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BA Drama and English Literature / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

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Course unit details:
Women in US Literature & History

Unit code AMER20382
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? No


This interdisciplinary module examines a range of texts by women authors, from the early republican era to the present day, in order to explore the historical roots of challenges faced by contemporary U.S. women. What is the relationship between women and political power? Why is mothering a national issue? What is the basis for solidarity among diverse women? From Susanna Rowson in the eighteenth century to Audre Lorde in the twentieth, women have confronted such questions. Through close examination of the written archive, we will interrogate how women’s experiences have been determined by history, but also how women have claimed the right expand to the scope of the possible. The reading will emphasize primary sources--letters, magazines, petitions, poems, novels--written by women. We will also sample current scholarship in women’s history and feminist literary studies and seek to build connections between the two fields.


  • To introduce students to key texts and issues from the late eighteenth century to the present day;
  • To engage with selected critical writings in the field of feminist studies;
  • To introduce students to analysis of gender;
  • To analyse the ways in which woman-authored texts interact with their cultural and historical contexts.



Primary readings will reflect the historical range and intellectual diversity of the course enquiry, and may include the following works:

  • Judith Sargent Murray. “The Gleaner Contemplates the Future Prospects of Women in this ‘Enlightened Age’” (1798), “The Gleaner on Women's Attributes as Breadwinners” (1798), and “Excellency in our Sex” (1790) 
  • Harriet Farley. “A Letter from Lowell” (1844)
  • Sojourner Truth. Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1850)
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton. “Address Delivered at Seneca Falls” (1848) and  “The Solitude of the Self” (1892)
  • Sui Sin Far (Edith Maude Eaton). Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912)
  • Margaret Sanger. The Birth Control Review (1917-1940)
  • Toni Morrison. The Bluest Eye (1970)


Week 1: Building Foundations: From Margins to Center

Week 2: Revolutionary Backlash: Women in the New Republic

Week 3: The Young Nation and Women’s Sphere

Week 4: Mistress and Slave

Week 5: Abolition and the Nineteenth Century Women’s Rights Movement

Week 6: Women in the Literary Marketplace

Week 7: Sexual Autonomy and the Birth Control Movement

Week 8: Women’s Experience in the Era of  Jim Crow

Week 9: Women in the Civil Rights Era

Week 10: Publishing Feminism during the Second Wave

Week 11: Contemporary Women Writers and the Paradoxes of U.S. Religious Thought


Teaching and learning methods

The course will combine weekly lectures with seminar discussions that expand on the week’s core themes, ideas, and readings. The 2-hour lectures will provide historical and cultural context for the focal literature assigned for that week and explore some of the critical approaches offered in the articles and books included as suggested further reading. The 1-hour seminars will build on the context from the lecture and critical reading, but will principally be focused on exploring students’ responses to the primary reading. The shorter primary texts and all the critical reading will be available via Blackboard.


Knowledge and understanding

  • Identify and demonstrate through written analysis familiarity with major questions in the field of women’s and gender studies;
  • Demonstrate understanding of critical debates concerning the relationship between literature and history;
  • Demonstrate a good understanding of feminist theoretical approaches in relation to the study of U.S. history and culture.

Intellectual skills


  • Ability to speak and write clearly and with precision about the cultural significance of literary and historical study;
  • Ability to synthesize and analyse a diverse range of primary texts;
  • Evaluate conflicting critical arguments made by or about women in the context of U.S. history and culture;
  • Ability to reflect critically upon the relationship between a range of historical formations, including gender, race, class, nation, and sexuality, particularly in the U.S. context.


Practical skills

  • Ability to close read, analyse, and respond to complex literary, historical, and critical texts, especially through comparative readings;
  • Ability to work collaboratively with peers, identifying strengths and making constructive suggestions for improvement where appropriate.


Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Produce written work that demonstrates skill with language and awareness of rhetorical audience;
  • Ability to work independently over a sustained period of time;
  • Demonstrate the ability to both improve one’s own learning through effective communication with others and contribute to the common goals of the collective group.


Employability skills

This course enhances employability by providing students with the opportunity to develop a wide range of transferable skills. Through the completion of combined independent and collective/group study students will develop the following: good oral and communication skills, resourcefulness in the ability to gather and interpret primary and secondary sources, time management skills.

Assessment methods

Essay 1, 2000 words, 40%

Essay 2, 2500 words, 50%

Attendance and participation, 10%

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Numerical grade and written comments on essays within 15 working days


Face-to-face meetings if requested



Recommended reading

Suggested readings include the following:



  • Rosemarie Zagarri, Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).


  • Anne M. Boylan, The Origins of Women’s Activism: New York and Boston, 1797-1840 (University of North Carolina Press, 2002).


  • Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household (Cambridge University Press, 2008).


  • Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (Yale University Press, 2016).


  • Linda Gordon, The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America (University of Illinois Press, 2002).


  • Crystal Nicole Feimster, Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching (Harvard University Press, 2009).


  • Kristen Hogan, The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism and Feminist Accountability (Duke University Press, 2016).


  • Carol Mason, Killing for Life: The Apocalyptic Narrative of Pro-life Politics (Cornell University Press, 2002).


Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 0

Additional notes

Timetable for 2019/20:

Lecture: Mon 2pm - 4pm

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