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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Jonathan E Murr
ENGL 250
Seattle Campus

American Literature

Introduces American culture through a careful reading of a variety of representative texts in their historical contexts.

Class description

In 2005, when images of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina saturated the world's popular media, it seemed to many observers that the supposedly “exceptional� nature of the US—and its promises of freedom, democratic inclusion, mobility and prosperity—had been revealed to be decisively false. Looking back from the “time of Katrina� (which is also the time of Bush and Obama, Iraq, Guantanamo, and financial crisis) to John Winthrop's famous 1630 speech declaring the settler colony that would become the United States a “City on the Hill,� this course will turn to US American literatures and cultures that have helped to produce and powerfully challenge claims about the country's “exceptional� nature—its supposed break from the rest of the world in its path of progress. In interrogating together what scholars call “American Exceptionalism,� we will develop a working knowledge and vocabulary for the study of American literary cultures. We will focus particularly on the ways that race, class, gender and sexuality have shaped and continue to shape the basic life chances and sense of belonging of people living within or in the shadow of the US—and the ways that cultural texts and “cultural workers� have imagined other possibilities and futures.

Although many of our primary texts will include poems, novels, short stories and performance pieces drawn from the 20th century—including works selected from among James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Sandra Cisneros, John Okada, Suheir Hammad, Adrienne Rich, Paul Beatty, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, Gillian Welch and Mos Def—we will also look at earlier works by Winthrop, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and Herman Melville. Secondary materials will include documentary films and short critical texts by feminist, anti-racist, and marxian scholars such as Benedict Anderson, Amy Kaplan, Nikhil Pal Singh, Avery Gordon and Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

Assessment will be based on thoughtful, active and daily participation in class discussions, a group presentation or performance, reading quizzes and two take-home exams. Required books will be available through the University Bookstore. Additional materials will be available through the UW Libraries E-Reserve system.

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.
Additional Information
Last Update by Jonathan E Murr
Date: 02/28/2011