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EN304 Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature

Key Information for 2019-20:

Tutors: Mark Storey (convenor) and others TBC

Syllabus: now available here

Assessment: is a written assignment (in the form of a critical anthology; more details will be provided in class) due in week 11 of Term 1 (40% of your mark), and either a 4000-word essay written from a list of published questions (2nd years) or a 5000-word essay that you devise as an independent research project in consultation with your tutor (3rd years) -- whichever year you're in, it's due in week 3 of Term 3 (60% of your mark).

Seminars times: TBC

Module Outline

"Twentieth-century U.S. literature" encompasses an extraordinarily diverse range of texts, and there are many ways in which its history could be traced and constructed. This module offers one particular route through this vibrant and divergent literary field.

Across the eighteen weeks of the module we will examine a range of American writing produced between the end of the First World War and the dawn of the 21st century. We'll look at some major American writers, but also consider the evolving path of American literary history in the twentieth century, its relationship to the social upheavals of the times as well as to the aesthetic and generic development of American art and writing. We'll look at novels, short stories, poetry and plays, and consider the changing fate of these forms in the age of modernism and postmodernism. Some of the fundamental issues of twentieth-century American life (wars in Europe, the civil rights movement, second wave feminism, the triumph of late capitalism, urbanism and its discontents, religion and secularism, etc.) will be explored alongside a wide variety of literary forms and styles: from the modernist novella and the postwar realist novel, through the experimentalism of Native American writing to genre fiction, theatre, painting, and film.

Module Aims

This is a Pathway Approved Option for the North American Pathway and one of the Distributional Requirements for the English Pathway . It can also be selected as an option under the remaining Pathways.

By the end of this module you should have:

  • Acquired knowledge of selected texts and genres in twentieth-century U.S. literature
  • Developed analytical and critical skills through close reading of the set texts
  • Acquired knowledge of relevant cultural and critical contexts within which to situate the set texts
  • Developed strategies for reading texts within the context of twentieth-century U.S. culture
  • Gained an understanding of key critical and literary concepts in their American context, including but not limited to: race, class and gender, cultural geography, individualism and democracy, late capitalism and postmodernism, war and violence, transnationalism, and empire
  • Developed research skills and contributed to the content of this website

Teaching Methods

One 1.5 hour seminar per week. Each tutor will run seminars in a variety of ways across the course of the module, but it is likely to include elements of group work, open discussion, critical debate and close textual analysis. Seminar times are listed above.

Module Requirements

Attend seminars, having prepared material as directed by your tutor; Contribute to seminar activities and discussions as directed by the seminar tutor; Submit one 'Critical Anthology' relating to topics covered in week 1 to 10 and submit one x 5,000-word essay.


2nd years:
  • Critical Anthology, due in week 11 of term 1 (40%)
  • 4000-word essay (from a list of published questions), due in week 3 of term 3 (60%)
3rd years/Finalists:
  • Critical Anthology, due in week 11 of term 1 (40%)
  • 5000-word essay (as an independent research project devised in consultation with your tutor), due in week 3 of term 3 (60%) Read the Guide to Writing Your Essay.

Useful Background Reading

Below is a list of general guides which may be useful for preliminary or extra-curricular reading, and also when the time comes to write your essay an revise for the exam. All of these books are held by the library, some in ebook format. This is not an exhaustive list, however, and it's important you research your own specialist area in more depth.

  • Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American literature. Volume 6, Prose writing, 1910–1950. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Bradbury, Malcolm and Howard Temperley. eds. Introduction to American Studies. 3rd edition. London: Longman, 1998.
  • Campbell, Neil and Alasdair Kean. American Cultural Studies. London: Routledge, 1997.
  • Franklin, John Hope and Evelyn Higginbotham. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. 9th edition. McGraw-Hill, 2011.
  • Giles, Paul. The Global Remapping of American Literature. Princeton University Press, 2011.
  • Godden, Richard. Fictions of Capital: The American Novel from James to Mailer. Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  • Graham, Maryemma and Jerry Ward (eds)., Cambridge History of African American Literature. Cambridge, 2011.
  • Gray, Richard. A History of American Literature. Wiley-Blackwell, 2004.
  • Grice, Helena, et al. Beginning Ethnic American Literatures. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001.
  • Levander, Caroline F. Where is American Literature? Wiley, 2013
  • Maier, Pauline at al. Inventing America: A History of the United States, Vol.2. Norton, 2006.
  • McDonald, Gail. American Literature and Culture 1900-1960. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007.
  • Mitchell, Jeremy and Richard Maidment, eds., The United States in the Twentieth Century: Culture. Hodder & Stoughton, 1994.
  • Moreley, Catherine. Modern American Literature. Edinburgh University Press, 2012.
  • Stoneley, Peter and Cindy Weinstein, ed., A Concise Companion to American Fiction 1900-1950. Blackwell, 2008.
  • Ruland, Richard & Malcolm Bradbury. From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of American Literature. London: Penguin Books, 1991.
  • Tallack, Douglas. Twentieth-Century America: The Intellectual and Cultural Context. London: Longman, 1991.
  • Yannella, Philip. American Literature in Context after 1929. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

The library has good holdings in critical texts on twentieth-century American literature. Look out for the “New Essays”, "Cambridge Companion", and "In Context" series published by Cambridge University Press, and the BAAS paperback series published by Edinburgh Unviersity Press. The library has e-books of all the Cambridge Companion series.

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