EAS2112 - Empire of Liberty: American Literature, 1776 to Present

2020/1 Module description

StaffDr Rob Turner -
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module description

This module introduces some of the major texts and issues involved in the literature of the United States over the past two hundred and fifty years. You will study a broad range of texts - including poetry, the novel, the short story, drama and autobiography - as well as the intersections of the literature of the United States with broader literary and contextual issues, such as literary nationalism and the emergence of modernism.

You will learn how the dynamic and turbulent social and historic development of the US during this time is reflected through literature, considering contexts such as the constitution of the democratic state, the problematic history of ethnic and race relations, the nature of urban and rural space, the changing gender politics of US society, and how transnational models of culture have affected our understanding of the US literary canon.

Module aims

  • To consider major artistic forms and styles such as the American gothic, poetry, the tale and the short story, the emergence of modernism, the autobiography, and the American novel. The module will conclude by assessing American literature in the contemporary moment.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of specific American authors and texts
  • 2. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of the literary history of the United States, and how this relates to systems of global and transnational dialogue and cultural exchange
  • 3. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of the relation between American literature and important related historical and intellectual developments
  • 4. Demonstrate an understanding of the development of specific literary genres, forms, and themes in American literature

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. Demonstrate an ability to analyse the literature of a different national culture and historical period, and to relate its concerns - and its forms and modes of expression - to its historical context
  • 6. Demonstrate an ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history
  • 7. Demonstrate an ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary texts

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. Through seminar work, demonstrate communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups
  • 9. Through essay-writing and exams, demonstrate appropriate research and (if applicable) bibliographic skills, a capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument and a capacity to write clear and correct prose
  • 10. Through research for seminars, essays and exams, demonstrate proficiency in information retrieval and analysis

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Political Nationalism and Literary Nationalism
  • Slave Narratives
  • Writing the American Self
  • Literature of the Gilded Era
  • Race, Nation, Region
  • Modernist Poetry and Fiction
  • U.S. Nativism and the ”Vanishing American”
  • Cities and Suburbs
  • Native American Voices
  • Crisis and Contemporary America

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching27.511 x 2.5-hour seminars
Scheduled learning and teaching1111 x 1-hour lectures
Guided independent study27.5Study group preparation and meetings
Guided independent study70Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided independent study164Reading, research and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Formative assignment presenting a reading of a course text informed by a minimum of 2 secondary readings10 minutes1-10Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay452000 words1-7, 9-10Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up
Examination452 hours1-7, 9-10Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up
Module participation10Continuous 1-8, 10Oral feedback with opportunity for office hours follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-7, 9-11 Referral/Deferral period
ExaminationExamination1-7, 9-11Referral/Deferral period
Module participationRepeat study/mitigation1-8,10N/a

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

  • Willa Cather, The Professor’s House.  Any edition – Virago preferred
  • Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girls. Ed. Kwame Anthony Appiah. (Modern Library Classics, 2004)
  • Louise Erdrich, Tracks (1988). (Flamingo, 2009)
  • Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun. Any edition – Methuen preferred
  • Henry James, Roderick Hudson. Any edition – Penguin preferred.
  • Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener and Benito Cereno – Dover Thrift edition
  • Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric – any edition
  • Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Any edition – Norton Critical Edition preferred.
  • Marianne Moore, Observations (1924) – Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016
  • Claudia Rankine, Citizen (2014)

Other primary texts will be available on ELE.

Selected secondary texts (all available as ebooks at Exeter library:

  • Arthur, Jason.Violet America: Regional Cosmopolitanism in U.S. Fiction since the Great Depression.Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2013.
  • Cohen, Matt, ed. The New Walt Whitman Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2020)
  • Giles, Paul. Transatlantic Insurrections: British Culture and the Formation of American Literature, 1730-1860. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2001.
  • Kaufman, Anne L. and Richard H. Millington, eds, Willa Cather and the Nineteenth Century. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2015.
  • Luciano, Dana and Ivy G Wilson, eds. Unsettled States: Nineteenth Century Literary Studies.New York and London: New York UP, 2014.
  • Murison, Justine S. The Politics of Anxiety in Nineteenth-Century American Literature.  Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011.
  • Wester, Maisha L.African American Gothic: Screams from Shadowed Place.Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2012.

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

American Literature, Nineteenth-Century, Twentieth-Century, Modernism, Postmodernism

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