BA English Literature and History

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
American Literature and Social Criticism, 1900-Present

Course unit fact file
Unit code AMER20481
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


In this course unit we will examine American cultural texts of the long twentieth century, beginning with Uncle Tom's Cabin and ending with contemporary American texts. The course considers the ways cultural texts produce and are produced by social change.


  • To provide a literary and historical analysis of American society in the twentieth century;

  • To provide a cultural and political analysis of the social contexts of American literature and film of the twentieth century;

  • To develop students' critical and analytical skills through close reading of literary and filmic texts;

  • To foster skills in written expression and critical and analytical thinking at a level appropriate to work that will form part of the final degree assessment;

  • 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 the course, students should be able to demonstrate:

  • An ability to understand aspects of American history and culture through literature and other cultural texts;

  • A grasp of the range of literary and other cultural responses to American history and culture;

  • A level of critical and analytical thinking and expression appropriate to work that will form part of his or her final degree assessment;

  • An ability to work independently towards the production of written assessment at a level appropriate to work that will form part of his or her final degree assessment;

  • Some ability to understand and theorize the ideological constructs of, and intersections between, race, class, caste, gender, and sexual identity;

  • Some ability 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; problem solving; 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 40%

Essay 2 60%



Recommended reading

In preparation for the beginning of term students should read Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe (any edition).


Further readings and viewings for 2021-21 might include:


Cliff Odets, Waiting for Lefty (1935) (play: provided)

Junot Díaz,  short stories from This Is How You Lose Her (2012) (provided)

Arthur Miller, Focus (1945)

James Baldwin, “My Dungeon Shook” (1963) (essay: provided)

John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me (1959)

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015)

Valerie Solanas, SCUM Manifesto (1967)

Tony Kushner, Angels in America (play and film)

Larry Kramer, The Normal Heart (1985) (play)

Claudia Rankine, Citizen (2014)

Alison Bechdel, Fun Home (2006)

Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) (chapter 1: provided)

Amy Waldman, The Submission (2011)




On the Waterfront, Elia Kazan, dir. (1954)

West Side Story, Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, dirs. (1961)

His Girl Friday, Howard Hawks, dir. (1940)

Thelma and Louise, Ridley Scott, dir. (1991)

Angels in America, Mike Nichols, dir. (2003)

Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975, Goran Olsson, dir. (2011)

13th, Ava DuVernay, dir. (2016)

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Monica Pearl Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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