2017-2018 Courses

2017-2018 Courses


Introduction to American Studies (MA)

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the major themes and methods of New American Studies, a theoretically-informed, comparativist and socially engaged recent development within American Studies. We will examine the role of language, myth and ideology in American cultural politics, focusing on issues such as imperialism, religion, multiculturalism, feminism and race. The corpus will include films, literary texts and readings from the textbook, American Cultural Studies (Neil Campbell, available at Basta!). The readings for the course will be supplemented by guest lectures linked to the clas

American Utopian Fiction (3rd year BA) — We are familiar with dystopian narratives and have witnessed our destruction many times over in popular culture and literature. What about imagining better futures, which can inspire or set an example? American literature offers several landmark texts of utopian fiction, including Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, and Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia. We will read these three texts, and some others, and consider the strategies and specificities of utopian literature.
Postponed to 2018-2019.

Whitman’s Influence (2nd year BA) — In this Explication de Textes class we will begin by reading Walt Whitman and then read some poets he has influenced in the 20th century.


American Countercultures (MA) — this course will be co-taught with Prof. Christian Arnsperger from the Institute of Geography and Sustainability at the FGSE. We will be looking at the history and present renaissance of alternative communities and eco-villages and reading a range of literary and non-literary texts.

African American Literature (3rd year BA)

This seminar aims to introduce 3rd year BA students to the major themes and texts of 19th-centuryAmerican literature. We begin with the slave narrative, recording the experiences of escaped slaves, and finish with a short novel, probably by Toni Morrison. In between, we will discuss issues of language, dialect, political art, music, genre, and gender as we read poems, novels, speeches, short stories, several chapters of W.E. B. Du Bois’s influential The Souls of Black Folk (1903) and the Harlem Renaissance novel by Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1936). This course is an excellent preparation for the annual spring African American History study trip to Paris.

Morrison’s Beloved (2nd year BA)

This explication de textes course will use Toni Morrison’s Beloved as a point of entry into the study of narrative prose, focusing on the acquisition of tools and vocabulary that are necessary to analyze the modernist novel as form. In the first part of the class, we will learn about topics such narration and figurative language. In a second part of the course we will also look at the text from different theoretical perspectives and practice constructing evidence in the service of reasoned arguments or claims about a text. Students are encouraged to read the novel before the class begins so that they can reread it more carefully and critically during the semester.


Please note there will be a new member of staff in the American domain as of the rentrée — Benjamin Pickford, who will be teaching two ET classes next year:

Explication de Textes: Radicalism and Dissent in American Poetry between the Civil War and WW2

America’s emergence as the unparalleled capitalist world power after WW2 conceals a native tradition of political and economic radicalism which stretches back to the Revolution, but that reached a peak in the febrile atmosphere that set anarchism, communism, and socialism against the hegemony of the capitalist free market in the early 20th century. In this module, we focus on developing the skills of close reading and poetry analysis through examinations of how innovations in poetic form and genre reflected these radical politics. We will also explore how radical politics and innovative poetry combined to offer possibilities for emancipation from oppression on the grounds of race and gender, and finally we will interrogate why poetry was understood by many cultural figures to be instrumental in accelerating political and ideological change. We will survey 19th century innovators (Whitman and Dickinson), anarchist and communist poet-activists (Carl Sandburg, Lola Ridge, Edwin Rolfe, and Genevieve Taggard), poets associated with The Masses magazine (Floyd Dell and Amy Lowell), the Harlem Renaissance (Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, and Angelina Weld Grimké), and finally the limits and limitations of poetry’s radical power in the work of some High Modernists (Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, and Marianne Moore).

An excellent critical resource for this course is the ‘Modern American Poetry’ website hosted by the University of Illinois: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/


  1. Regular attendance in class, and participation in class discussions. This will include the requirement to lead one group discussion.
  2. A mid-term essay, approximately 3 pages in length, which closely analyses the form, structure, genre, and language of a single poem.
  3. A final essay which closely analyses one or more poems in relation to concepts of political radicalism studied on the course, approximately 6-8 pages long. Students wishing to validate the class as ‘Enseignement complémentaire’ for 4 ECTS will be required to write a longer final essay of 10-12 pages.


Explication de Textes: Writing American Nature in the 19th Century

Where is the literature which gives expression to Nature? He would be a poet who could impress the winds and streams into his service, to speak for him; who nailed words to their primitive senses, as farmers drive down stakes in the spring, which the frost has heaved; who derived his words as often as he used them–transplanted them to his page with earth adhering to their roots; whose words were so true and fresh and natural that they would appear to expand like the buds at the approach of spring, though they lay half smothered between two musty leaves in a library–aye, to bloom and bear fruit there, after their kind, annually, for the faithful reader, in sympathy with surrounding Nature.

Henry David Thoreau, ‘Walking’ (1862)


This course is intended to develop your ability to closely analyse prose through an examination of six literary representations of American nature of the long 19th-century. Over this period, America’s ‘virgin territories’ were settled, developed, and gradually industrialized, and American essayists and memoirists recorded the impacts of mankind on the natural world, lamented the loss of wild habitats, and sowed the seeds of environmentalism and conservationism in the 20th and 21st centuries.

In our reading and discussions, we will focus on the rhetoric and style of our six authors as a lens onto understanding the cultural work their texts sought to undertake. We will pay special attention to the fact that these texts are non-fiction, and develop a skill-set that will enable you to analyse how the objectives and intent of prose non-fiction differ from prose fiction. Key themes that will guide our interrogation of American nature writing include:

  • American nature vs. the American state
  • The relation of consciousness to nature; philosophies of nature
  • Flora, fauna, and the concept of a more-than-human/other-than-human world
  • Wilderness, wildness, and the beginnings of conservationism
  • The role of literature and literary techniques in demonstrating the value of the natural world to an urban audience


William Bartram—Selections from Travels and Other Writings (1791)

Ralph Waldo Emerson—Nature (1836)

Susan Fenimore Cooper—Selections from Rural Hours (1850)

Henry David Thoreau—‘Walking’ (1862)

John Muir—‘Wild Wool’ (1875) and ‘A Wind-Storm in the Forests’ (1894)

Mary Austin—Selections from The Land of Little Rain (1903)



  1. Regular attendance in class, and participation in class discussions.
  1. A mid-term essay, approximately 3 pages in length, which closely analyses the form, structure, genre, and language of a single passage from one of our readings.
  2. A final essay which closely analyses one text in terms of the genre of nature writing and/or its place in 19th century America, approximately 6-8 pages long. Students wishing to validate the class as ‘Enseignement complémentaire’ for 4 ECTS will be required to write a longer final essay of 10-12 pages.