Sean Grass Headshot

Sean Grass

Department Chair

Department of English
College of Liberal Arts

Sean Grass

Department Chair

Department of English
College of Liberal Arts

Bio

About Me

I joined the Department of English at RIT in January 2019, having previously been at Iowa State University and Texas Tech University. I write on and teach Victorian literature and culture, with particular emphases on the Victorian novel, Victorian commodity culture, the literary market, and the works of Charles Dickens. Having grown up the son of a mill worker in western Pennsylvania during the 1970s, when much heavy industry was disappearing, I have always been drawn to Dickens’s novel, which consistently reflect enormous concern for the laboring poor. As my understanding of those novels has matured, I have become increasingly interested in their engagement with not just questions of social class, urban poverty, and economic exploitation but also questions of economic production—how, that is, economic conditions shaped and continue to shape the development of English literature.

My Teaching

My aims in teaching are always twofold: 1) to guide students toward a greater ability to read texts critically, and 2) to help students understand the ways in which literary texts participate in much broader historical and cultural concerns. Reading and analyzing literary texts help students to cultivate their ability to examine “data,” so to speak, and articulate precisely what that data means. Nineteenth-century novels afford fantastic opportunities to develop those skills, besides also helping students to understand the long historical trajectories that shape our modern world.

Spring 2019

ENGL 275, Storytelling (Serial Fiction)

ENGL 418, Great Authors (Charles Dickens: Haunted Man)

My Research

My current book, which will appear from Cambridge University Press in late 2019, explores the rise of autobiography as a commercial genre during the early nineteenth century and the ways in which this new practice of writing and selling one’s identity created cultural anxieties about the intersection of identity and property. I will also publish two essays in 2019, one on violence in Victorian family magazines and another on Great Expectations, play, and trauma. I have published two other books (The Self in the Cell: Narrating the Victorian Prisoner[Routledge, 2003] and Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend: A Publishing History [Ashgate, 2014]) and several essays on writers from Dickens to Christina Rossetti to Wilkie Collins. I currently also serve as the Vice President of the Dickens Society and as an Executive Secretary for the North American Victorian Studies Association (NAVSA). 


Areas of Expertise

Select Scholarship

Invited Paper
Grass, Sean. "Recent Dickens Studies 2019: A Journal of the Plague Year." Dickens Studies Annual. (2021). Print.
Grass, Sean. "Dickens, the City, and the Prison." The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Urban Literary Studies. (2020). Web.
Journal Paper
Grass, Sean. "Revising Codes: Education, Empathy, and the Case for Bradley Headstone." Dickens Quarterly 37. 1 (2020): 29-46. Print.
Grass, Sean. "\Accounting for Taste: Very Hard Cash and Middle-Class Readership\." Victorian Periodicals Review 52. 3 (2019): 464-488. Print.
Full Length Book
Grass, Sean. The Commodification of Identity in Victorian Narrative: Autobiography, Sensation, and the Literary Marketplace. 1st ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Print.

Currently Teaching

ENGL-101
1 Credits
This course will introduce students to the field of English Studies and the kinds of reading, writing, and critical thinking practices central to the field today. English Studies, consolidated as a field in the 19th century in European and American Universities, has evolved well beyond its initial focus on English-language literatures, language practices, and socio-linguistic concerns while retaining its primary concern with literature, language-arts, linguistics, rhetorical practices, and their participation in broader national and global cultures and subcultures.
ENGL-275
3 Credits
In this course students will focus on reading and analyzing storytelling as a literary practice. It introduces the basic elements of narrative and story, acknowledging these as a primary way that we organize information and communicate our experiences, whether in fictional or real-world domains. The course explores defining characters of narrative expression and storytelling: story arcs, conflict, transformation, plot, and structural relationships among characters and also between author, text, and audience/reader. Exploring influential commentary on “story” and considering significant differences between oral, print, and digital storytelling methods, the course invites students to consider how the foundations of storytelling have evolved over time, and how new techniques continue to emerge in the present day.
ENGL-318
3 Credits
This course examines popular literature, a designation that has meant different things at different times and that has included literature as diverse as Shakespearean comedies, Gothic fiction, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. In part, students will consider the artistic relationships between popular literature and both historical and contemporary literary forms in order to understand how popular literature draws upon and sometimes invents new kinds of artistic representation. The class will also ask students to explore what social attitudes and pressures help to make a form popular at a particular moment in time, and how popularity is often driven by the social networks of book production, marketing, sales, and adaptation. Different sections may focus on different popular literary forms. Whatever the topic, the course will provide students a lens through which to discuss how the public, mainstream authors, and literary critics, as well as editors and publishers, impact the development of literary traditions.
ENGL-414
3 Credits
This variable topic course examines one or more themes, figures, movements, or issues associated with the representation of women and gender in literature and media, and/or associated with the historical, cultural, and theoretical questions provoked by women as producers and consumers of media and texts. The topic for the course is chosen by the instructor, announced in the course subtitle, and developed in the syllabus. The course can be taken multiple times provided that the topic being studied has changed.
ENGL-418
3 Credits
This course provides an in-depth look at literary giants and the masterpieces of prose or poetry they have created; it's an opportunity to see the role they played both within the context of their own time and within the larger span of literary history. These great authors confront key questions of modernity that continue to occupy us to this day; they ask the question of what it means to be human and explore fundamental human themes. They give us a fresh perspective on the past and on ourselves.
ENGL-500
3 Credits
Students will use the capstone as an opportunity to design a project that integrates the knowledge they have gained throughout their English program with experience in the professional track. Students will work with faculty to develop, manage, and execute a project that will culminate in the creation of an academic research paper, analysis of text using digital methods, construction of an argument across media, or demonstration of theoretical and/or aesthetic language use in digital form. Students will work under close mentorship by and/or collaboration with a faculty advisor in the Department of English for project planning. Students will present their project in a venue appropriate to their specific work.
ENGL-599
1 - 6 Credits
A program of study executed by an individual student with assistance and guidance by an instructor, outside a regular classroom setting. Guidelines for designing and gaining approval for an independent study are provided in College of Liberal Arts Policy I.D.
WGST-414
3 Credits
This variable topic course examines one or more themes, figures, movements, or issues associated with the representation of women and gender in literature and media, and/or associated with the historical, cultural, and theoretical questions provoked by women as producers and consumers of media and texts. The topic for the course is chosen by the instructor, announced in the course subtitle, and developed in the syllabus. The course can be taken multiple times provided that the topic being studied has changed.

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