BA English Literature and German / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
The Uncanny and the Undead: Gothic American Literature and Culture

Course unit fact file
Unit code AMER33151
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


This module surveys the development of gothic American literature from the late 18th century through to the new millennium. The module will explore a number of key gothic themes, settings, and characters, including the wilderness, inherited sin, the sublime, the haunted house, obsession, murder, the undead, the corrupt city, vampires, psychopaths, and ghosts, as well as the gothic interpretation of a number of key historical developments across the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, including Native American removal, religious fanaticism, the slave trade, suburbanization, incarceration, financial deregulation, and 9/11. We will examine how gothic American literature evolves over time as a distinct branch of the wider gothic movement, the ways in which texts speak to and build upon each other, and the ways in which gothic fiction acts as a critical tool through which the socio-political landscape is refracted, satirized, and made grotesque for the benefit of public dissection.


  • To examine the development and evolution of specifically Americanized forms and conventions of gothic literature from the late 18th century to the present day.
  • To explore key historical events, movements, and policies in the U.S. and analyse how they influence, and are critiqued by, gothic American literature, and to develop a critical eye with regards to historical and political readings of genre fiction.
  • To develop critical thinking and close reading skills through sustained engagement with a variety of literary, theoretical, and historical texts from different centuries.
  • To encourage and develop students’ research, close reading, and writing skills as well as their ability to construct and present a coherent, persuasive, and critical argument through assessments and feedback sessions.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the development of gothic American literature across the 19th and 20th centuries, and the ways in which these developments interact with, respond to, and built upon earlier works within the gothic American literary canon.
  • Demonstrate an in-depth knowledge and understanding of a number of social, political, economic, and cultural shifts in the U.S. across the 19th and 20th centuries, and the ways in which these shifts influence, effect, and are interpreted in gothic American literature.

Intellectual skills

  • Critically analyse a variety of literary, theoretical, and historical sources, and synthesize these documents to develop arguments, theories, and analytical perspectives regarding the influence and expression of key social, political, economic, and cultural shifts in the U.S. in gothic American literature.
  • Effectively research and construct a convincing argument using appropriate methods of scholarly presentation.

Practical skills

  • Clearly and precisely orally express critical opinions regarding the effectiveness, relevance, political engagement, and literary merit of work of gothic American literature, and to support these opinions with relevant supporting evidence in a seminar environment.
  • Identify and examine appropriate scholarly sources regarding U.S. history, the gothic genre, and literary theory, that support arguments made in both formal assessments and seminar discussions.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Confidence in expressing ideas and interpretations, leading group discussions and instigating conversations regarding the assigned reading and student’s own academic progress.
  • Excellent time management, self-motivation, and analytical skills demonstrated through the completion of the portfolio and critical essay assessments.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students will be able to analyse and evaluate arguments and texts.
Group/team working
Students will be able to work courteously and constructively as part of a larger group.
Students are encouraged to respond imaginatively and independently to the questions and ideas raised by texts and other media.
Students must take responsibility for their learning and are encouraged to participate in group discussions actively and even to lead those discussions.
Project management
Students will be able to work towards deadlines and to manage their time effectively.
Oral communication
Students will be able to show fluency, clarity and persuasiveness in spoken communication.
Students will be required to digest, summarise and present large amounts of information, and to enrich their responses and arguments with a wide range of further reading.
Written communication
Students will develop their ability to write in a way that is lucid, precise and compelling.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%
Portfolio 50%

Feedback methods

Feedback methods Formative or Summative
Verbal feedback in seminars and tutorials Formative
Written feedback and assignment grades via Turnitin Summative


Recommended reading

Bailey, D. (1999). American Nightmares: The Haunted House Formula in American Popular Fiction. Bowling Green State: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.

Fisher, M. (2016). The Weird and the Eerie. London, Repeater Books.

Goddu, T. A. (1997). Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation. New York: Columbia University Press.

Kafer, P. (2004). Charles Brockden Brown’s Revolution and the Birth of American Gothic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Martin, R. K. and Savoy, E. (1998) American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative. Iowa: University of Iowa Press.

Morrison, T. (1993). Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. London: Picador.

Punter, D. (ed) (2012) A New Companion to the Gothic. Oxford: Blackwell.

Street, C. S. and Crow, C. L. (eds.) (2016). The Palgrave Handbook of the Southern Gothic. London: Palgrave Macmillan

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Amy Bride Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Available on the following programmes:

  • BA American Studies (L3)
  • BA English and American Studies (L3)
  • BA History and American Studies (L3)
  • BA English Literature (L3)
  • BA English Literature and Creative Writing (L3)
  • BA English Literature and History (L3)

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