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Unit information: American Avant Garde in 2021/22

Unit name American Avant Garde
Unit code ENGL20114
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Kennedy-Epstein
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

The idea of the Avant-garde has represented various kinds of boundary breaking from the late 19th-C to the present. It has defined both political and artistic movements, and shaped cultural production. This unit will consider how the Avant-garde remains a useful category for understanding the relationship between politics and aesthetics in American literature and visual culture. We will trace a lineage from the radical 19th-C French origins of the term and the poetic experimentation of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, to the Dadaists and the little-magazines of Modernism, to expatriate Paris and Mexico City, to the Beat and Black Arts movement to contemporary poetry. We will think about the Avant-garde in America as a polyphonic and evolving idea that both provokes new thinking about race, gender, sex and nation, and reflects those social changes through new formal modes.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

1. demonstrate an understanding of the cultural, theoretical, literary and historical traditions of the American Avant-garde; 

2. apply an understanding of historical, cultural and intellectual contexts to readings of images, films, music, prose and poetry. 

3. discriminate between and analyse different critical perspectives on the avant-garde and the ways in which aesthetics and politics overlap.  

4. present and critically assess pertinent evidence to develop a cogent argument; 

5. demonstrate advanced skills in close analysis, argumentation, and critical interpretation using evidence from primary materials and secondary sources; 

Teaching Information

Teaching will involve asynchronous and synchronous elements, including group discussion, research and writing activities, and peer dialogue. Students are expected to engage with the reading and participate fully with the weekly tasks and topics. Learning will be further supported through the opportunity for individual consultation.

Students will be given the opportunity to submit a draft or outline of their final, summative essay of up to 1,500 words and to receive feedback on this.

Assessment Information

1 x 3000 word essay (100%) [ILOs 1-5]


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. ENGL20114).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.