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The Formation of American Culture, 1929-present (HI2A8)

Convenor: Prof. J. E. Smyth

Term 1, fall 2022 feedback

Lectures: 10-11am Thursday R1.15

Seminars: TBA for fall 2023

Office hours: email for appt.

This module explores the history of the United States (1929-present) through the rise of the culture industries; the production, censorship, and consumption of literature, theatre, music, photography, film, television, fashion, and advertising; and the ways in which individuals have sought to resist or reformulate dominate national discourses through cultural production.

Topics for fall 2023 include modernism and the Lost Generation; the rise of the gangster hero; women in Hollywood; hardboiled fiction and film noir; censorship and blacklists; masculinity and corporate culture; middlebrow consensus; race and network television; post-feminist backlash; celebrity and franchise cultures.

Students learn not only about the history and theory of culture, national identity, and "post-modernism" in America, but also about the ways in which cultural history is developed, contested, and reconstructed via gender, race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality.

Usually this 15-CAT module runs in the spring term, following the 15-CAT part one component of this module HI282.

Required books: Jane Allen, I Lost My Girlish Laughter (rev. ed. 2019); Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest (1929); Lillian Hellman, Scoundrel Time (1979; rev. 2000); Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968); bell hooks, Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (1981; rev. 2014); Ben Fritz, The Big Picture (2018); Fredric Jameson, Signatures of the Visible (1990). Books are available as ebooks through various outlets and the university library, and several film and television episodes are available with Warwick ID and password through

Assessment (15 CATS module)

50% 3,000-word essay (topic/wording to be agreed in office hours or via email by week 4; for marking criteria, see

40% seminar presentation (5-8 minutes) and 500-word reflective source analysis, connected to weekly seminar topics or to one of the key sources you are looking at in your long essay. Presentations begin in week 2 and feedback and marks will be given on a rolling basis throughout the term.

10% class participation: Assessed in seminars through individual engagement. Students who have anxiety about speaking in front of the larger group are encouraged to come to office hours and speak with the tutor individually.

Half of the presentation mark will be based on a short 500-word essay. This short essay should:

  • Evaluate a component of your research and source material. It can be a primary or secondary source and does not have to be text-based. It can be a photograph, an advertisement, a film or television series, or another object of material culture.
  • The analysis should consider the context for its production, the author or authors' background and potential bias, the intended audience, and the source's contribution to the genre or critical discussion. You can chose to evaluate a source's legacy or discuss how it changed the conversation or revised thinking about a particular history or style or approach to the content. You might consider what are the key questions or issues that have circulated around this source. What has been overlooked, in your opinion?
  • You may use footnotes and if you do mention your source material's connection to other sources and/or scholarship, please footnote this material or include in a short bibliography at the end of your piece.

For further information about examination and assessment, please see Essay due dates are in the final week of class, but these tend to change from year to year, so consult Tabula.