American Literatures and Cultures

Uncle Tom's Cabin flyer

Overview | Faculty | Recent Courses

The Department of English at the University of Chicago has a tradition of pursuing innovative work that is both historically and theoretically informed. For those interested in American literatures and cultures, we draw upon the Department's commitment to interdisciplinary inquiry to provide students with the opportunity to explore several dimensions of scholarship and critical inquiry.

The faculty and graduate students in the program in American literatures and cultures address a variety of literary traditions and cultural practices (such as the visual arts, religion, politics, and law) from national and transnational perspectives. We have strength in all historical periods. Our methodological approaches range from formal analysis of poetic, narrative, and generic structures, through comparatist approaches, to the historical analysis of gendered and racial subject formations in local and global contexts. Theoretical orientations include Marxism and Frankfurt School critical theory, psychoanalysis, feminism, queer theory, materialist phenomenology, and aesthetic theory. Such orientations and approaches do not necessarily exclude one another; indeed, their principled convergence often enables especially productive analysis.

Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893

Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893

Given this plurality of interests, our fields of critical investigation are wide-ranging. In addition to more traditionally defined areas of scholarship, our work addresses a variety of media (including print, sound, photography, and film) and discursive genres (including confessional literature, political treatises, and legal cases). We have particular strength in African American literary and film studies, gender studies, cinema and media studies, and histories and theories of the public sphere, as well as of privacy and intimacy.

Coursework in the program proves more intensive than extensive, focusing on specific periods of literary and cultural production, on questions about modernism and modernity, the avant-garde, aesthetic experience and sensory affect, technologies of representation, consumer culture and object relations, reception and spectatorship, minority literatures and cultures, and the role of the aesthetic in nation and state formation. In addition to courses offered by the Americanist program in English, students are encouraged to take classes in other departments (such as History, Art History, Cinema and Media Studies, Music, Romance Languages, Comparative Literature, Anthropology, or Political Science).

Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin

Typically, students also involve themselves with one or more of the interdisciplinary centers (such as the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, or the Center for Latin American Studies). And, as all graduate students are expected to do at Chicago, they join at least one graduate workshop (where work-in-progress, readings, and occasional lectures are discussed by students and faculty), such as the American Literatures and Cultures Workshop, the Poetry and Poetics Workshop, and the Mass Culture Workshop. Finally, students take advantage of the University's and city's extraordinary scholarly resources -- the Regenstein Library and its Special Collections; the Newberry Library; the Chicago Public Library; the DuSable Museum of African American History; the Chicago History Museum; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Art; and the Gene Siskel Film Center.

The program in American literatures and cultures aims to produce scholar-critics who appreciate the historical, formal, and material specificity of different media and genres; who are well-versed in the histories of and debates on aesthetic and cultural theories in literary studies; who are skilled at research in a variety of archival sources and media; and who, through the course of their study and research, are primed to formulate original and significant questions about American literature, culture, and society.

Note: The American Field is not a distinct program, but rather an area of focus within the Department of English. Prospective applicants interested in the study of American literature and culture should follow the application procedures described on the Department's homepage.

Faculty in American Literatures and Cultures

Recent Courses in American Literatures and Cultures

  • @1948 (Nelson)
  • Aesthetics and Politics (Warren)
  • The Aesthetics of Comics (Chute)
  • After Great Pain: From Sentimentality to Trauma (Berlant)
  • The American Enlightenment (Slauter)
  • American Lit., 1930-1950 (Warren, w/Walter Michaels)
  • The American Novel and the Death of Jim Crow (Warren)
  • American West (Knight)
  • America’s Asia (So)
  • Asian American Poetry (Reddy)
  • The Cantos of Ezra Pound (Reddy)
  • Chicago (Knight)
  • Colonial Encounters (Knight)
  • Contemporary Political Documentary (Mitchell)
  • Critical Videogame Studies (Jagoda)
  • The Culture of the Cold War (Nelson)
  • Emancipation in History and Literature (Warren, w/Julie Saville)
  • Enlightenment & Revolution in America (Slauter)
  • Film and the Avant-Garde: Experimental Film (Lastra)
  • Form and Experience in Asian American Poetry (Nelson)
  • From Sentimentality to Affective Publics (Berlant)
  • Hawthorne and Melville (Knight)
  • History of the Book in America (Slauter)
  • Images and Science (Mitchell)
  • The Intimate Public Sphere (Berlant)
  • Kitsch, Camp, and the Politics of Culture (B. Brown)
  • The Language of Rights in Eighteenth-Century America (Slauter)
  • Late James (B. Brown)
  • Lines of Transmission: Comics and Autobiography (Chute, w/Alison Bechdel)
  • Literary History and the African American Text (Warren)
  • The Matter of Modernism (B. Brown)
  • Methods and Issues in Cinema Studies (Gunning; Lastra)
  • Modernism and Gender in Black and White (A. Brown)
  • The Modernist Long Poem (Reddy)
  • Modernist Writing and the Invention of the Metropolis (Scappettone)
  • The Multidisciplinary Study of American Culture (Slauter)
  • Narrative Genres of American Modernity (A. Brown)
  • New Media Theory (Jagoda)
  • Ordinariness (Berlant)
  • The Persistence of Surrealism: Buñuel & Beyond (Lastra)
  • Poetics of Dislocation (Scappettone)
  • Poetics of Erasure (Reddy)
  • Poetry of and Off the Page (Scappettone)
  • Post-Modern Autobiography (Nelson)
  • Pynchon/DeLillo and the Problem of America (Chute)
  • Race, Media, and Visual Culture (Mitchell)
  • Race, Theory, and the African Americanist Project (Warren)
  • Radical Documentary (Scappettone)
  • Realism and the Abracadabrant Word: Literary Productions of Lower Manhattan (Scappettone)
  • Redeemer Nation: America 1585-1750 (Knight)
  • Representation & Violence (Mitchell)
  • Revolutionary Culture in Eighteenth-Century France and America (Slauter, w/Paul)
  • Seeing Madness: Mental Illness and Visual Culture (Mitchell, w/Francoise Meltzer)
  • Shock Treatment and Nervous Systems (Nelson)
  • Short Attention Span Fictions (Muse)
  • Space, Place, and Landscape (Mitchell)
  • Theory in the Archive: Working through Freedom in the Americas (Taylor)
  • Thinking Things/Seeing Things (B. Brown)
  • Topics in Sex and Theory: Bodies in Space (Berlant)
  • Transmedia Games: Theory and Design (Jagoda)
  • Tough Broads (Nelson)
  • Transnational American Literature (So)
  • Transnational Poetics (Reddy)
  • Traumatic Cosmopolitanism: Around 1948 (Nelson)
  • Urban Fictions / American Scenes, 1880-1910 (B. Brown)
  • The U.S. Historical Novel (Berlant)
  • W. E. B. Du Bois and the Politics of 20th Century Literature (Warren)
  • Whitman and the Logics of "America" (B. Brown)
  • Women, Writing, and Spirituality in Colonial America (Knight)