Literature of the American West
Instructor: Jennifer Ladino
June 18 - 29, 8 a.m. - 10:50 a.m.
Whether it conjures images of cowboys and Indians, covered wagons and log cabins, Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill Cody, or majestic mountains and long open roads, the American West is a complex and symbolic region. This course looks to literature from the last 150 years to explore how American identity is associated with “the West,” how Western iconography and mythology have changed over time, and how this regional writing is (and isn’t) distinct from other American literature.
The course begins with the emergence of the Western as a genre in the late-19th century, with stories about the frontier, set in dramatic natural landscapes, and populated by colorful but often typecast characters. We’ll move quickly into the 20th century as we trace the evolution of the genre, the persistence of its key themes, and the reinvigoration of regional literature into the 21st. In the process, we’ll ask questions like:
- If “the West” contributes to a shared sense of national identity, then what kind of identity is it?
- Who, exactly, shares it?
- What relationships between imagination and landscape does literature of the U.S. West reinforce or challenge?
- What knowledge of the region and perspectives on the nation does indigenous literature provide?
- In what ways is the West enmeshed in a global context, symbolically, economically, and socio-politically?
Course discussions, short response papers, and annotated bibliographies will inform our own readings of a diverse range of primary texts by N. Scott Momaday, Louise Erdrich, Edward Abbey, Norman Maclean, Terry Tempest Williams, Annie Proulx, Percival Everett, Sherman Alexie, and others. We’ll work toward writing seminar papers that analyze literature in relation to major themes and issues concerning Western and national identity — including solitude, wilderness, the frontier, labor, recreation, mobility, animality, masculinity (and gender more broadly), race, resource management, and the culture and politics of the so-called “New West.”
The Victorian Uncanny
Instructor: Tara MacDonald
June 18-29, 11 a.m. to 1:50 p.m.
[This course satisfies the pre-1900 literature requirement of the MA-Eng degree]
In this seminar, we will explore Victorian writers’ fascination with the uncanny and the occult. In his 1919 essay “The Uncanny,” Sigmund Freud describes the uncanny as that “species of the frightening that goes back to what was once well known and familiar.” The uncanny describes that which is unusual, weird, and unnerving but also strangely familiar. For Freud, uncanny feelings can arise from the experience of deva ju or from seeing a corpse or waxwork.
Yet what did the uncanny mean in the nineteenth century? In this class, we will explore ways in which the Victorians grappled with uncanny feelings in a society that was experiencing vast technological and social changes. Our readings – by authors such as Charles Dickens, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Bram Stoker – will range from ghost stories to gothic novels to science fiction.
Students will be required to write a series of response papers as well as an article review, participate in class discussions, and eventually write a lengthy scholarly essay that is contextualized by relevant theory and contemporary criticism.