Introduction to American Literature and Culture
This module offers an interdisciplinary survey of American literature and culture from the nineteenth century to the present day, examining the construction of a specifically American identity in relation to the sweeping social, technological, and economic changes which characterise the American experience. The first half of the module explores the historical development of America’s search for self; writers such as Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe are studied in the context of America’s need to break from Europe, the motif of the wilderness, the expansion of psychological and spiritual boundaries, and issues of race, gender and politics. The second half of the module then explores the fate of the American self in the twentieth century, a self confronted by the anonymity of the city, the dehumanizing forces of world war and the promises (and perils) of consumerism and mass culture. This module explores American culture and literature in a lively and interdisciplinary manner, reading the search for an American self as an attempt to come to terms with the bewildering transformation of the world, and the position of the individual within it.
Race and Ethnicity: American Perspectives
This module provides an introduction to the range and diversity of contemporary African American, Native American, Asian American and Chicano/a literature. Focusing on works by both well-known and emerging witers, it encourages students to situate the module texts within their cultural, historical, social and political contexts. At the same time, emphasis is placed on recurring themes and motifs, including memory and trauma; silence, language and speech; the complex intersections between gender, sexuality and ethnicity; and rewriting history. Topics for discussion include: Toni Morrison's incorporation of the vitality of black oral culture and music into the literary domain in Jazz; masculinity, disguise and fantasy in David Hwang's gender-bending play M. Butterfly; the politics and poetics of space in Hisaye Yamamoto's understated engagement with the traumatic history of Japanese American internment in her short fiction; and LeAnne Howe's mocking challenge to ethnic stereotyping in Evidence of Red.
Race and Ethnicity II: American Perspectives
The module provides an introduction to the range and diversity of contemporary African American, Native American, Asian American and Chicano/a literature. Focusing on works both well-known and emerging writers, it encourages students to situate the module texts within their cultural, historical, social and political contexts. At the same time, emphasis is placed on recurring themes and motifs, including memory and trauma; silence, language and speech; the complex intersections between gender, sexuality and ethnicity; and rewriting history. Topics for discussion included: Toni Morrison's incorporation of the vitality of black oral culture and music into the literary domain in JAzz; masculinity, disguise and fantasy in David Hwang's gender-bending play M. Butterfly; the politics and poetics of space in Hisaye Yamamoto's understanding engagement with the traumatic history of Japanese American internment in her short fiction; and LeAnne Howe's mocking challenge to ethnic stereotyping in Evidence of Red.
Ghettos, Streets, Suburbs: Cultural Representations of the American City, 1890 - present
This module explores the multiple ways in which American literature and culture has engaged with the promises and perils of the city in the period from 1890 to the present. Taking a thematic approach, it focuses on the struggle for ethnic, economic, political and imaginative space within the urban environment. Particular emphasis is placed on the ways in which urban space has been inflected by concepts of ethnic, sexual and gender identity. Focusing on such conceptions of identity, we will consider a variety of responses – in fiction, the essay, music and visual art – to specific urban experiences, including immigration, ghettoisation and suburbanisation. Topics for study include: picturing the slums in Stephen Crane’s 'Maggie, A Girl of the Streets'; Percival Everett’s satire of ghetto glamour in 'Erasure'; and the hair salon and transnationalism in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 'Americanah'.
African American Literature 1910-1940: The Harlem Renaissance
This course will examine the Harlem Renaissance or New Negro movement, which saw an unprecedented flowering of African American cultural production in the first half of the twentieth century. Paying close attention to the range of African American expression in music, visual art, poetry, fiction and the essay, we will focus on a number of prominent themes in early twentieth century African-American literature, including:gender and sexuality; migration and urbanisation; and memory and history. Students will be encouraged to think about the relationships between literary texts and their historical contexts, and to make connections across genres, especially between literature and music. Particular emphasis will be placed on stylistic and formal innovations to underline the diverse cultural and political positions that African American writers adopted during this period.
American Studies Dissertation
The American Studies dissertation is a free-standing, 40-credit module for American Studies students only, which runs across both semesters of Level Three. Candidates conduct research upon a subject of their choice, devised in consultation with a member of staff teaching on the American Studies degree. The topic must fall within staff research and teaching interests.
"A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall": America in the 1960s
This interdisciplinary, team-taught module offers students the opportunity to study the 1960s, widely regarded as one of the most complex, contradictory, and controversial decades in twentieth century American life, as reflected in the prevailing historical, political, literary and cultural climate. The decade began with high hopes for a more democratic United States under John F. Kennedy, with liberal triumphs and civil rights gains, yet ended in discord and disillusionment, as many Americans, shaken by urban unrest and assassinations, and divided by the escalation of the war in Vietnam, believed the fate of the nation’s institutions and ideology hung in the balance. Starting by analysing the consensus that existed in the 1950s, the module will contour America’s break with cultural conformity during the 1960s, examining such topics as the major domestic achievements of Kennedy’s New Frontier and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society; Cold War politics and the Cuban Missile Crisis; the Civil Rights movement from sit-ins to voting rights activism to Black Power; Vietnam and the anti-war and youth countercultural movements; liberalism and the revival of conservative partisanship; the roles of intellectuals and artists, and literary and cultural responses to the changes and challenges of the decade. Drawing on the central developments of the decade, and the competing uses to which 60s narratives have been put, this module will offer students the opportunity to study many hotly debated issues, critically engaging their nature and their significance, and making ample use of a fantastic variety of original sources and visual material, including works of history, literature, art, photography, media, popular music, and cinema.