English 496A: American Upheavals: The 50s, 60s, and 70s

This senior seminar takes the decade—our usual way of dividing, or periodizing, shifts in mood, culture—as a starting point for digging deeper into the relationships between literature, history, and politics in one of the most turbulent periods in U.S. cultural history. As we investigate how ideas from this period inform how we think about the politics of culture and about ourselves, we’ll be asking thorny questions about the terms, assumptions, and methods of literary study: periodization, historical emplotment and national allegory, sociologies of the literary field, and more.

This focus will give us a more nuanced understanding of this literary period and others, and a critical view of the ways we see our recent cultural history. A set of particularly rich works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from the period will allow students to practice close reading and to reach outward from the texts themselves toward the broader histories of literature and culture that define advanced research in literary studies. Likely authors: Ralph Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Thomas Pynchon, Betty Friedan, Philip K. Dick, Joan Didion, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag, Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, Tom Wolfe, Maxine Hong Kingston, Michael Herr, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Luis Valdez.