American Literature module (EN32001)

Explore the literature of the American Renaissance by wide-ranging study of its most important writers

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In this module we will study the major writers of 19th-century America (including Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Frederick Douglass, Henry David Thoreau and Emily Dickinson), and how they responded to rapid social and political change. We will examine key issues of the time using these authors' greatest works. In some cases, these writings changed the national political debate in America.

We will explore innovative writers who explored new styles and genres. We will study era-defining fiction, non-fiction, and poetry that is still influential today.

By sharing your insights and developing your own essay topic you will develop your skills as a writer and researcher.

What you will learn

In this module you will:

  • gain knowledge of fiction, poetry and didactic prose using key examples from the American Renaissance
  • develop a critical understanding of those texts and their authors' lives within the context of American history
  • develop an understanding of key issues of the period, including American Romanticism, Manifest Destiny, Civil Disobedience, self-reliance, the development of a national literature, innovations in genre, the American Civil War, and the Abolition of slavery
  • extend your skills in the interpretation of complex texts
  • grow your confidence in essay writing

By the end of this module you will be able to:

  • make insightful comparisons between the themes and styles of the major writers of the period
  • productively use manuscripts, archives and other research resources
  • develop an independent research question and follow it through to a completed written essay - an important precursor to the final year dissertation.

Assignments / assessment

  • class presentation (20%)
  • annotated bibliography - 3 items (20%)
  • research essay, 4,000 words (60%)
    • each student will have the opportunity for a one-to-one meeting with staff to discuss their research essay plans

Teaching methods / timetable

  • one weekly lecture (1 hour)
    • Teaching staff will give an overview of the week's author/texts and important critical/historical context
  • one weekly seminar (2 hours)
    • Seminars are smaller group discussions where class presentations will be delivered. Weekly seminar notes will be provided to help focus student preparation.
Week Topic

Introduction; discussion of the course and its aims.

Charles Dickens, ‘CHAPTER VIII: Washington. The Legislature. And the President’s House’ and ‘CHAPTER XVII: Slavery’, American Notes (1860)

D.H. Lawrence, ‘The Spirit of Place’, Studies in Classic American Literature (1923).

2 Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘Nature’, ‘Self-Reliance’, ‘The American Scholar’.
3 Walt Whitman, Song of Myself.
4 Henry David Thoreau, Walden.
5 Nathaniel Hawthorne, ‘The Minister’s Black Veil’, ‘Rappaccini’s Daughter’, ‘My Kinsman, Major Molineux’, ‘The Birthmark’, ‘Earth’s Holocaust.’
6 Edgar Allan Poe, ‘Sonnet – To Science’, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, ‘The Imp of the Perverse’, ‘The Man of the Crowd’, ‘The Purloined Letter’ and ‘The Raven’.
7 Herman Melville, ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’, ‘Benito Cereno’.
8 Emily Dickinson, selected poems from the Norton Anthology.
9 Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
10 Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life; Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
11 Essay tutorials.


This module is available on following courses: