Fall 2016 English Graduate Courses

350:654 - Seminar: Culture in Movement: Post-45 American Literature and Culture

Course No: 350:654
Index # - 18030
Distribution Requirement: A5, D
Monday - 4:30 p.m.
MU 207

Seminar:  Culture in Movement:  Post-45 American Literature and Culture 

Jeffrey Lawrence

In the United States, the seventy-year period since the end of World War II has been marked by a series of social upheavals and cultural transformations. From the Civil Rights, countercultural, and anti-war movements of the 1950s and 1960s to Occupy Wall Street in the 2010s, several generations of social actors and movements have reshaped the country’s cultural terrain. Over this same period, the study of American culture has emerged from a cottage industry (the American Studies Association was founded in 1951) to a thriving academic field, only to be called into question by a growing number of scholars in the early twenty-first century for its nationalist and “exceptionalist” impulses. The very concept of “culture” was not immune to these changes, as the rise of cultural studies significantly expanded existing definitions of “American culture,” which increasingly incorporated mass media, new media, alternative linguistic traditions, and popular forms.

This course takes these movements in culture as a starting point for examining major American literary works of the post-1945 period. Each week, we will read one novel in relation to a significant social or cultural movement, considering how it shapes and is shaped by its particular historical moment. We will place canonical novels by authors such as Ellison, Kerouac, Morrison, Mailer, Silko, Delillo, and Pynchon alongside other cultural texts of the time, including important theoretical and critical texts within the field of American Studies. The readings for each week will lead us to broader questions about post-1945 American literature and the optics we use to describe it. What is the relationship between literary form and historical transformation? How has the field of American (literary) Studies itself been marked by these social and cultural movements? At a moment in which the categories of American literature and Americanist study are increasingly giving way to more global or transnational frameworks, the aim of the course is two-fold: first, to examine how literature and culture in the United States have changed over the past seventy years, and, second, to construct a narrative about the development of the field of American Studies in the context of these changes.