Jennifer Arch

Jennifer Arch

Teaching Professor in English​
PhD, Washington University in St. Louis

contact info:

mailing address:

  • Washington University
    CB 1122
    One Brookings Dr.
    St. Louis, MO 63130-4899

​Jennifer Arch teaches courses in the English department, including "Literature and Medicine" and "History of the English Language."

Current Courses

L14 472 History of the English Language (offered each fall)

Though many English-speakers celebrate the prospect that English might become the “global language,” others around the world question whether this particular language—with its incoherent spelling rules, its confusing retention of some principles of inflection, and its history as a language used by colonizers—can and should achieve that status. In this course we will learn why English contains words like “won’t,” “its,” and “whom,” and how it happened that spelling and pronunciation parted ways. We will look at how the Anglo-Saxon, Viking, and Norman invasions of Britain influenced the development of the language. By looking at primary materials such as dictionaries and grammar books, we will learn how seventeenth- and eighteenth-century grammarians continue to have an influence on how the English language is written and spoken today.

    L14/L85 391W Literature and Medicine (offered each spring)

    Because illness, disease, pain, and fear of death are essential features of the human condition, these themes frequently appear in major literary works, a survey of which we will read in this class. We will focus especially on the suffering, helplessness, insight, and enlightenment experienced by both the ill and those who care for them. Works responding to the devastating plagues in the medieval and early modern periods hold especial interest for those studying illness and medicine; we will read works on plague by Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Defoe, with Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor providing a starting point for our analysis. Two twentieth-century novels—The Plague, by Camus, and Blindness, by Saramago—will show us the additional imaginative possibilities of plague as metaphor and allegory. We will also read shorter works of fiction by Tolstoy, Chekhov, Mann, Eliot, Gilman, and Porter, as well as Edson’s play W;t. Students will be encouraged to consider how illness, disease, and fear of death affect both individual human beings and entire societies. In addition, students will fulfill their writing-intensive requirement through careful drafting, peer review, and revision; they will be encouraged to develop arguments with sound reasoning, appropriate structure, and well-judged textual support. Prerequisite: Writing 1.

      L13/L85 307 Writing and Medicine (offered each fall)

      In the past three decades, medical doctors have been writing about their experiences in the modern American health care system in a remarkably forthright way: admitting their own weaknesses, praising and criticizing patient behaviors, exposing flaws in current systems of medical education and delivery of care. Patients have been writing not only about what it feels like to be ill, but also about the ways doctors have both helped and failed them. We will read a sample of these works by physicians, patients, and journalists, drawing from a list that includes Gawande, Sacks, Ofri, Chen, Selzer, Kalanithi, Groopman, Mukherjee, Sweet, Elliott, Jamison, Ehrenreich, Sontag, Hillenbrand, O’Rourke, Trillin, Mairs, Hemon, Specter, Tisdale, Keefe, and Khatchadourian. In this writing-centered class, we will focus on how, why, and how well physicians and patients make written arguments to the public. Writing assignments will allow students to work on the matter of how best to represent illness, and to improve their skills in analysis and argumentation. Peer review sessions will encourage substantive revision.

        L13 417 Prose Style in English: History and Craft (offered each fall)

        One of the best ways to work on the craft of one’s own prose is to study how the best writers of the past achieved excellence in their different ways. We will begin early—with Chaucer, Malory, and Caxton, whose sentences perhaps can’t even be identified as such, given the uncertain punctuation of manuscripts and early prints. We will work chronologically, from the supposed simplicity of Tyndale, to the grandeur and ostentation of sixteenth-century writers like Lyly and Nashe, to the twists and turns of Donne, Milton, and Defoe, to the periodic mastery of Hume, Gibbon, and Johnson. We will trace how shorter—though no less complex and interesting—sentences came to be valued from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first. At the beginning of the course, students will be instructed on basic terminology of rhetorical analysis of syntax: clauses, phrases, anaphora, isocolon, etc. They will learn how to analyze short passages of prose, including their own, via imitation and outlining of clause patterns. By the end of the course, students will be able to bring a more conscious, informed approach to crafting and revising their own writing, as they will demonstrate in portfolio projects tailored to their interests in academic and/or creative work. Prerequisite: Junior standing.

          L14/L85 1XX First-Year Seminar: Stories of Medicine (offered each spring)

          In this introductory course, students will begin their training in reading texts closely, analyzing them, and writing about them by examining depictions of physicians and medical practice in a selection of short—but important—literary works. We will begin in the late nineteenth century with physician-writers (or writer-physicians) to include Chekhov and William Carlos Williams. We will study the fictional responses by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Virginia Woolf to the “rest cure” promoted by Silas Weir Mitchell. Our readings will include influential stories by George Eliot, Kafka, and Hemingway; the course will conclude with works by modern doctor-writers like Louise Aronson and Vincent Lam. As we read, we will focus both on medical practice and on the craft authors use to explore it imaginatively. Four writing assignments, one presentation, and daily class discussion will encourage students interested in both literature and the medical humanities to bring creative and analytical thinking to college-level academic writing and speaking.

            L13 203 The Sentence in English (offered each spring)

            Though it might seem mysterious why some kinds of writing are more effective than others, there is a technique for investigating how writing works at the level of the sentence. The Reed-Kellogg system of diagramming is a method of learning grammar and syntax by creating “pictures” of individual sentences. These diagrams show the logical relations between words, phrases, and clauses, and they illustrate the choices writers are making as they craft individual sentences. Using a recent book that extends and enlarges upon the Reed-Kellogg system, we will diagram sentences both famous and ordinary, both contemporary and of historical interest. Our aims will be (1) to learn the principles of the Reed-Kellogg system such that we are able to diagram any written or spoken “sentence” in English; (2) to use this knowledge to analyze how writers shape arguments at the sentence level, and how they achieve particular styles; and (3) to practice crafting and revising our own prose. Diagramming will help students understand how they can make their own writing more powerful, effective, and clear.

              L14 2151 Early Texts and Contexts

                Selected publications

                Editor of Chaucer's prose in The Norton Chaucer, 2019.
                "The Boethian Testament of Love." Studies in Philology 105 (2008).
                "A Case Against Chaucer's Authorship of the Equatorie of the Planetis." Chaucer Review 40 (2005).
                Robert M. Feibel and Jennifer Arch. "Cuban Epidemic Optic Neuropathy (1991-1993) and José Saramago's Novel Blindness." American Journal of Ophthalmology 193 (2018).
                Entries on Science, Middle English Prose, and The Equatorie of the Planetis in the Chaucer Encyclopedia (Wiley), forthcoming