Introduction to American Literature (EAS2074)

StaffDr Sinead Moynihan - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The module aims to consider major artistic forms and styles such as the American gothic, poetry, the tale and the short story, the emergence of modernism, the autobiography, and the American novel, and the module will conclude by assessing American fiction in the contemporary era. Students will also be encouraged to attend events supporting the course, which may include reading groups and screenings.

Teaching is by:

1 x 1-hour lecture per week

1 x 2.5 seminar per week


ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. demonstrate an informed appreciation of specific American authors and texts;
  • 2. demonstrate an informed appreciation of the literary history of the United States, and how this relates to systems of global and transnational dialogue and cultural exchange;
  • 3. demonstrate an informed appreciation of the relation between American literature and important related historical and intellectual developments;
  • 4. demonstrate an understanding of the development of specific literary genres, forms, and themes in American literature;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. demonstrate an ability to analyse the literature of a different national culture and historical period, and to relate its concerns - and its forms and modes of expression - to its historical context;
  • 6. demonstrate an ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history;
  • 7. demonstrate an ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary texts;

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. through seminar work and group presentations, demonstrate communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups;
  • 9. through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, a capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument and a capacity to write clear and correct prose;
  • 10. through research for seminars and essays, demonstrate proficiency in information retrieval and analysis;
  • 11. through research, seminar discussion, and essay writing demonstrate a capacity to question assumptions, to distinguish between fact and opinion, and to critically reflect on their own learning process;
  • 12. through sitting their final examination, demonstrate proficiency in the use of memory and in the development, organization, and expression of ideas under pressure of time.

Syllabus plan

1.    A New Literature for a New Land? Washington Irving, “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1819); Thomas Jefferson, "Declaration of Independence"

2.    American Gothic: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1850)

3.    Slave Narratives by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs

4.    Writing the American Self: Poems by Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson; Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Poet"

5.   The American Artist: Henry James, Roderick Hudson (1879)

6.   Race, Nation, Region: Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)

7.   Modernist Poetry: Selected Poems

8.   The Vanishing American?: Willa Cather, The Professor’s House (1925)

9.    Transatlanticism at Mid-Century: James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room (1956) 

10.  Native American Voices: Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (1977)

11.  Transatlanticism beyond the American Century: Joseph O’ Neill, Netherland (2008)


Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities11lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities27.5Seminars: 11 x 2.5-hour seminars
Guided independent study27.5study group preparation and meetings
Guided independent study70seminar preparation (individual)
Guided independent study164reading, research and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1000 words1-7, 9-11Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up.

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay502000 words1-7, 9-11Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up.
Exam502 hours1-7, 9-11Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up.

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-7, 9-11Referral/deferral period
ExamExam1-7, 9-11Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:


James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room - any edition

Hugh Brogan, The Penguin History of the United States, Penguin, 2001.

Willa Cather, The Professor’s House.  Any edition – Virago preferred

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter .  Any edition – Penguin preferred.

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girls. Ed. Kwame Anthony Appiah. Modern Library Classics. 2004.

Henry James, Roderick Hudson. Any edition – Penguin preferred.

Joseph O’ Neill, Netherland, Harper Perennial, 2009.

Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony, Penguin, 2006.

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Any edition -  Norton Critical Edition preferred.

Other primary texts will be available on ELE.

Selected secondary texts

Malcolm Bradbury and Richard Ruland, From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of American Literature (Penguin, 1991)

Peter N. Carroll and David W. Noble, The Free and the Unfree (Penguin, 1988)

Emory Elliot (ed.), Columbia Literary History of the United States (Columbia UP, 1988)

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the "Racial" Self (Oxford UP, 1987)

Richard Gray, A History of American Literature (Blackwell, 2004)

Paul Giles, Transatlantic Insurrections: British Culture and the Formation of American Literature, 1730-1860 (U of Pennsylvania P, 2001)

Robert Lawson-Peebles, American Literature Before 1880 (Longman, 2003)

Helen Taylor, Circling Dixie: Contemporary Southern Culture through a Transatlantic Lens (Rutgers UP, 2001)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

American Literary History, American Quarterly, Modern Fiction Studies [ProjectMuse], American Literature, Journal of American Studies, African American Literature [JSTOR]

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

English, Literature, American, U.S., Introduction