at least one chapter or chapter-length appendix discussing implications of the research for teaching literature or composition. The list below is organized in reverse chronological order, by date of completion.

  • "Jane Austen in Postmodern Popular Culture" (2014)
  • "Transgressing Postcolonial Indifference, Recovering History: Women and Desire in Arundhati Roy’sThe God of Small Things, Ahdaf Soueif’s The Map of Love, and Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones" (2014) 
  • "The Caverns of the Heart: The Existential Themes of Nathaniel Hawthorne" (2014)
  • African-Arab Hybrid Identities in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Tayyeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, and Hisham Matar’s In the Country of Men (2013)
  • “For the Future”: Consciousness, Fantasy, and Imagination in Owen Barfield's Fiction (2013)
  • “Fellow-Citizens With the Saints”: Mormon Conversion Narratives and the Rhetoric of Religious Identity (2012)   
  • Adapting Edward II: Eight Representations of Early Modern Sexuality (2012)
  • A Forgotten Face of Japan: Six Short Stories by Koda Rohan (1867–1947) with a Critical Introduction (2011)
  • “Passionate Struggle Into Conscious Being”: D. H. Lawrence and Creative Nonfiction (2011)
  • The Wise Woman in Postcolonial Works Of Magical Realism of the Americas: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Cien años de soledad, Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima, and Toni Morrison’s Paradise (2010)

MA in English

The MA focuses on English and U.S. literary tradtions, and we encourage students to complete coursework in literature and/or composition pedagogy. The following list is organized roughly according to the project’s period or subject matter.

MA Literature Theses
  • Christine de Pizan’s Use of Irony in The City of Ladies: Shifting Boccaccio’s Reputation
  • Orality and Textuality: Representations of Discourse Communities in Langland’s Piers Plowman
  • Enter the Master Dissector: Metaphorical Human Dissection in The Revenger’s Tragedy
  • Eighteenth-Century Masculinity and Jane Austen: Modern Man Emerging from an Old Model
  • Context and Transcendence: The Ambivalent Nature of Wordsworth’s The Prelude
  • Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights: The Evolving Gothic Tradition
  • Definitions of Hope: Comparing the Language and Context of a Theme in Emily Bronte and Emily Dickinson's Poetry
  • Be a Man: Representations of Masculinity in the Civil War Literature of Ambrose Bierce and John William De Forest
  • A Rhetoric of Renewal, Imagination, and The Sublime: The Work Of Landscape in Isabella Bird’s A Lady’s Life In The Rocky Mountains
  • Personal Narratives With Parallel Purposes: Comparison and Contrast of the Diaries Versus Autobiography of an Idaho Pioneer Woman
  • Mary Richardson Walker and America’s Racial Project
  • Showdown at Rawhide: The Ed F. Winn Story
  • Discursive Riot: Silence and Subversion in Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition
  • Voices From the Backwash: The Ignored, Forgotten and Silenced Sketches of Three World War I American Battlefield Nurses
  • Smells Like Faulkner: The Use of Synesthetic Smell in Faulkner’s Novels and Short Stories
  • E. E. Cummings, the Ambiguous Modernist: A Re-Evaluation of his Work
  • J. D. Salinger’s Uncollected Stories and the Development of Aesthetic and Moral Themes in The Catcher In The Rye
  • Nothing To Laugh About: The Effects of Humor in Heller’s Catch-22 and Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five
  • The Immortal Child: Jack Kerouac’s Search for the Sublime
  • The Evolutions (and Devolutions) of Salman Rushdie’s Narrators
  • Failed Hybridity: Creole Identity in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
  • Examining Unclosed Wounds in the Biografiction of Sherman Alexie and Tim O’Brien
  • Images and Echoes: Memory, Imagination and the Mature Perspective in the Works of Harriet Doerr
  • Fact, Fiction, and the Literature Of Truth: A Study Of J. Joseph Mitchell’s Up In The Old Hotel
  • Empathetic Imagination: Perception, Aesthetics, and Ethics in Life of PI by Yann Martel
  • From Dissolution to Realization: The Interdependence Of Self And Place in Alice Munro’s Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
  • The Immortal Child: Jack Kerouac’s Search for the Sublime
MA Pedagogy Theses (literature and/or composition)
  • Shakespeare and Pedagogy: “Confusion Now Hath Made This Masterpiece!”
  • The Effects of Author Sex on Students’ Evaluations of Student Writing
  • Connected Pedagogy: Building a Refined Constructionist Method for a First-Year Composition Course
  • "What Do You Have In Mind?" Using Contemplative Strategies to Elicit Thoughtful Writing
  • From Strawberries to Strange Cases: A Structural Review of the Pedagogical Canon
  • Encouraging Humanist Approaches in Higher Education Literature Classrooms
  • Balancing Convention and Change in Multimodal Pedagogy and Assessment
MA Papers (course papers, revised into publishable-quality, article-length essays)
  • Context within “The Wife’s Lament”: The Semantic and Stylistic Pulse of a Whole Poem
  • A Coexistent Realm: Medieval Imagery and the Feminine in James Joyce's Dubliners
  • “A Bag of Tricks”: Silence and Power in the Novels of Amitav Ghosh

DA in English

The DA (Doctor of Arts), a terminal, doctoral degree in literature and pedagogy, was offered at ISU from 1971-2009, when it was replaced by the PhD. The degree required two “papers,” each equivalent in length and scope to an MA thesis.

DA Literature Papers
  • Anti-Puritan Satire: The Staged Puritan Threat in Elizabethan and Jacobean England
  • Traumatic Stress in Macbeth and Merchant of Venice
  • Sentimental Constructions and Indeterminate Meanings: Thomas Jefferson and the Works of Sterne
  • Father Bombo’s Pilgrimage to Mecca and Cultural Upheaval: Brackenridge, Freneau, and Undergraduate Uncertainty at the College of New Jersey
  • Lovers’ Vows: First and Second Loves in Mansfield Park and the Novel of Second Attachment
  • The Medical Case Study as a Rhetorical Form for Nineteenth-Century Literature and Art
  • The Intimate Circle, Popular Words, and Collectible Books of A. Edward Newton, Early Twentieth-Century American Rare Book Collector
  • Landscape Aesthetics and Antillean Identity in Derek Walcott’s Omeros
  • A Search for Depth in Robert A. Heinlein’s Short Fiction
  • Passing as The "Tragic" Mulatto: Constructions of Hybridity in Toni Morrison’s Novels
  • Andrea Hairston’s Fantastic Trajectory: A Multicultural Science Fiction Aesthetic
DA Pedagogy Papers (literature and/or composition)
  • Teaching Shakespeare in Performance: Recent Trends and Annotated Bibliography
  • Better Readers, Better Writers: Tutoring Reading in the Writing Center
  • The Idea of an Owl: Online Writing Conferences for Second Language Students
  • Essentialism and Degrees of Diversity: Examining the Politics of Authority in the Literature Classroom
  • Making Connections: Creative Writing Pedagogy and its Implications in the Composition Classroom
  • Creative Nonfiction in Introduction to Literature Classrooms and Strategies for Teaching Tracy Kidder’s Home Town
  • Options for Teaching Literature and the Environment


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