Tutor: Mark Storey
Classes: (Term 1) Wednesdays, 11.00-1.00 in P5.21 (Physics building)
“However unimportant America may be considered at present, there will assuredly come a day when this country will have some weight in the scale of Empires.” George Washington in a letter to Marquis de LaFayette, August 1786
“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will –-we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” One of George W. Bush’s senior advisors to journalist Ron Suskind, October 2004
This module takes a long and a broad view -- from the seventeenth century to the present day, from the American West and the Atlantic Ocean to the Congo, the Caribbean, Vietnam, and Iraq -- in order to interrogate the cultural logic of US imperialism. While we therefore track the various social and political realities of US imperial formation (settler colonialism, continental expansion, militarised interventions and the networked power of economic hegemony) we will consider in particular the crucial role that narrative forms and literary language have played in this contested and fractious history. We investigate not just how various writers have confronted, critiqued, and sometimes celebrated an ‘American Empire’, but also how the operation of imperialism itself has relied on all kinds of narratives to prop it up. Our discussions, readings, and viewings will situate American modernity in a global history of imperialism and dispossession, whilst also being underpinned by a sustained attention to the often euphemistic language of imperial rhetoric: 'manifest destiny’, ‘exceptionalism’, ‘security’, and so on. Moving beyond a narrowly defined 'American' literature to a more comparative and global perspective, we touch on many familiar areas of American literary studies (the construction of race as a political category, the paradoxes of American republicanism, the confrontation with the wilderness, and so on) but reconsider them in the light of how American power has been extended, exerted, and imposed on the world since the 1600s. In other words, we will uncover a distinctly literary history of US imperialism.
**Please try to purchase or borrow the books. The short stories/essays will be supplied (as indicated). The films can be watched in the usual ways online, or purchased/borrowed as DVDs, depending on availability and your preference. If you have any problems sourcing the texts please let me know.**