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Study information

American Modern

Module titleAmerican Modern
Module codeEAS3235
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Kate Hext (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Module description

Through seminar discussion of literary texts, critical and theoretical analyses and historical contexts, this module seeks to identify a distinctly American modernist idiom. We will examine how literary texts reacted to and sometimes attempted to intervene into such social trends and debates as urbanization, migration and emigration, changing racial and gender dynamics, emerging mass and consumer cultures and such specific historical phenomena as Prohibition, the Plessy v. Fergusson decision, the Great Migration, the Depression. We will compare modernist internationalism and various strands of “native” U.S. modernism--e.g. romantic nationalism, the Harlem Renaissance, cultural pluralism. We will work across several literary genres to examine the importance of coteries and creative communities orbiting "little magazines” and will analyse the aesthetic influences of visual arts, jazz and blues, and film on literary texts.

Module aims - intentions of the module

• To enable you to situate these texts within their historical context and to facilitate your consideration of the intersections between politics and aesthetics.
• To encourage you to consider the intersection of American modernism with other art forms such as film, visual arts, photography or music.
• To motivate you to relate your readings of these texts to various theoretical and critical debates that have surfaced in response to these texts.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of key works by American modernist writers
  • 2. Engage in archival research focused on modernist magazines as requested for the first assignment
  • 3. Compare and contrast different literary texts associated with American modernism and situate them in their relevant socio-historical and cultural context
  • 4. Enter into contemporary scholarly conversations in literary and cultural theory and relate these to the studied texts

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 5. Demonstrate an advance ability to analyse literary texts and to relate their concerns and their modes of expression to their historical context
  • 6. Demonstrate an advanced 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 advanced 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. Demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose
  • 9. Through research for seminars and essays, demonstrate advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis
  • 10. Through research and writing, demonstrate an advanced capacity to make critical use of secondary material, to question assumptions, and to reflect on their own learning process

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:
• Key literary texts, authors and concepts associated with American modernism such as modernist coteries, American expats in Paris, modernist magazines, formal experimentation. We will study a wide range of artistic expressions usually associated with American modernism by situating them in their historical context and by discussing scholarly responses that have been produced to these texts and art forms over the years. Authors studied will include Edith Wharton, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot, H. D., Ernest Hemingway, Nella Larsen, Langston Hughes, Nathanael West, William Faulkner, Marianne Moore, Anita Loos and John Dos Passos.
• Historical contexts and debates that have fundamentally shaped the development of American modernism as an artistic tradition such as urbanization, the Harlem Renaissance, the Depression, Hollywood cinema, American middlebrow culture and the Deep South.
• Synergies between literature and other art forms such as photography, visual arts, cinema, jazz and blues or architecture.

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 Teaching3311 x 1 hour lectures and 11 x 2 hour seminars devoted to the main readings in each given week
Guided Independent Study103Seminar Preparation (Individual)
Guided Independent Study164Reading, research, and essay preparation

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
Modernist Magazines Research Assignment352500 words1-2, 4, 5-7, 8-10Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up
Essay654000 words1, 3, 7, 8-10Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Modernist Magazine Research AssignmentModernist Magazine Research Assignment1-2, 4, 5-7, 8-10Referral/Deferral Period
EssayEssay1, 3, 7, 9-10Referral/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 Sources:

• John Dos Passos, The Big Money (Houghton Mifflin, 2000)
• T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land (Norton Critical, 2000)
• William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (Vintage, 1991)
• Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (Scribner, 2006)
• Langston Hughes, Collected Poems (Vintage, 1995)
• Nella Larsen, Passing (Penguin Classics, 2003)
• Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Penguin,1998)
• Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust (Penguin, 2007)
• Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (Penguin, 1993)

Please note that the above is an indicative list and that the list for the current year will be available on ELE. Additional sources such as poems and essays will be made available to students via the ELE site.

Secondary Sources:

• Ardis, Ann. Modernism and Cultural Conflict 1880-1922. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.
• Baker, Houston. Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance. Chicago: U Chicago P, 1987.
• Donald, James. Some of these Days: Black Stars, Jazz Aesthetic, and Modernist Culture. NY: Oxford UP, 2015.
• McCabe, Susan. Cinematic Modernism: Modernist Poetry and Film. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005.
• McDonald, Gail. American Literature and Culture 1900-1960. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007.
• McCabe, Susan. Cinematic Modernism: Modernist Poetry and Film. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005.
• North, Michael. The Dialect of Modernism: Race, Language and 20th-Century Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994.
• Scholes, Robert, and Clifford Wulfman. Modernism in the Magazines: An Introduction.
• New Haven: Yale UP, 2010.
• Scott, Bonnie Kime ed. Gender in Modernism: New Geographies, Complex Intersections. Evanston: U Illinois P, 2007.
• Trachtenberg, Alan. The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age.New York: Hill, 1982.

A detailed list of secondary sources is available on ELE.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Journals available through Exeter’s elibrary:

    • American Literary History
    • American Literature
    • American Quarterly
    • Journal of American Studies
    • Modern Fiction Studies
    • Modernism/Modernity
    • Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

• ELE – College to provide hyperlink to appropriate pages

Web based and electronic resources:

• Modernist Magazine Project:
• Modernist Journals Project:

Journals available through Exeter’s elibrary:

• American Literary History
• American Literature
• American Quarterly
• Journal of American Studies
• Modern Fiction Studies
• Modernism/Modernity
• Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature

Key words search

American literature, modernism, Harlem Renaissance, twentieth-century literature and culture

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date