Survey of American literary history following the Civil War. Dickinson, Twain, Hemingway, and Faulkner.
Sheila Boland Chira ()
Dates: May 20 - June 14, 2013
What makes literature "American"? Is a work of literature American simply because of where it was produced and by whom? Or, does American literature serve as a means of defining American culture and values--or of raising questions about what those values are or should be? Literary history is a critical approach to the study of literature that you will practice in this course. Thinking like a literary historian means raising questions about how we tell the story of the evolution and development of American literature and culture. Whose voices are heard? Which books matter and why? Are there certain works of American literature that ought to be read and discussed? Are there others we should avoid? Should there be a curriculum of "masterpieces" that all Americans should know? Other questions central to American literary history revolve around the historical and cultural context in which a work of literature was produced. What was happening in America in the 1870's and 1880's that shaped the choices Mark Twain made in composing the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)? How did the choices that Twain made influence the next generation of American writers? Why does Ernest Hemingway claim that "all modern American literature" comes from Twain's novel? What are the relationships between one generation of American writers and the next? What is our relationship to the writers of our national past? This course is the second half of a two semester survey of American literary history. Each half is designed to stand on its own, but the halves also inform each other if they are taken in (or out of) sequence. This half of the survey begins after the Civil War and ends just after World War II. Since this is an introductory course, I expect there to be a range in your individual level of familiarity with the discipline of literary studies. The study of literature is one of the most inclusive fields, challenging us to pay close attention to the nuances of each individual work of art while being mindful of the historical, cultural, and literary context in which it was produced and the way in which literary scholars incorporate individual selections into the narrative of literary history. Literary history is both a narrative--a story we tell about the tradition--and a conversation, though it can sound at times like a series of debates! We will listen in on this ongoing conversation and you will practice making your own informed arguments within this context. At times, we will look closely at the strategies that individual writers use: elements like metaphor, tone, characterization, perspective, setting, and voice, among others. Sometimes, we will take a step back to consider the writers' choices in connection to the conventions of the different genres we will explore: one novel, a range of poetry, and a series of short stories. All along the way, we will situate these concerns within the even broader context of American cultural history. Our exploration will begin with a careful examination of Twain's controversial novel. We'll pay careful attention to the novel itself while studying the ongoing debates about 1) the role of the novel in American literary history, 2) the racial themes in the novel, and 3) the controversy over how Twain ended the novel. Next, we'll explore a series of short stories written by American masters like Charles Chesnutt, Edith Wharton, Anzia Yezierska, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Zora Neale Hurston. As we read these short stories, we will consider how they express themes and debates that were central to the period of American modernism but also study the continued debates about how these writers expressed American identity and why they continue to matter in American culture. We will end with American poets' attempts to follow Ezra Pound's command to "make it new" in the period between World War I and World War II and the debates over whether poetry could or should serve political ends or whether it should promote an apolitical aesthetic or whether politics and aesthetics are ever exclusive. In this section of the course, students will be investigating the scholarly debates about particular poets, presenting an understanding of the ongoing scholarly conversation to the class, and raising questions for the class to discuss.
This course is administered entirely online which gives you the flexibility of creatively incorporating the work of the course into your life. However, there are deadlines each week you will be required to meet. Be realistic about the amount of time you'll have to put in. A 3-credit course at UVM that meets face-to-face class requires between 37.5-45 contact hours, which would be the amount of time in a classroom for a traditional face-to-face course. The time you'd need to spend outside of the classroom, reading and completing writing assignments, depends on individual skills and goals, but a reasonable rule of thumb is to expect to prepare 2 hours for an hour of class time. So, it is not unreasonable to expect you will need to devote between 15 and 30 hours per week to this course: the equivalent of a part time job. In my experience, students who plan to travel for work or recreation or who are simultaneously taking other courses need to be very disciplined about meeting deadlines in order to successfully complete the course. For example, in the first week, in addition to reading Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, you'll read a scholarly article about the novel's history, watch a video presentation that will introduce you to "Regional Realism," take a reading comprehension quiz, respond to discussion board prompts and to other students' reflections on the novel and the other material.
Here's a breakdown of the different components that will contribute to your course grade followed by an explanation of each element: 1. Participation (30% of Final Grade) Your participation in the class is represented by what you post each week to the course discussion board and to the Course Blog. You will be responding to the assigned reading, to questions I will pose, to questions other students pose, and to the observations others in the class make. You will occasionally be surveyed. (Surveys are not graded, but they do contribute to your participation in the class.) Your participation will not only help us build a community within which these works of literature will take on meaning, but also, your participation enables you to develop your ideas about the assigned reading which will prepare you to do work for other, more formal writing assignments, like your essay on Twain's novel and your poetry project. Depending on our enrollment number at the end of the first week, we may break into small discussion groups to keep this discussion element both manageable and productive. By the end of the second week, you will earn a "grade-so-far" for participation. 2. Essay Assignment (20% of Final Grade) You will write one short essay (5-7 pages) in which you define a problem that has shaped debate over Twain's novel and you will take a position based on your careful reading of the novel and the scholarly essays that contribute to the debate. This essay will be due in the beginning of the second week. 3. Quizzes (10% of Final Grade) Periodic reading comprehension quizzes will give you an additional incentive to keep up with the assigned reading. Your quiz grade for the course will be the average from these quizzes. 4. Poetry Project (20% of Final Grade) You will create a "wiki" presentation focused on one modern American poet. Your presentation will explain the biographical and cultural context for the work of the poet. It will include a selection of the poet's work, explain a few different critical approaches to the poet's work, develop interpretations of the poems selected poems, and pose questions for students to discuss about the poems and the poet. We will collaboratively develop guidelines for these presentations and evaluation criteria and you will be expected to evaluate your classmates' work on this project. Your project will be due in the middle of the sixth week. 5. Short Stories/Short Essays (20% of Final Grade) You will submit interpretive essays in week four focused on the modern American short stories we will read together in weeks three and four.
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