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Unit information: History and Literature in 2016/17

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Unit name History and Literature
Unit code HIST20039
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. McLellan
Open unit status Not open



Special Field Project

School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

In this unit, students will read a series of novels, poems or plays, with a focus on a particular period or theme. Within the chosen area, we will ask what relevance these literary works have for the historian. What can they tell us about the period they were written in and its concerns? How much can we know about how these works were read and received at the time of their publication? What does a study of these works tell us about the nature, and perhaps the limits, of cultural history? The work conducted by students may vary from a close reading of the texts, to their contexualisation in the secondary literature, to an examination of themes such as class, race, and gender.

This year, the unit will cover post-apocalyptic literature. Throughout the twentieth-century, writers have imagined how disasters including epidemics, nuclear war, and natural disasters, might impact on humankind. We will be asking how imagining the end of the world as they knew it helped writers to discuss the problems of civilisation in the here-and-now. How were post-apocalyptic scenarios used to deal with anxieties about overpopulation, nuclear war, and the growth of a consumer society? We'll be paying particular attention to the ways race, class, and gender work in these novels, and asking whether this is a genre which translates beyond the Anglo-American literary sphere. Finally, what is the appeal of the end of the world for authors - and readers? Novels will include Riddley Walker (Russell Hoban), Memoirs of a Survivor (Doris Lessing) and Blindness (Jose Saramago).

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have developed 1. a broad awareness of the interrelation between history and literature and the light that the one can shed on the other; 2. a deeper awareness of how to approach a long term historical analysis; 3. the ability to set individual issues within their longer term historical context; 4. the ability to analyse and generalise about issues of continuity and change; 5. the ability to select pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate more general historical points; 6. the ability to derive benefit from and contribute effectively to large group discussion; 7. the ability to identify a particular academic interpretation, evaluate it critically and form an individual viewpoint; 8. the acquisition of key writing, research, and presentation skills.

Teaching Information

Weekly 2-hour seminar Access to tutorial advice with unit tutor in consultation hours.

Assessment Information

2-hour unseen written examination (summative, 100%).

Reading and References

JS Allen, ‘History and the Novel: Mentalité in Modern Popular Fiction’, History and Theory 22 (1983).

Robert Darnton, ‘History of reading’, in P. Burke (ed.), New perspectives on historical writing (1991).

Peter Mandler, ‘The Problem with Cultural History’, Cultural and Social History (1) 1 (2004).

Tamsin Spargo (ed.) Reading the Past: Literature and History, a Reader in Cultural Criticism (2000).

Julia Reid, ‘Novels’ in Miriam Dobson and Benjamin Ziemann (eds.) Reading Primary Sources (2009).

Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, 2nd ed (2010).