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Unit information: American Literature in 2015/16

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Unit name American Literature
Unit code ENGL30024
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Chris Muller
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit aims to introduce students to a selection of poetry and prose that gives a flavour of the development and variety of American literature. Examples will be chosen from across the nineteenth- and twentieth centuries, and may include authors such as Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O'Hara, Sylvia Plath, Saul Bellow, and John Updike.


This unit aims to introduce students to a variety of prose and poetry that reflects the range of writing in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature. Students will be encouraged to consider in depth the American voice (or American voices); use of form and forms; parallel developments in American society; and the relationship to, and commentary on, the European tradition.

Intended learning outcomes

Students will have had an opportunity to gain a sense of the chronology, range, and variety of American literature in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. There will have been opportunities to read novels and poetry, as well as non-fictional prose, and to draw comparisons and consider differences within this tradition and beyond it.

Teaching details

The unit will normally be taught in ten three-hour seminars, utilising a range of teaching methods including short lectures by the tutor(s), formal and informal presentations by students, and small group discussion. Normally one seminar will be devoted to a class conference, during which the assessed presentations will take place.

Assessment Details

Students will be required to write two essays for formal assessment. The first will be of 1,800 to 2,500 words; in this assignment, students will be asked to engage with a particular text or a topic with a relatively defined scope. The second will be of 2,800 to 4,000 words and will normally involve a wider range of texts and/or approaches to literature in this period. The first essay will be worth 40% of the unit mark; the second essay will be worth 60%.

Reading and References

  • Herman Melville, Moby Dick
  • William Carlos Williams, Collected Poems
  • Allen Ginsberg, Howl
  • Frank O'Hara, Lunch Poems
  • Saul Bellow, Herzog
  • John Updike, The Rabbit Novels