BA English Literature and American Studies

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Beat Writing

Course unit fact file
Unit code AMER30791
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? No


In this unit we will focus on a group of writers from the 1950s and 1960s who became known as the Beat Generation. We will analyse works by well-known writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, but also authors on the fringes of the movement, such as Bob Kaufman and Harold Norse, as well as the work of female Beat writers. We will consider how and why certain writers gained notoriety and we will explore the continuing interest in Beat Writers in order to consider the commodification of what was once a counter-cultural phenomenon.


- To develop students' critical awareness by encouraging them to attend to the language, themes, narratives, genres, and political elements of the literary works we study;
- To develop students' awareness of historical and cultural contexts specific to the 1950s and 1960s that influence the literary works we will study;
- To encourage and develop students' research, presentation, and writing skills and their capacity to construct a sustained and coherent argument.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students should be able to demonstrate:
- A deep knowledge and understanding of some of the major literary themes and traditions expressed and negotiated through U.S. Beat literature;
- A deep knowledge and understanding of some of the historical and cultural factors which influence the literature of this period, including the Cold War, Counter Cultural theories, the relationship to Modernism and Surrealism and African American literature and culture;
- Ability to understand and theorize the ideological constructs of, and intersections between, race, class, gender, and sexual identity, as well as politics, within a group of writers who came known as the Beat Generation;
- Ability (in the assessed essay) to construct a sustained and cohesive written argument and to deploy scholarly methods of presentation;
- Analyzing texts; speaking in front of groups; making connections to present-day concerns; improved writing; self confidence in abilities.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students taking this unit will be able to analyse and evaluate arguments and texts. Above all, committed students will emerge from this course unit with an advanced capacity to think critically, i.e. knowledgeably, rigorously, confidently and independently.
Group/team working
Students taking this unit will be able to work courteously and constructively as part of a larger group.
On this unit students are encouraged to respond imaginatively and independently to the questions and ideas raised by texts and other media.
Students on this unit must take responsibility for their learning and are encouraged not only to participate in group discussions but to do so actively and even to lead those discussions.
Project management
Students taking this unit will be able to work towards deadlines and to manage their time effectively.
Oral communication
Students taking this unit will be able to show fluency, clarity and persuasiveness in spoken communication.
Students on this unit will be required to digest, summarise and present large amounts of information. They are encouraged to enrich their responses and arguments with a wide range of further reading.
Written communication
Students on this unit will develop their ability to write in a way that is lucid, precise and compelling.

Assessment methods

Essay 1 50%
Essay 2 50%


Feedback methods

  • written feedback on essays
  • additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading


You will be given a course reading pack but you should make sure that you have copies of:


Burroughs, William. Junky  (London: Penguin Classics, 2008). Get the definitive version edited by Oliver Harris.


Charters, Ann ed. The Portable Beat Reader (NY & London: Penguin, 2006).


Kerouac, Jack. On the Road (London: Penguin Classics, new ed. 2000)



All will be available in Blackwell’s Bookshop at the precinct.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Practical classes & workshops 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Douglas Field Unit coordinator

Additional notes



Other Information

The use of dictionaries in the examination is prohibited. This rule applies to all categories of students, including all Visiting Students.

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