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OverviewWhen the Long Island-born poet Walt Whitman proclaimed in 1855 that the “United States” were history’s “greatest poem” he made an important connection between national political culture and literary expression. In some ways this was no exaggeration. As a new experiment in politics and culture, the United States had to be literally written into existence. Beginning with Thomas Jefferson’s dramatic Declaration of Independence in 1776, followed by the drafting of the Constitution after the Revolutionary War with Britain, the project of shaping the new United States in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was essentially a literary one.
In this module we will explore how American writers in this period tried in numerous, diverse ways to locate an original literary voice through which to express their newfound independence. At the same time, the module includes the work of writers who had legitimate grievances against the developing character of a new nation that still saw fit to cling to such “Old World” traditions as racialized slavery, class conflict and gender inequality.
This module appears in:
The course will be taught via 10 2-hour seminars and up to 10 1-hour lectures.
Method of assessment
50% coursework: seminar performance (20%), close reading exercise (40%), essay (40%);
50% examination - 3-hour paper
Tyler, Royall (1787) The Contrast (Norton Anthology of American Literature eight Ed. Vol. A)
Brown, Charles Brockden (1798), Wieland (Norton Critical)
Melville, Herman (1851) Moby-Dick (Norton Critical)
Jacobs, Harriet (1861) Incidents in the Life of A Slave-girl (Norton Critical)
Norris, Frank (1899) McTeague (Norton Critical)
Chopin, Kate (1899) The Awakening (Norton Critical)
On successful completion of this module students will be able to demonstrate the following subject specific learning outcomes:
• Demonstrate an informed understanding of American literature of the 19th century across a number of genres and sub-genres.
• Demonstrate knowledge of some of the major literary, cultural and historical issues that mattered to the writers of the period and that were specific to the development of American literature.
• Demonstrate awareness of some recent developments in the critical understanding of American literature.
• Demonstrate a developing sense of the different forms of writing in this period and a capacity to analyse them critically.
On successful completion of this module students will be able to demonstrate the following generic learning outcomes:
• Application of the skills needed for academic study and inquiry
• Ability to synthesise information from a number of sources in order to gain a coherent understanding of texts and contexts; ability to synthesise material from a number of sources in a coherent creative whole
• The ability to frame oral criticism of diverse sources sensitively and incisively
• Develop powers of communication and the capacity to make a case, in spoken and written form, with clarity, organisation and conviction
• Enhance confidence in the presentation of ideas designed to stimulate critical debate
• Ability to understand, interrogate and pursue a variety of theoretical insights and weigh the importance of alternative perspectives