BA English Literature with Creative Writing / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Uncle Tom's Cabin as Global Media Event

Course unit fact file
Unit code AMER22662
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) changed the world. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel about an enslaved man named Tom energized the anti-slavery movement. It sold more copies than any prior novel in American history. It shaped how future novelists, even pro-slavery novels, would write. Vaudeville acts, children’s books, and silent movies would re-use key characters from Stowe’s novel, and the novel itself would spawn merchandise, sequels, and rip-offs like any contemporary movie franchise. This module will explore how Uncle Tom’s Cabin reshaped politics and literature. Students will select a single element in the production or reception of Uncle Tom’s Cabin—such as illustrations or vaudeville songs—and in a final research essay trace the importance of that element over time. Students in this module will consider, ultimately, how a novel becomes a world-transforming media event, and they will also consider the uses and limitations of understanding politics through a work of fiction.


  • To chart the production and reception of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), the most popular nineteenth-century novel in the United States.
  • To consider how works of fiction can influence politics, economics, and even war.
  • Allow students to conduct a long-term research project that examines the relationship between a work of literature and material artifacts, such as illustrations, songbooks, photographs, silent movies, or other ephemera.
  • To develop advanced skills of cultural observation, critical analysis, and contextualization.
  • To improve students’ skills at working with primary-source materials across a variety of genres.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students should/will (please delete as appropriate) be able to:

Knowledge and understanding

On completion of the course students should be able to demonstrate:

  • An understanding of the mechanisms by which Uncle Tom’s Cabin shaped anti-slavery politics in the United States and around the world.
  • A familiarity with the modes of representation through which northern white people in the United States came to understand American slavery.
  • An understanding of how works of fiction shape culture through reiteration—illustrations, songs, spinoffs, mockeries, branded toys, and more.
  • The ability to analyse and interpret a range of primary sources and place them in historical context.

Intellectual skills

  • The ability to analyze historical artifacts in context.
  • Demonstrate the ability to design a research question and answer it in the form of an essay that responsibly analyzes a coherent group of primary sources.
  • Be able to identify, locate, and incorporate primary historical texts and documents in their own research.

Practical skills

  • The ability to use non-paywalled and university databases to gather historical materials.
  • The ability to gather and keep track of multiple sources of information.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • The ability to carry out research by crafting a coherent research question, limiting that question through a coherent logic of selection, and answering that question through research and writing.
  • Improved critical faculties.
  • Ability to work independently and in groups.

Assessment methods

Archival Review Essay 40%
Final Research Essay 60%


Recommended reading

The main works we will use, and the best introductory guides for this course, include:

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly, ed. Elizabeth Ammons (1852: New York, Norton, 2017)

Stephen Railton, ed., Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture: A Multi-Media Archive, University of Virginia, 2009.

Frances Watkins [Harper], “Eliza Harris,” “To Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe,” and “Eva’s Farewell,” in Frederick Douglass’s Paper (1853-1854)

Aunt Mary [pseud.], A Peep into Uncle Tom's Cabin (London: Sampson Low & Son, Boston: Jewett and Company, 1853)

Mary Henderson Eastman, Aunt Phillis's Cabin; or, Southern Life As It Is (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co, 1852)

H. V. Messetti, Little Eva's Temptation: A Farce Comedy Suggested by Uncle Tom’s Cabin (c. 1920)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Gordon Fraser Unit coordinator

Return to course details