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American Literature: From the First World War to the End of Empire - ENG00105I

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Alexandra Kingston-Reese
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20

Module summary

This module introduces students to the exciting terrain of American literature by focusing on its period of profoundest literary and geopolitical influence, from the First World War to the early twenty-first century. This was an age that witnessed imperial expansion, social turmoil, massive industrial and technological change, and the development of mass media and mass cultural forms such as film and television. The literary content of the module comes from right across the period, and students will engage with the social, cultural, political and economic contexts within which this literature was written and read.

After an introductory lecture that sets the context of American life in the wake of the First World War, we begin our journey by considering the Harlem Renaissance and the Southern Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s. We take in modernist poetry and mid-century drama, before engaging with the fiction and poetry of the postmodernist period. The module ends with two weeks devoted to contemporary fiction, and to debates about the literature that follows postmodernism. Throughout the module we emphasise the importance of immigration and racial diversity to the literature of the modern United States, and we ask whether the period of American empire that offered this literature such global prominence might now be coming to an end.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2019-20

Module aims

The aim of this module is to consider American literature and culture in an age that witnessed imperial expansion, social turmoil, massive industrial and technological change, and the development of mass media and mass cultural forms such as film and television.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you will be able to:

1.Demonstrate an informed understanding of and engagement with a range of American novels, plays, poems and short stories from across the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.

2. Demonstrate an informed understanding of and engagement with social, cultural, political and economic contexts for this literature, including immigration, racial diversity, and the rise (and fall?) of the United States as an imperial power.

3. Examine key debates and critical contexts, including modernism, postmodernism, and what follows.

4.Develop oral and written arguments which demonstrate a proficiency in critical thinking and research skills.


Task Length % of module mark
Departmental - attendance requirement
Seminar Participation
N/A 10
1000 word Research/Analysis Task
N/A 25
2500 word essay
N/A 65

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Reassessment: 3000 word essay
N/A 90
Seminar participation mark
N/A 10

Module feedback

  • You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours
  • For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading

Key texts for this module may include:

  • Nella Larsen, Passing
  • William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying
  • Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime
  • Don DeLillo, White Noise
  • David Foster Wallace, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
  • Jennifer Egan, Look at Me
  • Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.