Empire of Liberty: American Literature, 1776 to Present (EAS2112)

StaffDr Sinead Moynihan -
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. You 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-hour 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

Topics to be covered may include:

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

Republic of Letters: Short fiction by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville

Slave Narratives by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs

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

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

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

Modernist Poetry: Marianne Moore, Observations (1924)

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

Cities and Suburbs: Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun (1957); John Cheever, ‘The Five-Forty-Eight’ (1954) and ‘The Death of Justina’ (1960).

Native American Voices: Louise Erdrich, Tracks (1984)

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
Scheduled27.5Seminars devoted to the main readings in given week. Time will be set aside in certain seminars to discuss and prepare for assessments.
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
Group presentation in week 3, 4 or 5 (as assigned by seminar tutor) presenting a reading of a course text informed by a minimum of 2 secondary readings10 minutes1-11Oral feedback via tutorial

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
Essay452000 words1-7, 9-11Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up
Exam452 hour1-7, 9-11Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up
Seminar Participation10Continuous Oral Feedback with opportunity for office hours 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
Exam Exam1-7,9-11Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading

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

Louise Erdrich, Tracks (1988). (Flamingo, 2009)

Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun. Any edition – Methuen preferred

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

Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener – Any edition

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

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

Marianne Moore, Observations (1924) – Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016

Other primary texts will be available on ELE.


Selected secondary texts

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

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)

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Key words search

American Literature, Nineteenth-Century, Twentieth-Century, Modernism, Postmodernism