Declaring Independence: 19th Century US Literature - ENGL6750

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2024 to 2025
Autumn Term 5 30 (15) Claire Hurley checkmark-circle


When 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 racialised slavery, class conflict and gender inequality.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 32
Private study hours: 268
Total study hours: 300

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods:

Learning Journal (2,500 words) (30%)
Editorial Project (4,000 words) (50%)
Seminar Participation (20%)

Reassessment methods:
Alternative Assessment: 100% coursework (4,000 words)

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List:

Brown, C. (2011), Wieland (London; Norton and Company)
Chopin, K. (1994) The Awakening (London: Norton and Company)
Jacobs, H. (2001) Incidents in the Life of A Slave-girl (London: Norton and Company)
Melville, H, (2002) Moby-Dick (London: Norton and Company)
Norris, F. (1997) McTeague (London: Norton and Company)
Tyler, R (1787) The Contrast in Norton Anthology of American Literature Ninth Ed. Vol. A (2017) (London: Norton and Company

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Demonstrate an informed understanding of American literature of the 19th century across a number of genres and sub-genres.
2 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.
3 Demonstrate awareness of some recent developments in the critical understanding of American literature.
4 Demonstrate a developing sense of the different forms of writing in this period and a capacity to analyse them critically

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Apply the skills needed for academic study and inquiry
2 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
3 Frame criticism of diverse sources sensitively and incisively in a variety of formats
4 Develop powers of communication and the capacity to make a case with clarity, organisation and conviction in a variety of formats
5 Enhance confidence in the presentation of ideas designed to stimulate critical debate
6 Understand, interrogate and pursue a variety of theoretical insights and weigh the importance of alternative perspectives.


  1. Credit level 5. Intermediate level module usually taken in Stage 2 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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