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Study information

Crossing the Water: Transatlantic Literary Relations

Module titleCrossing the Water: Transatlantic Literary Relations
Module codeEAS2104
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Ellen McWilliams (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module examines the fertile relationship between the literary cultures of Britain (and some of its one-time colonies), Ireland and the United States from early settlement through into the present day with a particular focus on the late nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

The module covers a range of authors, texts and genres (including poetry, fiction and travel writing) and highlights the work of a number of South West writers for whom transatlantic encounters have proved to be particularly productive. Where appropriate, it examines American writers’ perceptions of and engagement with other European cultures beyond Britain’s shores.

The module reads such literary and cultural encounters in the context of the rich and interdisciplinary field of Transatlantic Studies. There are no pre- or co-requisites for this module. It will be of particular relevance to those with an interest in modern writing in English, in American culture, and in literatures of globalisation.

Module aims - intentions of the module

  • This module invites you to reappraise familiar perceptions of Anglo and American literary culture, and enables you to reach an informed understanding of the origins and consequences of each nation’s representation of the other. It aims to introduce you to a wide range of primary materials in a number of different genres spanning some 150 years of literary history, and to provide you with the theoretical and methodological skills that will enable you to make sense of this rich field. Where appropriate, the module will encourage you to identify connections between key transatlantic writers and other cognate movements and genres (e.g. the emergence of a modernist aesthetic). Your studies throughout will be stimulated by the module tutors’ own research in this area.
  • “Crossing the Water: Transatlantic Literary Relations” aims to engage you in transatlantic dialogue, to equip you with the ability to understand cultural differences and similarities, and – by reading transatlantic literary relations in their contemporary contexts – to alert you to the global consequences of such encounters. In all of these respects, it provides an invaluable grounding for future employment.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of transatlantic literary relations from the late nineteenth-century to the present day
  • 2. Demonstrate an informed critical understanding of similarities and differences across and between texts, authors and genres of transatlantic writing
  • 3. Demonstrate a developed ability to apply skills of close reading and of comparative analysis, specifically in relation to transatlantic literature
  • 4. Demonstrate an informed critical understanding of relevant scholarly work in the field of transatlantic studies

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Demonstrate an ability to analyse a range of literatures and to relate to relate their concerns and their modes of expression to their historical contexts
  • 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

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Through module 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 and writing, demonstrate a capacity to make critical use of secondary material, to question assumptions, and to reflect on their own learning process
  • 12. Through sitting their final examination, demonstrate proficiency in the use of memory and in the development, organisation, and expression of ideas under pressure of time

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

The syllabus focuses on transatlantic travel writing before going on to explore transatlantic literary encounters in early twentieth-century literature. The module progresses to an examination of the poetry of the Black Atlantic and the literature of the Irish Atlantic, as well as exploring writing about conflict through a transatlantic lens, before continuing to explore Anglo-American literary transmission and exchange. 

Key writers featured on the module include Charles Dickens, Dion Boucicault, Edith Wharton, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph O’Connor, Zadie Smith, and selected African-American and Caribbean poets. Of central interest to the module will be: the representation of national Identity; the transatlantic woman writer; migration and Diaspora; the Black Atlantic; questions of hybridity (racial and linguistic); and the representation of conflict.

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
Scheduled learning and teaching11Lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching27.511 x 2.5 hour seminars
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
Informal study group presentations 20 minutes (groups of 4)8Peer and tutor feedback in seminars

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, 9-11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutor follow up
Examination452 hours1-7, 9-11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutor follow up
Module participation10Continuous 1-10Oral feedback with opportunity for tutorial feedback

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
ExaminationExamination1-7, 9-11Referral/Deferral period
Module participationRepeat study or Mitigation1-10Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Primary reading:

  • Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island (1995)
  • Edith Wharton, The Custom of the Country (1913)
  • Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933)
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
  • Sylvia Plath, Crossing the Water  (1971)
  • Joseph O’Connor, Star of the Sea (2002)
  • Zadie Smith, On Beauty (2005)

All other required reading will be provided via the ELE.

Secondary reading:

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Web based and electronic resources:

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • Journal of Transatlantic Studies
  • Journal of American Studies

Key words search

Transatlantic, America, England, Ireland, Twentieth Century, Dickens, Emerson, Frost, Stein, Auden, Plath, Vonnegut, Bryson, Boucicault

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date