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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Kelly Walsh
C LIT 321
Seattle Campus

Studies in Literature of the Americas

Emphasizes connections between twentieth century literature of the United States and Canada and current literature of Latin America. Emphasizes that, despite obvious differences, much is shared in terms of culture and national sensibility across the two continents.

Class description

Telling History, History Telling: Literature of the Americas CLIT 321 Instructor: Kelly S. Walsh

How do we tell History? What history is told? And whose? What can poetry, prose, and drama tell us about the telling of history—and our own present? This course is designed—through a survey of 18th, 19th, and 20th century American, Canadian, Columbian, and Caribbean literature—as a forum to explore some of the ramifications of these questions, and to expand our notion of historical narrative. If, as Eliot says, “History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors / And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions, / Guides us by vanities,” what are we to make of centuries of exploration and conquest, settlement and colonization, insurrection and revolution, and civilization and subjugation? Can literary texts, which we might argue are guided by the vanities of their own authors, do more than simply craft their own cunning passages? What I hope we shall discover is that the meaning of history is constantly contested, and that literary texts are active forces in the endless forming and reforming of historical meaning—a process which has important stakes for how we understand our present historical moment. In this struggle for meaning, in which “dominant” and “minority” narratives clash, we find an irreducible heterogeneity of stories about the Americas, none of which provide an unmediated view of an “objective” history. If the telling of history, then, might be nothing more or less than the form which the human mind imposes upon heterogeneity and chaos, we can look to literature as an imaginative—and at times political—attempt to both give form to Faulkner’s “curious lack of economy” between cause and effect and to reveal the impossibility of definitively concluding that attempt. The multiplicity and dissensus involved in any shared experience and tradition, we will also find, is greatly informed by the national, cultural, racial, and religious (among others) contexts in which a work is produced. Thus reading the works of such writers as Daniel Defoe, William Faulkner, Gabriel García Márquez, Aimé Césaire, T. S. Eliot, Derek Walcott, Margaret Atwood, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Toni Morrison, we will explore the ways in which literature tells social and cultural history, and how these texts also critique that telling.

A definitive list of course texts will follow. Requirements include active class participation, daily readings of about 100 pages, one in-class midterm, and a final essay of 7-10 pages. You will also be asked to have read Robinson Crusoe before the first day of class.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Kelly Walsh
Date: 04/16/2007